Bicentennial Heritage Fair enjoys a dress rehearsal

Posted May 10, 2012 By Conan De Vries

 Director John Barclay (centre) gives instructions to John Hunter (left) and Bill Sloan, councillor and mayor respectively of Edwardsburgh-Cardinal Township, during a re-enactment of a 19th century election campaign staged recently at the Spencerville Mill as part of a spot being taped to advertise the upcoming Bicentennial Heritage Fair.

Conan de Vries, St. Lawrence EMC
Director John Barclay (centre) gives instructions to John Hunter (left) and Bill Sloan, councillor and mayor respectively of Edwardsburgh-Cardinal Township, during a re-enactment of a 19th century election campaign staged recently at the Spencerville Mill as part of a spot being taped to advertise the upcoming Bicentennial Heritage Fair.


 It was like a trip back in time at the historic Spencerville Mill last week.

Volunteers from the community got dressed up in full period regalia to act out historical scenes in and around the 200-year-old mill as a production crew shot footage for a commercial advertising the upcoming Bicentennial Heritage Fair.

Accompanied by a camera operator and sound man, the director, John Barclay, of Ottawa’s Triune Arts, directed about a dozen local residents and history buffs in dramatizations of a period ball, a military engagement and an election campaign stop.

The day-long production offered just a taste of what it will be like next month, when the entire village of Spencerville turns into a stage for a weekend-long depiction of life in Upper Canada 200 years ago.

The Bicentennial Heritage Fair, which runs from Friday, June 1 to Sunday, June 3, is billed as living theatre and will feature an army of people spread throughout the village going about their business as they might have in 1812, whether it be preparing for a Regency Ball, responding to a militia muster call, or campaigning for victory in an upcoming election.

Participants are already practicing for their roles and there is always room for more people wanting to not only watch an historical re-enactment but experience what life might have been like two centuries ago.

“It’s a bit of an escape, but it’s also a learning experience,” says Alicia Wanless, marketing director of the Spencerville Mill Foundation and bicentennial manager.

In recognition of the bicentennial of the War of 1812, which is being celebrated with events all year long throughout the region, the Bicentennial Heritage Fair will be one of the largest and most elaborate of all the events planned to mark the anniversary.

Visitors are expected to come from throughout the region and beyond, some for the opportunity to participate in the re-enactments but many just to take in the sights and enjoy the fruits of the enormous effort that is going into planning this event.

“There is no way this could be pulled off without the support we’ve had,” says Wanless. “This area has a great sense of community.”

Wanless singles out the Municipality of Edwardsburgh-Cardinal, specifically, for its support of the ambitious project.

In fact, when the recent commercial shoot required two men to portray the leaders of the competing Tory and Reformist parties, who better to ask than the mayor and one of his councillors. So, Mayor Bill Sloan and Ward 3 councillor John Hunter obliged and got dressed up like their political predecessors and did their best to get into character.

“When the municipality supports you, it’s so much easier,” says Wanless.

Impressive lineup

All this is in an effort to put on a remarkable show, one that offers something for visitor and participant alike.

The Spencerville Mill will be the hub of activity but almost every other public space in the village will be the scene of something going on, whether it’s historical vignettes acted out by the Kemptville Players, the launch of a new book about Laura Secord by author Peggy Dymond Leavy or demonstrations of heritage craft and tradework.

Throughout the weekend, people are invited to take historic tours of the village, either by foot or in horse-drawn carriage, or, for the history buffs, partake of a variety of workshops offering instruction in English country dancing and costume making. There will also be presentations on political life in the Canadas and 19th century military life.

There will be an antiques appraisal fair on Saturday, June 2 and a heritage market throughout the three-day event. There won’t be a shortage of music, either, as a host of acts are scheduled to perform – including Fiddlers Plus, Village Voyces and Riverthieves.

There will be lots to eat and drink as well, with a Mutton ní Ale tent open every day, a roast chicken dinner on Saturday and, at the appropriate time, British High Tea.

One of the biggest events of the weekend will be an attempt at a Guinness world record for the most people in one place dressed in Regency clothing. The current record is 409, and organizers think that record is within reach.

ìItís catching on,î says Wanless. ìIím hopeful.î

Anyone who has access to period dress, reflecting the time period between 1795 and 1830, is invited to register at the General Store in the Spencerville Mill before 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 2.

Visitors may also enjoy watching, or taking part in, a militia muster roll. Throughout the 19th century, much of the defence of Upper Canada fell to citizen soldiers who were mustered periodically for drills and practice and, of course, to pay their annual dues.

Members of the Spencerville Sedentary Militia will re-enact just such a muster and invite willing ìsoldiersî to enlist at a recruitment tent that will be set up near the Mill.

It’s certainly a good sign when a planned event sells out a month beforehand, and thatís just what happened with the Regency Ball and Dinner. Originally, the display of English country dancing was to be held on the second floor of the Spencerville Mill, but because of unanticipated demand, the event was moved to the Drummond Building.

Those who have signed up to take part in the dance are already hard at work practicing their steps. Those who have missed out on the Regency Ball but with an interest in English country dancing can still attend a series of dancing workshops held throughout the weekend or take part in another dance scheduled for Friday night.

Organizers have put together such a jam-packed weekend that people will have no trouble finding something on the schedule to amuse, entertain or excite themóand they just might learn a little, too.

The full schedule of events can be found on the Spencerville Millís website at

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