After the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, many Loyalist refugees from the American Revolutionary War relocated to the region around Fort Howe, seeking its protection. This led to the establishment of the communities of Parrtown and Carleton. Fort Howe served as the military headquarters for the lower Saint John River valley.
In 1784, the British government acknowledged the Loyalists’ desires and established the new colony of New Brunswick by separating the northern portion of Nova Scotia, located above the Bay of Fundy. On November 21, 1784, Fort Howe’s cannons were fired in a rare 17-gun salute to welcome the first Governor of the colony, Brigadier General Thomas Carleton (officially serving from 1786-1817).
In 1785, Parrtown and Carleton were merged by Royal Charter to form the city of Saint John. Fort Howe served as the first civic jail for the municipality. Fort Howe’s cannon batteries were again fired in celebration upon hearing news of Admiral Nelson’s 1805 victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Due to the Napoleonic Wars, a series of defenses were constructed to protect Saint John Harbour. Fort Howe played a central role in this defense system, which also included the Carleton Martello Tower, guarding the harbor from another rise on the river’s west side, and Fort Dufferin, protecting the harbor entrance near Partridge Island. The barracks at Fort Howe housed British Army troops and Royal Navy sailors who conducted raids along the coastlines of present-day Washington and Penobscot counties in Maine (formerly part of Massachusetts) and supported a crucial blockhouse guarding the frontier at the St. Croix River in St. Andrews.
Fort Howe’s cannons were again fired in celebration upon news of the Duke of Wellington’s victory at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Following the War of 1812, Fort Howe fell into disuse as more modern defence facilities were better able to defend Saint John from attack, notably the Martello Tower on the west side of the harbour.
It, like Fort Dufferin were allowed to gradually deteriorate over the ensuing century as nature reclaimed the land and buildings. Following Confederation in 1867, most British troops were removed from the city in favour of domestic militia and remaining harbour defences were largely abandoned in place.
The Second World War saw the site of Fort Howe host its final military activities when the Canadian 8th Anti-Aircraft Battery placed a 3.7 inch gun atop the hill overlooking the river mouth as part of Canada’s coastal defence plan. The Canadian Army’s Ordnance Corps also built an instrument repair shop nearby. Following the war, the last blockhouse and this repair shop were lost to fire and the site was mostly levelled.
Fort Howe has the unique honour of being the first historic site in the national park system. Designated as Fort Howe National Park on March 30, 1914, this National Historic Park was established partly due to the efforts of James B. Harkin, the first Commissioner of Dominion (National) Parks. Since it was already federal property under the Department of Militia and Defence, the transition was smooth. The park’s creation aimed to introduce the national park concept to the eastern populations, but managing its historic resources proved challenging. For instance, the Parks Branch had no prior experience in managing a historic site, and its main goal was to develop an urban recreational park, with historical resources as a secondary concern. Moreover, Fort Howe was not considered a particularly significant historic site, and its establishment was used to acquire otherwise unremarkable property.
Its tentative creation, along with a recommendation to establish Beaver Dams National Battlefield Park (1914) and the formation of Fort Anne National Park (1917), provided some of the impetus for the Parks Branch to formalize its heritage policy. One significant result of this was the creation of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1919, an advisory body which would assess historic sites.
Early on, Harkin was uncomfortable with Fort Howe in the park system, and, with the site deemed inferior to others more worthy of inclusion, and “never very successful”, the fort was eventually given to the city of Saint John in 1930, abolishing the national park. In 1966, Fort Howe was designated a National Historic Site on the advice of the federal historic sites board, but did not rejoin the national park system. Since then, there have been several schemes to rebuild the fortification in its entirety to depict its hey-day during the American Revolutionary War.
As part of the city’s commemoration of the centennial of Confederation in 1967, the Saint John chapter of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire and the city erected a full-size replica of one of Fort Howe’s blockhouses upon the site. Several original or replica 18th century cannons, as well as one of the Second World War anti-aircraft batteries, are located on the site, which is a popular lookout for tourists and residents in the hill-top park overlooking the city and harbour. The Fort is affiliated with the Canadian Museums Association, the Canadian Heritage Information Network, and the Virtual Museum of Canada.