This coming weekend, Sept. 24-25, is when the sleepy hamlet of Dunvegan turns back its collective clock - by nearly 1.79 million hours - to the year of 1812. A time when Confederation was but a dream and the Union Jack flew proudly o’er this great land. Yes, it all requires a suspension of disbelief, but the Glengarry Pioneer Museum’s seventh annual Re-enactment Weekend is an outstanding opportunity for residents and visitors alike to step back in time.
History on steroids
The power of ‘living history’ begins on Friday, when 359 grade seven and eight students from St. Finnan's Catholic School, Iona Academy, Char-Lan High School, St. Jude Catholic School, Russell High School and Pleasant Corners Public School will descend on our little museum to sample life back in the early 1800s.
This unique educational opportunity is made possible through the generosity of a number of community-minded re-enactors who agreed to take time off from work to share their knowledge of Canadian history. Jim Mullin, chair of the museum’s 1812 Reenactment Committee, told me, “… there will be 17 stations of hands-on activities and presentations covering different aspects of everyday life in Upper Canada, circa 1812.” The plan is to divide the students into groups and have a reenactor guide them from one station to the next.
Please note that the only way to take advantage of this amazing educational opportunity is to be a grade 7 or 8 student from one of the six participating institutions. The Glengarry Pioneer Museum will be closed to the general public for the day.
Back in time
While the Glengarry Pioneer Museum is off limits on Friday, its doors are wide open on Saturday and Sunday. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, re-enactors from across Ontario, Quebec and the United States will recreate civilian, business and military life as it was in Upper and Lower Canada around the 1812 time frame. Event organizers assure me that this year’s ‘living history’ spectacle will have something for everyone.
All around the museum site, tented encampments will sprout up offering behind-the-scenes glimpses of military life during this pivotal time in our nation’s history. You’ll have a chance to compare campaign living arrangements… from the luxurious multi-room tents of the aristocracy to the rudimentary pup tents of the common foot soldier. You’ll feel the earth shake through the soles of your boots as the thundering horses of the 19th Light Dragoons practice their tactical maneuvers. You’ll have a chance to visit a one-room schoolhouse and learn how the three Rs (reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic) were taught back before the introduction of Discovery Math. You’ll hear tales of a Privateer’s life on the St. Lawrence River when you tour the McCaw’s Privateers encampment and check out their new boat. You’ll witness the return of the extremely popular Military Surgeon as he brings primitive battlefield medicine to life before your eyes. And, as I mentioned last week, you’ll be able to work up a sweat trying your hand at swordsmanship using harmless, foam-rubber swords.
The 1812 Reenactment Weekend is also a great chance to explore the worldly wonders of Sutler’s Row, a sort of 19th century Rideau Centre. There, vendors will be offering for sale an impressive array of wood oven breads, maple syrup, fresh fruit and vegetables, handmade gourmet chocolates and confections, historical reproductions, period clothing, leather goods, cast-iron cookware and much more.
When you’re ready for a break from sightseeing and shopping, the Dunvegan Recreation Association’s famous food tent will satisfy your hunger. And the historic Star Inn Tavern will slake your thirst with two varieties of Cassel Brewery handcrafted ale on tap and premium non-alcoholic cider from Sarah Cole Cider house.
Of course, the highlight of this weekend event is the mock battle staged each day (3 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday). As the repercussions from these melees (i.e., pressure waves from the cannon blasts) have been known to shatter windshields, organisers are asking that you park only in the designated areas… and never along County Road 30. Remember, just as in real life, the event will be held rain or shine. Daily admission is $10 per person ($5.00 for Museum members) or $25 for a family of four. Children under 12 are free.
For the past few years, the Kenyon Presbyterian Church has come down with re-enactment fever, and 2016 is no exception. They’ve even spruced things up with newly painted tin roof that fairly glistens in the sun and much-needed repairs to the church interior.
Once again, a parade of 1812 re-enactors will amble down Dunvegan Road to worship at the hamlet’s kirk on Sunday, Sept. 25 from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. There, they will join regular parishioners for what has become an annual event: the 1812 Old Time Service. Even if you’re not a regular churchgoer, you are more than welcome to attend.
Duchess takes tea in Dunvegan
Immediately on the heels of the church service, everyone is invited to take part in a Regencyera Tea Party being hosted by the Glengarry Pioneer Museum under their Williams Pavilion rom 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. For $10 per person, you’ll sample a variety of teas that were common in Upper and Lower Canada at the time.
Tea party organizer, Linda Burgess, also tells me that she’s assembling bowls of homemade lemon curd and trays of delicious sandwiches, fresh-baked scones and other baked goods… exactly the type of treats that would have complemented tea parties such as these back in the day. “Even the ingredients will be authentic,” Linda told me. “No bleached flour. No artificial anything.” As an added attraction, the Baronne de Kippenross will be on hand in her 1812 finery to recount the history and traditions of the English tea party.
1812 Chair promoted
I would like to congratulate Jim Mullin, chair if the GPM’s 1812 Committee, on his recent promotion to the rank of Captain in the new Glengarry Light Infantry Regiment. Jim was awarded this honour this past July during the Battle of Crysler's Farm Re-enactment at a reception with the entire Crown Forces staff present.
While this promotion is wonderful news for Jim and his family — it will mean a higher standard of battlefield accommodations (i.e., fancier tent) and more pound notes in his imaginary pay packet — it’s also great news for history buffs in the district. One of Jim’s new responsibilities will be the recruitment of living history enthusiasts here where the Glengarry Light Infantry Regiment was originally raised.
Fly the Union Jack
My last Re-enactment Weekend reference will be brief. If you live in the Dunvegan area and have a Union Jack flag, display it proudly. It’s a great way to set the tone for this living history weekend. You can be assured that mine will be flying. I also hope one will be hoisted at the museum itself. In fact, given the time period the Museum’s mandate covers, I think a wooden flagpole with Union Jack fluttering at the top should be a permanent feature… declaring to one and all that this place reflects a distant point in space and time.
In last week’s column, I bemoaned my failure to capture the name of the talented musician who borrowed Steve Merritt’s banjo and jammed with “Spider” to the delight of nearby Festivalgoers.
I’m happy to report that a former Glengarrian and loyal reader, Marc Ouimet, emailed me to straighten things out.
Apparently, the mystery musician was Marc’s nephew, Justin Theoret from Lochiel. Justin was on hand that day to play a gig in the Entertainment Tent with the Doug MacPherson & Co. group. Thank you Marc.
I also forgot to mention one other enhancement that occurred to me as I wandered the Festival grounds. While it was great to see the recently restored Ferguson Thresher, the display was a bit too static for my taste. I don’t know if the construction of the device would have allowed it, but it would have been nice to be able to peek inside the machine. If the threshing unit has access panels for maintenance and repair ( and I assume it must have), it would be wonderful if they could have been removed so we could see the inner workings of this revolutionary device. I doubt there are any trade secrets that would be jeopardized by doing so.