Description of Historic Place
Surrounded by trees, the Cathcart Tower is located on Cedar Island in the Saint Lawrence Islands National Park of Canada near Kingston. It is an imposing, two-storey cylindrical, stone Martello tower with four evenly spaced caponiers around its base. The conical roof has twelve hips that rise to a central point. The only entrance is through a double reinforced door on the second level of the tower, which is also pierced by small, recessed shuttered windows. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
The Cathcart Tower is a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.
The Cathcart Tower is closely associated with the defence of British North America and Canada in the mid-19th century. The tower is one of four Martello towers representing part of the final phase of Kingston area defence works, which had commenced with the establishment of Fort Frontenac by the French in 1673. The final phase of construction was spurred by the Oregon Crisis, during which war between Great Britain and the United States seemed imminent. The crisis was resolved while the Kingston Towers were under construction and there was no need to arm them until 1861-62 when British-American relations again deteriorated during the American Civil War. The Cathcart Tower therefore represents pre-Confederation efforts to maintain sovereignty during a period of American expansion.
The Cathcart Tower is valued for its excellent aesthetics and as an example of a 19th-century military defensive structure. Designed to withstand bombardment while providing cover fire to protect the harbour, it is massive and extremely stable. A key component in the Kingston historic fortification system, the Cathcart Tower represents the apex of Martello tower design, with its sophisticated caponiered flank defence and masking from cannonade that ranked among the most technologically advanced in the world. Excellent functional design is evidenced in the tower’s thick walls, while the brick lined interior minimises the chance of explosion and fire. Excellent craftsmanship and materials are evidenced in the smooth-faced limestone walls and the masonry of the caponiers.
The Cathcart Tower reinforces the historic character of Cedar Island. A visible component of the fortifications, it can be seen from Fort Henry and passing boats. The structure is a landmark to local people and to visitors to the island.
Sources: Cathcart Martello Tower, Cedar Island, St. Lawrence Islands National Park, Ontario, Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office, Report 93-034; Cathcart Martello Tower, St. Lawrence Islands National Park, Ontario, Heritage Character Statement 93-034.
The character-defining elements of the Cathcart Tower should be respected.
Its excellent aesthetics, its excellent functional design, and excellent craftsmanship and materials, for example:
- the simple geometric massing of the cylindrical tower with four evenly spaced caponiers around the base, and the shallow, conical snow roof that covers the parapet and gun platform;
- the massively constructed, smooth, steep exterior walls built of tightly fitting limestone blocks, the rubble core, and the brick-lined interior with structural masonry ceiling vaults springing radially from the central pier to the exterior walls;
- the small windows and entrance on the second level that houses the barrack, and the embrasures for defence by carronades;
- the ventilated powder magazine located in a well-ventilated, brick-lined basement room;
- the solid metal inner doors equipped with gun loopholes that protect the passageways into the main structure;
- the cistern within the tower and the kitchen and storage facilities.
The manner in which the Cathcart Tower reinforces the historic character of Cedar Island, and is a regional landmark as evidenced by:
- its design and materials, which contribute to its historic surroundings on Cedar Island;
- its visibility to visitors to the island, to passing boats, and to visitors over in Fort Henry.