War of 1812 battle lines drawn at Backus
PORT RO WAN — Listening to the crack of muskets and the boom of cannons, children and adults watched history come alive over the weekend as the traditional War of 1812 reenactment took place at Backus Heritage Conservation Area, just north of Port Rowan.
The annual battle drew more than 150 re- enactors who are passionate about history and more than 500 spectators who got a chance to wander the encampments, visit reenacting vendors and observe battle strategy.
“This is a Backus tradition,” said Brandon Good, the park supervisor who narrated the battle between the Americans and the British Redcoats, who were supported by Canadian militiamen and native allies.
“We’ve hosted this event for more than 25 years and love it because it really focuses on the heart of the Norfolk community and its ties to the War of 1812.”
While no actual battle or skirmish is known to have taken place on the Backus property, many engagements were all around the area.
A large number of southern Ontario mills were burned by the Americans – a strategy aimed at destroying food supplies and weakening their British opponents. The busy Backhouse mill in Port Rowan was either ignored, overlooked or cannily camouflaged, depending on the story, and still stands today, more than 200 years later.
Good, who is a re- enactor with a history degree, said that remembering the roots and heritage of the area is important for the spectators who turn out with their camp chairs and coffees to watch the fight.
“This was part of our heritage and our identity. In fact, it was when the Canadian identity began to grow. It’s our story.”
Good doesn’t try to glorify war as he explains the battle to his daily audience.
He tells them of the tremendous hardships faced by the soldiers, the truly uncomfortable uniforms and the difficulties of living in close quarters in a tiny tent.
A group of re- enactors from the First Royal Scot Light company paused after the battle to wipe away sweat.
With members from Windsor to Ottawa, the participants tend to see each other at such reenactments and talk shop, comparing weapons, equipment and uniforms.
Many are extremely serious about maintaining the 1812 lifestyle at such events, while others have cellphones tucked into their woollen jackets.
“If you’re a re- enactor, you’re busy every weekend and poor,” said one.
“It’s known that you start with a compact car and then go to a van or a sedan with a trailer to haul all your gear around. And you need a garage.”
The First Royal Scots recently purchased their own six- pound cannon to take to events.
Because there were no battles on the Backus property, there’s a little leeway in the skirmishes that take place during the annual event.
On Saturday, a bald eagle soared over the battleground, forewarning of what was to come: the British line was eventually pushed back by the triumphant Americans.
But, on Sunday, history righted itself and the British, Canadians and native allies won the day.
Along with the battle, the weekend featured demonstrations of milling, cooking, artillery and carpentry. People also could listen to Mohawk stories and take part in worship service.
For more information on Backus Heritage Conservation Area, go to www. lprca. on. ca. SGamble@postmedia.com @EXPSGamble