Kingston – The Martello Towers

Photo of Cathcart Redoubt
Cathcart Redoubt and east tower at Fort Henry

A total of 16 Martello Towers were built in British North America: in Halifax (5), Saint John (1), Quebec City (4), and Kingston (6). Eleven have survived to the present, including all six in Kingston.

The name likely refers to a stone tower on Cape Mortella in Corsica, which was particularly resistant to attack. (Note the spelling of the Corsican name.)

The first two towers were built as part of Fort Henry. The moats leading downwards from the fort to the water were intended to make it difficult for attacking forces to completely surround the fort. These moats end at towers on the waterfront. The walls of these towers are thinner on the side of the fort to make it easier to destroy the towers in case they fall to the invaders.

The other four larger towers were built from 1846 to 1848 during a period of heightened border tensions with the United States and were the most complex of the Martello Towers. The roofs were designed to fall away easily to expose from one to three cannons.

The four large towers are from west to east:

  • Murney Tower
  • Victoria Battery or Shoal Tower in front of City Hall
  • Fort Frederick at the Royal Military College
  • Cathcart Redoubt on Cedar Island

Two of the towers, Murney Tower and Fort Frederick, are open to the public and contain museums. Murney Tower is managed by Parks Canada. Fort Frederick houses the Royal Military College Museum.

During construction of the Cathcart Redoubt, a group of 23 workers were returning home from Cedar Island across Hamilton Cove. A heavy swell caused the overloaded boat to capsize. Two swam to safety. Another four survived by clinging to the overturned boat. But 17 died. As a result of this, the waters between Cedar Island and Point Henry was renamed Deadman Bay.

Photo of Murney Tower
Murney Tower

Photo of the Shoal Tower and Fort Frederick
Left to right: Shoal Tower, Fort Frederick, Cathcart Redoubt

Photo of one of the Martello Towers at Fort Henry
West tower at Fort Henry