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Niagara Falls
Wednesday, June 19, 2024
First World War re-enactment at Fort George highlights lesser-known NOTL history
Last weekend’s reenactment “Fort George in the Great War” allowed the fort to showcase a piece of NOTL history they don’t usually explore. Displays including a musket demonstration gave visitors an inside look at The First World War. (Dave Van de Laar)
Ashley Creed played the role of a Red Cross voluntary ambulance officer at Fort George last weekend. (Julia Sacco)
Multiple demonstrations on the nurses of The First World War took place during last week’s reenactment at Fort George. (Dave Van de Laar)
Members of the DCRC showed visitors different pieces of uniform from The First World War. (Dave Van de Laar)

Longtime historical re-enactor Craig Williams says reenactment is all about painting an accurate picture of life in the past – the good and the bad.

He’s been taking part in re-enactments since the early 1980s and usually focuses on the era surrounding the War of 1812.

Last weekend though, Williams came out for Fort George in the Great War, a commemoration of the First World War featuring demonstrations throughout the day from re-enactors from all over the country. 

Nurses, ambulance drivers, soldiers and more were out and about in the Fort, giving ticketholders a chance to experience the past.

During the First World War, Canadians soldiers came to Fort George for military training before heading overseas to serve their country.

Williams said it’s important to highlight how the men of Ontario enlisted in a war they didn’t really understand, as it was more of an “imperial” battle than anything else.

“They were all regular people, teachers, blacksmiths, just regular people. It was a volunteer army until the last year of the war,” he said.

One of the most important elements of these re-enactments is the costuming, with which Williams has plenty of experience.

“You find the bits and pieces where you can,” he said of trying to track down historically-accurate clothing, noting that a more recent event like the First World War is easier to find pieces for than those 100 years prior.

The combat boots from this period became standard for cavalry offices, he said. He sourced his pair through the RCMP, along with his hat. He added that often during the summer at this camp specifically, soldiers would have worn straw hats and short sleeves to beat the heat. 

Aside from the usual demonstrations, there were some more human – and animal aspects – to this year’s re-enactment.

One of the re-enactor’s pets was the real star of the show, said Amanda Gamble, executive director of the Friends of Fort George

“Julius the cat was a crowd favourite,” she said. 

Re-enactor Susan Spencer brings her furry friend Julius to her events and he is always a big hit with guests of all ages. 

“He allowed (us) to highlight that cats would have been used to hunt mice and rats in hospitals and also as morale for soldiers that were injured,” said Gamble. 

Re-enactments outside of the War of 1812 allow the Fort to show guests other chapters of NOTL’s story, Gamble added.

“It’s just a really great opportunity for us to highlight another part of Fort George’s history that we don’t get to show on a regular basis,” she said.

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