My dad took my sister and me many times to Fort Lennox. Last time I was there was surely going on 20 years.
The brochure sums up this place much more eloquently than I ever could (great job, Parks Canada!):
Located on Île aux Noix, an island on the Richelieu River, Fort Lennox is one of the jewels of the Parks Canada network…. There is no bridge linking this fabulously destined island to the mainland, it can only be reached by boat. The crossing takes five minutes, which is just enough time to travel back a few centuries and tread the very earth that was fought over by the French, American and British.
Once you step across the drawbridge at Fort Lennox, you will discover one of the most authentic British fortifications in North America. The stone buildings and defensive structures are of exceptional beauty. They were built between 1819 and 1829 to protect the colony against an eventual American invasion by way of the Richelieu River.
Your guide will help you discover the amazing history of Île aux Noix as you walk in the footsteps of the soldiers and officers of Fort Lennox. Once inside the barracks, the guard room, the jail, and the officers’ quarters you will get a fascinating glimpse into the daily military life of days gone by.
To access the Fort, you park in the parking lot in St-Paul-Île-aux-Noix, pay at the information centre, and then take brief ferry ride to the island. Admission is $7.80 or about half that if you get across on in your own boat (the region is a haven for boaters).
There is a small canteen on site, but I opted to bring my own food. So by the time I did a detour to Napierville to get some, it was 11:00 when I bought my admission ticket. The ferry runs on the half hour, so I had just enough time to take a couple of pictures and then it was time to cross the river.
The pictures below will have more information, so I’ll just give some general insight into the fort and my day there. While the island is a really nice place to spend the day as a family, there really isn’t much to see in the fort in terms of museum exhibits. You can easily go to Fort Lennox for an hour, which is about how long I expected to be there. But if you go on the weekends, there are guided tours and reenactments, which really add to the experience. I wound up staying for almost five hours!
I started by exploring a little on my own then stopping for lunch in the very little shade the island offers. I did the last exhibit and was going to call it a day when I found the media room where I got sucked into some movies about a shameful part of Canadian history that I knew nothing about: the internment of Jewish refugees at Fort Lennox in the 1940s as prisoners of war. They were Germans who had fled to Britain and then been deported to Canada where there was no understanding of the distinction between Nazi sympathizers and Germans who opposed the regime.
It took a few years for the status of the Jews to change from prisoners to refugees and even longer for the Canadian government to allow the men to remain on Canadian soil. You see, Canada didn’t want any Jewish refugees during World War II. This is the same country that interned its Japanese citizens during the same conflict, but I digress.
The video presentation was very good and it was a shock to realise that the men talking were featured in the photographs of the island at the time. These men do not begrudge the initial rough treatment by Canadian authorities because they were provided with excellent schooling and eventually allowed to stay. Sure, Canada didn’t want Jews, but it came around. That sure beat being unwanted in their own country and being sent to a concentration camp. All is relative…
Anyway, by the time I finished the videos, the first guided tour was underway so I joined in at the powder magazine, a vaulted and sealed building set apart from the others where the black powder was stored. We continued past the officers’ quarters, the guard house, and the jail, where the tour ended.
It was then time to join a session about the uniforms worn at the fort in the 1830s. They were red and white with apple green accents to mark that they were the 24th regiment. The interpreter said the coats were red so that the soldiers would be visible and impressive, adding that the rifles of the day didn’t allow one to aim so, no, the red didn’t make the soldiers any more of a target.
After the uniform demonstration, we moved on to the impressive firearm demonstration. When that was done, a tour with a costumed interpreter started, so I thought to join in so as to see the section I’d missed on the first tour. As it turned out, there were so many visitors we were broken off into smaller groups who did the tour in a different order. I wound up starting again at the powder magazine and had to go through everything again to get to the general barracks.
This was no hardship since the costumed tour was entertaining and had extra information. Plus, I took the costumed tour in English since the group was much, much smaller than the French ones, so I got to hear the bulk of the information in both languages.
When the tour ended, I was beyond ready to get out of the sun, so I got an ice cream from the canteen and headed back to the dock to await the next ferry, pleased that the locale had lived up to nostalgic memories.
one of Saint-Paul-Île-aux-Noix’s many marinas
This sign makes me appreciate French’s numerous verb tenses a lot more. The French sign is definitely an order to slow down while the English is ambiguous; is it an order or a description?
the landing on the island
approaching the landing
Welcome to Fort Lennox!
the impressive entrance to the fort
pond with lots of waterlilies (I much prefer the French word, nénuphars, for the flowers)
close up of the waterlilies
on the drawbridge
History of the site. The present fort was built between 1819 and 1829.
The barracks are above in this building. The ground floor has the canteen.
Inside the guard house where 20 soldiers would do a 24-hour shift every three days. They would rotate one hour outside, one hour inside during the winter, and every two hours in the summer. They had to be quiet when inside to hear any warning calls, had to stay in almost full uniform, and could only sleep lightly.
The captain of the day had this more luxurious room with a comfy bed.
The captain of the day would do his paperwork here.
a corner of the lovely grounds (pardon the glare; the sun was brutal!)
looking towards storage buildings
another view of the barracks building
entrance to an exhibit inside the Commissariat Store
I love spiral staircases and was disappointed I couldn’t go up these. 🙂
Around the time of the War of 1812, the British wanted to use the strategically located island to protect Canada from a US invasion, but the defense works were in poor condition. The solution was to build a new fort.
