More Big Ticket Tours: final week
Each trolley and cruise tour I took brought me tantalizingly close to Fort Henry. It was finally time to hop off the trolley and enter through the gates into the past. Another nod to the wonders of the K-Pass, the price was included. However, the $20.00 per person, including a tour in English or French, seems reasonable. For anyone wanting to keep to a budget this is equal to about 8 cups of coffee. Make your own coffee = a day of history.
We were a small group, perhaps ten people including our guide. This meant no crowding, craning necks or being jostled on slippery stairs. Unfortunately, due to poor lighting it was not easy to take indoor photos using my iPhone that would turn out. That certainly made me appreciate the conditions the soldiers and their families lived in. Not that it was that much cozier for the officers.
First built during the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States – mostly over shipping rights – the Fort was built on a strategic location to protect trade and communication routes to Kingston. the Fort we now see was built as a fortification between 1832 – 1837 to protect the newly built Rideau Canal, only to be abandoned by the British in 1870 then by the Canadian military by 1891. Fort Henry became a a living museum in 1938. Someone was very forward thinking! It should be noted that not a single shot was fired against an enemy to the country. Great posting in my opinion.
The higher ranking officers lived in relative comfort with their own rooms, a desk, some personal belongings and meals. The latter were generally shared with fellow officers. The highest ranking officer had a larger room, a bigger and more comfortable bed, a nicer desk (this seemed important – probably for all the important daily events of the day, not that much was going on), a table for hosting guests and more personal items such as fishing gear and a special bed for a dog. Even a tub for bathing that neatly tucked under the bed. See http://www.royalengineers.ca Life In the British Army for an account of what life was like for officers and ordinary soldiers.
Of course the differences between officers -usually commissioned (bought their way in) and educated – and soldiers were glaring. Officers lived rather sumptuously in comparison to non-commissioned soldiers, with two separate kitchens and staff, whereas soldiers and their families shared barracks with each other, the wives or single males did cooking other than the daily bread. Bread was baked daily in massive ovens that held 120 loaves of whole wheat bread each to feed the garrison of about 350. To my recollections, no photos, there were two ovens. Whole wheat bread was considered inferior with white flour saved solely for the officers. No air conditioning. No windows. With an average of three children per family and only a curtain for privacy life was not a bed of roses. Women and children counted on the support of the soldier in their family. If I were a soldier I would be glad for the days when on duty!
The tour was very informative and well paced. With so few in the group I think we were lucky as it meant we could peruse the various rooms, most behind glass or rope, without feeling hustled out before another group arrived. I was glad to not have heard one of the ghost stories until later in the day from my daughter, I might have decided to move along a little faster. Seems there is a mischievous child, or young adult, who likes to hang out in the common kitchen, and goes about closing heavy corridor doors and moving items then gaily laughs as she skips away. (Or something along those lines) There was even a time when a guide could not open the doors – I think he started to believe there might be beings beyond us after all. I know my daughter does not disbelieve after working as a tour guide.
As we left the barracks and returned to the sunlight everyone breathed a little easier, it was dark, dank and low ceilinged where the population of the Fort had lived. Of course the Fort has the best view of the lake and surrounding land, from the battlements the vista is fabulous, looking out to Wolfe Island with its giant, rather mystical wind turbines in the distance, and Cedar Island sitting a scant distance from the Fort. One ghost story dates back to Sep 12, 1846 when an oncoming storm found 23 men headed to Fort Henry in a 12 man boat. 17 drowned. The distraught fiancée of one, who visited the landing area daily, was found drowned on the nearby promontory one cold day? To this day people say they have seen the young couple, Robert and Elizabeth, walking hand in hand or picnicking on the island.
Another story, this one told to me by the sentry posted as I was leaving, had some holes in it when mention of men dying of malaria in the trenches was made. However, I decided to seek out the Lady in the Orange Dress, first through my trusted source – my daughter – then online. I did not find anything about a ghost but, as mentioned in the tour, there had been a garrison hospital nearbya and there was a cholera outbreak in 1832, and seasonal malaria was a problem, possibly into 1924 when the hospital burned down. Considering the bites I received while in Kingston I would not be surprised!
The tour was finished just as the guard was going through drills. Lots of fun; and I grateful I managed to find some shade while I watched them go through their paces. I even had time to visit the Springer Market for some fresh produce before heading off to meet my daughter.
The Numbers: 5.00 coffee; 20.00 market; 15,000 steps