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.

DSC_0122

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.

DSC_0123

DSC_0127

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.

DSC_0141

DSC_0146

DSC_0153

DSC_0164

DSC_0170

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.

DSC_0175

DSC_0226

DSC_0224

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.

DSC_0183

DSC_0196_edited-1

DSC_0202

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.

DSC_0244

DSC_0264

DSC_0267

DSC_0276

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’.

2019-07-10 15.55.30-1

2019-07-10 15.15.15

DSC_0289

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.

DSC_0291

DSC_0308

DSC_0300

DSC_0312

DSC_0321

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.

2019-07-10 19.06.59

DSC_0360

DSC_0371

DSC_0392

DSC_0399

DSC_0475

 

Caribbean Cruise – San Juan, Puerto Rico

Our next port of call, on Boxing Day, was San Juan, the capital city of Puerto Rico.  Our ship was one of several cruise ships in port that day so the place was bustling with tourists.  It was quite funny to see these absolutely massive boats moored up next to a replica of one of Columbus’ ships.  Incidentally, it felt like I was being haunted by the malevolent spirit of Christopher Columbus for the entire vacation.  References to him abounded everywhere we went.  For so many reasons, it would be great if history could reframe his “discovery” of the Americas by placing it in a more appropriate and accurate context.  But I digress …

DSC_0005

We were disgorged from the ship in the old city which was convenient as that was the area of San Juan we most wanted to see.  We immediately headed up to Castillo de San Cristóbal, hoping that it might be open despite the government shutdown.  For once, we were in luck, thanks to the wonderful employees of the National Parks System who were willing to work without pay in order to keep historic sites open to the public.  One of three forts on Puerto Rico, this particular fort is the largest that the Spanish built in the New World.  It was in continuous use from Spanish colonial times all the way through to World War Two so has a long and varied history.

DSC_0019

Mr Pict likes military history more than I do so he and his father took more time reading the information boards while the kids and I enjoyed exploring the fascinating architecture, poking around in all the nooks and crannies, and taking in the amazing views across the city.  I had read that Puerto Rico has more iguanas than humans so the younger two boys had their fingers crossed for an iguana encounter.  Thankfully we did indeed meet an iguana who was not too skittish and allowed us to get up close.  Our 9 year old decided its name was Tim.  No idea why.

DSC_0027

DSC_0039

DSC_0050

DSC_0053

DSC_0056

DSC_0077

DSC_0103

DSC_0119

DSC_0088

DSC_0092

After we left the fort, we had a wander through the streets of old San Juan.  I loved all of the architectural details, the diversity of building styles, and the bold colours.  We strolled some streets that retained their blue cobblestones from Spanish colonial times.  I was really quite taken with San Juan and – since the cruise could only ever give us a brief taster of each location – I found myself being left thirsty for more.  Of all the places we visited on our vacation, I am most eager to return to Puerto Rico and take in more of not just San Juan but the whole island.

DSC_0016

DSC_0156

DSC_0147

Ambling in Annapolis

For reasons too tedious to explain but involving leave entitlement, ceaseless winter storms, and rolling rescheduling, Mr Pict and I found ourselves spending a weekend driving to and from Washington DC.  My in-laws had flown in from England and met us there in order to then take our four children on a Spring break vacation.  Mr Pict and I, therefore, found ourselves unexpectedly child-free in Washington DC.

We spent the evening catching up with friends over dinner and wine.  Before I earned that grown up treat, however, I had to trail my husband around some Civil War sites he had never visited.  As I have previously explained, my husband spent his early teens living in the suburbs of DC.  How he managed to live there for years plus have us return from the UK to visit his parents several times without ever visiting these sites is beyond me.  However, as a Civil War nerd, it is on his bucket list to visit just about every obscure Civil War site in the nation so I was happy to indulge him and his bucket list collecting.

