The Halifax Citadel was declared a National Historic Site in 1952. Today its restored walls welcome all who wish to learn about defining moments in Canadian history.

Historic photo of Halifax Citadel in disrepair, 1950
Halifax Citadel in disrepair, 1950
© Library and Archives Canada

Transferred from British to Canadian authorities in 1906, the strategic importance of the Halifax Citadel waned over the succeeding decades due to the continued evolution of military technology and tactics.

Built to halt a land-based attack on the harbour, the advent of airborne weaponry had rendered the fort obsolete. In 1931, the last troops to be stationed at the Halifax Citadel marched out of the fort and the Canadian military began exploring options for its disposal.

Despite serving as a garrison, recruitment and communications centre and the site of anti-aircraft operations during the Second World War, the condition of the fort continued to deteriorate. By the 1940s, less than 100 years after its completion, the walls and buildings of the Halifax Citadel were in a sad state of disrepair from years of neglect.

That is until 1951, when the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences released its report on the state of culture in Canada. Describing the Halifax Citadel as “ of the great military monuments of Canada,” the report called the fort’s “semi-ruined state” a “discredit to the nation” which invited “the derision of visitors from countries where national memorials are cherished.”

Historic photo of fort wall with each stone numbered, Halifax Citadel
Each stone was numbered, recorded, removed and returned to the same place
© Parks Canada

At the Commission’s recommendation, the Citadel was transferred to Parks Canada for restoration.

Over the following decades, teams of dedicated historians, archaeologists, engineers, architects, masons and carpenters worked to return the Citadel to its original mid-nineteenth century appearance.

Researchers combed through archives in Canada and Britain in search of historic plans and skilled tradesmen employed age-old techniques to faithfully reconstruct the fort...with a few minor adjustments to ensure its long-term preservation.

Today, thanks to their efforts and to the on-going work of Parks Canada, it is difficult to recall a time, not so long ago, when the Halifax Citadel’s walls were crumbling and its future survival lay in doubt.

To learn more about this project and the people involved, watch “The Restoration of the Citadel: An Armed Camp.”

This video highlights the painstaking restoration work behind this seemingly ageless fort.

The Restoration of the Halifax Citadel: An Armed Camp


[Halifax Citadel National Historic Site]

[The Restoration of the Citadel – An Armed Camp]

When somebody walks in here they can tell the difference between this place and a theme park.

The fourth fort to be built here, one of the last great bastion forts to be built anywhere in the world.

[Black and white aerial view of the fort]

So when this fort was built it was the cutting edge of technology.

[Wall made of stone]

Halifax was so well defended that the enemy knew that he has no chance to take it.

It’s real wood, it’s real stone, it’s real brick, it’s even made the same way it was back when it was built the first time in the 1800s.

[View of the fort. Stone being split apart. View of the fort]

So it was quite exciting to kind of bring it back to life.

[Image of a building. People walking on the grounds of the fort. Guard walking. View of the fort]

Every year thousands of visitors arrive at Halifax’s Citadel to experience a national historic site that stands sentry to Canada’s past. A fort that is always ready to protect and defend, that looms steadfast seemingly ageless except looks can be deceivi

[Black and white photos of the fort in need of repair]

Not long ago, the great fortress was all but forgotten, its thick walls collapsing, its battlements crumbling.

The army gave this place up in 1951 and it sort of went into a caretaker mode. Masonry walls over time began to disintegrate and so it was in need of significant work.

[Black and white photos of the fort in need of repair]

Foundation sunk in unstable soil rather than firm bedrock, walls that heaved and buckled from Halifax’s freeze and thaw cycle, mistakes by the original designers and builders had been worsened by time and neglect.

[Black and white photos of the wall sinking in soil]

It was used for a number of museums and the Citadel really isn’t a museum it’s a monument, it just needed that attention.

[Black and white photo of the fort]

That necessary attention came from a sweeping 1950s government report on the state of the arts and sciences in Canada.

[Black and white photo of the fort. Fort wall being held up by wooden planks ]

There is a recommendation that the government of Canada should restore the Halifax Citadel and should reconstruct the fortress of Louisbourg.

[Write-up about the government's recommendation]

Historians were sent to archives all over the world to find the original documentation associated with the Halifax Citadel.

[Black and white photos of archived documentation]

You have an enormous number of very dedicated, highly skilled, highly trained engineers, draftsmen, historians.

[Black and white photos of archived documentation]

We were called as found recorders, we were told to record the entire Halifax Citadel and when inside the casemates, recorded the casemates, locations of fireplaces, windows, doors, profiles of the arches. Recording was done accurately so that we could pu

[Black and white photos of the fort. Photos of numbered stones]

As they pieced together the puzzle, structural engineers took the first tentative steps in rebuilding the fortress. Most of the time it was just hard, painstaking work done with an artisan’s pride and an artist’s touch.

[Numbered stones]

The masons that we had here were master masons, they basically had the same skill sets and the knowledge and understanding as the people that built the fort in the 19th century.

[Masons working on a wall]

I know the stone mason in particular, a man named Charlie Mosher he cut many of the stones that needed to be cut.

