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PostPosted: Mon Jun 18, 2007 9:51 am 
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Location: York, Upper Canada
By DON FRASER, Standard Staff
Local News - Monday, June 18, 2007 Updated @ 9:31:28 PM

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — It happened at the same place in Queenston and it was a similar type of family camp-out.

But the two are separated by almost 200 years.

Over the weekend, dozens of re-enactors gathered at Willowbank Heritage Estate for the War of 1812 Militia Muster, to duplicate the lives of men training for battle and the families that came along.

The act of living history provided spectators at the historic manor and grounds with a taste of how Upper Canada’s early settlers lived as war raged around them.

And as in times past, this meeting of fife, drums, tents and muskets was a family affair — one that runs deep in the veins of the Feltoe family from Brampton.

Richard Feltoe, the events re-enactment director, acted as the colour sergeant and directed the training sessions.

The elder Feltoe was having trouble on the Willowbank grounds with his company of four volunteer re-enactors, as their smooth-bore muskets kept jamming.


“And how many misfires that?” he said as the corporal and privates representing the Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada frowned in annoyance. “Check and clean your pans — clean ’em, wipe ’em,” he told them.

Later, Feltoe said this exercise is just as it would have been done in 1812. “They’d fire in volleys and when they had failures like this, they simply have to clean it up.”

“It’s this heat and humidity,” he said, blinking into a fierce June sun. “Men, one more for good luck,” he said, followed by another lackluster barrage. “Men, dismissed!,” he concluded. “And get those things properly cleaned for 2:30 p.m.”

At this second annual muster, Feltoe was accompanied by his wife, Diane, and their son, Mark, 25, who is a corporal bugler — the sound from his instrument rises above the din of war to alert the men to battle manoeuvres.

Mark was kicking back in a nearby lawn filled with period tents, supplies and people milling about in colonial dress.

He is a landscaper by trade and has re-enacted since the age of two. He has even helped replicate old conflicts on European soil. “I love it,” said the Feltoe son. “It’s about all the history.”

“I know the history of the War of 1812 like the back of my hand,” Mark said.

In fact, after pitching his tent the night before, he made a night pilgrimage up the Niagara Escarpment to Brock’s Monument, about a kilometre away.

“It was the same path where the British went to the battlefield (in the War of 1812) and then I walked back down to where the Americans came from,” he said.

A number of re-enactment groups across Ontario came to Niagara-on-the-Lake to represent the old Incorporated Militia, Norfolk Militia and Glengarry Light Infantry. They were reprising training get-togethers required of militias in each county in Upper Canada.

“This is just the site where the original soldiers would have come,” said the senior Feltoe. “We’re doing it almost exactly as they would have with their own families.

“Yes — they did the drills and the firing for practice, but it became a great big family picnic as well,” he said. “They had dinners, a pot-luck supper; might end up boozing and maybe have a donnybrook fight.”

The people who pay homage to them in modern times are a little more sedate, he added.

“It’s a family hobby we all love,” Feltoe said. “We’re volunteers and it’s a way of learning, living and commemorating our national heritage.”

Proceeds from the weekend event go to the School of Restoration Arts at Willowbank Heritage Estate.


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