Fort of knowledge

Adèle Barclay
Adèle Barclay

I love ghost stories—or at least, I love entertaining the possibilities for both the goose bumps and the skepticism they inspire. There is also something to be said for storytelling and seeing how people tell their own brush with ghastly experiences.

So when the Features section of the Journal decided to visit Fort Henry’s haunted tour, I tagged along to see what kind of storytelling, however cheesy, this venue would offer up.

Upon arriving I was confronted with horror of a different variety in the form of “Fort Fright.” A blood-and-guts skeleton extravaganza à la House of Horrors, this display sprawled across the entire fort, filling its rooms and main square with animatronics visibly jacked-up by power bars, stools and fans as families and teenagers on awkward dates milled about, having to negotiate the cramped passages like cattle.

The House of Horrors ride, a staple of county fairs and gigantic amusement parks alike, usually lasts about five minutes, and costs only a few dollars and slight moments of buyer’s remorse; Fort Henry received a $260,000 grant.

Amidst the recorded loop of screeches and howls and the interruptions from fright-goers, our tour guide attempted to convey a batch of anti-climactic, speculative stories that drew from the fort’s meagre history.

Any illusions that could have been conjured to cover up the fact we were participating in an economic transaction as part of an industry built upon nostalgia and a desire for the supernatural were kind of shattered, which was fine. But what I found most disturbing is how Kingston seems to derive so much of its identity from a fort that didn’t really do much and yet, in the same stroke, is willing to undermine its fragile attempt to hold onto that past with hokey, expensive Halloween decorations.

Although the amuse-o-matic nature of “Fort Fright” is tacky and jarring, it’s just a practical—in terms of incoming cash—extension of the Haunted Walk’s kitsch. I think it’s also symptomatic of Kingston’s not-exactly-riveting but still sordid relationship with Fort Henry and its past.

It feels as though we rely on former glory as Canada’s first capital far too much and only focus on aspects that are convenient and marketable.

Admittedly, the fort is situated in a beautiful location and can perhaps shed some light onto Eastern Ontario’s history. I noticed a plaque dedicated to the Ukrainian men who were interned at this site in the years following World War I; at least the haunted experience was educational on some level.

I think it’s important to look back, by not just glossing over but acknowledging the more uncomfortable, shady sides of history—not including ridiculous, moving skeletons smeared with fake blood.

In the wake of uncertain funding for the arts, we need to support the stories and culture current residents are trying to cultivate.

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