Canada Trip #16 – Fort Henry and Kingston

Our only “big” trip out during our week staying at the lake house was to Kingston.  Kingston is a historic city, since it was united Canada’s first capital.  For three years.  Still, its historic significance means it has lots of quaint streets and interesting architecture.  The focus of our trip, however, was a visit to Fort Henry.

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Fort Henry was built during the War of 1812 and the site was important because it was at the head of the St Lawrence River.  I don’t get defensive  strategy but I’ve had enough exposure to military history to know that ports, major waterways, and railway intersections are important.  And also peach orchards if it’s the Civil War.  It didn’t last long as an actual fort in the whole scheme of things, however, as it has been a tourist attraction since the 1930s.

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The upper fort comprises what I guess were once storage warehouses that have been turned into shops and cafes.  We, therefore, headed down to the lower fort  – which was the “museum” bit of the Fort – and into a couple of rooms built into the gateway wall.  One contained an array of uniforms for the kids – and adults – to try on.  I preferred the opposite room which contained a cabinet filled with chunky vintage keys.  We also visited the cells – and, man, they had a lot of cells so those soldiers either must have been up no good a lot of the time or else they had too many petty offences on the books such as loudly burping in public or shoes being adequately shiny.  The cells, however, might have been preferable to the privies.  I personally would have preferred a stint in the cells than having to go about my business in a row of other people doing the same.

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We were also able to visit a few kitchens, some more rustic and some more formal, and we even saw some women baking pretzels in the original ovens.  They made the whole place smell delicious.  They were not the only staff in costume either.  Indeed, the whole fort was manned by folks dressed up in period clothing.  One of these was a teacher and we sat in her classroom for a mathematics lesson.  The experience taught the kids in the room about the differences between the ways in which each gender was educated, what some of the expectations of classroom behaviour were, and what some of the punishments were for disobeying those rules.

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Along the length of one corridor, we could view the finely decorated rooms in the officers’ quarters.  We had also seen a furnished barrack room for the non-commissioned men and the differences were pretty stark.  We passed through a room full of barrels – lots of alcohol consumption in the military, of course, and that led us into a room where we could choose to stay on the same level or take a detour down to the cellar level.  We love exploring dank, dark, and potentially spooky places so it was a no-brainer plus a warning sign about bats was read by us as a promise.  We all love bats.  Alas, and much to the chagrin of the Pictlings, we did not encounter a single bat nor did I see or smell any signs of them.  False advertising.

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Up on the ramparts, we could poke among the canons and gain a better appreciation of the shape of the fort.  We could also watch a troop of faux soldiers rehearsing their drill.  We didn’t want to catch too much of what they were up to, however, because we did not want a spoiler of the actual performance so we skedaddled.

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It was definitely time to eat by this point in the day, our schedule meaning we were having to combine lunch and dinner (dunch? linner?), so we headed into the centre of Kingston.  Mr Pict had been up to some googling so we ended up at a German restaurant.  I don’t eat meat which often completely rules out German cuisine and, as such, I don’t think the boys have ever eaten German food.  What better time to introduce them to new foods than when they are hangry and have been dragged around a fort in the searing heat against their will?  It actually proved to be an unexpected success – especially for our 16 year old who, like his father, is an enthusiastic carnivore.  Filled up and refreshed from some time spent with air conditioning, we had a bit of an explore of central Kingston.  Our youngest son – the one obsessed with cats – was delighted to pass many window displays with a feline theme.  For my part, I enjoyed seeing Kingston Penitentiary.  I would have liked to have visit but time did not permit.  Among the (in)famous prisoners who served their sentences within its walls was Grace Marks, the protagonist of Margaret Atwood’s novel ‘Alias Grace’.

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After wandering around Kingston for a bit, we still had some time to “waste” so we headed over to Kingston’s section of the Rideau Canal.  The Rideau Canal stretches all the way from Ottawa to the St Lawrence.  Having visited one end of the canal when I was in Ottawa back in 2001, it was apt that I visit its other end in Kingston, where the canal system meets the Cataraqui River.  Just as with Fort Henry, the catalyst for construction was the War of 1812 (a conflict I know a woeful amount about while having little intention of deliberately learning more) because the British wanted to ensure a supply route.  It’s possible that as many as a thousand people died while building the canal, often from malaria.  This was a factoid I learned while, yet again, being bitten by swarms of flying insects.

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After whiling away some time around the canal locks, it was time to return to Fort Henry.  We had tickets for the Sunset Ceremony so we headed back into the lower fort, clambered up onto some bleachers, and gobbled up some beaver tails while waiting for the evening’s entertainment to start.  The ceremony was a demonstration of military drills, music, artillery, and fireworks – and a walk on part by the goat mascot.  The whole performance was very polished, with lots of precise movements, great visuals, and an informative narration.  The kids had been very skeptical about the value of returning to the fort but they all thoroughly enjoyed the show.

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2 thoughts on “Canada Trip #16 – Fort Henry and Kingston

    • Reenactments and costumed guides definitely help my kids engage. Yes, the portions were very generous and we ended up taking home several boxes of leftovers which made for an easy meal the next day.

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