Carleton Martello Tower

Carleton Martello Tower

Carleton Martello Tower

Situated in Saint John, the on Carleton Martello Tower National Historic Site stands prominently on an elevated area, overseeing the surrounding landscape and harbour entrances. Constructed by the British during the War of 1812, the initial 9-meter-tall tower with a 15-meter-wide gun deck at its base was designed to defend the city’s western approaches from potential American assaults.

Presently, the Carleton Martello Tower National Historic Site provides visitors with a renovated barracks room and powder magazine, guided tours, special events, and a top-rated exhibit at its visitor center. The magnificent panoramic view from its observation level creates a memorable experience. 

Carlton Martello Tower Saint John NB
Carlton Martello Tower

When the United States declared war on Great Britain, there were concerns about the inadequate defences guarding New Brunswick’s most significant and vital port. To reinforce these defences, Royal Engineers chose to build a round stone tower in Carleton, located on Lancaster Heights. 

In addition to its military significance, the new tower demonstrated a further evolution of British fortification technology. The design of these towers is rooted in the British encounter with a similar tower at Cape Mortella (Corsica) in 1794, which proved challenging to overcome. These towers were not only effective but also relatively affordable. Consequently, the Royal Engineers devised standard plans that were implemented across the British Empire. Carleton Martello Tower serves as an exemplary model of this fortification design.

Construction on Carleton Martello Tower started in 1813, but the tower’s completion didn’t occur until spring 1815, after the war’s conclusion. Lacking the urgency for enhanced defences, the military’s approach towards the new tower was marked by retrenchment and neglect. The tower’s usefulness was only reestablished during times of diplomatic or military crises, such as the Fenian threat in 1866 when the tower was finally armed. However, by this time, advancements in artillery had rendered the tower militarily obsolete. Shortly after Confederation, Canadian authorities took control of the tower for militia use.

Over the following 50 years, the tower served various purposes, including militia training, storage for military equipment, and a magazine. Ongoing repairs were necessary as the maritime climate deteriorated the aging structure. During this period, the tower gained new significance within the local community, symbolizing a continued commitment to defend Saint John while also evolving into a tourist attraction.

Although it had become increasingly obsolete in terms of military technology, the outbreak of World War I breathed new life into the Carleton Martello Tower as it was repurposed as a military prison and a possible observation post. However, once the war ended, the tower was left unused once again until it was transferred to the National Parks Branch in 1923 and designated as a national historic site the following year. Significant repairs were carried out during the interwar period, making the tower one of Saint John’s top tourist attractions. 

Carleton Martello Tower from Fort Howe
Carleton Martello Tower from Fort Howe

Prior to the onset of World War II, in June 1939, the military made the decision to reclaim the tower for use as a fortress observation post and fire command center for the area’s coastal defences. A two-story concrete superstructure was constructed on the gun deck to house the sophisticated communication and tracking equipment required for its new role. The tower remained an essential component of the Saint John Defences until 1944, when it played its final military role. By 1948, it had resumed its previous position as a national historic site, and today it is one of Saint John’s most popular tourist destinations.

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