The Oldest Existing Blockhouse in Canada
Strategically placed, overlooking the confluence of the St. Croix and Avon Rivers, Fort Edward blockhouse has played an interesting role in the many and varied fortunes of our Maritime and National history since its erection in 1750. Complementing and cementing the English colonial settlement of Halifax in 1749, Fort Edward belongs to those defining moments of the French/English contest for North America.
Fort Edward also served as support for trading with the Mi’kmaq. Looking out and down the Avon River toward the Minas Basin, one can imagine the comings and goings of various ships and vessels, from Mi’kmaw canoes to Acadian shallops, from barques to brigs, from sloops to schooners. In the Blockhouse itself, you can see an early form of artistic graffiti – images of ships that plied the waters of the Avon in the eighteenth century, drawn, no doubt, by a bored sentinel on watch in the Blockhouse!
The fort was the site, too, of some of the more somber moments in the history of displaced persons that comprises so much of the Canadian story. The Acadians, who had settled here in the late 17th century and built the dykes that contribute so significantly to the landscape even to this day, became the casualties of political loyalty in the 1750s.
A threat to the English colonial enterprises, then bent on securing land for those loyal to the English crown, Acadian neutrality was deemed insufficient and they were subject to a programme of relocation. The Acadian Deportation is romanticized and immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Evangeline.” While we usually associate that story with Grand Pré, it has its Fort Edward moment, too. Over a thousand Acadians were deported from the area by way of Fort Edward beginning in 1755.
As such, the Fort played a defining role in the re-settlement of the area by the New England Planters whose 250th anniversary was marked in 2010. Fort Edward was the symbol and sentinel to the English control and governance of the area. It played a role in defending the various routes inland from Halifax to the Basin and the Bay of Fundy and beyond. Fort Edward even was a place of sanctuary for Flora MacDonald in the winter of 1779, after she was displaced (expelled) from the Carolinas during the American War of Independence (1775-1783). Somehow Fort Edward signifies in a number of the defining moments of the North American story.
The story of the Fort Edward Blockhouse has almost no end of interesting and fascinating anecdotes and events. A typical structure at the time, easily and quickly erected to consolidate and establish a military presence, an early form of prefab building, the blockhouse at Windsor is the oldest such structure in Canada and one of the very few that remain at all. Tucked away on a hill-top in Windsor, visible from the Highway 101 if you know where and when to look, it is one of our almost forgotten treasures, a quiet sentinel to the many and varied aspects of Windsor’s rich and great heritage.
Parks Canada, in association with the West Hants Historical Society, provides an interpreter/guide offering tours and information about the Blockhouse and its place in Nova Scotia’s history.