Make Ready, Fire!

Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site

By Jeanette Cowen


A new historic weapons program is coming to Fort St. Joseph National Historic Site, giving you the opportunity to pull the trigger on a one-of-a-kind black powder experience!

Immersive historic weapons programs are presented at several Parks Canada heritage sites across the country, and the fort will now be added to that list, thanks to some specialized staff training and a new, comprehensive historic weapons program plan developed this winter.

If you have never fired a musket before, this is your chance to try it. The new program will be led by a costumed interpreter who will take you through an authentic loading and firing drill from a modified version of the British 1807 drill manual. The trained interpreter will prepare the weapon for firing and, once you have donned the appropriate personal protective equipment and learned the safety protocols, the weapon will be handed over to you so you can pull the trigger and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of black powder!

In 1796, Fort St. Joseph was the most westerly British military outpost in British North America, built to protect the colonies from American attacks and to establish sovereignty in the territory north of the Great Lakes. Fort St. Joseph was the gateway to the northwestern frontier at the junction of canoe routes between the northwest, the Mississippi, and the lower Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region. The fort controlled the traffic moving southwest to the Mississippi and northwest to Lake Superior, and protected the western extremities of Upper Canada.

Several regiments served at Fort St. Joseph from 1796 until the War of 1812. These soldiers were armed with black powder weapons, including British ’Brown Bess’ muskets, four iron six-pounder cannons, and six iron half-pounders. In addition to British military, there were many other people living in and around the fort year-round or seasonally, including fur traders, families of military personnel, British Indian Department personnel, and Indigenous peoples. Many of these people had access to other forms of black powder hunting weapons, such as the ‘north west trade musket’.

So what kind of weapon will you get to try?

The fort has a number of replica historic weapons, including muzzle-loading flintlock firearms like the British military ‘Brown Bess’, and the north west trade musket.

Your interpreter will provide some historical background prior to the drill, and the program will conclude with a cleaning demonstration where you will learn more about the individual parts of the weapon and the functions they serve. Have you ever wondered where the term, ‘lock, stock, and barrel’ comes from?

Check out this program and you will learn the meaning, along with a number of other common language terms that actually derive from flintlock weaponry!

Parks Canada has suspended camping, group activities and events at all Parks Canada places across the country until at least May 31, 2020.  Please check the fort’s website, as well as our Facebook and Twitter pages, for information on when this and other programs may resume. Hope to see you then. It will be a blast!

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