Fort Henry is a living testament to the heritage of Upper Canada. Inscribed as Ontario’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site in June of 2007 along with The Rideau Canal and Kingston Fortifications, Fort Henry provides a memorable experience for the intellect and the senses. Special events, from open air rock concerts and symphonies to military tattoos and the spectacular Sunset Ceremonies, will keep you coming back season after season.
Fort Henry is a National Historic Site as designated by the Historic Sites and monuments Board of Canada. The site is commemorated as being nationally significant for three reasons: it was built during the 1830s to defend the terminus of the Rideau Canal and the naval dockyard in the Kingston Harbour; it was the largest and most costly fortification built in British North America west of Quebec City and it was designed as the key site in a network of fortifications for the defence of Kingston and its harbour.
Fort Henry sits atop the highest point of land at the convergence of Lake Ontario, the St. Lawrence River and the Rideau Canal, overlooking the City of Kingston, Ontario. Designated a National Historic Site, Fort Henry is the Citadel of Upper Canada. It was constructed in the 1830s as the largest fortification built west of Quebec City to defend the terminus of the Rideau Canal, a supply route to Ottawa and what was the naval dockyard in Kingston harbour.
Upon arrival at the site, the first thing you will notice is the breathtaking view over Lake Ontario, and the magnificent skyline stretching below, featuring the elegant architecture of the Royal Military College and the domes of Kingston City Hall and St. George’s Cathedral in the distance. On a sunny day, the shoreline is dotted with hundreds of sailboats, and occasionally, an elegant tall ship. Sunsets are spectacular from this vista that looks out across the west to the inland sea.
Once your business has been verified by the sentry at the 10 foot high west gate, you will enter into the Advance Battery, the area of the Fort where daily life took place. There, the soulful music of bag pipes or the fife and drum rises on the wind from the Lower Fort. Soldiers, Officers and the women who once lived at the Fort go about their daily business, in full costume of the day, seemingly unawares that we are in the third millennia. David the Goat, the Fort’s mascot is usually stationed at the entrance to the Lower Fort. Though seemingly a very formal fellow, David is quite friendly, loves children and enjoys being scratched under the chin.
Mighty guns line the walls of the Fort, poised to fire on approaching enemy ships. Though not a single fuse was ignited in war, the guns are a reminder of how the relationship between Canada and the United States (just a short five miles to the south) evolved from one of conflict, to one of trust and friendship. In fact, the Fort Henry Guard is the only civilian group in the world entrusted with the honour of marching with the U.S. Marine Corps! The bi-annual visit of the U.S. Marines to Fort Henry and Evening Ceremonials in August is a must see special event.
The Lower Fort is a spectacular piece of architecture. Its walls were constructed to be impregnable. Though no enemy ever dared to test its defenses, Fort Henry did serve as a prisoner of war camp during the Great Wars. Costumed tour guides will lead you through a maze of limestone casemates where museum displays tell the tale of life in the fort, for the Officers, soldiers and the women and children who called it home. Many swear that a ghostly presence follows along. Ghost Tours of the Fort are available after sundown for those who have the courage to delve into Fort Henry’s darker side.
At 3 PM daily, the Garrison Parade features a special interpretive demonstration. The limestone walls resonate with the sounds of the world-famous Fort Henry Guard, performing intricate military marches and manoeuvres, artillery drills with canon-fire and the courageous and inspiring music of Fort Henry Drums. This half hour show is followed by a Children’s Military Muster Parade – adults can join in too!
Children can join the Guard in the popular Children’s Military Muster, and learn the art of marching, saluting and following orders, and there’s a daily history lesson taught by the School Mistress in the Victorian-style schoolroom. There are also special overnight educational programs for kids and adults alike.
Wednesday nights in July and August are spectacular, as the Fort Henry Guard present the Sunset Ceremonies, detailed, action-packed presentations of military drills and music wrapped up with a fireworks finale.