Unless you can travel back in time, it’s not easy to picture how officers during the War of 1812 lived off the battlefield.
That is unless you’re at Officer’s Day at Fort George.
One day each spring, Fort George staff and volunteer re-enactors showcase how officers and the elite class in the colonies lived during the war.
This year’s Officer’s Day took place on Saturday, May 20, and saw re-enactors travel to the national historic site from far and wide to take part in a variety of day-to-day activities people then would’ve done.
Chris McKay, from London, Ont., helped come up with the idea for this year’s new “dressing an officer” presentation, inspired by fashion shows held during previous re-enactments.
He took on the role of a footman, a servant tasked with dressing the officer himself.
“We thought, ‘You know what, we’ve done that for two, three years, what else can we do that’s different?'” McKay said.
His dad, a history lover, used to take him and his siblings to all the different forts in the Niagara region to watch the war re-enactments. He fell in love with them.
“When I was old enough, I thought ‘That’s something I’d like to do.’ So, I found a group in my area and joined. That was 22 or 23 years ago now and I haven’t looked back,” McKay said.
Fort George has hosted an Officer’s Day several times in the past.
Originally, the re-enactors wanted to host a ball in the evening for themselves at the national historic site, said Peter Martin, the special events coordinator for Parks Canada.
“I said, ‘What can we do during the day for the public?’ So, we came up with this Officer’s Day idea,” he said.
Martin explained that this day allows the re-enactors to tell an entirely different story than the usual of a fight on a battlefield.
“We do duels occasionally, which is part of officer life to a certain degree. The dancing is always a highlight,” he said.
The clothing that goes into demonstrations like the dressing of the officers, as well as many of the uniforms used in re-enactment are made by one of the re-enactors.
Peter Twist works as a tailor for occasions like this, as well as Hollywood films.
“I joined a re-enactment unit back in the late ’80s and I had never sewn anything in my life,” he said.
Twist said his friend who made him his first uniform eventually moved to England, so he had to be taught to sew and carry on the skill.
“That’s how it started, and it just sort of grew from there,” he said.
Twist makes most of the uniforms for the staff at Fort George and he said a garment can take two to three weeks to complete.
A lot of teamwork goes into re-enactments and presentations at Fort George and Chris McKay said that is exactly what makes the experience so special.
“My favourite part is the people. All of my best friends are re-enactors and (I love) sitting around the fire and connecting with people at the end of the day,” he said.