Visiting a historical place is interesting. Taking a boat to visit a historic site becomes quite an adventure.

To access Fort Lennox, finally open after five years of renovations, you have to take a small shuttle to cross an arm of the Richelieu River and land on Île aux Noix. The journey is short, five short minutes. But it is nice: we would do well to circumnavigate the island just to enjoy the view and the pleasant little breeze for longer.

From the water, you can’t see the fort, you can barely see the roofs of a few buildings above the vegetation. You have to disembark and walk a little to finally see the work, built by the British between 1819 and 1829 to protect the colony against the Americans.

You have to pass over a moat, with waters covered with water lilies and populated by small frogs and painted turtles, to finally enter the fort. The ramparts are made of earth and draw a classic bastioned rectangular enclosure (in other words, seen from the sky, the fort looks like a turtle with a head and four legs).

A young man, dressed in a gunner’s uniform, offers a guided tour. It’s worth accepting. Louis-Philippe Rousselet tells us everything you need to know about the history of Île aux Noix and Fort Lennox. Geologically speaking, it is a brand new island, having emerged from the Champlain Sea 7000 years ago. After an Aboriginal occupation, the French built fortifications there in 1759. They did not succeed in repelling the British in 1760. We know the rest of the story.

The British erected a small fort there in 1778, then a larger one in 1819.

The guide shows the various buildings, the soldiers’ barracks, the powder magazine, the officers’ quarters, the guardhouse, drawing attention to various details. Why do we see toys in the soldiers’ barracks? Because they could install wife and children there. It was a way to prevent desertion (not easy to desert with all your smala), explains Louis-Philippe Rousselet.

The officers’ quarters were more luxurious, with large windows and flat ceilings, “so the officers wouldn’t feel out of place.”

The prison, which mainly housed drunken or insubordinate soldiers, is more rudimentary. It also housed patriots during the rebellions of 1837 and 1838. Before 1850, there were no windows or heating in the dungeons.

The powder keg also lends itself to claustrophobia. Here, there was no metal (apart from copper, which is more flexible), to avoid the accidental production of the slightest spark.

Louis-Philippe Rousselet follows the visit with a presentation of the uniforms used by the 24th Infantry Regiment in 1833. A young visitor plays the game by donning a white shirt and breeches, a red suit-jacket and the shako, a military headgear in the shape of a truncated cone.

However, it is the guide-interpreter himself who handles the flintlock rifle, which is almost two meters long with his bayonet.

You can learn more by visiting the small museum located in the barracks. This is one of the novelties of the site, following the renovation of the fort.

The huge works were supposed to take three years, but the restrictions of the pandemic slowed things down considerably. In particular, it was necessary to redo the foundations and replace stones in poor condition. We went to look for them on La Motte Island (in the United States!), because that was the place of origin of the stones.

The upper floor of the gatehouse is closed to visitors because a colony of little brown bats has settled there. This species has suffered a decline over the years due to white-nose syndrome. Parks Canada therefore wants to protect the small colony, which has 136 members (at last count).

A short hike around the fort, along the moat, allows you to appreciate other species, such as the bobolink, the song sparrow or the masked warbler. There are raspberry bushes all along the trail, so in season the short walk can be much longer than expected.

One can easily spend three hours on the island. It is a good idea to bring your snack to enjoy on one of the many picnic tables on Île aux Noix.

In the return shuttle, a little boy cries bitterly. He just doesn’t want to leave the island.