Inside Politics

Peace on earth... and would you pass me my musket?

Heritage Minister James Moore was at committee on Thursday discussing the government's plans for War of 1812 commemorations next year (among other things.)

Many of the key battles, and the celebrations, centre on the Niagara region. But elsewhere in Ontario, and particularly in Eastern Ontario border communities along the St. Lawrence, the bicentenary will also be marked with legacy projects and historical re-enactments.

Gananoque, east of Kingston (pop. 5,000 or so year-round, but higher in summer tourist season), is one such community. Founded by a British loyalist along a key St. Lawrence River supply line for the British, Gananoque was the site of one of the war's earliest skirmishes. 

Now local businesses are hoping for a boost from next summer's celebrations.

Local Conservative MP Gord Brown has announced a share of the government's $28 million budget for Gananoque's commemorations next year and beyond.

Here's a description of some of the plans, from his release:

The Lions Club of Gananoque will present a community commemoration of the first battle that took place in Gananoque on September 21, 1812. Activities will include historical re-enactments, music and theatre performances, and a heritage walk by local artists and historical heritage performers.

In addition to this celebration, the Lions Club has also undertaken the development of Joel Stone Park into an 1812 heritage park that will feature, among other elements, a bronze diorama representing the town as it was in 1812, an amphitheatre for small theatrical events, and the beginning of a one kilometre heritage trail.

Other events are planned for June and August. (More details from local organizers here.)

But why wait to start celebrating? At least that's what Sue McDermid from the Gananoque business improvement association thought when planning started earlier this fall for this year's Santa Claus parade.

At first, she tells me, they considered the theme "Christmas of 1811," but they weren't sure people would get the connection to next year's big plans. Instead, they settled on "The Eve of 1812."

Not everyone in the parade stuck to the historic military theme. Indeed, attendees and local newspaper coverage (story with a classic headline here, photos here) report a typical small-town mix of elves, sleighs, community marching bands and VIPs in fancy cars from the local dealership.

There were a few period costumes. And let's face it, it is hard to figure out a tasteful way to mix cannons and candy canes on a service club budget.

But to all in Gananoque, it was a good night.

And the best is yet to come for the town. A once-vacant lot is getting a $96,000 makeover, including fresh landscaping and a new flag pole. Plans are underway for reconstructing a block house (fortification) downtown.

The St. Lawrence War of 1812 Bicentennial Alliance website describes the event that actually happened at Gananoque this way:

An incursion of regulars and militia led by the Captain Forsyth of the 1st US Rifle regiment made an attack here (September 1812). A detachment of the 2nd Leeds militia, under Colonel Joel Stone, offered some resistance, but withdrew its force of two subalterns and about 40 soldiers. American forces seized the stores, burned the government depot, and withdrew.

Today, and next summer in particular, incursions of American tourists are most welcome, particularly at the local charity casino.

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