NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — Kevin Berman pauses on one knee and stokes the small cooking fire in the American army barracks at Fort George on Sunday.
The barracks are lined with more than a dozen white canvas tents. The sun is hot, but a cool nip in the wind makes it a perfect day for battle.
Dressed in the navy blue uniform worn by U.S. forces during the War of 1812, Berman, from Clarkson, Mich., is one of hundreds of Americans who participated in the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Fort George reenactment ceremony on the weekend.
“I like the history, and I like participating,” Berman says. “We call it living history.”
The battle that took place around Fort George in May 1813 is considered some of the fier-est fighting of the War of 1812, when British forces with native allies unsuccessfully attempted to stop the American landing on the shore of Lake Ontario.
As a real-life U.S. war veteran, Berman is not a professional actor. But the attention to detail — the uniforms, housing and modes of living — makes those participating in the re-enactment look like they’re back in the early 19th century.
During events like the reenactment, participants stay in role, sleeping in tents, cooking on campfires and refraining from anything else modern, such as electricity.
“It’s a weekend break from the normal aspects of life,” said Berman, whose wife and three kids joined in what he calls the “hobby.” But it was his father-in-law, Don Burzynski from Troy, Mich., who got him interested in re-enactment more than 16 years ago.
Burzynski is the history buff in the family. He says re-enacting history is the best way for people to learn and appreciate history and where they come from, especially if kids aren’t learning it in school.
“There are four key battles in the War of 1812, and they’re not even teaching it in our schools, I found out,” he says.
Ryerson theatre production student Kate Glen, 21, agrees. She says re-enacting history is a form of effective experiential learning.
Glen is dressed in a sky-blue maidenly dress she says was worn by the female camp followers during the war. Because she is portraying what most women did back then, she says her role is to cook, help the soldiers get dressed, and sew and mend things.
“I think it is really important that people learn about the war,” she says. “If the war didn’t go the way it did, this part of Ontario, including Toronto, would be American.