Halifax’s roots lie in its proximity to the sea, and its large natural harbor. When the town was founded in 1749, among the first buildings constructed was a guardhouse atop what would become known as Citadel Hill. The Citadel, because of its hilltop location, offered a strategic defensive position. As the harborside town grew and changed, so did the fort which overlooked and protected it.
The Citadel was completed in 1856, the fourth and last in a series of forts built at this site. Its official name is Fort George (after King George II). It has a distinctive star shape, strategic for allowing optimum defense of the structure. Fortunately these defenses were never put to the test as the city was never attacked.
Today, the Halifax Citadel no longer has a military role, but instead provides a window into Halifax’s history. It is now a Canadian National Historic Site that allows visitors to explore the history of the fort and of tge people who lived within its walls. Still situated above the city, it offers great views of the downtown and harbor and is an interesting place to visit.
Things to do within the Citadel:
– Every hour the Citadel is open, watch the sentry guarding the front gate be changed. A reminder of the fort’s British past.
–Guided walking tours are available, but the site is easy to explore on your own, as we did.
– Visit the Citadel Army Museum within the fort’s main building, which provides an overview of Canadian military history starting with the First World War through to modern-day conflicts. A highlight of the Museum is the replica of the Vimy Memorial. You’re likely to have a chance to meet and ask questions of retired Canadian military heroes while here, who are delighted to answer your questions.
– View and interact with some of the re-enactment interpreters. Dressed as soldiers from the 78th Highlanders and Royal Artillery, they’ll demonstrate arms, including firing of rifles. The Royal Artillery fires the Noon Gun (cannon) every day at 12 pm sharp — a long standing (and loud!) Halifax tradition.
– Visit the period rooms like the barracks, magazine and school.
– Like ghost tours? The Citadel runs them during the summer at 8:30pm. (We did not attend one of these)
– See the special exhibits. When we visited, they had a re-enactment of trench life in WWI which I thought was fascinating (having never wandered through a long convoluted trench before).
– A variety of activities aimed at children are available so be sure you check what’s available when you visit. Among the most popular is to become a Soldier for a Day. For a fee and during a three hour period, the Citadel allows you to get fitted for a uniform (cotton shirt, wool kilt, boots, spats, etc). You’ll learn to drill, fire a rifle and learn about a soldier’s life.
If you Visit:
The Halifax Citadel site is open year-round, from 9 am to 5 pm (6 pm in July & August), and admission fees vary with the season. Guided tours are available May through October.
Parking is available near the site. Public transport will take you up to, but not into the Citadel (you’ll need to take a taxi if you want to avoid the climb up hill). Most people just walk to the Citadel from their downtown hotels.
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