Fort Henry National Historic Site
by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams
I first met Will Baird at a Festivals and Events Ontario annual conference. We exchanged business cards and I found out that he was the Special Events Co-coordinator for Fort Henry (Will has since become the General Manager of Huronia Historical Parks in Midland Ontario).
I had heard a lot about Fort Henry, but had never visited it! We talked about taking the Fort and I mentioned that Judi and I would like to take a Fort Henry Tour one day.
Even though it took several attempts (rain storms and illness) to get there, we finally made it.
We wanted to take in as much of Fort Henry and its ceremonies as we could. The Fort is in the eastern part of Kingston and is located high atop a hill that overlooks the opening to the St. Lawrence River.
At the entrance to the Fort’s grounds, we stopped at a Parks Canada tourist information office. We then parked and walked to the path that wound its way to the Fort’s main entrance.
The view was spectacular! The Fort’s ramparts overlook the City of Kingston and all its historic buildings! Also, we had a wonderful view of Kingston’s harbour. Motor and sail boats filled the waterways! After examining the many views afforded us we continued on to the Fort’s main entrance. Another tour of Canada’s history was about to begin!
Entering the Fort…
After spending some time admiring the spectacular scenery surrounding the Fort, we entered Fort Henry through the main gates. Along the way we passed a “stern” looking sentry standing at attention just outside her guard box!
We had entered the upper part of the Fort. It was a large open area with buildings and walls on all sides! At the south end, facing the St. Lawrence River was the Fort’s “Advanced Battery”.
This guarded the Fort from attack by water. Along each side there were various offices, storage areas and utility rooms. The north end of the Upper Fort had a long ramp that led to the Lower Fort.
I followed Judi down the ramp. The “Noon Gun Parade” was already in progress, so we work are way along the perimeter of the Lower Fort until we were at the north end. This was where the spectator stands had been set up.
We took a seat and watched the proceedings. The Guard was lined up and was being inspected by the commander. After the inspection the Guard performed several drills. The audience, especially the young, was thrilled by the precision of the participants.
The “Pomp and Ceremony” of the Parade, along with the beat of the drums, the drone of the Bagpiper and the firing of a cannon, all added to this wonderful performance!
Judi and I watched until the Guard marched off the Parade ground on through the south archway and ramp that led to the Upper Fort. With the parade over, we decided to explore the rooms located behind us.
And the Band Played On…
The drill was over and the cannon was once again silent! Judi and I decided to explore the rooms behind us.
We found an entrance to the upper level and climbed the stairs to it. There were a number of rooms to look at!
This is where the Fort’s Museum displays are housed The Museum rooms, and there were many of them, were packed full of historical artifacts!
The first room we visited had a number of photos and paintings hanging on the wall. Interspersed on the walls were swords and other historical items.
We left this display room and followed the corridor to the Museum rooms. These rooms included soldiers sleeping quarters; a display depicting the restoration of Fort Henry which began in 1936 and several military artifact displays of rifles, bayonets, pistols, swords, bullets and military uniforms.
As we investigated the room that housed the military uniforms, we heard the sound of music.. We quickly left the museum rooms and looked out over the balcony. The Garrisons’ Military Band was marching through the archway onto the Lower Fort’s Parade grounds.
We hurried downstairs for a closer look! The sound of the drums reverberated off the walls of the Fort. The precision marching and the music created a magical effect. Judi and I watched in rapped attention while the Band performed its maneuvers! Once the Bands performance was over they disappeared through the archway as quickly as they had come!
Back to the Museum…
With the Bands performance over, Judi and I resumed our exploration of the Fort’s Museum. We found our way back upstairs and entered the last of the upstairs Museum rooms.
Once we had completed our tour upstairs, we headed downstairs where the Museum continued. Each display gave us a definite impression on how the Fort was run and what it was like living and working there.
The Fort was certainly self sufficient with sleeping quarters, eating and cooking facilities, a classroom for Fort children, washrooms and jail cells for enemies and criminals.
The officers seemed to have a much better lifestyle then the common soldiers. Their living quarters were better appointed.
Their meals were taken in a nicely appointed officers’ mess.
Although, I am sure life in the Fort was no holiday for the officers, they certainly had more comforts then the regular soldiers!
These pioneers were hearty people, who lived and fought to make Canada the great and wonderful country it has now become!
We ended our tour where we had entered, through the Lower Fort archway and we headed back up the ramp to the Upper Fort.
Once there, we decided to take a better look at the Fort’s facilities. On the eastern side of the Upper Fort there was an opening archway. From the archway we could see several sailboats off in the distance.
