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Be a Redcoat for a day when you visit the Historic Citadel in Canada's Coastal Nova Scotia

I went to a military college and then served in the U.S. Army for several years, but I thought uniforms and rifles belonged to my distant past. That was until I heard about the "Soldier for a Day" adventure at the Halifax Citadel in Canada's Nova Scotia. I couldn't help but sign up--as long as they promised I wouldn't run into my former drill sergeant!

Launched as a shore excursion for visiting cruise ship passengers, the Soldier for a Day program has been quite popular with tourists. "This type of experiential shore excursion has been extremely well received by cruise passengers who are looking for an unforgettable experience," says Dave Danskin, manager of Heritage Presentation at the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site of Canada.

The fascinating seven-hour interactive program includes dressing in period uniform (and that means a kilt!); 19th century military drill (with a hopefully friendly drill sergeant, I hoped); rifle firing (with blanks, I was assured); a Victorian-era soldier's lunch (whatever that meant); a private Citadel tour; and an hour or so to explore the fort alone.

Historic Fort

Once the command post and bastion of Halifax's defenses, the Citadel stands watch as it has since the city was the principal British naval station in North America. Since Halifax's founding in 1749, Citadel Hill has been the site for four different forts, each built during a tense time of perceived threat. The Citadel tourists find today took more than 28 years to complete in 1856.

The British garrison was withdrawn in 1906, thanks to growing tensions in Europe that eventually led to World War I. However, the Citadel would continue to play a role with the Canadian military--serving as a sentinel during two World Wars, as well as a symbol for many soldiers departing for overseas action. The fort's defenses were apparently so strong that no enemy ever attacked it.

In 1951, the Citadel was declared a National Historic Site. Highlights of a visit include guided tours of varying length; the traditional firing of the Noon Gun; several historic rooms and exhibits, including the original Barracks; the Army Museum; shopping in the Regimental Gift Shop; refreshments in the Regimental Tea Room; and historic British army reenactments. And if you're as lucky as I was, you can become a Citadel soldier--even if just for a day.


My soldiering flashback started with a trip to a dark room near the gate and Guard Room, where a variety of uniforms await reenactment participants. Those taking part in the Soldier for a Day program are assigned a rank, generally based on the size of uniform that fits them. Thanks to a few too many cruise ship meals, I got to be a private.

My uniform came complete with kilt, boots, spats (leggings), sporran (a horsehair item that holds the kilt in place an provides a bit of storage), and feather bonnet. After I had dressed, I was issued a rifle and we headed out to the sprawling parade square to practice my moves. Here, I met my drill instructor who, as promised, was much easier on me than I remembered from military school. We went through an array of marching commands and rifle drills, which brought back a flood of military memories. After the drill session, he showed us how to load our rifles and we got to fire a few rounds over our heads.

Following the firing session, the professionals took over and shot off the big Noon Gun. Except for Christmas Day, this tradition has taken place since 1856. Dressed as the Royal Artillery of 1869, a full unit performs drills taken from British Army manuals of the period, including the firing of the 12-pounder signal gun.

With my ears still ringing from the Noon Gun, we headed to the Regimental Tea Room for an historically themed lunch that consisted of a hearty beef stew, bread, and water--yet again reminding me of my military days.

After lunch, a fellow soldier showed me around the parts of the Citadel I hadn't already experienced, including various overlooks of Halifax and the water, the barracks and the Guard Room, where they treated me like the fellow soldier I was--(at least for the day.

Would I ever consdier going back to real military? Hmmm... Would I want to participate again in the Citadel's Soldier for a Day program?  No doubt!

Other Options

Besides the Soldier for a Day program, the Citadel offers several other activities:
*Tea with the 78th Highlanders (tour, tea and scones, and free time; about two hours)
*The Queen's Shilling (tour, participation in varied fort activities, and free time; about three hours)
*Fort Tour (short tour and free time; about 1 1/2 hours)
*Raise Your Spirits (a short afternoon tour and five samples of Scotch whiskey; about two hours--it your're still on your fee!)