Jul 9, 2012 - Canada, Quebec, Travel    1 Comment

Fort Lennox, Saint-Paul-Île-Aux-Noix

My dad took my sister and me many times to Fort Lennox. Last time I was there was surely going on 20 years.

The brochure sums up this place much more eloquently than I ever could (great job, Parks Canada!):

Located on Île aux Noix, an island on the Richelieu River, Fort Lennox is one of the jewels of the Parks Canada network…. There is no bridge linking this fabulously destined island to the mainland, it can only be reached by boat. The crossing takes five minutes, which is just enough time to travel back a few centuries and tread the very earth that was fought over by the French, American and British.

Once you step across the drawbridge at Fort Lennox, you will discover one of the most authentic British fortifications in North America. The stone buildings and defensive structures are of exceptional beauty. They were built between 1819 and 1829 to protect the colony against an eventual American invasion by way of the Richelieu River.

Your guide will help you discover the amazing history of Île aux Noix as you walk in the footsteps of the soldiers and officers of Fort Lennox. Once inside the barracks, the guard room, the jail, and the officers’ quarters you will get a fascinating glimpse into the daily military life of days gone by.

To access the Fort, you park in the parking lot in St-Paul-Île-aux-Noix, pay at the information centre, and then take brief ferry ride to the island. Admission is $7.80 or about half that if you get across on in your own boat (the region is a haven for boaters).

There is a small canteen on site, but I opted to bring my own food. So by the time I did a detour to Napierville to get some, it was 11:00 when I bought my admission ticket. The ferry runs on the half hour, so I had just enough time to take a couple of pictures and then it was time to cross the river.

The pictures below will have more information, so I’ll just give some general insight into the fort and my day there. While the island is a really nice place to spend the day as a family, there really isn’t much to see in the fort in terms of museum exhibits. You can easily go to Fort Lennox for an hour, which is about how long I expected to be there. But if you go on the weekends, there are guided tours and reenactments, which really add to the experience. I wound up staying for almost five hours!

I started by exploring a little on my own then stopping for lunch in the very little shade the island offers. I did the last exhibit and was going to call it a day when I found the media room where I got sucked into some movies about a shameful part of Canadian history that I knew nothing about: the internment of Jewish refugees at Fort Lennox in the 1940s as prisoners of war. They were Germans who had fled to Britain and then been deported to Canada where there was no understanding of the distinction between Nazi sympathizers and Germans who opposed the regime.

It took a few years for the status of the Jews to change from prisoners to refugees and even longer for the Canadian government to allow the men to remain on Canadian soil. You see, Canada didn’t want any Jewish refugees during World War II. This is the same country that interned its Japanese citizens during the same conflict, but I digress.

The video presentation was very good and it was a shock to realise that the men talking were featured in the photographs of the island at the time. These men do not begrudge the initial rough treatment by Canadian authorities because they were provided with excellent schooling and eventually allowed to stay. Sure, Canada didn’t want Jews, but it came around. That sure beat being unwanted in their own country and being sent to a concentration camp. All is relative…

Anyway, by the time I finished the videos, the first guided tour was underway so I joined in at the powder magazine, a vaulted and sealed building set apart from the others where the black powder was stored. We continued past the officers’ quarters, the guard house, and the jail, where the tour ended.

It was then time to join a session about the uniforms worn at the fort in the 1830s. They were red and white with apple green accents to mark that they were the 24th regiment. The interpreter said the coats were red so that the soldiers would be visible and impressive, adding that the rifles of the day didn’t allow one to aim so, no, the red didn’t make the soldiers any more of a target.

After the uniform demonstration, we moved on to the impressive firearm demonstration. When that was done, a tour with a costumed interpreter started, so I thought to join in so as to see the section I’d missed on the first tour. As it turned out, there were so many visitors we were broken off into smaller groups who did the tour in a different order. I wound up starting again at the powder magazine and had to go through everything again to get to the general barracks.

This was no hardship since the costumed tour was entertaining and had extra information. Plus, I took the costumed tour in English since the group was much, much smaller than the French ones, so I got to hear the bulk of the information in both languages.

When the tour ended, I was beyond ready to get out of the sun, so I got an ice cream from the canteen and headed back to the dock to await the next ferry, pleased that the locale had lived up to nostalgic memories.

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1 Comment

  • Hi Rae. We (Matt and I) were looking at your pictures of Fort Lennox and noticed it looked a lot like the Halifax citadel. It was built around the same time and has very similar architectural details. Low and behold, both were designed by the same engineer, Nicolls. Hope you get to visit soon and maybe you’ll get to compare both. Hope things settle quickly for Miranda. Take care.

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