Quebec City's Martello towers mark bicentennial

This year marks the 200th anniversary of a key part of Quebec City's historic fortifications, its Martello towers.

Constructed and armed by the British between 1808 and 1812, the round stone towers are all that remains of the city's once-extensive defence structures.

Two are located in Battlefields Park on the Plains of Abraham and a third is about a kilometre away on Lavigueur Street. One tower was demolished in 1905.

In total, 17 Martello towers (the name derives from a fortress at Corsica's Cape Mortella) were built in Canada in the 19th century in Halifax, Saint John, N.B., Quebec City and Kingston, Ont.

A new exhibition is being organized by the National Battlefields Commission for this summer to explore the history of the Quebec City towers as well as their architecture and the living conditions of the soldiers that used them.

Made to house garrisons of about 12 to 20 men, the 12-metre-high towers were designed with walls of unequal thickness. A thick western wall faced potential attackers, while the thinner eastern wall could easily be destroyed by cannon fire from the city if the towers were taken by an enemy.

The towers were ready for use in the War of 1812 but remained untested because the city was not attacked during that conflict.
The exhibition will run daily from July 1 to Sept. 3 inside Martello Tower 1, close to the corner of Tache and de Bernieres Streets in the centre of the park on a mound overlooking the St. Lawrence River.

Special commemorative activities, including rifle and cannon firing demonstrations, at the towers are also being planned for Aug. 26. On that day visitors will be able to enter Tower 4, which is not normally open to the public, said Joanne Laurin, spokesperson for the battlefields commission.

Despite being a fixture in Quebec City for 200 years, Quebecers pay little attention to the towers, Laurin said. Some parents are educated about the structures by their children who are taken there on school trips.

"I think that tourists know more about the towers than people from Quebec City," she said.

The one that juts into the city's Lavigueur Street is pretty hard to ignore, Laurin added.

"It's very, very bizarre because you turn the corner and then you see the tower half in the middle of the street."

Britain built dozens of Martello towers to guard its own coastline against attacks from France. Some were also erected as far away as Australia and South Africa. They were considered cheap to build and easy to defend.

"Those three (in Quebec City) are the only ones in the province, so that's special," said Laurin.

Article Source: http://www.winnipegfreepress.com

Keywords: Martello,Towers,Canada,Quebec,News



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