Also along the wall were several rooms. A number of them were dedicated to the Fort Henry gift shop. Inside there was all sorts of Fort memorabilia that could be purchased.
A little further to the south on the east wall was the Officers’ Mess Restaurant.
We looked inside and it was being set up for a special event.
Along the south wall cannons were lined up pointing to the St. Lawrence River, ready to defend the Fort at all costs. We peered over the wall and discovered that a native encampment had been set up.
Beyond the encampment was the river again with the distant sailboats. On the western wall, at the south end, we looked over the wall to get a spectacular view of the City of Kingston! The hustle and bustle of the City was a sharp contrast to the quite of the Fort.
As we walked along the western wall we came to several more rooms. They seemed to be closed to the public and I believe they were mainly used for storage.
Finally we came to the main entrance archway.
Our tour was now over and we left our Fort Henry Tour to the drone of Bagpipes. We had had a very enjoyable tour. It was now time to head for Kingston and supper. We needed to come back to the Fort in a few hours! We were scheduled to watch the world famous Fort Henry Sunset Ceremonies!
Fort Henry ~ Trade Square
by Festival Nomad “Scoop” Correspondent, Judi McWilliams
Our visit this time to the Fort Henry National Historic Site had a purpose! Will Baird, manager of the Fort, in an interview for the INSIDE SCOOP, told me about their new concept for the upper portion of the Fort. The concept sounded so great, that Gary and I had to check it out! So here we were, in Kingston at the Fort Henry National Historic Site and their “soon to be famous“ “TRADE SQUARE”. This is the first time that visitors could enter the Upper Fort for free! Inside artisans had set up displays in the various Fort rooms along the west wall. All of the artisans are extremely talented and were quite willing to share their knowledge and experiences with us. As Bryan Mercer, Director of Marketing for the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, told us that there were 7 casements (a.k.a. rooms) available for artisans to use. These rooms are available to rent and Mr. Mercer tells us it’s a great opportunity for groups and organizations to share retail space. Groups can use the space to sell all of their member products and to promote their organization. It also allows them to share the work load of running a retail space. Bryan tells us it is ideal ~ for Museums who can have mini displays and interactive activities that promote and encourage tourists to visit their museums; for Groups & Guilds who can sell their members work and promote their organizations and to encourage memberships and special event attendance; for Galleries, Stores & Retailers who can sell their products, promote further shopping at their main location and to reach new markets without the commitment of a long-term lease.
Our experience today was unique. There was calmness in the air as we strolled through the Fort, thoroughly enjoying the high end artisan works and delectable treats.
Of course, we needed sustenance, and we were serenaded by Tourism of Kingston’s own Rob Carnegie, while we enjoyed a delicious BBQ on the patio at the Fort. As quoted by Bryan … “Put Fort Henry on your plate ….200 seat patio with a million dollar view”.
Their website welcomes visitors to …“Experience Kingston’s largest outdoor Patio with a million-dollar view! Great menu with quenching beverages and live entertainment on selected nights! Dine before the Sunset Ceremony and have a night cap afterwards!”
Fort Henry Re-Visited
Following our visit to Upper Canada Village and an overnight stay in beautiful Gananoque (another noteworthy visitation stop), we continued on to Kingston and Fort Henry. It was established as one of the crucial battlefronts during the War of 1812. From the top of the inside of the fort, one can see a magnificent view of the harbor and the city of Kingston. While most of the inner fort has remained intact, the front also boasts a new and interactive visitor centre. Visitors can have a virtual conversation with one of the military families, see the “ghost” of Sir John A. MacDonald, or even use software to “dress” themselves in the military uniforms of the day. It wasn’t surprising that the kids were drawn to the cannon which allowed them to destroy ships in the harbour and mark their scores.
In order to gain a true insight into the time frame, the various sections of the fort and the lifestyle the soldiers lived in, we took the guided tour. A look at the prison cells, the barracks gave me a feeling of confined space which it was for the inhabitants of the fort. Another option for learning about Fort Henry was a scavenger hunt whereby you could find the items on the list for a prize.
In order for kids to gain just a bit of insight into what military service might have been like, at several times throughout the day, they can don the uniforms and put through their paces by a drill sergeant. It may not be easy for some to follow the strict regimen but I suspected that some of the parents enjoyed seeing their kids undergoing such maneuvers.
Speaking of the kids, once again, here is their perspective on our visit to Fort Henry:
Looking out the top of the fort was awesome! It made me feel like I was king. My friend Nicci was in the army and she did humiliating things. Being bossed around, having to do an inspection, and the drill sergeant made her laugh a lot. It was hilarious. I liked the video games where we blew up ships. I liked the scavenger hunt for the kids. If you want to see historic warfare, come to Fort Henry.