Saint Helen Island Fort
|Saint Helen Island Fort (1820-1870, 1870-1945) - A British Fort and Arsenal established in 1820 after the War of 1812 under the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel Elias W Durnford, Royal Engineers, on Saint Helen's Island in present day Montreal City, Quebec, Canada. Abandoned by the British in 1870 when they left Canada and taken over by the Canadian Government. Also referred to as Le Vieux Fort, Arsenal of Fort Saint Helena Island and Fort de l'Île Sainte-Hélène but the actual name of the fort is unclear even to the current operators.
Saint Helen Island Fort History
Part of the Harbor Defense of Montreal.
Constructed between 1820 and 1824 by the British as replacement for the Montreal Citadel. The fort was built under the supervision of Lieutenant Colonel Elias W Durnford, Royal Engineers, on Saint Helen's Island in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River at Montreal. The island was acquired by the British Government in 1818 from Baroness Longeuil for a project planned by the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, to fortify Montreal.
The Arsenal portion of the fort was built as a five sided enclosure with three story buildings forming four of the sides. The fifth side facing the river was an earthwork and masonry wall. At the end of the wall was a blockhouse that looked out over the river. Opposite the entrance to the arsenal was a powder magazine and beyond that was a 250 man barracks that housed both officers and enlisted men in a four story structure. The barracks burned down in 1875 after the British left and only the bottom floor remains.
The fort served as a cholera hospital in the 1832-1834 cholera epidemic. It became a military prison in 1848 for a short time. In 1870 the British troops left Canada and the Canadian government took over the post.
During the World War I the fort served as a munitions depot. In the 1930s the Fort was restored as a depression era project. During World War II it served as a prisoner of war camp and later as a military prison.
In 1956 the Fort became a military museum and during 1960-1970 the Stewart Museum was installed in the Arsenal buildings. A $7 million dollar renovation and upgrade project was completed in 2011 that included modern climate control, security and safety features as well as a central outdoor glass tower that houses a staircase and elevator system. The tower facilities insure accessibility to all three stories of the old Arsenal building.
A part of the Stewart Museum which operates the site on Saint Helen's Island, Montreal City, Quebec, Canada. The island is connected to both sides of the Saint Lawrence River by the Jacques Cartier Bridge.
The fort and arsenal buildings have been externally restored with the exception of the barracks which burned down in 1875. That barracks has only the lower vaults remaining. The Arsenal buildings house the Stewart Museum and library and have been converted for that use but parts of the original interior are exposed.
The main Arsenal yard has a cannon and mortar collection on display and a period blockhouse at the far end. Period guns are on display in the yard, on the earthworks and in front of the museum. A particularly nice brass cannon is in the arsenal yard. Activities during the open days in the summer season include French soldiers drilling and firing muskets as well as a Scottish bagpipe and dance troupe.
A large paid parking lot that can cost you between $6 and $20 to park is at the entrance. The museum also has a structured admission fee. Check for the museum operating days (currently Wednesday to Sunday). The Museum grounds were open on days when the Museum itself was closed.
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Visited: 30-31 Jul 2013