More than 200 years after a courageous group of First Nations warriors and war captains saved the day at the Battle of Queenston Heights during the War of 1812 between the Americans and the British, their accomplishments are finally getting large-scale recognition.
A massive memorial,
Landscape of Nations
, is being dedicated and opened to the public on the site where the battle against the American invaders, who were trying to capture territory on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, was fought.
The ceremony is scheduled for 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at Queenston Heights Park, less than 10 kilometres northeast of Niagara Falls, Ont.
"It's almost the missing piece," said Niagara Parks Commission chair Janice Thomson. "We need to fill in that piece of history."
The project is supported by the federal, Ontario and local governments, the Six Nations Legacy Consortium and many donors.
Landscaper Jen Ruttan tends the Memory Circle Garden, the centrepiece of the memorial in Queenston Heights Park. (Havard Gould/CBC)
British army officer Maj-Gen. Sir Isaac Brock was killed in action at Queenston Heights on Oct. 13, 1812. His memorial, a soaring column, overlooks the battleground and is a popular tourist attraction. It is actually the second monument to Brock on the site; the first was damaged by an explosion.
But until now, much less has been done to acknowledge the efforts of the First Nations in the battle, efforts most historians believe were decisive.
After Brock fell, his forces were in disarray and retreating. It appeared certain the American invaders, who controlled the high ground, were on their way to a major victory.
But a group of 60 to 80 First Nations warriors, led by war captains, launched a bold and tactically brilliant attack. Five of them died in a fierce struggle that bought time for reinforcements to arrive.
Brant's statue gets some finishing touches in preparation for a ceremony Sunday when the public will get its first glimpse of the Landscape of Nations memorial. (Havard Gould/CBC)
At the same time, the intimidating war cries from the First Nations so terrified American reinforcements preparing to cross the Niagara River that many refused to join the fight.
The Americans who did cross the river later surrendered, their demoralizing defeat an important moment in the war. A Heritage Minutes television spot recreated the crucial intervention of the First Nations at Queenston Heights.
A volunteer group has worked for eight years planning, raising funds and finally overseeing the creation of what is expected to become a significant tourist destination and educational tool, adding to the plaques and a homemade tribute that have recognized the First Nations contributions.
Historian Richard Merritt, who worked on the project, hopes it will introduce generations to a little known aspect of Canadian history.
"I would love to be sitting here some day and listen to kids saying, 'I had no idea,' or even adults (who) had no idea natives were so involved in the war," he said.
After Sunday's dedication ceremonies, people will be able to wander through the installation, which includes two immense bronze statues of Major John Norton and John Brant, the war captains who played an important leadership role in the battle, plaques identifying the First Nations that participated and, at the end, a living Tree of Peace.
Tim Johnson, a former Smithsonian Institution executive who has been deeply involved in the project, said he "can attest to the artistic merit and the educational imperative. The essence is to provide recognition, acknowledgment and and honouring of Six Nations and allies who made such amazing sacrifices and contributions for Canada during War of 1812," he said.
A plaque honouring the contributions made by the Six Nations during the War of 1812. The Six Nations include Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Tuscarora and Seneca nations. (Havard Gould/CBC)
Visitors will be able to walk from Brock's Monument to the Landscape of Nations installation, which is billed as a commemorative public artwork. A pathway is guarded by the two immense bronze statues of Norton and Brant.
'Most historians would agree that they probably would have lost the battle without them.'
- Richard Merritt, historian
It leads to the Tree of Peace, a white pine. The centrepiece of the memorial is a circular raised garden with enormous slabs of limesone radiating outwards. On the slabs are bronze plaques honouring the First Nations.
The garden is surrounded by a metal band, with the words "Don't Forget" on it in large letters.
Merritt says the War of 1812 and the Battle of Queenston Heights would likely have had very different outcomes for the British and the residents of Upper Canada had the warriors not been present.
"Most historians would agree that they probably would have lost the battle without them," Merritt said.
As for the recognition, "It's long overdue," he said.
A homemade tribute to the First Nations warriors stands at the foot of General Brock's 56-metre monument. (Havard Gould/CBC)