During the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) Halifax gained greater prominence for Britain as the Royal Navy’s main naval base on the eastern seaboard of North America. As such, a number of fortifications in and around Halifax were constructed to defend the harbour and the Naval Yard.
The Citadel had been situated to command the highest point on the Halifax peninsula. However, there was concern that an enemy force attacking by land could find shelter from the Citadel’s guns in a hollow to its south formed by Freshwater Brook. This hollow is in the vicinity of the south end of Queen Street today.
To command the Freshwater Brook hollow, Fort Massey was built in 1776 on Windmill Hill, at the junction of today’s Queen and South Streets. The fort was named for Major General Eyre Massey, the Commander-in-Chief of British forces in Halifax between 1776 and 1780, and consisted initially of a square earthen redoubt with a blockhouse, barracks and a magazine. It served also to provide cover and support to the Grand Battery on the waterfront across from George’s Island, and Greenbank Battery, also on the waterfront about halfway between Fort Massey and Fort Ogilvie at Point Pleasant. At the same time, Fort Massey Military Burying Ground was established adjacent to the fort as the principal graveyard for the Halifax Garrison.
The fort was enlarged in 1782 giving it an elongated shape lying in a northwest/ southeast direction. Roughly 320 feet long by 170 feet wide, the structure consisted of two semi-circular earthworks – one at each end – with two obtuse redans forming the long sides of the structure. Within the southeast end stood a blockhouse able to accommodate 30 men, and there were two or three additional barracks for 100 men. Armament consisted of ten 24-pounders, three 12-pounders and four brass mortars.
Fort Massey fell into disuse during the early 19th century, being used mainly as a powder magazine from about 1793. The barracks and guardhouse were demolished in 1815 and the fort was in ruins two decades later. Today there are no remains of the fort to be seen, however the name endures as Fort Massey Cemetery and Fort Massey United Church nearby.
Fort Massey Cemetery contains 86 Commonwealth graves from the First World War and 41 from the Second World War. It holds the grave of Lieutenant General Sir John Harvey, who distinguished himself in the War of 1812 (including a leading role in the British victory at the Battle of Stoney Creek); he later served as Governor of Newfoundland and Lieutenant Governor of PEI, of New Brunswick, and from 1846 to 1852 of Nova Scotia. In addition to his grave there is a monument to Sir John Harvey at St. Paul’s Church. Also at Fort Massey Cemetery is the grave of General Sir William O’Grady Haly KCB, a Crimean War veteran and the Officer Commanding British Forces in Canada from 1873 to 1878; as well as a memorial to two servicemen who died in the 1917 Halifax Explosion and whose bodies were not recovered. Amongst those interred are a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, a recipient of the Distinguished Service Order, an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, a Member of the Order of the British Empire, and recipients of the Distinguished Service Medal and the Air Force Medal. The cemetery is managed by Veterans Affairs Canada and the wartime graves are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It contains one of two granite Crosses of Sacrifice located in Halifax – the other being the Halifax Memorial at Point Pleasant Park.