Sailing in to commemorate the War of 1812

The Buffalo News

U.S. and Canadian ships will dock in Buffalo, Lackawanna in September for Navy Week

By Jon Harris

News Staff Reporter

July 18, 2012


When warships from two countries converged on the Niagara Frontier 200 years ago, the outcome was bloodshed.

This time around, it will be under friendlier circumstances.

At least a half-dozen vessels – frigates as long as 450 feet from the United States and Canada, and tall ships from a bygone era – will anchor on the waterfront in Buffalo and Lackawanna from Sept. 10 to Sept. 17 as part of a War of 1812 commemoration.

The ships will carry a total of 600 sailors, who will lead a week’s worth of ship tours, wreath ceremonies, U.S. Navy band concerts and helicopter displays.

A U.S. Navy SEALs parachute team also will make appearances at local sporting events.

The events could draw 100,000 visitors to the area, if not more.

The two largest ships coming to Buffalo – the Navy’s USS DeWert and the Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Ville de Quebec – aren’t quite as long as the 610-foot USS Little Rock docked at the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park, but each of the frigates will carry about 200 sailors, who will get involved in the community during their week here by visiting hospitals and through organizations such as the Food Bank of Western New York.

“It’s a feather in Buffalo’s cap,” said Col. Patrick Cunningham, the Naval Park’s executive director. “It’s very appropriate for them to come here, and it will bring attention to the history of the area.”

About 20 Navy Weeks are held each year, but this year is different, as 15 cities were chosen to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812, with Buffalo being the last.

“This is more than just a Navy Week,” said Lt. Commander Ron Flesvig. “This is a commemoration of the War of 1812, and that’s what makes it special.”

The last time an event similar to this made its way through the Great Lakes was Fleet Week, in 1999.

“It’s been a long time since we have had a Navy ship of this size in the Great Lakes,” said Flesvig, adding that the depth of the lakes makes it difficult to have a ship much bigger than a frigate cross lake waters.

The 378-foot warship USS Freedom stopped briefly in the Buffalo harbor in November 2008. Marina Woolcock, who heads the Naval Park’s War of 1812 Celebration Committee, said that vessel’s visit drew long lines of residents.

But it won’t match Buffalo Navy Week. “You can’t compare one ship coming to four, five, six or seven ships in the harbor,” Woolcock said.

Besides the frigate DeWert, the coastal patrol craft USS Hurricane, a 174-foot ship carrying about 30 sailors, will be among the U.S. Navy ships participating. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Katmai Bay, a 140-foot ice-breaking tug, will also be there. The Canadian frigate Ville de Quebec is 440 feet long.

The DeWert and the Hurricane will be in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and Toledo before coming to Buffalo.

The historic tall ships participating are the Black Pearl, the Spirit of Buffalo and the Brig Niagara, which is 118 feet high and is a reproduction of the relief flagship of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry from a naval battle in the War of 1812. The Brig Niagara was one of nine ships that defeated a British squadron of six vessels in the Battle of Lake Erie on Sept. 10, 1813.

The Hurricane and the Katmai Bay will moor downtown near the Naval Park; the De-Wert and Ville de Quebec will be moored at the Gateway Industrial Park in Lackawanna.

“We see this as being able to attract national and international attention in the City of Buffalo,” Mayor Byron W. Brown said after a Tuesday news conference announcing Buffalo Navy Week. “We see this as a phenomenal tourism opportunity for Buffalo.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz was one of many officials joining Brown on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to announce the event, which he says will be a tremendous week.

“Everyone should take advantage of what will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said.

Marta Moszczenska, consul general for Canada in Buffalo, said the War of 1812 created a legacy of friendship between the United States and Canada. “It was a defining conflict of nationhood in both countries,” she said.

When Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski spoke at the news conference in front of Navy Rear Adm. Greg Nosal, he said he tensed up and slapped his heels together.

“You hardly ever see an admiral, and when you do, you get nervous,” said Szymanski, who served in the Navy from 1993 to 1998 as a machinist.

Nerves aside, Szymanski wants to make the celebration in Lackawanna one to remember.

“As a Navy man, it’s an honor to have an event like this come to my city,” he said.

Nosal said the 15 cities were selected because of their connections to the War of 1812, a connection Buffalo certainly has.

“It’s not only the last city,” Nosal said, “it’s the best city.”

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