History can be a dry subject when obtained from a text book. It’s for this reason that exposure to living history might just be the best way to teach our children about the past. Living history as an educational medium is wildly effective, it’s also a whole lot of fun for everyone in the family. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario.
Fort Henry has taken history and mixed it with the best part of today’s technology to bring visitors an exceptional program. In addition, they’ve shaken off the stodgy image of traditional museums by incorporating an outdoor patio with the best views the fort has to offer and included live musicians — playing more modern tunes — to keep you sticking around longer. And stick around you will.
Upon arrival, the first stop at the Discovery Centre sets the stage for your visit. Here you can learn what it was like to dine as a enlisted man versus an officer simply by sitting down at an historic table retrofitted with screens. Line up a real cannon to virtually shoot a boat in the water or question a mother and her children about their future. Will he join the military or become a blacksmith apprentice at 14? What of the 16 year old daughter? Time to marry or become a housemaid? It’s a fascinating glimpse into the 1800s and I might add a gentle reminder to today’s youth about how good they have it. (I may have driven that point home a few times)
Built in 1832, Fort Henry was originally erected by the British to protect the naval dockyard at Point Frederick. Through the years it has been a gunnery school and a prison for political prisoners and prisoners of war during WWI and WWII. Fully restored in 1938, Fort Henry now serves as a museum and historical site that fully immerses it’s guests in a time gone by. Soldiers (largely recruited from the nearby Royal Military College) “entertain” guests by re-enacting battles, marches, and music from the era.
While you can visit Fort Henry from early morning on, I would recommend a later start so that you can take in the Sunset Ceremony (Wednesdays and Saturdays only) which happens in the lower fort throughout the summer months. Plan to arrive around 4, so that you can explore the Discovery Centre before heading up to the fort. Once in the fort, you can sit and enjoy the breathtaking views from The Battery Bistro or stroll through the Fort Henry Trade Square and see what local artisans have on display. Plan for dinner in the Officers’ Mess and be served a delicious meal by a soldier. When you’re ready, wander into the parade square in the lower fort and explore the cookhouse, the schoolroom, the officers’ quarters and more. Finally, settle in and take a seat to watch the Sunset Ceremony.