Fort George (named after King George II of Great Britain) is the fortified summit of Citadel Hill, a National Historic Site of Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. First established in 1749, during Father Le Loutre's War to protect the protestant settlers against raids by the French, Acadians, and Wabanaki Confederacy (primarily the Mi'kmaq), it was successively rebuilt to defend the town from various enemies.
A series of four different defensive fortifications have occupied the summit of Citadel Hill since this time, with the construction and levelling resulting in the summit of the hill being dropped by ten to twelve metres. Whilst never attacked, the Citadel was long the keystone to the defence of the strategically important Halifax Harbour and its Royal Navy Dockyard.
Today the fort is operated by Parks Canada and is restored to the Victorian period. There are re-enactors of the famed 78th (Highlanders) Regiment of Foot and the 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel) Pipe Band who were stationed at Halifax for almost three years (1869-1871).
The First Citadel
Father Le Loutre's War
The establishment of Halifax marked the beginning of Father Le Loutre's War. The war began when Edward Cornwallis arrived to establish Halifax with 13 transports and a sloop of war on June 21, 1749. On 11 September 1749, Cornwallis wrote to the Board of Trade:
- The Square at the top of the Hill is finished. These squares are done with double picquets, each picquet ten foot long and six inches thick. They likewise clear a Space of 30 feet without the Line and throw up the Trees by way of Barricade. When this work is compleated [sic] I shall think the Town as secure against Indians as if it was regularly fortify'd.
The first fort was simply a small redoubt which stood near the summit with a flagstaff and guardhouse. It was part of the western perimeter wall for the old city which was protected by five stockaded forts. The others were Horsemans Fort, Cornwallis Fort, Fort Lutrell and Grenadier Fort. (The British built Fort Charlotte - named after King George's wife Charlotte - on Georges Island the following year in 1750.)
By unilaterally establishing Halifax the British were violating earlier treaties with the Mi'kmaq (1726), which were signed after Father Rale's War. Cornwallis initially brought along 1,176 settlers and their families. To guard against Mi'kmaq, Acadian, and French attacks on the new Protestant settlements, British fortifications were erected in Halifax, Bedford (Fort Sackville) (1749), Dartmouth (1750), Lunenburg (1753) and Lawrencetown (1754).
During Father Le Loutre's War, the soldiers at Fort George were in a constant state of alert. The Mi'kmaq and Acadians raided the capital region (Halifax and Dartmouth) 12 times. The worst of these raids was the Dartmouth Massacre (1751). Four of these raids were against Halifax. The first raid was in July 1750: in the woods on peninsular Halifax, the Mi'kmaq scalped Cornwallis' gardener, his son, and four others. They buried the son, left the gardener's body exposed, and carried off the other four bodies.
In 1751, there were two attacks on blockhouses surrounding Halifax. Mi'kmaq attacked the North Blockhouse (located at the north end of Joseph Howe Drive) and killed the men on guard. They also attacked near the South Blockhouse (located at the south end of Joseph Howe Drive), at a saw-mill on a stream flowing out of Chocolate Lake into the Northwest Arm. They killed two men. (Map of Halifax Blockhouses)
In 1753, when Lawrence became governor, the Mi'kmaq attacked again upon the sawmills near the South Blockhouse on the Northwest Arm, where they killed three British. The Mi'kmaq made three attempts to retrieve the bodies for their scalps.
Prominent Halifax business person Michael Francklin was captured by a Mi'kmaw raiding party in 1754 and held captive for three months.
The Seven Years War
Fort George was also instrumental to the British during the French and Indian War (the North American theatre of the Seven Years War). The Fort was used to help faciltate the Expulsion of the Acadians, many Acadians being imprisoned on Georges Island in Halifax Harbour. During the war, the Mi'kmaq and Acadians resisted the British throughout the province. On 2 April 1756, Mi'kmaq received payment from the Governor of Quebec for 12 British scalps taken at Halifax. Acadian Pierre Gautier, son of Joseph-Nicolas Gautier, led Mi’kmaq warriors from Louisbourg on three raids against Halifax in 1757. In each raid, Gautier took prisoners or scalps or both. The last raid happened in September and Gautier went with four Mi’kmaq and killed and scalped two British men at the foot of Citadel Hill. In July 1759, Mi'kmaq and Acadians killed five British in Dartmouth, opposite McNabb's Island. There were also numerous raids against the British in the province such as the Raid on Lunenburg (1756).
The Second Citadel
The first major permanent fortification appeared on Citadel Hill in the American Revolution. The possibility of attack during the Revolution required a larger fortification to protect the city from an American or French attack. Built in 1776, the new fort on Citadel Hill was composed of multiple lines of overlapping earthen redans backing a large outer palisade wall. At the center was a three-story octagonal blockhouse mounting a fourteen-gun battery and accommodating 100 troops. The entire fortress mounted 72 guns. Citadel Hill and the associated harbour defence fortifications afforded the Royal Navy the most secure and strategic base in eastern North America from its Halifax Dockyard commanding the Great Circle Route to western Europe and gave Halifax the nickname "Warden of The North". The massive British military presence in Halifax focused through Citadel Hill and the Royal Navy's dockyard is thought to be one of the main reasons that Nova Scotia—the fourteenth British colony—remained loyal to the Crown throughout and after the American Revolutionary War.
