Sunday, June 2, 2013

Battle of Stony Creek

I always thought that battle re-enactments were the bailiwick of American Civil War buffs alone but it turns out that one of the biggest war re-enactments actually takes place right in Ontario.

Stealth was apparently not a big component of warfare in 1812, what with the
big ass flags they seemed to have waved around all the time.
Every year the Battle of Stoney Creek from the War of 1812 is re-enacted in, you guessed it, Stoney Creek (basically Hamilton), Ontario.  It features hundreds of volunteers dressed up in period uniforms who take to the battlefield to give spectators a sense of what warfare must have been like 200 years ago.  For any American visitors, you may wonder why Canadians are so hepped up about a war that you guys barely even remember.  Well, that is because Canada won the War of 1812 and you guys lost.  We can still be friends though, don't worry. 
Various divisions and units and whatnot.
It turns out that there is much more to weekend long event than just the battle re-enactment.  There are old fashioned games for the kids to play
Nothing like a good ole fishing game.

Costumes to try on.
Aye Aye Captain!

For parents as well as kids.
Apparently, the Canadian soldier favoured a more casual look.
Bands to listen to.
Again, not a lot of stealth activity can take place when
accompanied by a drum and pipe band.
There is also a vendor area that is actually pretty big and interesting.  You can buy all kinds of things including some great home made lemonade served in glass bottles, delicious kettle corn and the best shortbread cookies I have ever had.
A 1/2 lb. shortbread cookie.  It's like they read my diary.
You could do half your Christmas shopping in the vendor area since you can find everything from home made pottery to perfume to arrows.  You can also buy period costumes and accessories. 
Checking out the potter with his foot cranked wheel.
I was impressed not just with the variety but also the quality and the fact that no one seemed to be gouging you.  Some things were expensive but they didn't seem to be jacking up the prices just because they had a captive audience.  For instance you could buy a child's soldier jacket, handmade, for $25 or a bow and arrow for under $20 which seemed reasonable to me.   
Putting together the crossbow while waiting for the Battle to start.
There was even a guy selling the board game he invented based on the War of 1812.
A cross between Risk and Settlers of Catan.
Some of the tents in the vendor area don't actually sell things, they just house various volunteer's collections of period stuff which is also fun to look at and hear about.
This guy just really likes swords.
Some are just for demonstration and information purposes.
The surgery tent.
My kids loved checking out all of the old fashioned weapons.  I am not sure what this says about my kids but there you go.
I am a little embarrassed that I actually thought it would make this sound. 
My kids were also tickled by the fact that the volunteers (or at least a lot of them) stay on the site for several days, camping there for days.  They would like us to give up our day jobs and become itinerant battle re-enactors.
The tents where the volunteers live for the weekend.
Over on the other side of the site, there is a Museum called Gage House that had free tours during the weekend.  
Gage House as seen from the Monument Tower.
There were also some demonstrations on the lawns and a sort of story time with the Shawnee Chief, Tecumseh.  
Baking bannock over a fire.
I am always fascinated by food so this was one of my favourite areas since they had a baking station where they were making Welsh Cakes. 
I think it is safe to say that if I had to only use the materials and appliances
they had in 1812 my family would starve.
As well as cooking up a day's rations that a soldier would have received in 1812.
A soldier's rations for a day. 
There is also the Battlefield Monument Tower which you can go in and about halfway up and have a look around.  The stairway inside the tower is very narrow and twisty so little kids will need some help and it is not accessible at all for anyone with mobility issues.  
The tower that was built as a monument to the battle of Stoney Creek  about 100 years after the battle.  We Canadians sure do love a memorial tower.
There is also a wigwam that you can go in and check out which was pretty interesting.
The one downside of the whole event was the re-enactment itself.  It was scheduled to start at 3:30 on the battlefield so we wandered over there just after 3:00 to get seats and they had started the opening ceremonies.  They then proceeded to have almost an hour of incredibly boring and pointless speeches from various local politicians and the like. It really just sucked all of the fun and energy out of the event.  
My daughter, literally bored to tears by the speeches.
After the first five or six speeches people started joking that they would vote for whoever gave the shortest speech but after about the tenth speech people started getting really annoyed.  I mean, this event was attended entirely by mild mannered Canadians who take their kids to things like War of 1812 Battle Re-enactments, so not exactly rabble rousers, and the crowd actually started heckling and booing!  People left before the battle even started. You couldn't even hear the speeches over the chorus of children whining things like "I'm bored." "I'm hot!" "I have to pee!".  I actually lay down and took a nap during the history of the United Church speech. 10 minutes more of the speeches and I am sure the crowd would have looked like this.  UPDATE: We went again the next year and the speeches were much more reasonable!  Just the customary welcome and some explanation.
One more speech and I was going to start setting things on fire. 
Once the battle got under way it was great and fun to watch and they even have a play-by-play which was very helpful.  
That is musket smoke!
After the evening re-enactment they had fireworks but I think that was only because it was the 200th anniversary so don't expect them every year.  I am assuming all of the speeches were also because of the anniversary.  

Some things to keep in mind.

  • The event runs rain or shine, so don't worry about it being cancelled if it starts to rain.  These volunteers are a hearty bunch and will go ahead in any kind of weather.
  • It is always the first weekend in June.
  • It costs $10 an adult and $5 a kid.  5 and under are free.
  • You can bring your own food but you can also buy things like hot dogs and hamburgers on site.
  • They do have port-o-potties and regular wash rooms by the snack bar.  
  • Directions can be found here.
  • There is no parking on the site.  You have to park at St. David's School on Centennial Drive and then get the free shuttle bus over to the site.  It runs every 15 minutes.
Free shuttle bus that you have to take from where you park your car.

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