A Ghostly Prisoner Strolls the Parapets at Fort Henry National Historic Site

Photo by Michael Kleen

Built for a war with the U.S. that never came, this nineteenth century Canadian fortress held prisoners hanged for rebellion. Do their restless ghosts still walk these grounds?

Built between 1832 and 1836, Fort Henry’s stone walls were completed just in time for the Rebellions of 1837–1838, which sought to overthrow the Canadian colonial government in favor of a republic. Nils von Schoultz, who led rebel forces at the Battle of the Windmill, was executed there. Today, his ghost is among many that visitors claim to encounter in the twilight hours. Paranormal-themed tours and an annual haunted house have capitalized on these strange tales and helped make this Canada’s most famous haunt.

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, rebel prisoners were held at Fort Henry, including a 31-year-old Finnish national named Nils von Schoultz. 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.” Despite throwing himself at the mercy of the military court, Schoultz was convicted and hanged on December 8, 1838. When his ghost isn’t strolling the wall in a tattered uniform, he’s believed to be haunting Commanders Room 3.

According to Glen Shackleton, author of Ghosts of Kingston (2007) and proprietor of Kingston Haunted Walks, some visitors have caught a glimpse of the wooden platform from which Schoultz was hung on the northeast slope. The only problem is… that structure hasn’t stood at the Fort Henry in over 180 years!

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.

Though no battles were fought at the fort, accidents and mishaps claimed the lives of several soldiers, whose confused ghosts are now believed to walk the grounds. One unfortunate artilleryman, nicknamed named John ‘Gunner’ Smith, was killed when the paper cartage he was using to load a cannon prematurely exploded. Others accidentally fell to their deaths from the parapets into the 30-foot deep dry moat surrounding the fort.

The ghost of an adolescent girl is believed to make mischief in the bakery and school room. Though no one knows who this girl might have been in life, she may have been an officer’s daughter. Visitors report the doors to these rooms slamming on their own, and pots and jugs fall from shelves without explanation.

In 1938, Fort Henry 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.

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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