Siege of Fort Erie to highlight War of 1812 commemoration

Posted April 16, 2014  by The Buffalo News Source

They stood together Wednesday behind the podium at the Buffalo History Museum, military interpreters entering their third year of celebrating the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

Already, Guy Rizzuto of Grand Island and Alan Eimiller of East Aurora have participated in the Siege of Fort Erie, the Battle of Queenston Heights, the attack of Fort Niagara (twice) and two events at Buffalo History Museum.

Plus, they fired a cannon at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park – not to mention rounds and rounds from their muskets.

And that’s why they were present at the museum Wednesday, dressed in their period uniforms and holding their muskets, to help call attention to a third summer of activities commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812, much of it fought on the Niagara Frontier.

“If we were in a battle, this is what we would put on,” said Rizzuto, pointing to his bayonet.

The commemorative events unveiled Wednesday include the blockbuster Siege of Fort Erie to be staged Aug. 9 and 10 at Old Fort Erie. An annual event in its 28th year, the siege is North America’s largest War of 1812 re-enactment.

“Our cannons are still loaded for 2014, for the last year of the bicentennial, bringing history alive for people of both sides of the peaceful border that is a result of the conflict 200 years ago,” said Brian Merrett, chief executive officer of the Niagara 1812 Bicentennial Legacy Council.

Merrett was dressed in period apparel as he made the announcement during a program at the history museum that was capped by musket firing.

Joining Merrett at the podium was Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, one of about 10 dignitaries who attended the formal announcement proceedings. The bicentennial celebration, Dyster said, has sparked his own educational journey to learn as much as he can about the war that took place on both sides of the Niagara River.

“Those of us living in the Niagara region have had an uphill battle to explain the significance of the war,” Dyster said. “No doubt it will take us to the end of the year to realize its importance.”

The slate of events expected in 2014 includes more than battle re-enactments, though some spectacular skirmishes are planned.

The Battle of Chippawa, and the Battle of Lundy’s Lane re-enacted at Chippawa, is scheduled for July 5 and 6 at the Chippawa Battlefield on Niagara Parkway in Niagara Falls, Ont. Hundreds of re-enactors are expected to flood the field and bring the American victory to life at 2 p.m. July 5.

At 2 p.m. July 6, the Battle of Lundy’s Lane will be re-enacted. It was Canada’s bloodiest battle of the war.

Performing arts will also be a big part of the celebration.

“The Honouring,” featuring the Kaha:wi Dance Theatre, will celebrate First Nations warriors of the war, said Kathryn Vedder, Western New York liaison for the Bicentennial Legacy Council. The performance spotlights the Onkwehonwe families as it brings history to life at dusk June 28 and 29 at Old Fort Niagara, Fort Niagara State Park, in Youngstown.

Planned for noon Sept. 13 is a salute to “The Star Spangled Banner,” marking the 200 anniversary of the national anthem. The event, which takes place at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park, includes an ice cream social and a concert by Friends of Harmony in honor of Francis Scott Key.

A Buffalo History Museum exhibit – “By Fire and Sword: War in the Niagara Theatre, 1812-1814” – displays Peter Porter’s ceremonial sword, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s wine chest and a slew of firearms. Another museum exhibit is set to open this summer. “Centennial of the War of 1812” defines the activities of the centennial commemoration here in 1912. Both exhibits run through spring 2015.

Cleaning centuries-old weapons represented a $65,000 investment by the museum to conserve its extensive holding of artifacts relating to the War of 1812, according to Melissa Brown, executive director of the Buffalo History Museum.

“The combination of metal, wood and leather do not age well,” Brown noted.

Eimiller and Rizzuto, the military interpreters, could attest to that. The two work at Old Fort Niagara’s regularly scheduled events, answering questions, firing muskets and giving people a glimpse of what life was like 200 years ago. Their muskets have been known to fizzle at critical moments.

“The guns are kind of sketchy. Muskets are not very reliable,” said Rizzuto, retired information officer for Niagara Falls and Buffalo school systems.

“They’re ancient,” said Eimiller, who taught history at Burgard Vocational High School.

For a complete list of events, visit