First up was Fort Stevens.  I don’t know why I made any sort of assumptions but I had expected the site to be a little more grand or at least cared for than it clearly was.  Instead, what I found were some mounds of earth on a patch of scrappy grass in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, a couple of canons surrounded by litter and broken glass, and the noise of a construction site that abutted the remains of the fort.  Fort Stevens’ significance rests in the fact that it was the site of the only Civil War battle to take place within the limits of the nation’s capital and it was the only time when a serving President came under enemy fire.  The history is that, in July 1864, Jubal Early’s Confederate troops decided to march on the capital following a battle in nearby Frederick.  They encountered Fort Stevens – one of a series of forts protecting the city – and there was a brief battle that repelled the Confederate soldiers.  Lincoln and his wife visited the fort and witnessed the battle, hence his coming under fire.  A rock with a bronze plaque marks the spot where Lincoln stood on the earthworks.

2018-03-24 14.40.41

2018-03-24 14.42.20

2018-03-24 14.43.35

I was underwhelmed by Fort Stevens but the next stop on the itinerary was a little more my cup of tea in that it was a cemetery.  Battleground Cemetery contains the graves of the 40 soldiers who died in the defence of Fort Stevens and others who fought there – the last to be interred being buried there as recently as 1936.  Again there was a Lincoln connection since Abe attended the burial cemetery and dedicated the land, which makes it one of America’s smallest national cemeteries.  It was indeed a modest cemetery.  There were a few regimental memorials within its walls but the graves themselves were very small and simple and arranged in a circle.  It was well-maintained and a tiny pocket of peace and quiet despite being within a major city.

2018-03-24 14.58.47

The following day we decided to stop off in Annapolis as we wended our way back to the Philly suburbs.  Being a bitterly cold Sunday in March, there was not an awful lot for us to do but wander around and absorb the charm of Annapolis’ historic district.  To give our pit stop a little more focus, we decided to visit the Maryland State House.  Occupied since the 1770s, it is the oldest state capitol in continuous use and once served as the nation’s capitol.

DSC_0002

DSC_0003

DSC_0012

DSC_0031

I started out my visit there by stopping by the statue of Thurgood Marshall.  It depicts Marshall as a young lawyer at the start of his career and behind him are pillars reading “Equal Justice Under Law”.  The sculpture also contains three other related statues: one of Donald Gaines Murray, whose case was one of Marshall’s early victories in the fight to desegregate schools, and two children who symbolise Brown V the Board of Education.  It used to be the case that a statue of Roger Taney stood on the grounds but his statue was removed last year.  I personally was glad to see Marshall celebrated at the State House and to see Taney’s absence.

DSC_0006

DSC_0008

DSC_0009

Once inside, we explored the various rooms on a self-guided tour. We had the whole place virtually to ourselves so it was very relaxing and informal.  We had a peek into the current Senate and House chambers.  Mr Pict enjoyed seeing the voting buttons on each desk whereas I was enamoured of the Tiffany skylights.  The Caucus room was very dark but was filled with gleaming silverware.  This was a service from the USS Maryland which is designed with lots of references and symbols relating to the state.  I like things that are shiny but the silverware was all a bit fussy for my taste.  I wouldn’t want to keep it polished either.  Just as well I will never own a silver service set then!  Probably the most historically significant room in the State House is the Old Senate Chamber.  It was in this space, in December 1783, that George Washington resigned his commission as Commander of the Continental Army thus establishing an important precedent for America’s democracy.

DSC_0017

DSC_0029

Back out on the cold streets, we wandered around and poked our noses into the odd shop.  We spent a lot of time rummaging in a very cluttered, very musty, but entirely wonderful book shop.  We then wandered down to the Dock area.  There I found the statue commemorating Alex Haley, author of Roots, and Kunta Kinte, the fictionalised African ancestor of Haley’s that is the starting point of his saga.  We sat there and people- and duck-watched for a bit before walking back through the old streets and back to the car.

2018-03-25 11.32.21-1

DSC_0038

DSC_0052

This was my first visit to Annapolis since I first visited in 1995 and I had forgotten how quaint and attractive it is.  At some point we will have to return with the kids, in warmer temperatures, and when there is more to do.

