Petawawa settlers mark War of 1812 0
PETAWAWA - They marked a seminal event in the history of the nation here Saturday with a display of pomp and circumstance worthy of our heroic forefathers.
A black powder volley fired by a squad of red coats opened the fourth annual Petawawa Settlers Festival commemorating the War of 1812, a watershed moment that defined the relationship between two great continental neighbours and tested the young colony that would grow into a country called Canada.
The significance of the conflict was brought home for two area families. In ceremonies at the Petawawa Heritage Village, Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant presented Harvey Baker and Harold “Skip” Ross with special certificates recognizing their ancestors who fought to ward off an American invasion 200 years ago.
Mr. Baker, a resident of Pembroke, traced his lineage back to 1650. Originally his ancestors settled in the colony of New York but fled to the province of Upper Canada when the Revolutionary War broke out. One of his ancestral uncles, John Barnard, enlisted as a 2nd Lieut. in the 2nd Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry militia. Back then, troops would march for weeks to reach the battlefields of modern-day southern Ontario, coming from as far away as Nova Scotia.
“Whenever they needed the militia, it was either for guard duty or for relief,” explained Mr. Baker, who is a member of the United Loyalist Association. “When the soldiers needed a rest, they took up the cause so they fought pretty hard.”
For Mr. Ross, it is especially poignant to see this often forgotten chapter in Canadian history finally brought back into focus. His ancestors joined the Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, at the Siege of Fort Detroit when the aboriginal allies of Maj.-Gen. Isaac Brock used deception to intimidate Brig.-Gen. William Hull into surrendering despite having superior numbers to the British.
“It took a long time but it’s happening,” said Mr. Ross. “My family is particularly proud of its ancestry.”
In keeping with the spirit of the War of 1812 bi-centennial, an early 1800's-era military outpost and an aboriginal camp were established by a small army of re-enactors who presented imaginative vignettes of some remarkable historical events. One of them was the last fatal duel fought in Canada, which took place a few hours drive from here. As they did on June 13, 1833, Sheila Clarke and Wayne Hoffman, portraying John Wilson and the unfortunate Robert Lyon respectively, were given the choice of selecting weapons before taking 10 paces before firing. Just as it happened, Mr. Hoffman feigned his mortal fall to the ground in grand fashion.
However, it was the War of 1812 that was centre stage at this year's festival. History buffs here agreed it is an event that doesn't get the prominence that it deserves considering what was at stake at the time.
“We came very close to becoming an American state. If it hadn’t been for the soldiers and the militia, we would have been amalgamated,” explained Mr. Baker. “That’s what the Americans wanted. They wanted our water and they wanted our forests.”
Ann McIntyre, president of the Petawawa Heritage Society, said there is already discussion that the festival will adopt a different theme each year. She lauded the efforts of the heritage village in taking strides to recognize and honour Canada's First Nations. Mr. Ross, who visits area schools to educate the youth of Algonquin history and traditions, acts as the village's elder and has played a major role in coordinating its aboriginal programming.
“There are no sites in the Ottawa Valley that have a permanent aboriginal component,”
Mayor Bob Sweet said it was fitting that the festival showcases not only the sacrifices of those early day pioneers but Canada's First Nations people.
“Petawawa was just a very small community 200 years ago and it’s nice to maintain that heritage," he said. "It’s important for future generations to understand the challenges our ancestors faced and the cooperation they had with our First Nations.”
The festival began Friday night with an old-fashioned barn dance. During Saturday's festivities, visitors were treated to demonstrations of cannon shots, musket volleys, hawk throwing and water boiling. The Pioneer Gathering were encamped at the site to officiate over wife sales and a frontier wedding.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist