Fort Henry National Historic Site in Kingston, Ontario

Photo by Michael Kleen

Built for a war with the U.S. that never came, this nineteenth century relic is a treasure of Canadian military history.

The War of 1812 left relations between the United States and Great Britain at an all-time low. Raids along the Saint Lawrence River were common during the war, and Kingston, Ontario in what was then Upper Canada was seen as potentially vulnerable. The British eyed Point Henry as an ideal place for what became known as the “Citadel of Upper Canada”.

Early in the war, British Canadians erected a blockhouse and artillery battery on Point Henry to help defend Kingston and its naval dockyards. They continued fortifying it throughout the war, calling it Fort Henry after Henry Hamilton, one-time Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Quebec and Governor of Bermuda.

After the War of 1812, the British saw a need to strengthen their defenses around Kingston and Rideau Canal, which connects the Canadian capitol to Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River. Between 1832 and 1836, they built a more permanent stone fort in place of the old wooden one.

During the Rebellions of 1837–1838, which sought to overthrow the Canadian colonial government in favor of a republic, rebel prisoners were held at Fort Henry. The United States government cooperated with the British to put down these rebellions, which were aided by private U.S. citizens in so-called “hunters lodges.”

British troops garrisoned the fort until 1870, when it was taken over by Canadian militia. Warming relations between the U.S. and the British Empire saw demilitarization of the Saint Lawrence River, and Fort Henry fell out of use, except as a prisoner of war camp during WW1.

In 1938, it became a living history museum garrisoned by a group of reenactors called the Fort Henry Guard. Today, the site is administered by Parks Canada and features tours, reenactments of military life and weapon demonstrations, and special events like haunted tours. You can also do a self-guided tour of rooms with displays and artifacts from Canadian military history. Pretty cool!

Fort Henry, at 1 Fort Henry Drive in Kingston, Ontario, is open May 18th through October 14th from 9:45 am to 5:00 pm. English-speaking guided tours are offered every half hour between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm May 18th through September 1st. Admission is $20 for adults, $16 for students 13 to 18 years of age, $13 for children 5 to 12, and children 4 and under are free. Contact 1-800-437-2233 or getaway@parks.on.ca for more info.

Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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