[Masons working on a wall]

He feathered a stone just so beautifully, I watched him put the feathers in, they’re metal clips like the top of a fleur-de-lys and you drive a spike through the center and as you drive it down, tap-tap-tap. Suddenly the stones splits along the line of t

[Mason splitting a stone]

And when you look at some details of the arches, see each stone was carved exactly for the place. This is granite. This stone is here for 150 years and it looks almost new.

[Arches made of stone]

Authenticity demanded unwavering attention to the smallest detail. The Douglas fir used for the fortress signal mast had to come all the way from British Columbia. The hand lettering over doors had to be the right size and style. Long ago formulas were

[View of the walls from inside the fort. Signal mast. Hand lettering over doors. Images of various doors. People walking on the grounds of the fort]

Perfection, alas, isn’t always possible. Sometimes the engineers and architects couldn’t deliver exactly what the historians and archaeologists demanded.

[An engineer wearing a hard hat. Men working on a wall]

We tended to lead in the direction of authenticity and we wanted to make sure that we were doing things as authentic as possible but of course things like public safety, costs, engineering concerns also enter into the equation.

[An engineer wearing a hard hat. Men working on a wall]

When we started the restoration process, the regional director came to me and he told me in my ear David, your biggest enemy is water.

[Men working on a wall. Black and white photo of a wall]

Groundwater as it comes into a fortified work it will get in-between the masonry, turn to ice and expand so it leads to fissures and cracks.

[Black and white photo of a wall with numbered stones]

We decided that we would build it, reinforce concrete foundation so it will last a hundred years. This way you have much less maintenance and you don’t, it doesn’t fall apart.

[Concrete foundation]

Sometimes only a vivid imagination can find solutions. When the weight of the walls threatened to collapse the leaking casement roofs, Styrofoam was inserted to lighten the load.

[Reconstruction of the fort. Roof and Styrofoam blocks]

In the construction of the ramparts which were earth at the time, one of the challenges that we faced was that that put tremendous strain on the walls.

[Ramparts. Men working on a wall]

We have concrete then we have Styrofoam, then we have three feet or four feet of earth and it was very stable.

[Image of Styrofoam blocks]

This was viewed as a reasonable compromise by those historians and engineers. Authenticity after all is at the cull of the rebuilding process. Throughout the Citadel’s restoration this underlying commitment never wavered. That Parks Canada learned from

[Various shots of the reconstruction. Cannons. Grass growing on the ramparts]

We let the grass grow rather than mow it, it’s better for the established protection of the bastions and we like the look rather than the manicured look.

We have a door and window program and Alan Durdle our carpenter he takes care of implementing that. He has a shop completely set up to do doors and windows. Alan can build a far better quality door than what we can buy.

[Walls, doors and windows. Alan Durdle working in his shop]

There are over 750 doors and windows on site and I don't even believe I got to see them all put; I know I worked on a large number of them. Parks Canada has researched all the doors and window types on site and have compiled them together here in a set of drawings.

The window I'm working on right now is a type A window; it's one of the last old windows that are around. As you see the condition the shape that it's in, it's ready for replacement. It makes me very proud to be able to work on reconstruction of the Citadel here, being able to work on period doors and windows, you can't ask for anything better.

It makes me very proud to be able to work on reconstruction of the Citadel here, being able to work on period doors and windows, you can’t ask for anything better.

[Alan Durdle working in his shop. Various views of doors. Drawings of doors. Alan Durdle showing wood chips from an old window or door. New window]

The craftsmen that come to work on the fort they take pride in their work and it shows.

Artisans using time honoured skills continue to shore up the massive walls as they’ve done for more than 250 years.

[Worker splitting a stone]

As you can see the boys are restoring the fort walls so the process would be to number and record the stones, take them down, get things prepared and ready for them to be rebuilt and then each stone would go back exactly where it was before as it was originally.

The techniques of lifting the stones that we would use Lewis pins and dull pins which is what originally would have been used. The very proud of the work I’ve done here at the Citadel especially because it’s British heritage as well.

[Masons working on a wall]

Restoration is an ongoing effort so with Parks Canada’s leadership the process continues. It’s not rocket science, it’s putting mortar and stone together to form a wall except somehow it becomes much more.

The reconstruction of these forts maintain the direct link of our history to our every day lives so our heritage isn’t something that’s merely bricks and mortar and guns and things like that, it’s the story that those things encapsulate and tell us.

[Various views of the fort. Cannons]

And if these good old stones could talk, they could tell a lot of stories about how this country was built. This is a living breathing monument that has an association with Canadians of all generations.

I believe firmly that authenticity does matter and that it is part of what draws people to places like this. They know that they’re gonna be able to touch history in a real way.

[Wall made of stone. People walking on the grounds of the fort]

There’s two people anywhere in the world that could compare with the work and the dedication that goes into the restoration of this fort and others around the country.

[View of a fort wall]

A famous writer once said the past is never dead. It’s not even passed. By ensuring the Citadel’s legacy Parks Canada isn’t just preserving our past, it is enriching our future.