Friday, 22 July 2016

The impenetrable fort

Halifax, Nova Scotia

22 July 2016

From Peggy’s Cove it was only an hour to Halifax. We had to cross the Macdonald Bridge so had pay the modest toll of $C1.75 for 4 axles, it's only $1 for a car. I had wanted to photograph the bridge but they had blocked off the pedestrian crossing on both sides due to some maintenance work.

The Citadel

Firing the cannon
A tourist gets to fire a musket

The Citadel entrance fee was covered by our Canadian National Parks Discovery pass and has parking onsite for an extra $C3.15 which saves you the walk up the hill, a bit tight for our truck, but we managed to park. We drove around the long line waiting at the entrance because we thought they were just getting entrance tickets which we already had. After we had parked, it occurred to us that maybe there was a parking fee, after all we were in a city. So we asked at the visitor centre. She couldn’t understand how we had got in and not paid. Oops. Anyway, we paid and were in there legally.

A model of the layout of the Citadel

There are a number of activities you can do here. Every hour there is a free guided tour by a non profit organization employed by the parks service. I mention free because most activities put on by Canada Parks are an additional charge to your entry fee.

The Citadel is a military fort built between 1828-1856 by the British. The four previous forts built in the same location had been made from wood, so when they built the forth one, they wanted something a bit stronger.

The walls of the Citadel started out in ironstone because it was cheap and easy to work with. The fort was supposed to only take six years to build, but when some of the walls collapsed, they changed the building material to granite. As granite is much harder to work with (not to mention a lot more expensive), it ended up taking 14 years to build.

Just a few barrels of gunpowder

Today, the canon is fired every day at 12pm, except Christmas day. Of course now, they just light gun powder with no ammunition. After they check there are no rodents inside, they push the powder in, light it and bang. It was fired twice a day when the fort was operational. People didn’t have watches so it fired for lunchtime (the most important meal of the day) and end of day (knock-off). The canons were not very accurate as they are like a giant musket, and you would probably blow up more than you anticipated.

A number of soldiers resided in this building, there were a number around the fort, in case they had to fight from the outside.

The purpose of the Citadel wasn’t to protect Halifax from ships coming up the harbour. It was to protect the city from a land attack, in case the enemy went further down the coast and then came inland – which is what happened in Louisbourg. The harbour was protected by other gun batteries down the coast. So the heaviest artilleries face the land on the west wall. The area between Halifax and the Citadel was meant to be a battlefield, so much easier to fight a battle on your front lawn then elsewhere. So it is flat and treeless. Battles were fought in line at the time so you needed a wide area to fight your battles.

We were given a demonstration of one of the guns they fired. It does have a bit of a kick and the noise sent the poor soldiers deaf, which is why the people who work here use ear-plugs. The staff are dressed in the Scottish military uniform, yes with a kilt, as there is a strong Scottish heritage here.

the soldier explained how he prepares the rifle to fire
then fires
There was a school room to teach the soldiers to read and write, as they were illiterate. The changing of the guards gave their orders verbally, as they couldn’t read and write either. The guards were changed every two hours but I think they do it here every hour so that you can see the ceremony.

Changing of the guards
The barracks are in the background

Even when it was operational you could tour the fort. They thought this would discourage anyone from wanting to attack it when they saw how impenetrable it was. The idea worked as it was never attacked. There is an outer wall with a “ditch”. If enemies got over the first wall, there was nowhere for them to go. They would be fired on from the top of the inner wall. Inside the outer wall was an area where more soldiers could fire at you through the slits in the walls.

The Ditch between the two walls

There are two signal masts there for communication, one for commercial and one for the military. If a commercial ship entered the port, their flag would be hoisted so everyone in town knew what ship had come in and what goods would be available. The military one could use different flags for different signals. On a good day, it would be seen in New Brunswick.

Standing by one of the masts
The soldiers were paid 13 pennies a week, but were really only left with 1 after the military made them pay for anything extra. It cost 2 pennies for a pint of beer and 1 penny to have a shirt washed, so they didn’t do washing very often, probably once a year.

Docents dressed in period costume to tell you about their life
The British handed the Citadel back to the Canadians in 1906 and it was still used until the 1960’s as a military base.

There are a couple of other military museums there as well, including a special WWI as it is the centenary. The whole place was excellent.

I had planned to see some of the city too but Lindsay hurt his knee and ankle, so a few hours at the Citadel was enough for him.

Walmart in Dartmouth, WiFi c/- Home Depot!


  1. The Citadel was the highlight of our entire trip across CA for more reasons than we can count!!! Lindsay, get that ice pack out---it is hard to get through seeing that place without a case of "museum feet" at best...

    1. yes, it was great, we really enjoyed it too