Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada

The first Citadel

Image of oil painting depicting early fortification on Citadel Hill Early fortification on Citadel Hill, 1750
© Parks Canada/K. E. Grant

On June 21, 1749, Edward Cornwallis arrived in Chebucto Harbour with 2,576 colonists from Britain. Work began immediately on clearing land for a new settlement named for their patron, the Earl of Halifax, President of the Board of Trade and Plantations. Soon after, a series of fortifications appeared, including a wooden garrison near the top of a mighty hill overlooking the harbour. This was the first Halifax Citadel.

Protecting a new settlement

This new fortified community was part of a wave of British settlements that began in Nova Scotia in 1748. The French had regained control of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island, and the British believed they would attack the mainland. Halifax and its deep, ice-free harbour offered a strong counterbalance to such threats. The hill where the first Halifax Citadel was built offered the best vantage point to protect the town.

On September 11, 1749, British troops completed work on the first Citadel. Unlike the current fort, it was built of wood, not stone. As it turned out, it was the climate, not the French, which posed the greatest threat to this garrison. Fog, rain and cold winters contributed to its decay, as did neglect.

Meanwhile, Halifax continued to grow, becoming the capital of Nova Scotia when representative government was granted to the colony in 1758. But a new threat was soon to appear. The outbreak of the American Revolution in 1776 again raised concerns that this vital British naval base would be attacked. The time had come to build a new Citadel.