Are you visiting Niagara on the Lake or the region? Fort George National Historic Site is definitely worth visiting to learn about Canadian history. It is located only a few steps away from the main street of Niagara-on-the-Lake and it’s a perfect place to spend your morning. Live training demonstrations, parades, musical performances, storytelling and tasting of some period foods are all part of the experience of visiting Fort George.
As we parked our car and paid for parking, we retained the receipt. Presenting it when purchasing the ticket to the fort, got us a discount on the admission price.
Entering the Fort
My children found it very entertaining that the entry ticket was a coin. They were very happy to “pay” the entry fee at the gate of the fort to one of the sentry guarding it.
As we entered, we were given a brochure about the fort. It came very handy as it contains a map of the fort and some interesting and unique facts about the it.
The Highlights of the Visit
1.Watching the Training
As we arrived, young men and women in time period uniforms were reenacting the drills, and uniform and equipment checks. We enjoyed watching them lining up, presenting their arms, and marching.
We also watched the marching band practice playing drums and flutes while marching in formation to their own beat.
2. Raising of the Flag
We arrived around 10:30am, just as the “soldiers” were getting ready for the rising of the flag. We watched the marching band lead the troops around the Blockhouse 2 to the flag pole, while accompanying them with 18th Century military music. The soldiers followed them parading in a three row formation.
3. Musket Demonstration
Another interesting point of our visit was a short history presentation and musket demonstration. The presentation included some fun facts about soldier recruitment, training and the conditions on the battlefield. It also covered the origins and parts of the uniform. The highlight of the presentation was the musket demonstration. Ten “soldiers” presented their arms, loaded the muskets and fired them multiple times while still in a very specific military formation.
4. The Watch Tower
A heavy wooden door guards the entry to a long, rock lined tunnel, covered by a grassy hill. That’s the entry to the watch tower. The stairs are steep and narrow, but the landings in between levels make it manageable even for kids to climb up and down. Once a the top, we enjoyed the sight of the entire fort, the Niagara River and the rolling hills of Niagara-on-the-Lake area.
5. Snacks in the Kitchen
Two cooks minded the kitchen during our visit. They were preparing some treats for the visitors touring Fort George. Here we enjoyed a little treat, something between a pancake and flat bread with a sweet twist to it.
6. Marching Band Performance
Under a tree, near the officers’ quarters, was the special place where the marching band performed for the crowd. We listened to several period pieces performed by the girls and boys ages 9 and up. It was rather impressive to see that with only a year or so practice, they were able to master a variety of songs on their drums and flutes.
7. Officers’ Quarters
Taking into consideration that these quarters were occupied by 20-something year olds in the early 1800’s, they actually lived quite well. Elegant china on the table and piano for entertainment; these young lads had it good. Walking through the building we passed through the officers’ bedrooms, offices and common areas.
A “soldier” entertained us with tales and anecdotes of the young men’s everyday life, responsibilities, schedules, meals and entertainment. He also engaged with our children, asking them about their privileges and responsibilities. He then informed them of the responsibilities they would have had in the 1800’s. They were not impressed. It most certainly made them appreciate their lives.
8. Soldiers’ Blockhouse
Soldiers’ living conditions were significantly different from those of the officers. Here we found rows and rows of bunk beds. A “family area”, for the soldiers who came with their wives and kids, was divided from the general area with sheets and blankets. Not much privacy, if you ask me. Here several “soldiers” and their “wives” were happy to show us around and discuss different areas of the room. The kids loved it too. They dressed up in red coats and hats and enjoyed playing with wooden muskets.
You wouldn’t want to be locked up in that place! The feel of this place is dark and gloomy. This small building contains several, very small cells with thick walls and very heavy cell doors. If your kids are anything like mine, they will have fun pretending to be prisoners and closing themselves in.
I was very impressed with the staff helping the visitors. All of them were in the time period military uniforms or costumes. I found them to be very knowledgable about the fort, the time period and the lives of the soldiers. They were stationed in most of the buildings and answered all of our questions without hesitation.
If you’re going to Fort George with your family, I’d expect to spend about two to three hours at the fort. The area is vast and there is some walking to do just from one building to another. If you’re going there on a hot day, I’d suggest going before it gets too hot. There is little shade and only a few buildings are air-conditioned.
Overall, the visit to Fort George was a very successful one. The children learned a few new things about Canadian history through observation and experience. They got to listen to some 19th century military music, snack on “pancake-bread”, and watch a musket demonstration. It was not something they see every day and that made the visit even more special.
Have you ever been to Fort George? What was your favourite thing you learned or discovered?
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