Saturday, July 17, 2010

Nova Scotia National Historic Site #4: The Citadel

Citadel Hill is an 80 metre tall glacial drumlin with a commanding view of Halifax Harbour. Citadel Hill's strategic value was the primary reason the British chose to maintain a military base on the east side of Nova Scotia. The current star-shape fortress currently atop Citadel Hill, formerly known as Fort George, is actually the fourth fortress design to occupy the hill, and took 28 years to build.

It took so long to build, because the entire fortress had to be set into the hill so that only the parapet was in view from the base of the hill. Should an enemy soldier miraculously escape having his head blown off at the bottom of the hill, from well inside the range of the British rifles, he would be met with the precursor to land mines just outside the base of the wall. Should he pass that, he would fall off the edge of the wall into the hidden ditch, roughly 10 metres in depth, where if his legs or neck were not broken, he would be pelted with "balls of spikes attached with chains meant for taking down ship masts" from the cannons. Or he may be lucky and merely hit in the back of the head by the sharp shooters hiding inside the secret tunnels behind him and aiming through the slits in the wall.

The wall was designed to be, and in fact was, the most technologically advanced fortress of its time. Its construction was ordered because of fear of an impending American attack. Ironically, the largest threat the Americans ever posed to the British at Halifax was during the War of 1812, when US President James Madison declared his intentions to claim what would later become Canada, for America. The War of 1812 ended in 1814, before construction of Fort George had even begun.

Today, Fort George (The Citadel) is a National Historic Site managed by Parks Canada. Costumed actors bring life at the fort in 1869 alive for the numerous visitors, and many rooms are open for guests to tour at their leisure. Even the secret tunnel in the outer wall is open.

There are numerous demonstrations that take place during the day, and the highlight of any visit is the firing of the "noon gun". Overall the fortress is in remarkably good condition, and it is my strong opinion that any trip to Halifax should definitely include a visit to this fabulous living museum.

(Rifle firing demo.)

(Getting ready to fire the noon gun.)

(Ceremonial cutting of the cake for Parks Canada's 125th birthday on July 17, 2010. I had four pieces.)

(The Pipes and Drums of the 78th Highlanders. The pipers have green coats because they were not paid by the military like the drummers or brass band members, but rather by the officers personally. Having a personal pipes regiment was a sign of prestige for British officers, and so an officer would dress his pipers with extra brass and more regal colours to show off how rich he was.)

(Changing of the guard.)

(The new recruits practice loading a cannon.)

(Military drill demonstration. Look at how tightly they walk together.)

(A special treat: this is the actual cloak that the legendary General James Wolfe was wearing when he was shot and killed on the Plains of Abraham, in 1758. Wolfe's Adjutant General and friend, Isaac Barre, saved the cloak for posterity. It currently belongs to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and is on loan to the Army Museum at The Citadel.)

(Closing up the gates.)

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