The Experience (May 20, 2017)
We almost drove by it; the left side landscape, falling nearly out of sight towards Lake Ontario, the lake whose level had risen to flooding many of the 1000 islands recently. The twice-built concrete fort, hidden in the droop of a hill, called Point Henry. Fort Henry, originally built during the War of 1812, was first defended by the British to protect the trade port of the Rideau Canal and Lake Ontario and nearby naval dockyard. In 1867, Canada told the British, "Thanks, but we're good", forgetting they didn't have an army to take the post. Scrambling, they founded Royal Military College of Canada and a quick 3 years later, turned out Fort Henry's new couchsurfers. After only 21 years of chilling, even the Canadian armies said "I'm over it," and left, like a cop leaves an empty car near a speed limit sign in a small town. Between restoration attempts, the Fort has housed (generously termed) political prisoners as a makeshift internment camp during both World Wars. Finally opened again to the public in 1948 "in the name of all British soldiers who served there," Fort Henry is now a historical museum and the only UNESCO world cultural heritage site in Ontario.
The large stone archway opened the Fort to the outside world. We entered, two long gray parallel walls on our right, the space between full of tourists and a group of young people in military period dress giving a half-hearted attempt (or maybe untrained attempt) at marching in place. Volunteers, we read, from the nearby military school. The Canadian draft, eh?
The stone walls gave way to a dozen wooden doors, behind which some were filled with artisan crafts for sale, two had "soldier's canteens" that left me visualizing hardtack, and the rest were small museum rooms, telling the Canadian military and Fort Henry's version of history. Walking to the end of the walls, 2 cannons faced out at the lake while the windmills on Wolfe Island looked back across the water. Backtracking, we explored further into Fort Henry, crossing the drawbridge into a stadium looking area (complete with metal stadium bleachers). Barricaded in the center, the "soldiers" picked up instruments and were struggling to play and march and listen to orders shouted by their classmate. As a high school marching band survivor, I couldn't decide whether I had more or less sympathy for them.
The main level held the kitchen, the privies, and the cells the war prisoners were held, which were frighteningly small. Eager to escape ourselves, we ventured to the top of the stadium, heavily decorated in a military style with cannons and stacks of their balls placed deliberately askew. Even the cobwebs adorning the cannons had seen better days, full of the ubiquitous and small mayfly-like bugs. A "pioneer" couple met us, and asked if we'd like to hear a song ... or not? We advised the pioneers to just "do what you do" and kept walking, their songs in need of a practice round or two. Exploration down a tunnel took us to the second level, which housed the officer's quarters, the bunk rooms and full walk-in closets, very neat too as the uniforms were hung in glass cases. Ending eventually where we started, we stepped around a soldier towards the exit.
Give Fort Henry a few more days for the guard to sharpen up their marching, the "pioneers" to tune in their folk music, and the sunsets to warm up the hill side. Leave the Fort visit until later in the summer; July would be the perfect month.
Check out these upcoming Fort Henry events below.
- Sunset Ceremonies with the Fort Henry Guard every Wednesday starting on July 5th
- Chill on the Hill Musicfest with Rascal Flatts on July 8th
- YGK Beerfest on June 10th
- TATTOO event - parade square is filled with Canadian and international acts including fife, brass and pipe bands, and drum bands on July 22nd
- Experience life as a pioneer in the 19th century by attending Victorian School or Firing a Rifle
- Check out the GHOSTS on this haunted tour (May - Oct)