Fort William National Historic Site of Canada
Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
Fort William National Historic Site of Canada, of which there are no visible remains, is marked by a Historic Sites and Monuments Board plaque located on a retaining wall at the corner of Cavendish Square and Duckworth Street in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. The original fort was located in an area that has been significantly altered by urban development since the fort’s demolition in 1881. Official recognition refers to the plaque surrounded by a five-metre radius.
Fort William was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1952 because:
- it was the original headquarters of the British garrison in Newfoundland, established in 1697;
- as part of the intense Anglo-French competition for colonial power, it was attacked by the French three times in the 18th century: in 1705, it successfully resisted Subercase; in 1709, it was captured and destroyed by Saint-Ovide; in 1762, it fell to Charles-Henri-Louis d'Arsac de Ternay and Joseph-Louis-Bernard de Cléron d'Haussonville, only to be recaptured by the British later that year.
Replacing the earlier civilian-built King William’s Fort after it was destroyed in 1696, Fort William was erected in 1697 by a British expeditionary force at a location further to the east. The arrival of a British garrison to Fort William marked the first official military presence in St. John’s, which had previously been protected only by the navy and local militia.
Fort William was poorly situated and was not able to effectively protect the harbour or the settlement at St. John’s. Because of its location, it was vulnerable to land attack and was captured by the French on three separate occasions during the 18th century. After surviving an attack by Daniel d'Auger de Subercase in 1705, Fort William fell to the French under Joseph de Mombeton de Saint-Ovide de Brouillon in January 1709. Though the British rebuilt the fort later that year, the garrison did not return and the fort began to fall into disrepair. Between 1709 and 1743, the only British garrison in Newfoundland was in Placentia, a location thought to be more defensible than St. John’s. However, when the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748) broke out, the British rehabilitated Fort William, completely rebuilding it by 1749. When the French successfully attacked the fort by land in June 1762, the British were able to recapture it in August of that year. Finally, in 1779, the British deemed Fort William to be too susceptible to attack and built Fort Townshend slightly further to the west. Fort William became a minor defence and one part of a larger system of forts and batteries that defended St. John’s and the harbours of Quidi Vidi and Torbay. In 1881, it was demolished and its site cleared to accommodate the Canadian Pacific Railway hotel and rail yard.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, 1952, 1953, 2007.
Key elements contributing to the heritage value of this site include:
- its location on the St. Avalon peninsula overlooking the St. John’s Harbour;
- its setting in downtown St. John’s, across from The Fairmont Newfoundland hotel, where its Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque is located on a retaining wall at the corner of Cavendish Square and Duckworth Street;
- the integrity of any surviving or as yet unidentified archaeological remains which may be found within the site in their original placement and extent;
- viewscapes from the site to the St. John’s Harbour.
Government of Canada
Historic Sites and Monuments Act
National Historic Site of Canada
1705/01/01 to 1705/01/01
1709/01/01 to 1709/01/01
1762/01/01 to 1762/01/01
1705/01/01 to 1881/01/01
Theme - Category and Type
- Governing Canada
- Military and Defence
Function - Category and Type
- Military Defence Installation
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
National Historic Sites Directorate, Documentation Centre, 5th Floor, Room 89, 25 Eddy Street, Gatineau, Quebec
Cross-Reference to Collection