The Citadel’s Role in Halifax’s History
It’s not an exaggeration to say Halifax, a city on the sea, owes its existence to the Citadel. It was the large hill overlooking the easily defended harbour below that led the British military to found the town there in 1749. Among the first buildings constructed was a wooden guardhouse on top of what would eventually be called Citadel Hill, with Halifax’s first settlers building their homes at the base of the hill, closer to the water. Over the years, as the fort grew, so too did the town, with much of Halifax dedicated to supplying the soldiers with both essential supplies and off-duty entertainment.
Citadel Hill Today
Today, the Halifax Citadel continues to watch over the city’s downtown core, although now its role is as a reminder of Halifax’s past and not as a military fortification. The present Citadel, completed in 1856, is officially called Fort George, named after Britain’s King George II, and is actually the fourth in a series of forts to sit atop what is now known as Citadel Hill. Its distinctive star shape is typical of many 19th century forts built by the British military and gave the garrison sweeping arcs of fire. From its deep defensive ditch, soldiers pointed muskets from every angle of its stout walls and large cannons lined its ramparts. It’s easy to see why no enemy force ever dared to attack the Halifax Citadel.
Things to do Around the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site
The Halifax Citadel National Historic Site gives visitors the opportunity to explore the history of the fortress and the soldiers who were stationed there, walk within its walls – both inside and out –, and literally touch a piece of Halifax’s military history.
Tour the Citadel’s Army Museum, which showcases uniforms, weaponry and models of the fort and its soldiers throughout history.
Watch the story of Halifax and the Citadel as told the through imagery, displays and sounds of the Tides of History exhibit.
Take a private or guided tour of the Citadel grounds – just be sure to keep an eye out for the ghosts that are rumoured to lurk in its shadows!
Sentry Change - Every hour the Citadel is open, watch the sentry guarding the front gate be changed.
Ghost Tours - Learn about the ghost stories and bizarre legends of the Halifax Citadel - run mid-July until late October, 8:30pm.
Halifax Citadel Re-enactments
The Halifax Citadel is anything but a simple museum. Every day, the Citadel comes to life with the sounds and colour of its re-enactment actors, the 78th Highlanders and the Royal Artillery. Dressed in the same uniforms that their respective regiments wore in the mid-1800s, the 78th Highlanders guard the Citadel’s entrance and conduct marching and band drills on the parade grounds, while the Royal Artillery fires the Noon Gun every day at 12 pm – a Halifax tradition that is one of the oldest in the world.
Become a Soldier for a Day
For those who are even more serious about experiencing a soldier’s life in the mid-19th century Citadel, the Soldier for a Day program gives you the chance to step back in time and assume the role of a Highlander. Get fitted for an authentic uniform, including a cotton shirt, wool kilt, sporran, red wool Highland “doublet,” wool socks, boots, spats, and a Glengarry bonnet bearing the brass badge of the 78th Highlanders. You’ll need to look the part because the rest of your day will include learning to drill, fire a rifle (or, for those under 16, play the British Army’s field drum) and learning the ins and outs of a soldier’s life in Her Majesty’s army!
Citadel Admission and Hours of Operation
The Halifax Citadel National Historic site is open year-round, from 9 am to 5 pm (6 pm in July & August), and admission varies with the season. Guided tours are available May through October, with special events taking place on special days such as Canada Day. For more information, visit the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site website.
Programs for Families and Youth
The XPlorer Program is a fun way for kids ages 6-11 to explore the historic British fort. Complete at least 5 activities in the booklet and become an official Halifax Citadel Xplorer with a certificate and a special limited edition Parks Canada souvenir! The Citadel Adventure, geared toward kids ages 9–15, provides a special comic and spy kit to solve clues in order to help save the Citadel. Both programs are FREE with regular admission.
Photo Credit: James Ingram/ C. Reardon