Scott Finlay wears many hats – although he probably is best-known across Niagara as the man wearing the tall boots of Sir Isaac Brock.
A Parks Canada employee, Finlay, 64, says he’s been performing all his life, from kindergarten through high school and his entire adult life.
Born in Hamilton, he lived in Bevan Heights for three months while attending Grade 1 at St. Davids Public School. His family then moved to Niagara Falls, where Finlay still lives.
He graduated from York University with a degree in visual arts and, before joining Parks Canada, he founded a company that performed at conferences by interacting with audiences and creating unique presentations for the speakers.
Incorporating humour in his work helped him to get corporate messages across to people, Finlay says.
“People may not remember statistics – but you attach a joke to it, they do,” he told The Lake Report.
His passion for storytelling, great communication skills and interest in history brought him to Parks Canada in spring 2009 where he works as a corporate programming co-ordinator and what he calls his “dream job.”
He says ever since he was a child having picnics with his family at Queenston Heights, he’s been interested in Brock.
Finlay received his first general’s uniform in 1995. He wore it for corporate events but it wasn’t until 2011 that he started volunteering to play Brock.
He is now a frequent visitor to schools and community events where he shows up dressed in Brock’s full War of 1812 regalia.
Finlay sees Brock as a great, fearless – even tragic – hero who had progressive views and was well ahead of his time. But, simultaneously, he was a man of his time.
While other leaders used strict punishments, like whipping, for errant soldiers, Brock realized, “You’re not getting the best out of men when you’re harsh with them,” Finlay says.
Brock encouraged his soldiers to go fishing in the river in their downtime or go hunting using their muskets, and he also created recreational activities for his soldiers by setting up a court for a game.
“Nobody does that for another 50 years. They don’t think in those terms and here he is, putting thought forward,” Finlay says.
“The impact on people today is similar to what it was then. He still resonates that strongly.”
Finlay says Brock lived a big life and says if Brock could have chosen how to die, he would have likely wanted to go while leading soldiers.
Brock was also a great orator who could draw people in. The general felt his job was “to look big and sound loud,” Finlay adds.
One of his best experiences portraying Brock occurred during Bicentennial celebrations at Fort Malden National Historic Site in Amherstburg, Ont., where Brock met Shawnee chief Tecumseh.
That was one of the most moving experiences, Finlay says, because of people’s reaction and how re-enactors kept everything “the way it was.”
In Windsor, Ont., there is a Tecumseh-Brock statue in the middle of the Old Sandwich Town roundabout. It depicts chief Tecumseh sitting on a horse and Brock standing beside him looking through a spyglass at Detroit.
When sculptor Mark Williams asked Finlay to pose for the statue, Finlay agreed and together with his daughter drove to Williams’ studio outside Amherstburg.
It took Williams more than two years to complete the project, which was unveiled in September 2018. Finlay himself got to see the statue this past summer.
“My Brock is about seven feet high. Everyone said, ‘It kind of looks like you.’ And yes, it does kind of look like me,” he says. “It’s kind of fun that it took place.”
Preparing to play a historic character takes a lot of time researching and reading books, he says.
“That’s what history is all about. We think we know it, but we know just the big things. We don’t know those nuances. That’s what’s fulfilling about it.”
Was Brock better than a lot of the men of his time? Yes, Finlay says.
“But would he stand up to scrutiny today in terms of what was expected? No.”
“He had a firm belief in the structure of the British Empire and understands the concept of empire through the eyes of the people of the time,” Finlay explains.
Audience reaction can also vary depending on who is watching – adults and children react differently, he says. When youngsters come to a place like Fort George, they can get overwhelmed.
“When kids first see a musket demonstration here, they’re like, ‘Wow!’” Finlay says. “And parents seem to be a little bit more jaded about it. At least, they might be thinking, ‘Wow’ inside, but they internalize it all.”
In his spare time, Finlay reads a lot and likes painting and doing leatherwork.
“As you get involved, it’s a really interesting process,” Finlay says about working with leather. “There are so many different solutions of how to use leather in different ways. (When) you do something that works out, there’s a real sense of accomplishment.”
He’s made a wide variety of leather items: sword belts, folios, telescope cases, cross belts, a travel book cover. Right now, he is working on a pistol holder that soldiers used while riding a horse.
Having four children and three grandsons, Finlay says his household can also get busy.
If he could give any advice to anyone, he would tell them to find their passion.
“Find it and do it. There’s no such thing as work,” Finlay says. “You come, you show up at someplace and you can’t wait to get there. For me, this experience has been very, very much that.”
“It’s very fulfilling, it’s so interesting and surprising sometimes. So, find that passion and hold on to it.”