210th anniversary of key battle from the War of 1812
Blowing winds didn’t deter the soldiers who marched from Fort George to Queenston over the weekend to re-enact the Battle of Queenston Heights.
The re-enactment marked the 210th anniversary of the bloody battle, which was fought on Oct. 13, 1812.
It was an important moment in Canadian history, repelling an American invasion, and helped shape the country as we know it today.
More than 200 men and women participated in the re-enactment.
“If you don’t do it, people forget,” said David Moore, who had just finished the 10-kilometre march in his British red coat uniform. He’s been participating in re-enactments for many years.
Heritage will be lost if people don’t bring it back to life, he added.
The re-enactors brought to life the deadly battle, staged on part of the original battlefield.
The audience watched as the Americans captured the Redan Battery and as Maj.-Gen. Sir Isaac Brock heroically died.
Gunshots echoed across Queenston Heights, followed by smoke from the muskets and the smell of rotten eggs.
The Americans were left in control of the Heights after Lt.-Col. John Macdonell, Brock’s aide-de-camp, was fatally wounded.
Explosions rang through the speakers, mimicking the sounds of cannons.
The battle was not looking good for the British. They were outnumbered.
Then, Indigenous warriors, led by John Norton, arrived and held off the Americans until more help arrived.
Soon, the British were fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with the Canadian Militiamen, Runchey’s Corps (also known as the Coloured Corps) and First Nations warriors to defeat the Americans.
“The re-enactors actually come to us,” said Tony Chisholm, the president of the Friends of Fort George.
Many of them were excited to take part in the re-enactment, especially since it takes place on the same spot where the battle happened, he explained.
Each soldier’s full uniform can be very costly.
“Even to be a private like, the musket alone is going to run you $900,” said Moore.
Most of the men there likely spent at least $2,000 for their regalia.
Many of the re-enactors also hand-sew their uniforms, said Cadima Meadus, who drove down from the Lake Simcoe area to participate in the re-enactment.
Dressed like a soldier’s wife, Amanda Gamble, the executive director of the Friends of Fort George, led tours around the battlefield all morning and throughout the afternoon.
“During the tours, one of the big things that we’re talking about is just Queenston Heights, for us, is really significant because it is the first major battle of the War of 1812 and the first one here in the Niagara frontier,” she said.
It’s also the first war where you see the resolve of the British Redcoats, she said.
“And the fact that they’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder, they’re fighting with Canadian Militiamen, Indigenous warriors who have come in strength as well as the Coloured Corps, which were freed slaves,” she said.
“They were all here on the grounds of Queenston Heights, defending Upper Canada from invasion,” she added.
Alex Smith and Danielle Laraby, from Niagara-on-the-Lake, felt better informed after their tour with Gamble.
“We’ve lived here forever, right? So we actually wanted to know the history and kind of see where everything took place, which was very informative,” said Smith.
They learned a lot, like how in the beginning the British were outnumbered by the Americans six to one, he said.
The Friends of Fort George, Parks Canada and the Niagara Parks Commission worked together to make the re-enactment weekend happen.
However, the Friends of Fort George were the ones that made the weekend come to life.
Through a Reconnect Ontario grant of up to $15,000 from the province, they were able to bring the past to life.
“But it’s dependent on how much because they only cover about 50 per cent of the cost of the event,” said Gamble.
The grant provides for the re-enactors and helps with publicity. It also helps pay the students who came back just for the day to perform musket demonstrations.
Though the re-enactment eventually came to an end, Fort George kept the activities going on Sunday, including a re-enactment of Brock’s funeral procession.
“Those who don’t honour it (the past), they lose it,” said Moore.