Have you ever longed to be a sailor, to hear the flap of tall ship sails, or the creak of century-old timber as you set out onto the waves of a Great Lake? This summer, you will have your chance to experience this nautical opportunity and more, as the city of Hamilton commemorates the events of centuries past with celebrations along the harbor. With a visit from six tall ships—including an historic traditionally-rigged sailing vessel that will take visitors ‘out to sea’ on Lake Ontario— re-enactments of pivotal battles, deck tours, living history actors, music stages, crafts booths, and free shuttles that will take you back and forth along Hamilton’s waterfront, it’s one summer fun Canada Day weekend that landlubbers won’t want to miss.
“We have an absolutely beautiful waterfront here,” says Pam Mulholland, Arts & Events Initiatives Coordinator for the city of Hamilton, “from the bayfront parks to Pier 8 where the tall ships will be to Pier 9 where the HMSC Haida is docked.” And everything is connected by the Waterfront Trail which makes it easy to navigate once your car is parked.
From the time that six tall ships sail into Hamilton Harbor, June 28, with a grand Parade of Sail on Friday afternoon until the last deck tour of a schooner on Sunday, June 30 and a final musical concert, locals and visitors will be able to participate in this inventive Tall Ships Hamilton weekend.
Steer the Liana’s Ransom, the replica of an 18-century privateer schooner, hoist the sails and help to fire one of the four black powder cannons while ‘at sea.’ Or, tour the deck of five historic vessels such as the Sorlandet from Norway, the oldest fully rigged ship in the world still in operation. Watch demonstrations of boat building, knot tying, climbing a mast, learning how a compass works or sing sea shanties along with musicians.
And just in case you still think that history is dry and dull, several theatre groups will be on hand to depict the War of 1812 times in lively fashion. Enjoy a hilarious look at the events of 200 years ago in just 18 minutes and 12 seconds by KA’NATA whose theatrical presentation gives a new meaning to ‘fast forward.’ Or interact with a troupe of re-enactors to travel back in time when barrel makers, naval surgeons, garment makers and other essential folk looked after your every need. Try your hand at printmaking, view an outdoor exhibit of handmade quilts inspired by traditional barn quilts, or kibitz with characters in 1812 period dress—in fact, feel free to dress up too! “Our goal is for history to come to life,” says Mulholland. “We want to ignite a passion for both kids and adults to learn something new, and make it fun and interesting.”
Expect some surprises too. Word has it that the weekend will feature 19-century naval surgeons with their medical instruments (not for present use, however!), unique artistic projects from Canadian artists, a display of vintage tattoos and a huge variety of food trucks in case appetite beckons. Free parking, free admission, free programming and to top it off, the HSR Waterfront Shuttle will give free transportation between sites. Indeed, from the first blast of a cannon during Friday’s Parade of Sail afternoon to the closing musical concert at 11 pm on Sunday, Hamilton’s waterfront will be alive with a nautical 1812 spirit—that will engage, surprise, celebrate and indeed, teach us a few things about our very interesting, but rather unknown, Ontario history.
This summer, Hamilton Halton Brant Tourism Region will also celebrate its rich history with a special heritage passport that will give visitors exclusive offers at several area attractions including Battlefield House Museum and Park, Chiefswood National Historic Site, Dundurn National Historic Site, HMCS Haida National Historic Site, Whitehern Historic House and Garden National Historic Site, and many others.
CAPTION for the Ship Photo:
The U.S. Brig Niagara, built between 1812 and 1813, is one of only two remaining vessels that served in the War of 1812.
Photo Credit: Flagship Niagara League
Sidebar: 1812 Hamilton Signature Events
Re-enactment of the Battle of Stoney CreeK
Salute the 200 anniversary of this historic battle, whereby British troops and a contingent of native warriors led by Mohawk Chief John Norton surprised a camp of some 3,500 Americans in the early morning hours. During the attack (from where Dundurn Castle now stands), two American Generals were captured along with two field guns, thus forcing a pivotal change in the war’s outcome. Relive the event with food, games, musical entertainment and battle re-enactment, the longest continually run War of 1812 re-enactment in North America, June 1-2.
Canadian International Military Tattoo
Enjoy the stirring sounds of pipes and drums, the swirl of tartan and marching military bands in the most exciting military tattoo show west of Halifax. Special guests include the Military Wives Choir from England (made famous by the hit BBC TV show, The Choir) and a British Army band. Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, June 8-9.
Hamilton & Scourge Memorials
In the pre-dawn hours on August 8, 1813, two merchant ships pressed into service by the U.S. Navy, the Hamilton and the Scourge, were hovering on Lake Ontario ready for battle when a sudden squall sent the armed schooners to the bottom of Lake Ontario. On September 4, the Griffin, a Canadian Coast Guard ship will take dignitaries to the site for the official Memorial On-the-Water. Operatic tenor Jason Hales and representatives from three countries will recognize the largest wartime loss of life on Lake Ontario for the United States Navy, and the peace enjoyed ever since between Britain, Canada and the U.S. On September 21, it’s everyone’s turn to celebrate with a plethora of cultural events including film (public premiere of On-the-Water), theatre, puppetry, hands-on discoveries and choral music by the Bach Elgar choir. In addition, free admission, noon - 4 pm, for Dundurn Castle and the Hamilton Military Museum.