Largest binational 1812 event in America scheduled for Oct. 12-14 in Lewiston
The 100th anniversary of the War of 1812 was celebrated with a plaque installation in front of Barton Hill.
The 200th anniversary will be slightly more grandiose.
On Friday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m., visitors who come to Lewiston will see something no one has ever seen before: The largest battery of 1812-period artillery ever assembled in one place, at one time, will bombard Canada in a dramatic nighttime cannonade, accompanied with music and fireworks. It's part of the weekend-long bicentennial celebration titled "Battle of Queenston Heights Commemoration and Re-enactment." It will be the largest binational War of 1812 event in North America this year, and a once-every-100-year event for Lewiston.
"This collection of working period cannons from around the country is being brought to Lewiston to commemorate the first major battle of the War of 1812. This cannon demonstration has never been seen before, and probably won't be seen again," said Rob Trumbull, a volunteer re-enactor from Ohio who will command the American troops locally and is responsible for coordinating the transport of cannons to Lewiston from various locations. The cannons will be loaded with black powder and ignited to create the blasts for demonstration purposes (they will not launch real cannonballs). The fireworks will be shot over the Niagara River toward Canada.
"The Battle of Queenston Heights Commemoration" will be held on the actual 200th anniversary dates of the war's first major battle, and will commemorate the American invasion of Canada on Oct. 13, 1812. Thousands of American troops assembled at Lewiston to establish a foothold in Ontario before winter arrived, in a war that is sometimes referred to as the "The Forgotten War."
Even though the Americans dramatically outnumbered the British during the battle, the Americans lost in a humiliating defeat and more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers were taken prisoner in Queenston.
The entire re-enactment weekend will feature several dramatic events aimed at heightening awareness of this area's key role in the War of 1812, America's "second revolution."
'Off to War' procession and the bombardment of Canada
The cannonade, which will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, at the park on North Water Street in Lewiston, will be preceded at 4 p.m. by an "Off to War" procession down Center Street. Re-enactors will manually convey the cannons from Academy Park to the riverfront. Marines will escort President James Madison and his wife, Dolly, in a horse-drawn carriage during the procession. The president will address the public and the troops just prior to the bombardment with a call to action.
Parking lots on North Water Street will be reserved for pedestrian traffic and temporary bleachers will be installed to accommodate spectators. Thousands are expected to attend the free show, and patrons are advised to arrive early to get a space and to bring a lawn chair for seating. The Lewiston boat launch will be closed to traffic after 12:30 p.m. on Friday.
A second bombardment will take place on Saturday, Oct. 13, at 3 p.m., at the Artpark upper parking lot and amphitheater. It will coincide with the Queenston re-enactment taking place across the river at the same time.
At noon on Saturday, Oct. 13, British troops will ransack Center Street businesses looking for deserters. Local citizens and merchants will be harassed and bullied as British redcoats turn Lewiston upside down in an attempt to locate the runaways. Several local citizens may even be taken hostage to force locals to give up information as to where the deserters are hiding.
Academy Park Program Tents
A number of 19th century programs and activities are planned all weekend long at Academy Park, and are free to the general public. Hundreds of Western New York elementary school students will participate in the event during organized field trips to Academy Park. These educational ventures will offer a variety of 1812 programming, including dancing, musket drills, songs and a live bald eagle demonstration. Selected middle schoolers will become student journalists and put together video reports on early 19th century living.
•English Country Dance
Learn how to dance the most popular dance of the 19th century Regency period.
•Spirits of 1812: Alex Millar and Brit
Mini-play. Two teenage boys, one American, the other a British loyalist, discuss the animosities between the two countries.
Early French-Canadian cultural program
Aspects of daily life in early America, with costumed interpreter and artifacts
Learn and dance the Virginia Reel
•Spirits of 1812: Tryon and Sally
Mini-play. Abolitionist and his sister-in-law discuss the early 19th century status of slavery and War of 1812
•Ship's Company Chanteymen
Popular singing group specializing in 19th century songs and chanteys
•Tying Knots Like a Sailor
Hands-on lesson and practice tying knots used in the early American Navy.
•19th Century Games and Toys
Create paper toys that students can keep and take home.
•Liberty, the Bald Eagle
Real bald eagle demonstration, discussing national symbol
•1812 songs/stories: Dave Ruch
•19th Century Cricket
Learn and play cricket, a popular 19th century sport.
Native presentation describing 19th century living, customs and dance.
•Early 19th Century Food & Clothes
Food and clothes demo by area educator.
See first hand how a musket is loaded and shot.
Take the militia pledge and drill with wooden muskets
Period interpreters demonstrate how to load and shoot a cannon
Hundreds of Re-enactors
Hundreds of re-enactors from across the U.S. and Canada will converge at the actual launch site of the invasion and will participate in a variety of period programs. The American re-enactors will camp on the Lewiston plateau near Artpark and will be transported by bus across the bridge to participate in the battle re-enactment.
Highlights of the three-day program include two large-scale cannon bombardments of Canada from Lewiston, along with the actual battle re-enactment in Queenston.
The revered British Gen. Isaac Brock was shot and killed by an American sniper. Brock is buried underneath the 185-foot monument that bears his name that was first constructed in 1824 to honor him as the "Savior of Upper Canada." Canadians believe that if it weren't for Brock's cunning and energetic defense of Canada during the War of 1812, Canada would have been conquered and annexed by the U.S., though no evidence exists America had any intention of actually taking over Canada.
"While the Canadians have had Queenston re-enactments in the past, and will have them again in the future, this is a once-in-a-lifetime binational event with American participation that won't be replicated for another 100 years," said volunteer field director Bruce Sutherland, president of the Historical Association of Lewiston. "We have been very fortunate to have local sponsors step up to the plate to enable us to make this happen, especially in making this a free event that is open to the public. It's a tremendous opportunity for folks who have never experienced a period re-enactment to see it for the first time."
"We want to promote and preserve our history," said volunteer Lee Simonson.
"We just want people to know that this was an important place," he said. "We were a focal point for a lot of international attention at that time."
"This is the war that gave us our national anthem," Simonson noted. "This was the war that basically made the United States a real country, and not just an experiment in democracy that nobody knew if it would even work."
100 percent Volunteer Effort
Dozens of volunteer organizers from the Historical Association of Lewiston, and the Friends of Fort George have spent two years preparing for this signature event, which will be free and open to the public. U.S. sponsors include the Town of Lewiston, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, Niagara County, the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, the Village of Lewiston, KeyBank, Modern Corporation, Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, the Baird Foundation and the New York State Council on the Humanities.
"This is our chance to shine as the nation's eyes will be upon us. This 200th anniversary battle not only defined our nations, but set the stage for the two centuries of peace that followed - the strongest alliance between two countries in the world today. Lewiston is investing more resources in the 1812 commemoration than any other community in Western New York and, better yet, we aren't spending a penny of taxpayer money," said Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter.
Friday, Oct. 12
Saturday, Oct. 13
11 a.m., noon, 1:30 and 3 p.m. (Academy Park)
11:30 a.m., and 12:30, 2 and 3:30 p.m. (Academy Park)
Sunday, Oct. 14
For more information, visit http://historiclewiston.org/battleofqueenstonheights/.