We’re headed out on our most ambitious National Historic Site adventure so far. It will take us to Kingston, “the Limestone City.”
As is customary, Louis is the driver/navigator, with Hailey as co-pilot up front. Me? I’m in the back doing research. It’s a jolly band.
Over the course of the next 2 days, we’re aiming to visit all of Kingston’s 21 National Historic Sites. It’s a tall order, but the Sites are in a cluster along the historic waterfront. We should be able to meet our target.
Truthfully though, I’m carrying less than my usual enthusiasm about our outing. Kingston, strategically located where the St. Lawrence River and the Rideau Canal meet Lake Ontario was a key British military base before and during the War of 1812-14.
But for this blogger, recounting rounds of musket fire and rapacious American invader tactics are not high on her list of historical interests.
I’m making an exception for the curious Murney Tower. Read on to find out why.
We’ll time-travel first back to 1794, on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, of all places. There the ever-striving British Navy is bombing the be-jeepers out of a squat, round watch tower at Mortella Point on the coast of the island nation.
Over the next several hours, 2 British warships, with 104 guns on board, relentlessly pummel the French-held tower.
Given the strength of the British assault and the diminutive size of the fortification, logic predicts that the building will be soon leveled.
Not so fast.
This is no ordinary 19th century fortification. When the smoke clears, the Mortella Point watch tower remains virtually intact. The British are so impressed with the impregnability of the fortification that they borrow the concept as their own. From now on, they`re called Martello Towers.
Over the coming years, a number of Martellos are constructed along the south coast of England. Try to get through these defenses, Napoleon!
War is also nigh in the Colonies with Americans pounding on the door to British North America. A number of Martello Towers go up –in Quebec City, in Nova Scotia, and in New Brunswick. There will be sixteen in all throughout the colony.
Four rise in Kingston alone. Given the town`s strategic location, the British are taking no chances with the wily Americans.
Before a musket had even been fired, a brou-ha-ha erupted over the naming of the finest of the Kingston Towers. City fathers had chosen to name it “The Murray Tower” in honour of Sir George Murray, a high-ranking British official living in Kingston.
The man on the street had different ideas. The Tower should be named after sea captain Henry Murney who had once owned the piece of land where the Tower now sat.
To no one`s surprise, the Murray-ites won the day over the Murney-ites. A plaque identifying the Murray Redoubt (Tower) was affixed to the Tower wall to make it official.
But not for long.
And while the culprit was never caught, the second “r” in Sir George’s Murray’s name was indelibly altered. An “n” had replaced it. And so the “Murray Tower” became the Murnay Tower. Not quite right but close enough!
The sign with the artwork remains today.
Let’s take a closer look at structure of the Murney Tower, considered to be the best surviving example of the fortification in Canada.
Built of Kingston limestone and rising 3 stories, the Murnay Martello Tower boasts walls 3 feet thick on the landside and 5 feet facing the water. No wonder they gained the reputation of being almost impregnable.
A deep, dry ditch surrounds the Tower. Access to the inside is limited to one drawbridge over the ditch. I wonder if the ditch was ever filled with water to become a moat?
But protection of the Kingston harbor was only one of Murney’s assignments. On each of Murney`s 3 levels were 32- pound cannons, capable of doing significant damage to ships entering the Kingston harbour.
But these were no ordinary lumbering cannons. They were portable weapons, able to be moved as need be– either lakeside or landside. On the upper floor the largest cannon could be rolled along an iron track for full 360 degree coverage.
The most ingenious feature of the Murney is the “rapid removal roof.” The panels could be removed to provide a flat surface allowing sharp-shooters to lie prone and fire unseen at enemy ships.
Despite their inspired design and superior construction, Martello Towers eventually became obsolete. By the turn of the century, they were closed as active defensive structures.
Now what to do with an thick-walled, windowless structure surrounded by a ditch. Some Martello Towers across the country were torn down, but the 4 Kingston towers remained.
Now owned by the City of Kingston and managed by the Kingston Historical Society, only the Murney and the Fort Frederick Tower on the grounds of the Royal Military College are open to the public.
The Murney Tower was designated a National Historic Site in 1930.
And what would a watch tower be without a ghost? According to paranormal investigators at C.H.A.P.S. (The Canadian Haunting and Paranormal Society), the bottom floor of the Murney is especially rife with spooks.
Investigators wielding night-vision security cameras and magnetic field detectors report hearing the shuffling of feet; an unseen hand touching the arm of an investigator and spirit readings in “the red zone.”
The Murney Tower is open to visitors during the summer months. Check out the rolling cannons and paranormals for yourself.