Citadel Hill is a glacial drumlin located on the Halifax Peninsula. It measures approximately 80 metres above sea level and affords a commanding view of the entrance to Halifax Harbour, as well as nearby George's Island and McNabs Island.
The hill's strategic value was the primary reason that the British military chose to establish a presence on the eastern side of the peninsula along The Narrows during the late 1740s to counter a growing French presence at Fortress Louisbourg several hundred kilometres east; the town of Halifax having been established in 1749. A series of four different defensive fortifications have occupied the summit of Citadel Hill since this time, with the construction and levelling resulting in the summit of the hill being dropped by ten to twelve metres.
Citadel Hill and the associated harbour defence fortifications afforded the Royal Navy the most secure and strategic anchorage in eastern North America astride the Great Circle Route to western Europe and gave Halifax the nickname "Warden of The North". The massive British military presence in Halifax focused through Citadel Hill and the Royal Navy's dockyard is thought to be the main reason that Nova Scotia (consisting of all of the present-day Maritimes and part of Quebec's Gaspe Peninsula), the fourteenth colony following Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War, remained loyal to the Crown throughout and after the American Revolutionary War.
The first fort was part of the western perimeter wall for the old city which was protected by five stockaded forts. The others were Horsemans Fort, Cornwallis Fort, Fort Lutrell and Grenadier Fort. Citadel Hill hosted a three-story octagonal blockhouse from 1776–1789, covering a fourteen-gun battery.
The current star-shaped fortress, or citadel, is formally known as Fort George and was completed in 1856, following twenty-eight years of construction. This massive masonry-construction fort was designed to repel a land-based attack by United States forces and was inspired by the designs of Louis XIV's commissary of fortifications Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban – a star-shaped hillock fortress with internal courtyard and clear harbour view from armoured ramparts. The British constructed a similar citadel in Quebec City known as the Citadel of Quebec.
Fort George and its predecessors was the focal point of the British, and later Canadian, military's "Halifax Defence Complex" which included (at various years):
Fort George was constructed to defend against smoothbore weaponry; it became obsolete following the introduction of more powerful rifled guns in the 1860s. British forces upgraded Fort George's armaments to permit it to defend the harbour as well as land approaches, using heavier and more accurate long-range artillery. The role of Fort George in the defense of Halifax Harbour had evolved by the turn of the 20th century to becoming a command centre for other, more distant harbour defensive works, as well as providing barrack accommodations.
Although never attacked, Citadel Hill's various fortifications were garrisoned by the British Army until 1906 and afterward by the Canadian Army throughout the First and Second World Wars; Fort George having been used as temporary barracks during 1939-1940 and as the coordinating point for the city's anti-aircraft defences.
According to Thomas Head Raddall, Citadel Hill was "like Vesuvius over Pompeii, a smiling monster with havoc in its belly". Following the war, the facility was designated a National Historic Site and today is under the responsibility of Parks Canada. Fort George has been restored to the mid-Victorian period.
One of the most enduring and recognized symbols of Citadel Hill's role in shaping Halifax is the daily ceremonial firing of the noon gun. The artillery is also used for formal occasions such as 21-gun salutes.
Fort George has a living history program featuring animators portraying life in the fort where soldiers of the 78th Highland Regiment, the Third Brigade of the Royal Artillery, soldiers wives, and civilian tradespersons re-enact life in 1869.
There are guided and self-guided tours available as well as an army museum, audio-visual presentations and exhibits which serve to communicate the Citadel's role in shaping Halifax's and North America's history.
In July 2006, Halifax Citadel celebrated the 100th anniversary of the withdrawal of the last British military forces from Canada. The citadel hosted over 1,000 re-enactors from around the world.
Approaching the Christmas season, Citadel Hill annually hosts a "Victorian Christmas". Visitors are treated to crafts, carolers and games.
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