In November, a paddle buddy and I visited the Battle of the Windmill National Historic Site in Prescott, Ontario when the mornings are cold and the days are short. Oddly enough, the Battle of the Windmill raged for several days in the middle of November in 1838. We visited the site by kayak, during the same month 174 years later.
If you don’t have a kayak, you can easily access this beautiful historic site by car, bike, or on foot.
Soon after, we passed the large Canadian Coast Guard Base at Prescott, and the brightly coloured buoys stowed on the dock for the winter. The base at Prescott is responsible for over 3,300 kilometres along the St. Lawrence River and has a radar station to monitor boat traffic. It’s pretty impressive from the vantage point of a 17-foot sea kayak.
In the distance, I could barely see our stoic target for a lunch break, the red and white lighthouse at the Battle of the Windmill National Historic Site. It’s the small white spot on the left of the shore. Further east, you can see the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge that connects New York State in the U.S. To Ontario, Canada. The distance between Canada and the U.S. is only about a mile and a half or 2.4 kilometres along this paddle route.
After 4 kilometres of paddling with the wind at our back and the sun in our face, we landed our fibreglass kayaks on the wild, rocky shore of The Battle of the Windmill.
We climbed up the wooden staircase to find out about the battle that occurred here in 1838. There’s an air of mystery to the place. It made me feel respectful and curious.
You can visit the Battle of the Windmill National Historic Site by car or bike, on foot, or by kayak, but if you want to explore the inside of the lighthouse, it’s open from June to September from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
The site is beautiful for a picnic and playing a little Frisbee. It also makes an awesome observation point for enjoying the views of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the passing tankers, or watching a stunning sunset.
During the 1820’s and 1830’s, the British colony of Canada was governed by a small ruling elite. Reformers of the period began to demand a more democratic form of government for Canada. In 1837, these demands led to rebellion on the part of the reformers who were defeated by the British army.
Some of these reformers (rebels) fled to the United States.
In 1838, the rebels and some American sympathizers gathered arms on the American side of the St. Lawrence River, and on November 12th landed 190 men in Prescott, taking control of the Prescott windmill and surrounding buildings.
The rebels thought the local population would come to their aid, but they did not. A few days later, the windmill was besieged by 2000 British troops and local militia from nearby Fort Wellington with artillery and naval support.
The rebels surrendered on November 16th. Some were killed in battle, eleven were executed, and 60 were exiled to Australia.
After the battle, the windmill served as a military post. In 1872, the Federal Government converted the windmill’s tower into a lighthouse that remained in service until 1978.
Today, Windmill Point and nearby Fort Wellington are preserved as historic sites by the Canadian Park Service. You’ll pass by the Fort on this paddle route but it is not accessible by water. You can visit the Fort by land. Check their website for operating hours and fees.
The lighthouse is a stationary marker, yet it seems like a silent sentry of the site, keeping watch. Looking at it made me wonder. It helps you stand still for a moment in the here and now and think about the past and how things used to be.
The surrounding woods are intriguingly tangled and untamed, adding to the mystique. It’s a visit I’ll always remember.
This short and sweet historical paddle from the Prescott boat launch off Mary Street to Windmill Point, is only 4 kilometres each way, 8 km round trip, on the St. Lawrence Seaway.
But, we got a good workout with a steady push of 15 km/hr winds on our trip. And, the massive tankers that come from all over the world passed by regularly in the shipping channel creating plenty of big rolling swell, pitchy chop, and interesting boat wakes for us to negotiate as we paddled well out of their way.
Like any paddle you undertake, make sure you have the necessary paddle skills and gear, and the weather report on your side. Stay out of the shipping channel and keep a safe distance from it. Also, watch out for other boats that may be on the water, especially during the peak boating season in summer.
Prescott is just off Hwy 401, near the junction of Hwy 416, where you can find restaurants, fast food, service stations, shops, stores, a farmer’s market, LCBO, accommodations, events, and historic sites to visit.
For boaters, there is a beautiful, large, full-service, 148 slip municipal harbour and marina: Sandra S. Lawn Harbour and Marina