Rick Meloen has changed hats.
An avid history buff active with the Niagara-on-the-Lake War of 1812 Bicentennial Committee, Meloen has often appeared around town in the persona of Rev. John Burns, the minister at the Presbyterian Meeting House during the War of 1812.
But the summer of 1813 is not a great time to be a British loyalist in Niagara, and Meloen is wearing a green band on his black hat, the symbol of a Canadian Volunteer traitor.
The Battle of Fort George is about to take place this weekend and the American forces will defeat the British army. During the battle many residents will flee their homes in town to the safety of family and friends in the countryside. But businesses, gardens and farms need tending and for residents in Niagara life is going to be very different.
Most of the men have left with the British army and by the time summer is over, many of the men who have stayed behind will have been taken prisoner by the occupying US forces.
Thousands of American soldiers will be camped out in the ruins of Fort George and the Commons.
The U.S. occupying force will be harsh, warning citizens not to provide assistance to the British, arresting suspected sympathizers, and in August, burning the Presbyterian church because its tall spire is suspected of being a observation post.
The American occupation ended in December with the burning of the town as U.S. soldiers retreated.
And while the name Canadian Volunteer might sound fitting for a group of loyal British militia, it signifies just the opposite. These are the traitors, the men who served under Joseph Willcocks throughout the summer of 1813, who defected to the Americans and who burned the town as they retreated.
So it’s not surprising that it’s Meloen who will be removing the Union Jacks from Queen St. next week and replacing them with the American 15 stars and stripes—an unusual flag that was in use until 1818, he says.
In addition to the flags, American soldiers (students in period costume) will be strolling on Queen St. this summer, with two guard houses, one in front of the Court House and the other at the entrance to Simcoe Park, says Meloen.
They, along with the local heritage strollers dressed in period costumes, will be stopping for photographs and answering questions about the historic events that took place in Niagara in 1813.
But unlike the resident strollers, the soldiers may remind visitors and locals not to offer assistance to the enemy, the British.
And occasionally the Americans will put on a show of strength as a reminder that they are in charge, with a squad of soldiers marching on the street, interacting with the strollers, says Meloen.
“There might appear to be a little bit of a struggle on the street.”
All of this is leading up to a spectacular event in December commemorating the burning of Niagara, following which the Union Jacks will reappear, on Queen St. and at Fort George.
The Battle of Fort George re-enactment will take place at the Fort Saturday and Sunday, with a tribute Monday on Lakeshore Rd.
For more details call 905-468-6614 or visit friendsoffortgeorge.ca.