Aerial image © Parks Canada.
The British Colony of Halifax was founded by Edward Cornwallis in 1749 to counter French expansion in Nova Scotia. The ability to protect the settlement from the hill overlooking the natural harbour was a major advantage and following the destruction of the French fortress at Louisbourg (LINK to follow)* in 1860, Halifax grew and flourished. To defend Halifax, British military authorities built a series of fortifications in and around this strategic port with Citadel Hill at its core. Between 1820 and 1831 the British had already constructed a similar albeit larger citadel in Quebec City. The star-shaped structure found in Halifax today was completed in 1856, and is the fourth in a series of strongholds to occupy the site. It took 28 years to build and was formerly known as Fort George.
The Town Clock sits on the east slope of Citadel Hill, overlooking the harbour and has kept time for the city since October 1803. Brunswick Street on which it stands was originally named Barrack Street as it led to the main entrance of the fortress. The clock tower was commissioned by Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, the British Commander-in-Chief for North America, after he paid a visit in 1800 and was apparently unimpressed with the timekeeping and appearance of the Halifax Army and Naval garrisons. It was hoped that the clock tower would act as a reminder of the standards and levels of discipline expected.
Today, the Citadel is operated by Parks Canada and is recognised as one of the most important historic sites in Canada. It has been in the care of the State since the end of the Second World War.
Costumed staff and reenactors deliver a living history program and take the roles of soldiers from the 78th Highland Regiment, the Royal Artillery, their wives and various civilian tradesmen and women as they would have been in 1869.
Constructed originally as a smooth-bore fortification, the Citadel quickly became obsolete with the introduction of more powerful rifled guns in the 1860s. British forces upgraded Fort George's armaments, equipping it with heavier and more accurate long-range artillery to defend the harbour as well as the land approaches, however, the stronghold was never attacked.
The major role for the Citadel after the turn of the century was to house and train troops and act as a command centre for the other defences dotted around the strategically important harbour. Citadel Hill's various fortifications were garrisoned by the British until 1906 and thereafter passed to the Canadians who maintained a presence throughout the First and Second World Wars.
During the 1939-1940 conflict thousands of Allied troops were temporarily housed here prior to their deployment overseas and Halifax was a vital port for the Atlantic Convoys. Hundreds of vessels loaded their essential cargoes and formed up with their Naval escort under the watchful gaze of the Citadel`s guns.Citadel Hill and its associated harbour defences afforded the Royal Navy the most secure and strategic base in eastern North America and earned Halifax the nickname `Warden of The North`.
One of the most enduring and recognised symbols of Citadel Hill's role in shaping Halifax is the daily ceremonial firing of the noon gun. The artillery is also used for formal occasions such as 21-gun salutes. The Army Museum, located in the Citadel's Cavalier Block, displays a rare collection of weapons, medals and uniforms relating to Nova Scotia's military history.
Numerous artillery pieces are located throughout the site.