The 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 is creeping up on us. How are we going to commemorate it? Apparently some are giving it some serious thought. The state of Maryland has been working on doing something since 2007, as has the Washington D.C. based War of 1812 Commission. Then there’s Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and even the state of Georgia. It seems the Governor of New York, David Paterson doesn’t seem to be much of a fan of history after vetoing the money needed to run its own state bicentennial commission. In Canada there’s something called the Niagara Legacy Council which appears to be a big partnership. Provincially there’s Discover1812.com, on local levels there’s something from the Niagara Falls Museum thinking about how to memorialize the War of 1812, Fort Erie’s on board, and I’m glad to see that Hamilton, where several key events of the war occured, such as the Battle of Stoney Creek and the Bloody Assize in Ancaster, has been considering an action plan since 2007.
The above cartoon, obviously doubting a truly memorable commemoration prompted Jim Hill of the Niagara Parks Commission to send me an email: “What should we do for 1812? Seriously.” My response:
To answer your question, something better than what we’ll probably get my cartoon may not be far off the mark. I know some money is slated for fixing up some of the monuments and forts from the War of 1812, but seeing that almost 40% of Canadians don’t even know who fought in the war it’s probably too much of a challenge to adequately commemorate the anniversary the way it was done in 1912. If I had the choice I’d have a fancy landmark museum built to house and display an extensive archives of period related documents and relics. I’d put it along the Niagara River at Fort George, the Brock Monument, or somewhere in between and I’d promote it like crazy across Ontario NY, and Ohio, and of course the millions of tourists who visit the area each year. But again, that’s wishful thinking. A government grant won’t do it, and I doubt enough interest could be drummed up for significant private dollars.
What do you think we should/could do?”
…and he responded:
Thanks for the response and your work, always enjoyable. I appreciated your sentiments. <p> As you can see, I work for the Niagara Parks Commission. We have saved, restored and protected virtually every 1812 site between Stoney Creek and Fort Erie, when others couldn’t or wouldn’t and we operate without the assistance of tax dollars. We rely on tourism and tourism has not been great. There are still some great plans in the works. Brock’s Monument received a face lift and has re-opened and Parks Canada is also giving Fort George about 25 years of maintenance in one winter. The City of Niagara Falls is giving the Lundy’s Lane Museum a major overhaul. We are planning a new visitor centre at Old Fort Erie.
However, none of these places are profitable, therefore we don’t market them. They are seen as old, expensive millstones.
We then blame new Canadians for not showing any interest when in fact I find it is middle-aged white dudes who are not much interested in highlighting one of our greatest generations when we might pale in comparison.
The Province is looking at spending marketing dollars but without citizens getting behind these places and their past, we will give it a miss and blame it on the dollar, passports, wars we shouldn’t talk about (1812 and Terror), exploding underpants, debt, the economy, new Canadians, etc.
Call your MP, MPP, Mayor, Regional Folks. In Hamilton, some great people are working on Stoney Creek and the Hamilton and Scourge project. They are working with The Niagara 1812 Legacy Council.
Keep giving people a gentle (or not so gentle) nudge to remind them that these places belong to them. They should check out how their properties are doing and get involved. Without 1812, there wouldn’t be a Canada.