Neither French nor American forces attacked Citadel Hill during the American Revolution. However, the garrison remained on guard because there were numerous American privateer raids on villages around the province (e.g., Raid on Lunenburg (1782)), as well as naval battles just off shore, such as the Naval battle off Halifax.
The Third Citadel
French Revolutionary Wars
The French Revolutionary Wars that began in 1793 raised a new threat to Halifax. A new citadel was designed in 1794 and was completed by 1800. The top of the hill was leveled and lowered to accommodate a larger fortress on the summit. It resembled the outline of the final Citadel, comprising four bastions surrounding a central barracks and magazine, but used mainly earthwork walls. One bastion was constructed with labour from Jamaican Maroons.
Prince Edward, Duke of Kent commissioned a clock tower in 1800 prior to his return to England. The Town Clock opened on October 20, 1803, at a location on the east slope of Citadel Hill on Barrack (now Brunswick) Street and has kept time for the community ever since.
The War of 1812
The Third citadel received hasty repairs and a new magazine during the War of 1812 in case of an American raid but a new fortification was not constructed as naval superiority provided by the British Royal Navy precluded any chance of an American siege.
The Fourth Citadel
The current star-shaped fortress, or citadel, is formally known as Fort George and was completed in 1856, during the Victorian Era, following twenty-eight years of construction. This massive masonry-construction fort was designed to repel a land-based attack by United States forces and was inspired by the designs of Louis XIV's commissary of fortifications Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban – a star-shaped hillock citadel with internal courtyard and clear harbour view from armoured ramparts. Between 1820 and 1831 the British had constructed a similar albeit larger citadel in Quebec City known as the Citadel of Quebec.
Centrepiece of the Halifax Defence Complex
Fort George and its predecessors were the focal point of the British military's "Halifax Defence Complex" which included (at various years):
- Fort Needham
- HMC Dockyard
- Fort George (Citadel Hill)
- Fort Massey
- Fort Ogilvie
- Prince of Wales Tower
- Connaught Battery
- York Redoubt
- Practice Battery
- Sandwich Point
- Fort Chebucto
- (Fort Charlotte)
- Fort Clarence
- Devil's Battery / Hartlen Point
- Five forts on McNabs Island:
- Fort Ives
- Fort Hugonin
- Sherbrooke Tower
- Strawberry Hill
- Fort McNab
Fort George was constructed to defend against smoothbore weaponry; it became obsolete following the introduction of more powerful rifled guns in the 1860s. British forces upgraded Fort George's armaments to permit it to defend the harbour as well as land approaches, using heavier and more accurate long-range artillery. Fort George's two large ammunition magazines also served as the central explosive store for Halifax defences making Citadel Hill, according to the historian and novelist Thomas Head Raddall, "like Vesuvius over Pompeii, a smiling monster with havoc in its belly". By the end of the 19th century, the role of Fort George in the defense of Halifax Harbour evolved to become a command centre for other, more distant harbour defensive works, as well as providing barrack accommodations.
American Civil War
The soldiers at Fort George were on alert when Nova Scotia became the site of two international incidents during the American Civil War: the Chesapeake Affair and the escape from Halifax Harbour of Confederate John Taylor Wood on the CSS Tallahassee.
78th (Highlanders) Regiment of Foot
The renowned 78th (Highlanders) Regiment of Foot were stationed at Halifax for almost three years (1869-1871). The regiment arrived in Halifax on the afternoon of May 14 aboard the troopship HMS Crocodile. A total of 765 men disembarked in full dress uniform. The Regiment was divided into two depots and eight service companies, consisting in all of 34 officers, 49 sergeants, 21 drummers, 6 pipers, and 600 rank and file.
For two years, the regiment spent its time billeted at the Halifax Citadel and at Wellington Barracks. The latter is now known as Stadacona and is part of Canadian Forces Base Halifax. Each summer, men from the regiment camped at Bedford to practice musketry at the military range.
On their departure in 1871, a farewell ball complete with a musical tribute was composed in their honour. It was hosted by the famous brewmaster and then Grandmaster of the Mason Lodge of Nova Scotia, Alexander Keith.
On November 25, the regiment set sail for Ireland on board the troopship Orontes. With them went 17 young Nova Scotian women who had married members of the regiment.
Fort George has a living history program featuring animators portraying life in the fort where soldiers of the 78th Highland Regiment and the 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel) Pipe Band who re-enact life in 1869.
First and Second World Wars
When the Great War began in 1914, there was widespread suspicion in Canada that immigrants from enemy countries might be disloyal. In response, the federal government passed regulations allowing it to monitor and intern anyone who had not become naturalized British subjects. These people were labelled “enemy aliens.” In total 8,579 men were prisoners of war in 24 camps across the country.
There were three Internment camps in Nova Scotia: Amherst Internment Camp; one on Melville Island in the Northwest Arm of Halifax Harbour and in Citadel Hill (Fort George). Unlike the rest of Canada, where internees were mostly of Eastern European origin, the internees in Nova Scotia were mainly German reservists.
