Citadel Hill (Fort George) & Town Clock

The current star-shaped fortress, or citadel, is formally known as Fort George and was completed in 1856, during the Victorian Era, following twenty-eight years of construction. This massive masonry-construction fort was designed to repel a land-based attack by United States forces and was inspired by the designs of Louis XIV’s commissary of fortifications Sébastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban –[citation needed] a star-shaped hillock citadel with internal courtyard and clear harbour view from armoured ramparts. Between 1820 and 1831 the British had constructed a similar albeit larger citadel in Quebec City known as the Citadel of Quebec.

Fort George (named after King George II of Great Britain) is the fortified summit of Citadel Hill, a National Historic Site of Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia. First established in 1749, as a counterbalance to the French stronghold of Louisbourg, which the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) returned to France, Halifax played a pivotal role over the next decade in the Anglo-French rivalry in the region. One historian calls that era Father Le Loutre’s War. The various fortifications at Halifax were to protect the Protestant settlers against raids by the French, Acadians, and Wabanaki Confederacy (primarily the Mi’kmaq). Those fortifications, including the one at the summit of the hill, were successively rebuilt to defend the town from various enemies.Image

A series of four different defensive fortifications have occupied the summit of Citadel Hill since this time, with the construction and levelling resulting in the summit of the hill being dropped by ten to twelve metres. Whilst never attacked, the Citadel was long the keystone to the defence of the strategically important Halifax Harbour and its Royal Navy Dockyard.Image

Today the fort is operated by Parks Canada and is restored to the Victorian period. There are re-enactors of the famed 78th (Highlanders) Regiment of Foot and the 78th Highlanders (Halifax Citadel) Pipe Band who were stationed at Halifax for almost three years (1869-1871).

Fort George was also instrumental to the British during the French and Indian War (the North American theatre of the Seven Years War). The Fort was used to help facilitate the Expulsion of the Acadians, many Acadians being imprisoned on Georges Island in Halifax Harbour. During the war, the Mi’kmaq and Acadians resisted the British throughout the province. On 2 April 1756, Mi’kmaq received payment from the Governor of Quebec for 12 British scalps taken at Halifax. Acadian Pierre Gautier, son of Joseph-Nicolas Gautier, led Mi’kmaImageq warriors from Louisbourg on three raids against Halifax in 1757. In each raid, Gautier took prisoners or scalps or both. The last raid happened in September and Gautier went with four Mi’kmaq and killed and scalped two British men at the foot of Citadel Hill. In July 1759, Mi’kmaq and Acadians killed five British in Dartmouth, opposite McNabb’s Island. There were also numerous raids against the British in the province such as the Raid on Lunenburg (1756).


The Town Clock, also sometimes called the Old Town Clock or Citadel Clock Tower, is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the historic urban core of Nova Scotia’s Halifax Regional Municipality.

The idea of a clock for the British Army and Royal Navy garrison at Halifax is credited to Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, who arranged for a turret clock to be manufactured before his return to England in 1800. It is said that Prince Edward, then commander-in-chief of all military forces in British North America, wished to resolve the tardiness of the local garrison.

The clock tower is a three-tiered (three storey), irregular octagon tower built atop a one storey white clapboard building of classic Palladian proportions. It was erected on the east slope of Citadel Hill facing Barrack (now Brunswick) Street. The clock face is 4-sided displaying Roman numerals. As with most clocks the “4” is shown as IIII for aesthetic symmetry and not as IV.


The clock at sunset.

The clock mechanism was constructed by the “House of Vulliamy”, respected Royal Clockmakers based in London. It is driven by three weights, gears, and a 13-foot pendulum with the mechanism being housed in a cast iron frame located in the “clock room”, immediately below the belfry. Its bell strikes hourly and quarterly and the durability of the mechanism (which dates to the original installation) is attributed to its slow movement.

The Town Clock began keeping time for the garrison on October 20, 1803.

The tower housing the Town Clock has been used in the past as a guard room and as a residence for the clock caretaker. The first caretaker of the Citadel Clock had the surname Dechman. Restoration work on the Town Clock has taken place at various times during the 20th century, with the property passing into the care of Parks Canada, which has responsibility for the Citadel Hill National Historic Site. The caretaker position ceased in 1965 with its maintenance now being performed by Citadel Hill employees who wind the clock mechanism twice weekly.Image

A major restoration project in 1990 saw the exterior façade of the Town Clock building returned to its original Georgian appearance. Another restoration in 2005 saw the clock face undergo extensive rehabilitation. Image

As a Halifax icon, the Town Clock has featured in many artwork, fictional and non-fictional accounts of Halifax. One among many is a depiction of the town clock as a character named Chimey in the children’s television show Theodore Tugboat.

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