By Don Glynn, email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — It was June 18, 1812, when Congress declared war on Great Britain and now today two of the major antagonists from that three-year encounter are commemorating the peace they have shared for the last two centuries.
On both sides of the border, the U.S. and Canada (British North America in the 19th century) are marking the milestone with special events next weekend at numerous historic sites including Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown and Queenston Heights in Canada.
The Niagara 1812 Bicentennial Legacy Council, created to showcase nearly 20 events in the Buffalo-Niagara area and on the Niagara Peninsula in southwestern Ontario, is a key planner of the activities.
Opening ceremonies to commemorate the “Declaration of the War” is set for Saturday at Old Fort Niagara and in Queenston.
At the fort, events starting with a flag ceremony at 10 a.m. will include a special tour of the site, a musket firing demonstration, recruiting and kids drills, a hot shot demonstration, and volunteers raising a 28-by-24-foot replica of the Fort Niagara Garrison Colors at the U.S. Coast Guard Station-Niagara. The original flag that the British captured in 1813 was found in Scotland years ago and is now displayed at the fort visitors center.
Bob Emerson, executive director of Old Fort Niagara, said that a highlight of the afternoon program will be the dedication of the new Betsy Doyle Exhibit Panel. Doyle, known as “Fanny,” was the wife of a captured American artillery officer who took part in the War of 1812 fighting —at times even firing a fort cannon — and then seemed to vanish. In her in-depth research, Niagara County Historian Catherine Emerson found that Doyle escaped the fall of Fort Niagara in 1813 and hiked some 300 miles to an American military camp near Albany where she worked as an army nurse until her death in 1819.
Meanwhile, across the river on Saturday, community leaders, local government officials and the public will assemble beneath the 210-foot-high Brock Monument to hear the story of how the British commander died leading his troops up Queenston Heights to drive back the invading American forces. To this day, Major Gen. Sir Isaac Brock is considered a hero and legend in Canadian history.
Also on Saturday at Queenston Heights, a Heritage Fair is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with historical vendors, merchants and free entertainment all day.
On Sunday, a multi-denominational church service will be held at 1 p.m. in the Chippawa Battlefield in Niagara Falls, Ont. At 9 p.m., a special viewing of WNED-TV’s documentary, “The War of 1812,” will be shown on an outdoor HD cinema at Oaks Garden, adjacent to the Rainbow Bridge, followed by a giant fireworks display over the falls.
The War of 1812, sometimes called “the second war of independence” for Americans, ended in 1815 with the Treaty of Ghent. Historians are divided on the causes of the war but it is generally agreed the British impressment of (U.S.) seamen was a prime reason. With the steady loss of sailors in England’s costly war against Napolean, the British simply stopped many American ships at sea and forced their crew members to serve in the Royal Navy.
The New England states staunchly opposed the war because of the adverse impact they contended it would have on their trade with Europe. Meanwhile, the South eyed the war as a chance for domination, especially to take over the vast area that included Florida. In the West, the stalwart frontiersmen supported the war as an opportunity to expand their territory and perhaps even acquire the rich Canadian lands then under the control of Britain. In the end, many historians noted, the war enhanced Canada’s efforts to attain nationhood.
”The fact that so much of the war unfolded right here in our backyard is of utmost significance,” said Brian Merrett, chief executive officer of the Legacy Council. “Some Niagarans know very little about the War of 1812 and we want to change that by inviting everyone to commemorate its importance with us.”
In a recent interview, Alan Taylor, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, said: “The War of 1812 looms small in American memory, forgotten as insignificant because it apparently ended as a draw that changed no boundary and no policy.”
Taylor noted that most Americans barely recall the war as a few symbols of patriotism: Inspiring Francis Scott Key to compose the national anthem; the stunning encounters of the warship “Old Ironsides”; the British burning the White House and Capitol; and Andrew Jackson leading his Tennessee riflemen to victory in the Battle of New Orleans.