This summer marks the bi-centennial of the War of 1812, the last military conflict between British North America and the United States. Still, when your neighbour is the most powerful nation on Earth, why not throw a few taunts in his direction?
“It’s all in good fun,” explains Cathy Masterson, manager for Cultural Affairs, City of Windsor. “We invited the Americans to join.”
The August 25 event marks the capture of Detroit with a symbolic march from historic Sandwich Town, home to some of Ontario’s oldest buildings, to downtown Windsor. The event encourages friendship as much as it recalls the bravery of British General Brock and Shawnee warrior Tecumseh. Keen to have company, the locals will stage a full day of entertainment.
Where history was less dramatic, events build on local enthusiasm. Take the town of Leamington. One night in 1812, General Brock and his fleet camped on the shores of Point Pelee before travelling west to Amherstburg. The municipality and partners have planned an entire day (July 28) loosely interpreting this pause, sailing to Pelee Island for a winery lunch and a voyageur-themed canoe race followed by fur trading re-enactments, traditional native smudging ceremonies, drumming and dancing.
ON THE WATERFRONT
Today, tour boats ply the eastern end of Lake Ontario, cruising toward the scenic Thousand Islands. But two centuries ago, dockyards bristled with preparations for war. In 1809, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Kingston launched the largest war-ship on Lake Ontario, the heavily armed, three-masted square-rigged, HMS Royal George.
That famous vessel is commemorated when dozens of ships gather at Bath and Kingston, June 29 to July 1, for encampments, battle recreations and a naval engagement that marks the flight of the Royal George from pursuing American ships in 1812.
Tall ships also arrive in Essex County at Colchester Harbour on July 20 for a War of 1812 Festival weekend featuring re-enactor camps, ship-to-shore gun battle, entertainment, deck tours and public cruises.
Bikinis meet redcoats when some 500 re-enactors invade Wasaga Beach (Aug. 17 to 19) to demonstrate marine assault tactics and man 19th century-like merchant booths.
ON THE BATTLEFRONT
For landlubbers, Amherstburg’s Roots to Boots event (Aug. 3 to 5) promises re-enactors on every corner. While local women cook historical fare on an open hearth, actors portraying Chief Tecumseh and General Brock will mingle with the public. A new musical, Spirit of a Nation, premieres at Fort Malden and fireworks light up the Detroit River.
Battle re-enactments—often involving hundreds of volunteer “soldiers”—form a good portion of the 1812 commemorations, but few are as well rehearsed as the Battle of Stoney Creek (June 2–3), now in its 31st year. Bayonets flash through the smoke-filled fields and musket fire rings in your ears. Off the battlefield, meet the fighting men and their women as you stroll through soldiers’ encampments; shop for period goods from bonnets to moose hide moccasins.
On August 6, Burlington celebrates the Joseph Brant Day Festival, in honour of Brant’s Mohawk heritage and the important role his son John played in the War of 1812. Expect First Nations cultural interpretations as well as re-enactments by period British and American military, refreshment stands, artisans and vendors—even a ghost walk.
Walk in the footsteps of soldiers at Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake and experience the thrill of battle music when fife and drum corps demonstrate how musical sig-nals rallied troops and communicated orders on the battlefield.
Long after the last commemorative canon shot is fired, the inspiration will linger at Niagara’s Queenston Heights. General Brock fell in battle, but his towering monument rises high enough to be seen across the river by the invaders he helped repel. Just a bit of harmless taunting you can enjoy any time.
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