Overlooking Halifax and the harbor beyond it is the Citadel. Situated high up on a hill, the star-shaped fort has sweeping fields of fire for the soldiers who manned it. Both rifle fire and the cannon designed to swivel to provide a wide arc of fire on any ship daring to challenge from the harbor would have been deadly. The hill from the water to the walls of the Citadel is steep, and until the city was built up it offered little in the way of shelter for anyone crazy enough to attack it. No army ever did.
This fort (officially “Fort George”) was rebuilt several times as threats emerged, first from the French, then from the upstart Americans. When Benedict Arnold sailed with his army from Newburyport to Maine for the long march through the wilderness to Quebec, the British thought they were sailing for Halifax. This would have been a devastating blow to the British had they won, but on the flip side, the army could easily have been decimated in an attack, which would have been equally devastating for the Continental Army.
I’ve visited the Citadel each time I’ve been to Halifax. The climb up the hill is a workout, especially if you’re starting from the waterfront. The views from the top aren’t what they used to be – after all Halifax is a city of skyscrapers that obscure parts of the waterfront. But the view, and perspective you receive, is worth the workout. While there was never a shot fired at the Citadel, it was a great deterrent and a reassuring presence high up on the hill for residents of Halifax and for the sailors anchored in the harbor.
For the soldiers stationed here during the wars with the French and Americans it was a reprieve from the dangers of the front lines. This may have led some to be a bit casual about their duty. In an effort to resolve the tardiness of the troops who manned the fort, Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent commissioned the Halifax Clock Tower in 1800. It was completed and began keeping time in 1803 and continues to mark the passage of time on this hill overlooking the city.
When you’re standing on the top of the hill looking out on the city and the harbor beyond, you can see the site of the Halifax explosion to your left, Pier 21 to your right, and some great bars and restaurants in between. Halifax is a fun town; a great walking city with a lot of history. As a guy from Boston I can appreciate that.