Kingston Fortifications National Historic Site of Canada

Kingston, Ontario
Aerial view of the Kingston Fortifications. © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada 2007.
Aerial view
© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada 2007.
View of Murney Tower. © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada 2007.Aerial view of the Kingston Fortifications. © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada 2007.General view of the Kingston Fortifications. © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada 2007.
Address : 211 Ontario Street, Kingston, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1989-06-22
  • 1832 to 1840 (Construction)
  • 1832 to 1870 (Significant)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • British Army  (Organization)
  • Canadian Army  (Organization)
  • British Royal Engineers  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Kingston Fortifications  (Designation Name)
  • Cathcart Tower, Fort Frederick / Martello Tower, Fort Henry, Murney / Shoal Towers  (Name of contributing resources)
DFRP Number: 09405 00


Existing plaque: Confederation Park opposite City Hall 211 Ontario Street, Kingston, Ontario

The site of the Royal Naval Dockyard during the War of 1812, Kingston assumed even greater strategic importance as the southern terminus of the Rideau Canal, which was built between 1826 and 1832. An extensive fortification plan of redoubts, towers, and batteries was developed to protect the dockyard and entrance to the canal, but only Fort Henry was actually built. In response to the Oregon Crisis with the United States in 1845-1846, four Martello towers and the Market Battery, which stood on this site, were constructed between 1846 and 1848.

Description of Historic Place

Kingston Fortifications National Historic Site of Canada is located in and around the harbour area of Kingston, Ontario. Situated at the mouth of the Cataraqui River, and overlooking the confluence of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, the fortifications consist of five separate 19th-century military installations, including Fort Henry National Historic Site of Canada (NHSC), Fort Frederick, part of the Point Frederick Buildings NHSC, the Murney Tower NHSC, Shoal Tower NHSC, and Cathcart Martello Tower. An inter-related defense system, the concentration and orientation of the limestone fortifications towards the water convey their essential purpose as a defensible platform for guns. Built between 1832 and 1840, the Kingston fortifications represent the apogee of smooth bore technology. Official recognition refers to the boundaries of each of these installations situated around the Kingston Harbour.

Heritage Value

The Kingston Fortifications was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1989 because: it is a fortification system consisting of five extant elements - Fort Henry and Fort
Frederick along with the Murney, Shoal, and Cathcart Martello Towers - built for the
defence of the Kingston Harbour, the southern terminus of the Rideau Canal, the Naval
Dockyard and Kingston as a military station.

A historically strategic site, the Kingston Harbour area is situated at the mouth of the Cataraqui River, facing the confluence of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. As the gateway to the Great Lakes, it was a particularly significant site for shipping, especially before the advent of railway transportation. The strategic importance of the site was first recognized by the French, who constructed a military and trading post there in 1673. Captured by British forces in 1758, the Kingston Harbour area has had an uninterrupted military presence since the establishment of a Kingston Garrison in 1783. Construction of the fortifications began with the outbreak of the War of 1812, when a number of simple defensive works were hurriedly built around the harbour, including blockhouses at Point Henry, Point Frederick and Murney Point.

Following the war, Kingston evolved into a major commercial, political, naval and military centre in the colony of Upper Canada. In 1832, the Rideau Canal linking Kingston to Montreal was completed, thereby increasing the town’s role as a transportation hub. In order to protect the southern terminus of the canal, the British began to fortify the harbour with the construction of Fort Henry, situated atop Point Henry. Designed by the British Royal Engineers, the new fort called for a series of inter-connected supporting batteries and redoubts to augment Fort Henry’s defenses. The rehabilitation of Fort Frederick, and the construction of the Shoal, Murney, and Cathcart Martello Towers was conducted in the mid-1840s. These fortifications, along with the former Market Battery, were designed to provide the town, the canal, and the dockyards with a more comprehensive defensive system. Representing the apogee of smooth bore technology, tactics and fortification design, the Kingston fortifications are integrated through common limestone materials, skillful construction, and orientation and placement as a defensible platform.

In 1870, the British garrison left the town, and the fortifications themselves were reduced to service as training and storage facilities for the Canadian military. Although the fortifications were never tested in war, the imposing system they compose points to the historic and strategic importance of this place that called for such defenses.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minute, November 1989; Commemorative Integrity Statement, 1998.

Character-Defining Elements

The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include: its location in and around the harbour area of Kingston, Ontario; its setting at the mouth of the Cataraqui River, and overlooking the confluence of the eastern end of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River; the legibility of Kingston Harbour as the defining natural feature of the site; the footprints of the five surviving components of the site and their arrangement around Kingston Harbour; the distinctive forms and dramatic profiles of the Shoal, Murney and Cathcart Martello towers arranged around the harbour; the profile of Fort Henry on a high cliff overlooking the harbour; their defensive concentration and the strategic inter-relationship of their fields of fire; the integrity of the massing, form and fabric of individual buildings on the site, representing the apogee of smooth bore technology, tactics, and fortification design; the mature Martello tower design common to its towers, featuring caponiers and a snow roof, and representing the most sophisticated Martello Towers built in British North America; the common use of military principles in the design, construction and features of all structures, such as bomb proofing, self sufficiency, and impenetrability; the common appearance of skillfully crafted limestone as a building material for all structures; the integrity of the interior structural organization and layout of both the towers and the forts; the integrity of original fittings and furnishings such as building hardware, shutters, masonry platforms, caldrons, pintles and racers; the forms, contours, materials and construction technology of associated earthworks, ditches, sally ports, magazines, walls, scarps and counterscarps, branch ditches, branch ditch towers and glacis as integral to the defense system; the integrity of circulation systems between and among the components of the site, particularly those linking Fort Henry and Fort Frederick; the legibility of the principle of inter-linked fields of fire in siting of the structures; the integrity of longstanding open spaces; the location, extent and materials of any discovered or undiscovered above and below ground archaeological artifacts and remains relating to any of the components of the fortifications; the viewscapes from the fortifications to the confluence of the eastern end of Lake Ontario and the beginning of the St. Lawrence River, to the mouth of the Cataraqui River and the Rideau Canal, to the harbour formerly used by the Royal Navy, the Navy Bay dockyard and the Provincial Marine depot, and to the City of Kingston and the site of the former Market Battery.