Naval officers suggested that Île aux noix was the most strategic place to build a fort.
But military officers felt that a land invasion was more likely and that St-Jean-sur-Richelieu should be fortified instead.
The goal was to defend Montreal from American invaders because of its strategic location at the confluence of the Ottawa, St Lawrence, and Richelieu rivers.
the fort was built to take advantage of the island’s natural features
The fort was designed as a square but looks more like a five-pointed star.
defense works include parapets and moats
This exhibit had some of the surveying tools used in the day; I took a picture of this folding ruler because I used to have one just like it. 🙂
The construction of the fort took about 10 years. It was named after Charles Lennox, duke of Richmond and Lennox, Governor-in-Chief of British North America from 1818 to 1819.
The clayey soil meant that a traditional foundation wouldn’t have worked. The foundation essentially floats over the ground.
model of the fort
This graphic shows how the fort was built in stages. First, the powder magazine and other defense works, then the guard house, then the officers’ quarters, then the general barracks.
After the fort was abandoned for military purposes, it was used as a summer camp, picnicking ground, a POW camp (the sign says refugee camp, but I know better now thanks to the video), and then a historical interpretation site.
Most of the fort’s hardware was forged on site. Lots of it was excavated, but some 19th century pieces, like hinges, are still hard at work.
some of the hardware, included a padlock and key
aesthetics and availability were considered when choosing materials to build the fort
The design wasn’t perfect. In 1824, the eastern rampart slide into the ditch!
window in the store
shooting ground with cannons and cannon balls
I like cannons?
walkway to the south side of the island (the US is about 12KM thataway)
pond on the south side
south side entrance
Looking at the fort from the south side entrance. To the left are the general barracks. Then, clockwise, the officer barracks, the guard house and jail, the stores.
yet another view of the south side barracks
entrance to the canteen, where I got an ice cream for the trip back to the mainland
These arched walkways are my strongest memory of the visits to the fort as a child
these beautiful arched walkways make me think of a monastary!
another sign about hardware, saying that most was brought in from Great Britain, but a lot was forged on site
Entering the luxurious officers’ quarters. Officers in the British Army would pay for their commission (equivalent to the cost of buying a house today) and would hire soldiers to act as their valets or batmen. The officers had much nicer quarters and could bring personal items to make them homier.
The valets had to do the work for the officers in addition to their own duties.
The officers ate much better food that was supplemented with local game and fish.
A lot of alcohol was served with meals that were prepared in casemates (more on those later).
The army furnished the quarters with Canadian-made furniture to reduce costs, but there were still a lot of British imports.
The games room where officer played cards, backgammon, chess, other games, and drank more alcohol.
Another view of the game room.
These rooms were for officers only!
How the British Army was organized in Canada, basing itself in all the major cities.
I love this style of portable writing desk.
Montreal was a large territory to defend and so the area is dotted with forts. There is a reference to Chambly, a hint to a future post.
confirmation that the aforementioned piece of metal is a skate blade
original die, domino, and game piece made of bone
reproduction of a deck of cards
How to become an officer. Step one: be rich.
The cost of becoming an officer.
Advancing in ranks was otherwise very slow. The purchase of commissions was abolished in 1871.
the officers’ quarters were upstairs
on the top landing
officers would bring spices and sauces like mustard to make their food more palatable
personal items, like a bone tooth brush and a clothing brush
The army provided basic furnishings. Officers supplied first aid and hygiene kits and items to decorate their quarters, the only place they had privacy.
Still from the movie about the Jews at Fort Lennox talking about Rabbi Erwin Schild.
Another still providing a little bit of context.
An officer’s bedroom.
These rooms had closets!
A casemate, which is essentially a pantry. Officers had their own separate from the soldiers and even converted one into a wine cellar.
inside the powder magazine
These jail cells are more modern than the interpretative areas of the fort, which were set up to show life in the 1830s in the fort. The cells date from the 1870s, when prisoners had a few more rights, including a larger space and a window. Prisoners could only be held here for up to a week and had to stand all day. For more serious crimes, they had to be taken to martial court in Montreal.
close up of the heavy door
detail of the wall
Note the wooden pegs in the floor. These were brought to my attention in the powder magazine. The soldiers had iron bits attached the heels of their boots. Wooden pegs meant that they would not strike a spark as they walked, especially important in a building used to store black powder!
at the fire arm demonstration; the man in blue played the part of the powder magazine man
The man looking down gave the demonstration about the uniforms and was the ‘husband’ of the woman who gave the guided costumed tour.
I wasn’t quick enough on the trigger; can you see the wisp of smoke?
got it the second time!
We are behind the general barracks looking at a row of casemates for the soldiers; the last few have windows and are ‘kitchens’
looking into a casemate
these stairs lead up to the barracks
Inside the barracks, where the soldiers slept two to a bed. If they weren’t at capacity, a man could share his bed with his wife while the children slept on the floor. If they were at capacity, then the wife slept on the floor, too. Wives did cleaning, laundry, and helped with food preps, but were not cooks. They were given half of what their husband got for food and the children got a third. The army only provided breakfast and lunch and soldiers were on their own for dinner!
back on the dock looking at the ferry on the mainland
the ferry on its way to pick me up
I drove back to Chambly long the canal and was stopped for a while at the one-lane bridge. I’ll get back to the canal in a future post.