1812 Invasion of Upper Canada Fanshawe Pioneer Village
by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams
Not a Great day for an Invasion The rain was falling when we left and the temperature was a bone chilling 4 degrees C. Not a great day for an Invasion! Upper Canada was about to be invaded by the Americans and we wanted to be there to witness this historic event.
Off to London... Fanshawe Pioneer Village, located in London, had invited some of the best 1812 re-enactors to participate in the 1812 Invasion of Upper Canada. Unfortunately Judi wasn’t available to go with me, so I “recruited” my two grandsons’! I picked them up early Sunday morning at their home in Port Hope. They were eager to get started! We drove the long distance to London and arrived just in time to watch the start of the battle. The invasion battle being held at Fanshawe was not specific to one event, but a composite of what one would have been like during the War of 1812. I was told by the MC that the type of battle being depicted would likely have occurred in 1814. The War of 1812, as you may know, actually started on June 18, 1812 and went on until February 18, 1815
Water's Edge... The battle started at the water's edge. Both American and British troops had gathered in the trees that surrounded the lake area. A boat with a small cannon patrolled the shores of the lake and fired onto the land periodically. First the British force would push forward and then be pushed back by the American troops. Cannons roared from either side of the skirmish! The pushing back and forth happened a number of times, but the larger American force finally pushed the British away from the lake and back into the fields in front of the Village. Fighting continued through the fields and finally ended up in the Village!
The "Lull"... All through the battle I watched my grandson’s take in the action. My oldest had already been to one re-enactment (Marine Heritage Festival in Port Dover) but the youngest had not. The 1812 Invasion of Upper Canada was his first! Both asked great questions from some of the re-enactors who had come to talk to the crowd during the lull in the action.
Fighting in the Village The “lull” was finally over and both sides re-grouped. The British forces were the first to fire! The Americans slowly came to life and started returning the fire. Smoke filled the air as volley after volley took place. All the while the British forces were being pushed back through the streets of the village. Had this been a real battle, many of the buildings would now be blazing infernos. Fortunately nothing like this was taking place! As the troops moved further into the Village, we (the crowd) followed with great interest. Even though no bullets were being fired, the organizers didn’t want us to get too close due to the hazard of the gun powder and the percussion of the rifles. I was told later, that approximately 350 re-enactors were participating in the weekend’s events. I was fascinated to see the diversity of people taking part - young, old, male, female. All had two things in common, their love of living history and the thrill of the re-enactments! At the end of the Village, the forces turned and marched into a larger open field.
The Grand Finale... The final battle was about to take place. At first little happened. The British were at the far end of the field, the Americans closer to us. Each of the generals seemed to be sizing the other up! Slowly part of the American contingent started moving towards the enemy. They opened fire with seemingly little resistance. The main American forces also started moving up. Cannon shots were fired! As the American forces grew closer to the British, the British finally showed there hand! Musket shots and cannon fire filled the air! Smoke hung over the battle field. Even the coldness in the air seemed to disappear. All of us in the crowd stood in awe! Slowly soldiers from each side started to fall. Finally, in a flourish, the battle was over and the general parlayed for the cease fire. The battle over, the troops, dead and living, re-grouped and formed up into a marching line. Each group, on there own, marched off the field to the appreciation of the on looking crowd! All of the participants marched back to the encampment. Each group, American and British, formed two lines, each facing one another. Flag staffs between them. Each group saluted the other and then two soldiers from each group marched to their respective flag staff. First the American flag was lowered, and then the British. With the final ceremony, the 1812 Invasion of Upper Canada battle re-enactment was officially over!
Exploring the Village... With the re-enactment over, my grandson's, both, asked me if there was somewhere to eat. I told them that there was a Village Cafe. The Cafe was crowded when we entered, re-enactors and Village visitors intermingled. The boys and I ordered our food and ate it at one of the Cafe's tables. The talk around us was all about the just completed 1812 Invasion of Upper Canada re-enactment battle. From the Cafe, we started to explore the street and buildings of the Fanshawe Pioneer Village. Most of the Village's building were open and many had interpreters. One building that we visited was the "Mount Morish Masonic Lodge". The interpreter inside explained that the Lodge had once been a one roomed schoolhouse. He asked the ages of the boys and what grades they were in. He told my youngest grandson that if he lived back in the mid 1800's that this would be his last year of school. He told my oldest grandson that he would now be working 10 hours a day or more on the family farm! As we walked along the Village streets, we entered more buildings. The boys seemed fascinated by what they were seeing and experiencing. In the middle of the Village, re-enactment tents has been set up and various period merchandise was being displayed and offered for sale. In one tent there was a display of swords and knives. The sword master in the tent told us how he made them and what they were used for. As we started to leave the Village park area, we noticed that the "surgeon's" home was open and that a number of people were in it. we decided to see what was happening. Inside, the "doctor" was explaining "war wounds" and how they were treated. The boys listened with rapt attention, while my stomach turned! I got them out of there as soon as I could, but not before I learned a lot more then I wanted to (call me squeamish)! The boys, however, thought that the whole talk was great (go figure)!
We had had a great day watching the 1812 Invasion of Upper Canada and exploring the Fanshawe Pioneer Village. I hope that my grandson's now have a much better "feel" for Canada's Living History!