War of 1812 comes to life for St. Catharines elementary students

Posted April 19, 2012  by Bullet News

“Isaac Brock decides he’s going to run up the escarpment at Queenston and try to re-take the battery – That is where he is shot through the chest and dies.”

At this, Max, an eighth grader at Assumption Catholic School in St. Catharines, lights up with awe.

Today, Max’s class is being visited by Brett Levitt and Sonia Steckley from Fort George to learn some of the broad strokes about the War of 1812 and, hopefully, according to the duo, spark interest in the war’s bicentenary.

“It’s a lot to take in in such a short time,” said Steckley, “but even if the kids only take one thing away from it, it’s one thing more than they knew yesterday and hopefully that’s enough to get them interested.”

The pair works well together in both educating and entertaining the class, while dressed in their full period garb. Levitt, impressive and imposing in his soldier’s uniform and deep tone, has a more fact-based approach while Steckley, warm and approachable in her “soldier’s wife’s dress,” takes a more theatrical route.

Steckley and Levitt’s presentation is curriculum-based, to meet the standards of a history class and the major talking points are all addressed – background, major players, motives for the war, major battles and tactics, the role of natives and black soldiers and outcomes.

Fort George has run this program since around 1998, but they hadn’t done many presentations until more recently. “Increasingly, we’re seeing schools not being able to afford to come out to us,” said Gavin Watt, education officer at Fort George, “so we’ve been putting more emphasis on the program.”

Watt explained that as Fort George is in the process of re-tooling the program, the first few schools, like Assumption, have had the presentation offered to them for free in the hopes of getting feedback and “perfecting what we’re offering.”

So far Watt says the feedback has been “extremely positive.”

Levitt has worked at Fort George for years, working his way up the ranks having started there in the summer while in high school. Sheckley was actually a teacher for about six years before working at Fort George and “educating without the paperwork,” she said with a smile.

During the hour-long presentation, the eighth-graders had volunteers dressed in period clothing, practicing soldier’s drills, examining an authentic musket and getting a glimpse into what day-to-day life was like back in 1812.

Afterwards, before the students are swept off to science class, a student throws up his hand and simultaneously asks, “Can we come to Fort George?”

Mission accomplished.