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Halifax Citadel: Four Generations of Fortifications

For the week of Monday September 9, 2013

On September 11, 1749, construction was completed on the first citadel in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It would be destroyed and rebuilt three times without ever facing an attack.

First citadel in Halifax
© Parks Canada
Edward Cornwallis landed at the future site of the City of Halifax in the summer of 1749, accompanied by some 2,500 British colonists. Facing a threat from the French, who were currently established at Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, the British built a citadel out of wood. The harsh climate and lack of maintenance, however, made the structure deteriorate. It was in ruins by 1761.

To defend Halifax, the new capital of Nova Scotia, the British rebuilt the citadel. The work, slowed by a French offensive at St. John’s, Newfoundland, and by the construction of other fortifications on the outskirts of the capital, was not completed until 1776. The threat of invasion from the south where the American Revolution was in full swing was just the impetus needed to complete the citadel's reconstruction. This second citadel was better designed than the first, with an octagonal wooden tower surrounded by fortifications. Nevertheless, it suffered the same fate and was in ruins by 1784.

In the late 18th century, Great Britain and France were at war. Fearing a French attack on the port of Halifax, Prince Edward moved ahead urgently with reconstruction of the citadel. This third version, rectangular in shape, was the first to be set directly atop the hill. While better built than its predecessors, the citadel had to be renovated constantly during the War of 1812. It finally collapsed in 1825.

Fourth Citadel
© Parks Canada

Construction of the fourth citadel lasted from 1828 to 1856. Built of stone for greater strength, it included defensive ditches, ramparts, bridges and magazines, all enclosed by a protective wall. It is one of the few star-shaped bastions in Canada.

Transferred to Canada by Great Britain in January 1906, the Halifax Citadel has been designated a Site of National Historic Significance because it enabled Halifax to become one of the four principal naval stations in the British Empire. Edward Cornwallis, the founder of Halifax, has been designated a Person of National Historic Significance. Since they are also part of the Halifax fortification system, Fort McNab, the York Redoubt, Georges Island and the Prince of Wales Tower have also been designated places of national historic significance.

To learn more about the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, please visit its webpage and read the articles Catastrophe in Halifax and Marking the Hours – The Halifax Town Clock in the Archives of This Week in History.

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