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Visiting Fort Wellington, Prescott, Ontario: remembering early Canadian self-defence efforts prior to Confederation

Updated on June 19, 2013
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Fort Wellington, Prescott, Ontario
Fort Wellington, Prescott, Ontario | Source
Postcard of Fort Wellington, Prescott, Ontario, Canada, circa 1930
Postcard of Fort Wellington, Prescott, Ontario, Canada, circa 1930 | Source
Sir John A. Macdonald
Sir John A. Macdonald | Source
Map location of Leeds and Grenville United Counties, Ontario
Map location of Leeds and Grenville United Counties, Ontario | Source

An important National Historic Site of Canada

Fort Wellington came into existence in 1813, at the time of the series of events in the conflict known collectively as the War of 1812.

However, during this war, the structure, which became a British army base, never had to withstand an attack from American forces. It may reasonably be said, however, that the fact of these fortifications at Prescott contributed to dissuading American General James Wilkinson from launching an attack on Montreal in late 1813 along the nearby St Lawrence River.

For the next decades the structure was largely derelict.

In 1837, the Fort was rebuilt and reinforced; the Battle of the Windmill was fought at Prescott against followers of the Upper Canada Rebellion.

Interestingly and very significantly, the British army departed from Fort Wellington in 1863.

But soon the Fort was in use again, not by a returning British army but by a locally recruited and directed militia, of the variety which was to form the embryo of the new Dominion's defence commitment.

Put otherwise: the British were not going to be relied upon to defend Upper and Lower Canada from Fenian attack from across the US border. So Upper and Lower Canadians — after 1867, in Confederation with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, would have to defend themselves. It was a concern of Sir John A. Macdonald and others that if British North Americans waited until the British government deigned to allocate sufficient resources for the defence of British North America, it would be too late.

Thus in 1866, Fort Wellington in Prescott was a military facility used, not under the direction of the British military establishment in England, but by local forces willing to defend British North America from attack, even if the British government's commitment to doing so and to allocating resources for this purpose was lukewarm.

The design of Fort Wellington basically consists of a central blockhouse, with a surrounding fortifying mound. The blockhouse itself is very reminiscent of a similar structure at Fort York, Toronto, being formerly typical for the British army.

Regular, interpretive tours of the Fort are given, under the auspices of Parks Canada.

Given its historic importance, it is clear why Fort Wellington's status as a National Historic Site of Canada is well deserved.

Fort Wellington is situated at 370 VanKoughnet Street, Prescott, in Leeds and Grenville United Counties, Ontario.

January 28, 2013

Also worth seeing

In Prescott itself, the Windmill associated withe the Battle of the Windmill (see above) is approx. 3 kilometres east of the Downtown area of Prescott. A lighthouse overlooks the town's marina.

Alexandria , near Morrisburg, Ontario (distance: 47.9 kilometres); Upper Canada Village Heritage Park receives many visitors interested in the Province's United Empire Loyalist past.

Dewolf Point State Park , Wellesley Island, New York (distance: 64 kilometres) has fine views of the Lake of the Isles in the Thousand Islands of the St, Lawrence.


How to get there: Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, Ottawa is the nearest large airport to Prescott (distance: 84.1 kilometres). Car rental is available from Ottawa Airport. VIARail maintains a service to Brockville , 20 kilometres from Prescott . Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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