After seven months of waiting around for workmen to repair our downstairs, it was time to get out and do something different. Something different was a visit to George’s Island in Halifax Harbour, The island is a National Historic Site now open to the public and assessable by a ferry that began during last year’s tourist season.
I had booked our tickets in advance. They included the return ferry ride and admission to the site. We could have also ordered a picnic lunch but decided to bring our own snacks instead because we wanted to eat on the Halifax waterfront when we returned.
Forts are not usually my cup of tea. Normally I find them boring and musty and at the top of my list of things to avoid. Thinking of them bring on flashbacks of school trips to Citadel Hill, Halifax’s major fortress that overlooks the city and the harbour. I remember long days and sleep-inducing lectures that, no matter how much I liked history, made it impossible to make the trips stimulating. But for some reason I wanted to go to George’s island. Possibly because I thought it would be cool to visit the island in the middle of Halifax Harbour. Turns out it was a very interesting place to tour. Perhaps a sign of maturity on my part. Perhaps, but the place was also little-kid cool and the little kid in me loved it.
We catch the ferry at Cable Wharf on the Halifax waterfront. The trip over is short, maybe ten minutes. The return ticket is flexible so you can stay as long as you want during open hours. The first thing you see after disembarking are the views of the mainland of the Halifax and Dartmouth sides of the harbour. This in itself was something I really wanted to experience.
Originally an important gathering place for the Mi’kmaq people it was called Elpaqkwitk (Water splashed on it by waves). Part of Kjipuktuk (The Great Harbour). By the 17th century the French arrived in the area looking for fish and furs and used it as a place to assemble in a failed attempt to recapture the fortress of Louisburg. In 1749, the British arrived to build a naval base and christened the area Halifax and the island George’s Island after King George II.
At times it served as a prison, and even an internment camp for Acadians during the expulsion. It was a strategic navel base during the English French Wars of the 1700 and 1800’s. It underwent various redesigns and renovations during these periods. It started as a star-shaped fort with a Martello tower added, which was later removed when the fort was rebuild as a mostly unground oval fort to accommodate and withstand the newer, more-powerful weapons.
As technology changed so did the fort. By the first world war it was less important as newer coastal forts were necessary due to the increased ranges in artillery. The last soldiers served on the fort during the second world war when an anti-aircraft unit was stationed on the island as a just-in-case measure. Afterwards the fort quickly became obsolete.
Now it is an interesting tourist destination for visitors to Halifax. There are remains of building and remains of weapons and interpretive panels that tell the story of the island.
There are also tunnel tours because most of this fort is underground. The Doc, because of his knee and mobility issues, settled himself at a picnic table while I took the tour.
There was a lot of talk about the history and a lot more talk about the various weapons, which surprisingly held my interest much more than I thought it would. It was all pretty cool and I enjoyed it.
It would take two and a half minutes to load and fire the muzzle-loading guns pictured below. Soldiers had to leave the room to actually fire them once loaded or they would go deaf. How’s that for an interesting tidbit? I won’t forget that one.
Three not-long hours later, we caught the ferry back to the mainland. We had a nice brunch at a French Cafe before strolling back to the parkade while enjoying the beautiful harbour front on a Sunday afternoon. If you like history and want something a little different to do when you are in Halifax, I recommend a visit to George’s Island.
Thank you for reading.
Photos: Jenn Stone