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Fort Wellington National Historic Site
(Prescott)
Judi
Festival Nomad Correspondent, Judi "Scoop" McWilliams
 
 

Fort Wellington National Historic Site for the first time. Nestled in the hillside of Prescott on the shores of the St. Lawrence River is the Fort. It is small in size compared to some of the larger National Historic Sites we have visited over the years, but, it might well be one of Upper Canada’s best preserved British Military forts. The Fort was strategically built during the War of 1812 in Prescott to defend the vital St. Lawrence River route from American attach. The Fort was rebuilt in response to the Rebellions of 1837 through 1838 using components from the first structure.

The fort's construction extended over two years, being completed in 1814, just as Britain and the United States negotiated a peace treaty to end the conflict. Prescott was not attacked during the war, but it was an assembly point for regular troops and militia who, early in 1813, crossed the frozen St. Lawrence River to destroy the American military post at Ogdensburg. In the years following the war, Fort Wellington's garrison was gradually reduced and the blockhouse and earthworks allowed to deteriorate. The fort was finally abandoned in 1833”.

 “The second Fort Wellington was ready for occupancy by February 1839. In addition to the massive blockhouse, the new fortification contained a guardhouse, cook house, latrine and an officers' quarters, enclosed by the refurbished earthen ramparts of the first fort. Fort Wellington was never attacked but, a few months before its completion, an invading force landed at Windmill Point about 1.5 kilometres down river from Prescott. Fort Wellington became the assembly point for British regulars and a large contingent of militia who confronted and defeated the attackers after five days of heavy fighting”. “Tensions along the border eventually eased. In 1854, the last troops were withdrawn and the fort once again left vacant. It was occupied again in 1866, but the last detachment of troops was removed in 1869. This ended Fort Wellington's active military use. Thereafter it was used as a military storehouse and, at intervals, as a training ground for local militia.

Fort Wellington's history as an operational fort was relatively brief. After the creation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867, Fort Wellington became the property of the Department of Militia and Defense. In 1923 at the request of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, management of the property was transferred to the Department of the Interior because the board planned to identify it as a place of national historic importance. In 1925, Fort Wellington became a national historic site, the first in Ontario to be managed by the federal government. It is now administered by Parks Canada”

Parks Canada protects and presents the cultural heritage and integrity of Fort Wellington on behalf of all Canadians. We are fortunate it is open to the public, offering unique and authentic stories by facilitating real and inspiring visitor experiences. Costumed historical interpreters engage visitors through interpretive talks, presentations and period demonstrations such as cooking over an open fire, rifle and cannon firings, period crafts and games. Special events take place throughout the year and education programs entertain school age children from the area and as far away as Toronto, Ottawa and Kingston.

As we arrived early in the day, we took the time to walk the outer fields, down around the lakefront and finally climbing up to the outer Fort wooden fences. I felt the cool breeze of the warm summer day, calm, serene, yet before me stood a massive Cannon pointed right at me. The silence became eerie as my imagination took over. It was time to find out what “safety” lay inside the Fort.

We began our visit at the Visitor Centre, where we saw exhibits and an orientation video. An amazing medallion was embedded in the floor at the entrance covered with perhaps Plexiglas allowing us to view.  The Barracks Store Gift Shop was fun to look around where they specialize in merchandise including local arts and crafts, souvenirs, historical publications, period games and clothing.

The staff and volunteers gave us a warm welcome, a map, schedule of events and activities for the day, offering all for “free” as the National Historic Site of Canada does on “Canada Day”.  It was going to be a busy day! 

The Prescott Heritage River Trail is a walking trail running along the St. Lawrence for the length of the Fort property. This scenic trail is enhanced with interpretive panels exploring the history of the property and the use of the river as a transshipment route. We followed the path to the historic site where interpretive staff dressed as soldiers and wives of soldiers were about to bring the site to life.

Our photos have captured a lot of our day visiting the Fort, but talking with the interpreters, experiencing the Fort yourself, sitting on the hill, just listening, is the greatest experience you can imagine. We were glad we took the time to stop into the Fort! If you wish to experience Canada Day at the Fort, we welcome you to check out our full article of Canada Day Celebrations ~ Village of Bath and Fort Wellington National Historic Site, through our Ontario Festivals Visited website!

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