War of 1812 re-enactors recall a forgotten invasion: The Battle of Frenchman’s Creek

The Star
 About 45 re-enactors give Sunday's crowd in Fort Erie a glimpse of the Battle of the Frenchman's Creek, fought on Nov. 28, 1812.
About 45 re-enactors give Sunday’s crowd in Fort Erie a glimpse of the Battle of the Frenchman’s Creek, fought on Nov. 28, 1812.

Raveena Aulakh Staff reporter

FORT ERIE, ONT.—It was the battle most people forgot.

Just before dawn on Nov. 28, 1812, American soldiers crossed the Niagara River in a preparatory raid to prepare for a larger invasion. But after pushing back the British defenders originally, they failed to destroy the bridge over Frenchman’s Creek, a deep and wide rivulet, and the batteries the soldiers had overrun were soon overtaken by British regulars, Canadian militia and their native allies. Eventually, the Americans were pushed back and the attack failed, ending any hopes of victory on the Niagara frontier in 1812.

Between the two sides, more than two dozen died and many more were injured in the skirmishes of that day.

It came to be known in Canada as the Battle of Frenchman’s Creek, after the location of some of the severest fighting that day.

That wintry battle was re-enacted at the site — albeit on a much smaller scale — on a sunny Sunday afternoon as part of the Fort Erie 1812 Bicentennial celebrations.

“It was one of the first points of attack in 1812, but few people know about it or its significance,” said John Johnston, project coordinator of the celebrations. “That’s why we decided to do a re-enactment.”

There was no blood, there was no gore.

“Soldiers” didn’t cross the creek, which was a few metres away. About 45 re-enactors — mostly local history buffs, all Canadian — donned uniforms, held their muskets and fired cannons (harmlessly) as a crowd of about 500 watched intently from the four sides of the park.

When an “American” soldier went down, there were loud cheers from the crowd — also mostly Canadian — and when any of the British regulars was “hit,” the crowd collectively moaned. There was laughter when there was a misstep by any re-enactor.

Slowly, as British regulars, local militia and native warriors marched ahead and pushed the occupiers back to where they had come from, there were shouts of “and that’s how it happened,” from the crowds. The fighting “raged” for about 15 minutes until all American attempts were thwarted and the crowd followed them from one side of the park to the other.

When it was all over, a re-enactor dressed as a British regular asked the crowd: “So, who won the war? Are you an American citizen? If the answer is no, then we did.”

There were shrieks of laughter.

And there was a history lesson learned.

“I’ve never seen a cannon before … this is great,” said Nate Simpson, a 13-year-old from Hamilton who came with his parents for the re-enactment. It wasn’t as big a spectacle as he had expected, but “I know about this battle now. I bet none of my classmates do.”

Later, he, like most other children, posed for photos next to the cannons and with the “soldiers.”

(Re-enactors get their uniforms, their arms and other paraphernalia from various sources, said one of them, John Sek.)

The re-enactors weren’t the only ones dressed and prepared for the occasion. Janet Hodgkins and David Fowler from Wainfleet, a small community near Port Colborne, looked like they had walked out of 1812 or whereabouts. She was dressed in a flowing pink gown with a matching straw hat and a parasol. He was in a tunic and breeches.

People are not aware of how important the war was to the history of Canada, said Hodgkins, a retired librarian. “Maybe this will help them understand it.”

She said she had ancestors who fought in the war. “I am glad we dressed up…it was appropriate.”

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