Long dresses, top hats and lots of red, blue and grey uniforms made their way into Joel Stone Heritage Park on Monday, June 18th in Gananoque. These men and women, all looking like they just stepped out of 1812, were joined by local dignitaries, school groups and residents from Gananoque, the Township and its islands.
This was one of the lead events commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812 in eastern Ontario and as the signs flying on flag poles around the town state… “Where it all began…” Over the next three years there will be a number of commemorations, re-enactments, and ceremonies in Ontario and Quebec celebrating various events and locations pertaining to the war.
The dedication of the Joel Stone Heritage Park is Gananoque’s contribution to the recognition of Canada’s 1812 heritage. Joel Stone was a United Empire Loyalist from Connecticut who was given a land grant in New Johnston (near Cornwall) and established a saw mill and ferry across the Gananoque river. He was the Colonel of the 2nd Leeds Incorporated Militia Regiment and fought in several engagements of the war. The village itself was invaded on September 21, 1812 by American forces who took advantage of the absence of the local militia.
Following the attack, a blockhouse and naval station were constructed as part of the system of defense for the St. Lawrence River, the vital supply route for British North American forces defending Upper Canada. Without the supply route, British forces would not have been able to defend what we now know as the Province of Ontario.
The park was built on waterfront and reclaimed land at the west end of Water Street and is composed of a park, amphitheatre, gun position, playground, beach and lighthouse. The entryway is composed of two flanking stone walls with plaques explaining the park and its significance. On walking through the entry there is a model of the village as it was during the 1812 war. Continuing due south, on the waterfront is a gun position with three guns: a restored 1807 24-pound cannon, and two recently manufactured 8-pounder replicas.
On the east side of the Park is an amphitheatre with stone block seats facing west. Continuing west is the playground, water park for children and sand beach areas, followed by an open park extending to the tip of the point jutting into the St. Lawrence River. On the point is a large 80 foot flag pole and new lighthouse erected at the entrance to the Gananoque Marina.
The ceremony began with musical prelude by Gananoque Intermediate Secondary School and the Lasalle Adult Secondary School bands. A parade of honour began the proceedings with Pipers, a Royal Canadian Legion Colour Party, First Nations flag bearer and members of Canadian Forces Base Kingston who led the procession with representatives of municipal, provincial and Federal governments.
The British High Commissioner who resides in Ottawa , Dr. Andrew Pollock, led the opening remarks along with the Mayor of Gananoque, Ms. Erika Demchuk; the Hon. Gord Brown, MP; and Mr. Steve Clark, MPP. The guest of honour was John R. Matheson. M.P. for Leeds 1961-68. He was a member and "driving force" of the House of Commons flag committee, which was responsible the design of the Canadian Flag.
Following the remarks historians, Paul Scott and Stewart Deline gave short talks on the history of the war from British North American and Aboriginal perspectives. Throughout the ceremony all speakers addressed the long standing friendship between the United States and Canada as they both share the St. Lawrence River and the peace they have found since the end of the War of 1812.
The event was well attended by the public, townsfolk dressed in period costumes and uniforms, and many school children.
Re-enactors of the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry and the Glengarry Light Infantry fired a salute, followed by the firing of cannons by re-enactors of the Royal Navy Gun Crew and Royal Artillery.
Firing the Cannon
The objects seen above leaning against the wall are tools used by gunners to load and clean cannons. Unlike muskets and other flintlock weapons which can be reloaded and fired immeadiately , cannons present a different danger when not properly handled and maintained.
After loading the charge (gunpowder in a linen bag), a wad of paper or hay was rammed in, and the ball was thrown in and rammed again. This would ensure the propellant and projectile were as close as possible to the breech. Following firing, a wet sponge would be used to clean the inside of the barrel to ensure there were no embers for when the next charge was loaded. A corkscrew was used to remove the charge if there was a misfire or to clean the barrel of dirt. Not following these steps could produce a misfire or catastrophic explosion.
Modern re-enactors only use partial loads or 1-2 pounds of powder designed to produce a flash and loud noise, compared to a full load of between 10 to 12 pounds of powder depending on the gun, thus reducing the potential for accidents.
Offshore during the ceremony H.M.S. Revenge sailed past the park as a reminder of the Royal Navy presence in 1812.
Future events in eastern Ontario include the commemoration of the raid on Gananoque 24-26 August, 2012; Dunvegan's War of 1812 Re-enactment Weekend (Glengarry Pioneer Museum) September 23-24, 2012; and the Battle of Crysler’s Farm July 13-14, 2013.
Other nearby historic sites commemorating the War of 1812 are Kingston, a major Royal Navy yard during the war; and Fort Wellington, which has a recovered naval gunboat in a newly renovated visitor centre opened in time for the 1812 commemorations.
You can track future 1812 events on the web-site www.celbrate1812.ca
By Morley Verdier with photographs by Anthony Galpin
Morley Verdier, holds a masters degree from Royal Military College in Kingston. He is a retired public servant, having worked in several Departments of the Canadian government in Ottawa including the Senate. He began researching his grandfather’s initial service with the 16th Battalion – Canadian Scottish and later with the 1st Division HQ and discovered his father was a cartographer and machine gun officer. Morley latest project includes the Russell Legion Branch 372 memorial project which identified and catalogued all service members listed on the five cenotaphs in Russell township – Russell, Embrun, Limoges, Vars and Casselman, Ontairo. In addition to his interest in the War of 1812 he is the current President of the National Capital Civil War Round Table in Ottawa.
Anthony Galpin just completed grade seven at Gananoque Public School. He attended the June 18th ceremony with his class. He took a series of photographs of the day and was pleased to share them with TI Life.