EMC News – Citizens of Bath, beware: your village will come under fire at 1 p.m. on June 30. American forces will occupy your lovely setting and a proclamation will be read to inhabitants of Upper Canada.
The small village of Bath’s ability to attract visitors far exceeds it size. This Sunday’s Canada Day Parade alone is the best in Eastern Ontario, far surpassing ones in much larger settings.
But any time of year is perfect for a visit to this historic and charming community. It’s an easy day trip destination from anywhere in Eastern Ontario. Folks in Kingston are particularly fortunate: Bath is only minutes away, travelling east along the Loyalist Parkway (Bath Road in Kingston).
The village’s history reaches back to the days of the 18th century and the American Revolution, to a time when United Empire Loyalists settled in the region. The first church was built under the direction of Reverend John Langhorne in 1793. The first school in Ontario was opened in Bath in 1811.
In an earlier column on War of 1812 festivities in the region, I reported that the conflict around Bath had all happened off-shore. Gus Panageotopoulos, chair of the Bath Community Revitalization Committee, corrected that view.
“Bath was actually attacked by Americans,” he said. “Cannon balls have been found along the shoreline.”
He said there was a lot of trade between New York State and Bath.
“Bath was quite commercially enterprising,” he said. “It was also highly advanced in the idea of public access to education. Many reform movements started in Bath. People are surprised to learn that Bath was as big as Kingston in the early 19th century. Commerce was based on shipping. Some fine examples of early wooden building heritage exists in Bath.”
He noted that, in addition to the first school in Ontario, Bath is home to many other firsts in Upper Canada: The first distillery, first hanging and the launch of the first steam ship on the Great Lakes (in 1818).
“Bath is unique due to the size and scale of the built environment,” said Panageotopoulos. “The end of the days of sail and steam on the great waterways stunted growth.”
In addition, the path of the Grand Trunk Railway went north of Bath, and Kingston took over much of the commercial trade that had been centred on Bath.
Panageotopoulos said that given its small size, Bath has a significant volunteer base.
“Bath is blessed with a wealth of wonderful volunteers who support a wide variety of organizations in the community.”
He explained that Bath is home to a rich inventory of early to mid 19th century buildings. One example is the Ham House (c. 1819), which is being restored by Ron Tasker and his wife Bonnie Crook.
“It is a true labour of love,” said Panageotopoulos. “Once completed, I believe the Ham House will highlight the great possibility that Bath has to become a Niagara-on-the-Lake, but without the heavy commercial element.
“I see Bath as a premier destination to visit in order to soak in the natural and physical environment. We have a Sunday market, three museums, a marina, cycling trails and a small commercial district that features three restaurants and unique shops. Not bad for a village with just under 2000 residents. Last year, more than 3000 cyclists visited.”
He said they are particularly excited about this summer’s celebrations.
Each year on Canada Day, the number of people in Bath swells to more than 10,000. Panageotopoulos said they’re expecting 20,000 to 30,000 visitors over this year’s Canada Day weekend, which will feature a special 1812 commemoration, including the Flight of the Royal George.
“The catch phrase ‘let’s party like it is 1812’ has caught on,” said Panageotopoulos. “Workshops on period dress have been held. Many people intend to wear regency clothing on the long weekend. The Canada Day Committee, co-chaired by Gail Heywood and Joe Hudacin, has a fantastic crew of volunteers that will host this special Canada Day Weekend.”
Panageotopoulos said that local volunteer David Smith, a Bath resident and member of the Canadian Fencibles re-enactor group has spearheaded much of the 1812 focus.
“David needs to be singled out for his vision and perseverance,” said Panageotopoulos. “He has been the driving force for both the Lafarge 1812 Discovery Centre and the Flight of the Royal George event.”
The Flight of the Royal George took place in November 1812, but will be re-enacted this weekend.
“The Americans chased the Royal George through the gap between Amherst Island and the Isle of Quinte,” said Panageotopoulos. “The ship reached Kingston, where it was safe in the harbour. The festivities will include re-enactments along the shore between Bath and Kingston. That will include the bluffs of Amherst Island.
As these vessels make their way through, you’ll see military engagements.”
On Friday, tall ships will be docked in Bath and you can tour the Brig Niagara.
At noon on Saturday, the Royal George, pursued by the American fleet, will appear on the waterfront. A naval battle will ensue and American forces will occupy the village.
The day’s events begin at 9 a.m. and include pony rides, food and market vendors in Centennial Park, an artisan show at St. John’s Hall, horse drawn wagon rides and live entertainment. The beautiful and historic Fairfield-Gutzeit House will be open for tours throughout much of the weekend. 1812 encampments will be open to the public. At 9 p.m., there’ll be another naval engagement in the bay off Centennial Park.
On Sunday, Canada Day, from 7 to 11 a.m., you can enjoy at Fireman’s breakfast at the Fire Hall. At 8:30 there’s an ecumenical church service. At 9 a.m., the 1812 encampment is open to the public.
Between 10 and 11 a.m., forces loyal to the Crown will repel the American forces, and tall ships will leave the port of Bath. Then, at 1 p.m., it’s the biggy: simply the best Canada Day parade in Eastern Ontario. Nothing tops what Bath pulls off. Go early, very early, to get your spot on the parade route. It’s well worth the wait. This little village is the place to be on Canada Day. If you’ve never been to one of their parades, well, do it this year. Rain or shine, it’s a spectacular extravaganza.
Then, at 2:30, during official ceremonies, you can participate in the singing of our National Anthem (feel free to get a tear in your eye, I always do) as the Canadian flag is raised. From Pony rides, BBQs and fish fries to live entertainment, it’s a good-time day. You’ll also see the largest fireworks display in the region at dusk behind the firehall.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday there is a near-unbelievable number of activities in Bath. I’ve only had space to list a small fraction of them.
Directions: Simply take Bath Road westward out of Kingston. It’s about 20 km from the Day’s Road intersection to the Village of Bath. It’s a quick car ride or a great cycle destination.