Carleton Martello Tower

An Ancient Defense of the Coast

Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada

March 18, 2001

While traveling through New Brunswick we had an opportunity to drop by Saint Johns most notable landmark. The Carleton Martello Tower is located overlooking both the city and the entrance of the Bay of Fundy. First appearing in Italy, under the name "Mortella" Towers, the British became impressed with them after a French Tower held off a British attack. In British North America in the 1800's the demand for greater protection was creating an ever increasing demand on British coffers, and a less expensive yet still effective method of defending British territories was needed. The answer was found in the creation of Martello Towers at key locations throughout the waterways and coastal areas. Martello towers were placed at sites chosen to strengthen or protect larger forts or isolated locations. Outside a fortress, they offered a front line of defense. At Quebec, a line of towers protected the city's rear flank, like the watch towers of ancient times, or the turrets of medieval castles, Martello towers offered the advantage of height over the enemy. Martello towers were small self-contained forts. Constructed of field or rubblestone, the towers were two and sometimes three stories tall with diameters from 30 to 72 feet, heights from 26 to 46 feet and walls from 4 to 15 feet thick. This original stone tower was designed as an elevated gun platform and is one of 16 such towers built in Canada between 1796 and 1848. Where coastal gun emplacements guarded harbors, Martello towers offered protection to the advance positions. If attacked, troops manning the guns could retreat to the safety of the tower. Modest in cost, strong, and needing only a few men to garrison them, Martello towers became a standard item in British military technology during the first half of the 19th century. They were first used in Canada to combat the threat of French naval attack in the 1790's. Later they were built in larger numbers to resist the threat of American invasion. In the 19th Century, the British built Carleton Martello Tower to guard Saint John during the War of 1812. Situated on a promontory on Saint John's west side, the tower had a command view of the harbor and its land and sea approaches. Through various conflicts over the 130 years of its active service, the tower played a symbolic and sometimes practical role in the defense of Saint John. With the easing of tensions between the U.S. and Canada, and later after the Canadian Confederation, the towers faded out of service. In the First World War, the tower saw service as a prison for Canadian deserters, and then again during the Second World War, the top of the tower was enhanced with a concrete observation section which served as an artillery fire command station, tracking ships coming and going from the Bay of Fundy. Like many military structures in Canada, Carleton Martello Tower never was fired upon. Its stately defense was never tested in battle but for 130 years it has stood the test of time and erosion, often found to be more destructive than any battle's cannons. As part of Parks Canada, its rebirth is complete and it stands as a momument to the people and times of long ago.

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