Fort McHenry

While our oldest two sons were still gallivanting in central America with their grandparents, Mr Pict and I decided to take the younger two on a weekend trip to Baltimore.  It takes less time to drive to Baltimore than it used to take us to drive to Glasgow from where we lived in Scotland and that was a journey we used to make just to buy shoes.  Despite its relative proximity, however, we had only visited Baltimore once since we emigrated to America.  It was, therefore, time to go and explore the city a bit more.

First stop was Fort McHenry.  Even if you don’t know much about the War of 1812 (like me!) you will likely know of Fort McHenry through association because it was the defence of that fort that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, the rousing song that would later become the national anthem.  Fort McHenry is positioned on Baltimore’s harbour since it was that waterway it was built to protect and it is in the shape of a five pointed star to maximise the vantage points for each bastion.  Built at the close of the 18th Century, the Fort was in constant use by America’s military from then until the end of the First World War.  It is, therefore, a very historic place of national significance.  Want to hazard a guess how thrilled our 8 and 10 year olds were to be there absorbing all of that history?  See if you can spot the point at which they disengaged.

2017-08-19 12.07.11

After an introduction in the Visitor Center and the youngest Pictling signing up to do the junior ranger activities, we headed out into the swampy humidity to tour the fort.  There were reenactors demonstrating something about firing cannons and cooking at the fort but the kids had no interest in engaging with any of that so we didn’t pause.  Once inside the thick walls, we found that some young men were demonstrating different drum signals that were used to signal different messages.  I think there might have been one rhythm that was beat out on the drum skin to signal whose turn it was to peel potatoes.  But I may also have just imagined that because I wasn’t paying adequate attention.

DSC_0003

DSC_0006

DSC_0016

We not only saw a reproduction flag flying above the fort but also saw the original wooden cross brace from the famous defence.  It had been preserved as if it was a religious relic.  I confess that I don’t particularly understand America’s near worship of its flag but, of course, this flag has much more historic significance than most.  It was, therefore, pretty cool to see the crumbly old wood.  The defence of the Fort took place over the 13th and 14th of September and it didn’t really end in a victory for either side.  It was more a withdrawal by the British naval vessels because the great defence of the fort had depleted all of their ammo.  If memory serves, the whole War of 1812 similarly concluded because everyone just sort of gave up and decided to pack it in.  Anyway, the flag that was flying during that 25 hour period of conflict had been sewn by Mary Pickersgill and it was seeing the flag emerge through the smoke the next day that told all the onlookers – including Francis Scott Key – that America had prevailed and still held the Fort.  So that it what the national anthem is all about.  We had taken the boys to see the original Star Spangled Banner way back in 2014 so we were gradually piecing together its history in a scattershot way.

DSC_0048

DSC_0051

As a Civil War nerd, Mr Pict was much more keen on the Fort’s history from the Civil War era.  During that conflict, the fort had been used as a military prison and some prominent prisoners had been held there.  One building told the story of that period of history and we were able to step inside one of the very pokey jail cells.

DSC_0020

DSC_0022

DSC_0027

It was a sticky hot day and the kids and I are not much into military history so we didn’t look at every single space or exhibit in detail.  We walked around the ramparts and took in the views and we pottered around in the various barrack buildings.  Each building exhibited a period of the fort’s history, including its use in the First World War as a military hospital and its use in the Second World War as a coastguard base.  There was a room filled with barrels to show what the gunpowder stores would have looked like and there was a collection of cannon outside one building.

DSC_0028

DSC_0036

DSC_0039

DSC_0041

DSC_0044

DSC_0047

The boys had had more than enough of visiting the fort, especially because it was so similar to Fort Mifflin, so we decided to depart before they spontaneously combusted in a combination of frustration and heat.  They soon cheered up on the walk back to the car, however, since they found dozens of shed cicada skins stuck to the bark of trees.

DSC_0060

DSC_0062