Fort George's final military role was to provide temporary barracks, signaling and the central coordinating point for the city's anti-aircraft defences during the Second World War.
In 1935, the hill and fortifications were designated a National Historic Site and received some stabilization as a works project during the Depression. However the fort was not restored and began to decay after the end of the Second World War. In the late 1940s, Halifax downtown business interests advocated demolishing the fort and leveling Citadel Hill to provide parking and encourage development. However recognition of the fort's historical significance and tourism potential led to the fort's preservation and gradual restoration. Research by historian Harry Piers published in his final book The Evolution of the Halifax Fortress, 1749-1928 in 1947 played a key role in making the case and providing resources to restore Fort George. In 1956, the partially restored fort opened as a historic site and home to the Halifax Army museum and, in the years before they constructed their own museums, as home to the Nova Scotia Museum and the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.
Today the site is under the responsibility of Parks Canada. Fort George has been restored to the mid-Victorian period. The Citadel is among the top five most visited National Historic Sites in Canada.
The grounds of Fort George are open year round and from spring to fall, the fort has a living history program featuring animators portraying life in the fort where soldiers of the 78th Highland Regiment, the Third Brigade of the Royal Artillery, soldiers wives, and civilian tradespersons re-enact life in 1869. Parks Canada also hosts several re-enactment events each year by volunteers of the Brigade of the American Revolution and the Atlantic Canadian World War Two Living History Association.
There are guided and self-guided tours available as well as audio-visual presentations and exhibits which serve to communicate the Citadel's role in shaping Halifax's and North America's history.
One of the most enduring and recognized symbols of Citadel Hill's role in shaping Halifax is the year-round daily ceremonial firing of the noon gun. The artillery is also used for formal occasions such as 21-gun salutes.
The "Army Museum", located in the Citadel's Cavalier Block, displays a rare collection of weapons, medals and uniforms exploring Nova Scotia's army history. It is an independent non-profit museum but works in close partnership with the Citadel staff of Parks Canada.
In July 2006, Halifax Citadel celebrated the 100th anniversary of the withdrawal of the last British military forces from Canada. The citadel hosted over 1,000 re-enactors from around the world.
Approaching the Christmas season, Citadel Hill annually hosts a "Victorian Christmas". Visitors are treated to crafts, carolers and games.
Army Museum Gallery
In Popular Culture
The Halifax Citadels were an American Hockey League team that played from 1988 - 93 at the Halifax Metro Centre, just below Citadel Hill.
- Military history of Nova Scotia
- History of the Halifax Regional Municipality
- Star Fort
- Grenier, John. The Far Reaches of Empire. War in Nova Scotia, 1710-1760. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 2008; Thomas Beamish Akins. History of Halifax, Brookhouse Press. 1895. (2002 edition). p 7
- Bell Twatio. Battles without Borders. p. 157
- Thomas B. Akins. History of Halifax City. Brook House Press. 2002 reprint. p. 209
- Named after a member of the Nova Scotia Council.
- Wicken, p. 181; Griffith, p. 390; Also see Fort Vieux Logis
- Thomas Atkins. History of Halifax City. Brook House Press. 2002 (reprinted 1895 edition). p 334
- Piers, Harry. The Evolution of the Halifax Fortress (Halifax, PANS, Pub. #7, 1947), p. 6 As cited in Peter Landry's. The Lion and the Lily. Vol. 1. Trafford Press. 2007. p. 370
- Thomas Atkins. History of Halifax City. Brook House Press. 2002 (reprinted 1895 edition). p 209
- L.R. Fisher, Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
- J.S. McLennan. Louisbourg: From its foundation to its fall (1713-1758). 1918, p. 190
- Earle Lockerby. Pre-Deportation Letters from Île Saint Jean. Les Cahiers. La Societe hitorique acadienne. Vol. 42, No2. June 2011. pp. 99-100
- Beamish Murdoch. History of Nova Scotia. Vol.2. p. 366
- Piers, p. 16-17
- "The Third Citadel", Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, Parks Canada
- Thomas Raddall, Halifax: Warden of the North (1948), p. 153-154
- Marquis, Greg. In Armageddon’s Shadow: The Civil War and Canada’s Maritime Provinces. McGill-Queen’s University Press. 1998.
- Electric Scotland
- Halifax Citadel Regimental Association (HCRA)
- Halifax Citadel. Canadian Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
- Thomas Raddall, Halifax: Warden of the North (1948), p. 336
- "Who was Piers", Harry Piers Museum Maker, Nova Scotia Archives
- Lorna Inness, "Halifax Citadel Takes History to the People", Halifax Chronicle Herald, July 1, 2012
- Parks Canada, Halifax Citadel National Historic Site brochure, 2001.
- Cuthbertson, Brian, The Halifax Citadel: Portrait of a Military Fortress, 2001, Formac Publishing Company, Ltd., Halifax.
- The Evolution of the Halifax Fortress, 1749-1928 Piers, Harry, Self, G.M., Blakeley, Phyllis R. (Phyllis Ruth)
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