War of 1812’s bicentennial bash

Posted June 24, 2012  by Buffalo News

A celebration commemorates the 200-year anniversary of Canada’s triumph over the United States for territory control.

FORT ERIE, Ont. — Sandy Leppan of Fort Erie has made it her personal project to learn more about the War of 1812 — what she calls the most significant war for Canadians.

“I mean, it has to be,” she said, from her lawn chair beneath a tree, where she was anticipating the start of the bicentennial parade Saturday afternoon. “Otherwise, we’d all be in America.”

Fort Erie hosted the parade in commemoration of the War of 1812 — a feature of what was billed as part of the largest such bicentennial event in North America. The two-day event also included a military tattoo Saturday evening and the re-enactment of the Battle of Frenchman’s Creek on Sunday afternoon.

A couple of centuries ago, Fort Erie was among the most contested sites in North America, and to this day holds the legacy as Canada’s bloodiest battlefield, said Antonietta Petrella, marketing and communications coordinator for the Fort Erie 1812 Bicentennial Committee.

The pre-parade atmosphere was like any other: Children ran around avoiding the sunblock their parents tried to slather on them, and families sought refuge from the heat by in the shelter of trees, with coolers of water at the ready.

But once the cannons boomed, the playful atmosphere became one of awe and appreciation for the sacrifice of soldiers who fought on both sides of the border many years ago.

The two-hour march featured huge floats crafted by area schools, and bagpipers echoed patriotic wartime tunes. Brass bands provided wild and at-times theatrical performances. The procession began at Gilmore Road and Central Avenue and continued along Niagara Street to Queen Street.

Eighty different groups participated in the parade, which took about two years to plan, said Preethy Jakkula, the bicentennial committee’s assistant project coordinator. Parade participants not only came from Fort Erie and environs but from Quebec and Rochester, as well.

Dignitaries and special guests on hand at the reviewing stand included retired Canadian Gen. Rick Hillier, who was honorary parade marshal; Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin; and retired Cmdr. Wayne Sorrentino of the U.S. Naval Reserve.

“It’s good because we need to know our own history,” Sorrentino said. “And so that we don’t repeat it.” Town of Fort Erie Council Member Bob Steckley said he was particularly excited about the parade, hopeful it would draw thousands of people and stimulate area businesses.

“It’s giving us national exposure,” he said, pointing to his arm. “Look, I have goose bumps.”

Committee planners initially expected a turnout of 20,000 people for the weekend’s festivities. A few thousand turned out for the parade.

Bob Peppin of St. Catharines, a self-described “war buff,” arrived 10 minutes before the start of the parade and still managed to get front-row seats, right in front of the reviewing stand. He noted that to get prime seats for St. Catharines’ wine festival, people must show up eight hours early.

“I thought there’d be a lot more people here,” he said.

Linda Goodridge of Fort Erie arrived at the parade three hours before it stepped off.

“That’s why we got here as early as we did — we expected a lot more people,” she said.

But the parade drew people from well beyond the Fort Erie area.

Toronto teacher Barbara Back was visiting Niagara Falls when she heard about the bicentennial celebration, and decided to spend a day of her trip participating in the festivities.

“I taught the War of 1812 in my history class and have never been to Fort Erie,” she said. “Who else would celebrate it like this? I’m excited.”

Karen Gillespie of Welland noted that she had already attended other bicentennial events with her family, including an event at Fort George on Monday. Her husband, John, studied history in college and especially enjoys the history of wars.

Gillespie called the parade an excellent opportunity to honor the struggle of War of 1812 soldiers.

“There was never a parade for these soldiers after the war,” she said, “so I would even say this all is necessary.”