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The story of Isle aux Noix...

Île-aux-Noix, Richelieu River, Quebec
click for map

Isle aux Noix has been fortified against invasion from the south since the French and Indian War,
Fort Lennox is the most recent fortification on the island..

By James P. Millard

NOTE: This material is provided as a public service. America's Historic Lakes is not affiliated with the Fort Lennox Historic Site. 
Contact the site for additional information.

(Click the thumbnails below to see a full-size image)

Just across the American/Canadian border in the Province of Quebec is the Isle aux Noix, a small island that played a significant role in the history of the region. Located in the Richelieu River, known in earlier times as the River of the Iroquois, Isle Aux Noix was fortified several times due to its crucial location within the Great Warpath.

The French built the first fortress, Fort de l'Île-aux-Noix, in 1759 upon abandoning Carillon and Ste. Frédéric to the advancing British under Jeffrey Amherst. Retreating General Bourlamaque, having been ordered to retreat from the southern fortresses, hoped that Île-aux-Noix, closer to the center of  New France, would be easier to re-supply and would be capable of holding off the enemy's advance. Governor Vaudreuil summed up the importance of this fort when he wrote: "Île-aux-Noix is the essential defensive point on this border, and we must hold it to the last, because if we had the misfortune to lose it the enemy would have no further obstacle to overcome to their penetrating into the interior of the Governmental District of Montréal, whence would follow the entire loss of the colony."1

Vaudreuil's gloomy prediction was to come true. Fort de Île-aux-Noix was besieged by British forces on August 16-20, 1760. The small French force, despite its ideal location in the midst of the river, did not prevail. Falling to overwhelming force, this important fortress became part of His British Majesty's dominion, as did the province of New France itself a short time later.

No sooner had Britain increased her empire with the acquisition of French Canada, than her Colonies to the south began to trouble the King.  Rebellion broke out, and the restless American colonists attacked Canada in September, 1775. Île-aux-Noix was occupied by invading American forces. Used as a staging area for the successful attack on Montreal, the island was the scene of much misery as the retreating Americans fled south after their ignominious defeat at Quebec. The island was abandoned by the rebels. Governor Guy Carleton, ever conscious of the vital Richelieu River/Lake Champlain/Lake George transportation link to the south, made plans to finally secure the vital artery. Along with Crown Point, Ticonderoga, and Fort George, the strategic fortress at Île-aux-Noix was to be rebuilt and strengthened, although this time more as an advanced border post for the new fortifications being erected at Saint-Jean. This new fort, built in 1778, was smaller and incorporated part of the old French fortress into its construction. This fort replaced a series of blockhouses that had been built during the interim. The original British fortress was enlarged and improved upon over the years.

Île-aux-Noix was to remain an important base for some time, as the winds of war would continue to blow over the island from the south. Richard Ketchum, in his powerful work "Saratoga-Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War", tells us that the mighty invasion fleet of General John Burgoyne, passed an island of Île-aux-Noix "bristling with barracks, magazines, and blockhouses."2

Burgoyne sailed to his defeat, his mighty army halted by American forces at Saratoga. The American rebels secured their independence from Britain and Île-aux-Noix became even more important as a bulwark to protect British Canada from their unpredictable neighbors to the south. 

Images of Fort Lennox- Left to Right: Guardhouse, view from NW bastion, Postern (entrance to fort), north casemates,
west casemates and rear of soldier's barracks. Click on thumbnails to see a full-size image. All photos by the author.

Again, in 1812, the specter of war would darken the Richelieu/Champlain corridor. No sooner had war been declared between the Crown and her former colony than the Americans brashly invaded Canada. The environs of Île-aux-Noix were attacked when American forces struck the nearby blockhouse at Lacolle. At first unconvinced of the importance of the island militarily, Governor Prevost changed his mind when it was determined that the Americans were building a fleet of some size. Recognizing the strategic role the lake would play, Prevost hurriedly decided to dramatically strengthen the base at Île-aux-Noix and establish a naval dockyard here. A dramatic race for naval superiority then ensued. A large garrison was stationed on the island, with a small advance guard posted to the south on Ash Island. Activity reached a fever pitch in 1814, when the mighty Confiance, an enormous brigantine (by lake standards) was built at the island. The Confiance, displacing 1200 tons and bristling with 36 guns, was the largest vessel to ever traverse the lakes. The flagship of the British fleet, she sailed south to defeat at the Battle of Plattsburgh, September 11, 1814.

Once again, American forces emerged victorious in battle with Great Britain. Preserving her independence, the United States signed a treaty of Peace with the Crown on December 24, 1814. It would be some time before Canada would feel comfortable with her neighbors to the south. Île-aux-Noix was to undergo yet another military rebirth with the construction of the fortress illustrated here- Fort Lennox. Built over a ten-year period, 1819-1829, Fort Lennox was garrisoned until 1870, when Canada at last began to feel safe from the Americans.

Today, Fort Lennox is wonderfully preserved, a National Historic Site of Canada. Well interpreted by friendly, articulate and knowledgeable guides, Fort Lennox is a must for visitors to southern Quebec.

Images of Fort Lennox
(click on the thumbnails to see a full size image)

View across the ditch toward the entrance or sally port.

View from within the fort through the gate entrance, also known as the Sally port or postern.

View from within the fort towards the entrance, or sally port.

The Soldier's Barracks.

Officer's quarters and guardhouse.

Officer's quarters and guardhouse.

Inside the Officer's quarters

Inside the soldier's barracks

Postern between parade ground and ravelin

The soldier's Barracks
The west curtain casemates- Left to right: View from within casemate,
sink in kitchen casemate, the casemates as seen from the narrow
corridor between the casemates and the soldier's barracks.
Far Left: Monument honoring the Royal Navy. Far Right: Spiral staircase in one of the ordnance magazines.


1 André Charbonneau "The Fortifications of Île aux Noix" (Ottawa, Parks Canada 1994) 19 

2 Richard M. Ketchum "Saratoga- Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War" (New York, Owl Books 1997) 138 

Last modified: 12/31/2015

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