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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 17

The Halifax Citadel, 1825-60: A Narrative and Structural History

by John Joseph Greenough

Appendix J: Ravelins

In the original plan of the Citadel, four ravelins were provided for, one on each front. The north and south ravelins were identical, and each had a single-storey casemated guardhouse in the centre of the gorge. The west ravelin was approached by a caponier leading from a sally port in the west curtain. It was a two-storey affair, with the caponier connecting with the lower storey and the upper storey providing access to the terreplein of the ravelin. The east ravelin contained the entrance gate and differed from all the others. It also had a guardhouse, but one which was a single-storey, asymmetrical structure, set beside the parapet on the left side of the gorge. The north, south and west ravelin guardhouses were provided with ditches separating them from the terreplein of their ravelins, but the surviving plans are contradictory about the ditches' extent and function.1

In the course of the building of the Citadel, this basic outline was much altered. Like everything else, the ravelins were the subject of controversy in the discussion of the future of the Citadel which continued through the 1830s. In the end, three out of the four were built, but only after almost every major feature of the original design had in some way been changed.

The west ravelin was begun in the summer of 1829 and the work was more or less complete by the end of the following summer. In 1831 the north ravelin was begun. By then, Nicolls had altered the line of the north front trace to include the well on the north side of the northeast salient. This resulted in an alteration to the position of the re-entrant and was responsible for the off-centre re-entrant in the gorge of the ravelin which is still its most notable characteristic.2 By the end of the summer of 1831, the escarp wall of the north ravelin had been carried up to a height of 20 feet, and the prospects for completing the work in another season were excellent. In fact, the ravelin was destined not to be finished for another eight years.

The problem with the ravelins, as with so much else, was the inadequacy of Colonel Nicolls's original design. The west ravelin had been built with the thinnest escarp wall in the entire Citadel.3 The north ravelin, which was not begun until the escarps in the western bastions had collapsed, was, as a result, provided with rather thicker escarps,4 but even these were of uncertain durability. The uncertainty was amplified by the proposal to construct a redan on the eastern front, which, of course, would render the eastern ravelin superfluous. The result of all this confusion was that all work on the ravelins stopped in the fall of 1831.

In the winter of 1831-32, Colonel Boteler inspected the work at the Citadel. The west ravelin was already in a sorry state:

I do not think the gorge (only four feet thick) especially at the south end would bear to be carried up to the full height — the escarp also on the left face of this ravelin towards the salient angle is slightly bulged.5

For the moment, however, the problem was not the condition of the west ravelin but the ultimate disposition of the other three. Captain Peake, for example, wanted to do away with the south one, and all the engineers concerned with the problem wanted to replace the east one with a redan. In the end, the north, south and west ravelins were retained and the east ravelin was abandoned.6

The final version of the revised estimate for the completion of the Citadel (1836) contained three provisions relating to the ravelins. Colonel Jones, who drew up the estimate, decided that, in spite of its obvious deficiencies, the west ravelin could be expected to stand, and provided only for the rebuilding of the gorge wall.7 Provision was also made for completing the north ravelin — the escarp already built up to 20 feet was left standing — and for building the south ravelin from scratch. This last item gave Jones a certain latitude in matters of design. He provided the south ravelin with a thicker escarp than either of the others and allowed for its construction in rough granite ashlar facing.8

It was at this time that the final form of the guardhouses was settled. The old one-storey designs were discarded and two-storey guardhouses, similar to the one already built in the west ravelin, were substituted. Unfortunately, the two items for ravelins in the 1836 estimate are remarkable only for their brevity, and we know little about Colonel Jones's design for the guardhouses.

By the early 1840s, the three ravelins were complete. Nothing more was done to them until 1843, when London authorized the renewal of the roofs of the north and south guardhouses. The old arrangement of slates laid in cement had been found wanting, "the severe frosts removing a considerable portion of them each winter,"9 and a system of tiles set with boards and rafters was substituted.10

By 1846, however, the west ravelin was clearly in extremis. In the supplementary estimate drawn up in March, Colonel Calder provided for the reconstruction of the entire ravelin.

In the Revised Estimate of 1836 provision was made for taking down and re-building the gorge of this work, the remaining part being "expected to stand." Since that estimate was prepared the gorge has fallen down carrying with it part of the guardhouse, and the faces [have] . . . cracked from the foundations upwards in several places.11

Calder proposed to rebuild the ravelin along the lines of the north and south ravelins.12

The Inspector General offered a few suggestions for the improvement of the rebuilding scheme:

The necessity for rebuilding this part of the work is made more apparent in the Report of the Estimate and is entirely discreditable to the execution of the Engineer Department under whom it was built within the last 20 years. It would be better if the form of the guardhouse were revised so as to throw its fire more into the Ravelin and that it be separated by a ditch if possible with a view of its being more effectually a Redoubt and it would then be a more wholesome building.13

The Inspector General's criticism is interesting for the light it casts on the structure of the north and south guardhouses as constructed. As we have seen, they were originally designed with their own ditches, and it would seem from the above that the ditch was omitted from the 1836 design.

Colonel Calder replied on 21 July:

The form of the Guardhouse is that of the old one as well as that of those in the North and South Ravelins rebuilt14 under the authority of the Revised Estimate of 1 Feby 1836; — but in furtherance of the Inspector General's suggestion the loopholes are revised so as to throw its fire into the Ravelin. . . . Its separation by a ditch would be an improvement as a work of Defence was the interior space sufficiently large, and it would render the building more wholesome in some situations, but in this climate where a deep narrow ditch is liable to be filled with snow, which in few hours becomes so hard as to preclude its removal excepting by subsequent thaws, it is apprehended the walls might receive more injury and the building [be] less fit for occupation than at present.15

Despite his reservations. Calder accepted the proposal for a ditch, and included an item in the revised version of the estimate for the construction of one in all three of the ravelins.16

With the acceptance of the revised version of the 1846 estimate, the final form of the ravelins was decided. There remained the slight matter of rebuilding the entire west ravelin. In the spring of 1847, Calder had the old (1812) magazine blown up. In his letter reporting the demolition, he asked permission to use the same method to deal with the ravelin.17 It was some time before he got a reply (London succeeded in losing his letter),18 but in the end permission was refused on the grounds that the stone from the old ravelin might be used in building the new.19 The ravelin was finally torn down by conventional means in the summer of 1848, and the new ravelin was completed by the end of the following summer.

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