Victor, my crazy dog and travel buddy, loves stinky things. Yes, I’ve said it before, and it’s still true.
That’s why Victor loved Fort Wellington National Historic Site in Prescott, Ontario, Canada.
I’m not saying Fort Wellington stinks, just the opposite: it’s an ideal stretch and learn stop along the Toronto to Ottawa journey, about 10 minutes from the TransCanada highway.
Fort Wellington was built during the War of 1812 to defend the St. Lawrence River, a major shipping route prior to the building of the Rideau Canal. Twenty-five years later, it helped stop an American invasion during the Upper and Lower Canada rebellions. The original part – now grass-covered slopping mud walls, musty vertical palisade walls and one gate entrance – was also built in 1812.
The original fort part hosts a circular walkway around the small fortress perfect for Victor to run circles and sniff the 200-year-old decaying wood and soil.
Yes, Victor ran laps off leash for a bit, though shouldn’t have. We’re at this Parks Canada site during a damp chill day and few others are and need a break from the six-hour car ride. The gate staff love dogs and greet Victor with enthusiasm before giving me the historical run-down of the facility.
The ‘newer’ central buildings, what a few other dog-free visitors came to see, were added in 1838, after the Fort was abandon in 1833 then reclaimed and, out of fear, pro-American anti-British Loyalists would attack it.
They never did. (Footnote to some American readers: unlike in the U.S., anti-British rebellions never worked in Canada, which is why we still have the Queen on our money today).
So this national historic site remains relatively intact serving as a kind of public park surrounded by residential streets that have grown up around it. From the ridge of the fort, you get a beautiful view of the St. Lawrence and the U.S. coast mere kilometres away. (So close my cell phone service provider thought I’d crossed into international space).
The only place Victor can’t go is in the centre buildings, though he does run into the garrison tunnel looking for rodents only to find an empty tiled room once filled with gun powder.
The central Blockhouse is off limits to dogs.
Built during the Upper Canada Rebellion to house soldiers this three-storey building is the largest of the kind in Canada. Yet it seems remarkably small considering it was the living, sleeping and eating quarters of fifty soldiers and their families in 1837.
Visitors take self-guided tours through the three floors decorated to resemble the crowded, and likely smelly, privacy-free living conditions. Costumed interpreters answer questions.
“At the time, they would have had several cats and dogs living here,” the interpreter tells me. “They would have needed them considering all the rodents the food dropping from tables would attract.”
That rule has changed.
Victor’s allowed on the fort grounds, but not inside buildings (unlike at Fort George). So, I view the three floors of the Blockhouse quickly because Victor barks when left outside … constantly, even if I’m visible.
In addition to being an easy walled in dog walking stop along our journey to the Rideau Canal, Fort Wellington offers whiskey tasting events throughout the year – a nod to the many Scottish soldiers posted at the fort – along with the annual Canada Day canon firing ceremony.
Yes, in two corners of the fort there are still canons directed across the river toward our neighbours to the south. Victor loves the canons.
TRAVEL GUIDE: Prescott, Ontario is a riverside town about a 10-minute drive from Highway 401 about one hour from Ottawa. In addition, to Fort Wellington the town’s most notable attraction is the RiverWalk Park directly in front of the fort.
The RiverWalk spans the shore of the St. Lawrence River and leads to the town’s marina.
During July and August, the Bard comes to town in the form of the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival outside at the Amphitheatre in – you guessed it – The RiverWalk Park.