A trip to Halifax would not be complete without spending some time at the Halifax Citadel. In the mid-18th century, after years of fighting with the Mi’kmaq First Nation and the French people who had settled the area, the English gained control of Halifax and built a fort atop this hill. Originally named Fort George the first buildings here were built in 1749 to help the British safeguard the area. The fort was enlarged and fortified in 1776, 1794, and most recently into its star-shaped fortress in 1856.
The present day design of the citadel took 28 years to build from 1828 to 1856 and was constructed to fend off both land and water attacks from the United States. During the American Civil War, soldiers stationed at the fort were on high alert. With its location atop the hill, and cannons pointed towards the harbour, the citadel was prepared to protect the city of Halifax.
While visiting the Halifax Citadel make sure and explore the rooms within the walls. You will find a school room, garrison cells for prisoners, a magazine where kegs of gunpowder were stored, and barracks where the soldiers ate and slept. There are plenty of exhibits describing the history of the fort and the Army Museum with displays recounting Nova Scotia’s military past.
British soldiers manned the Halifax Citadel until 1906 when Canadian soldiers took over the command here. One group of soldiers, the 78th Highlanders Regiment from Inverness, Scotland, were stationed here from 1869-1871 and in the summer months you can see people dressed in uniforms and wearing the MacKenzie tartan kilts that would have been worn during that time.
Walking along the top of the ramparts you will see where the cannonballs would have been stored and it doesn’t take much to imagine a row of cannons aimed out towards the harbour. Numerous chimneys poke out along the top of the wall where smoke from fireplaces in the rooms below would have been released.
The tall signal masts erected here, that can be seen throughout the city, were used to send military signals, as well as communicate to the people of the city what ships were in the harbour and where they were from.
A popular event that happens here everyday except Christmas, is the firing of the noon gun. Dressed in the 3rd Brigade Royal Artillery uniform of 1869, gunners fire a replica cannon from the top of the rampart at high noon. We were told that residents of the city actually set their clocks by the sound of blast.
One other site not to miss on Citadel Hill is the Old Town Clock. Although not within the fort walls it was built for the soldiers that were stationed within the citadel. It was used as a guard tower at one time and also housed the clock caretaker. The clock began keeping time in 1803 and is now an iconic landmark for the city of Halifax.
In 1935 the Halifax Citadel was declared a National Historic Site, but the businesses in the downtown area lobbied to have the hill bulldozed to make way for parking and development. Luckily this didn’t happen and over the following decades the fort has been restored to its 1869 appearance. The Halifax Citadel National Historic Site is now one of the most visited park sites in Canada and is open year-round. There are both guided and self-guided tours and you should plan on at least 2-3 hours to visit and appreciate all this site has to offer.