During the War of 1812 the residents of what is now known as Chatham-Kent suffered their most horrifying moments over a period of a few days during October 1813 when British forces and their First Nation allies retreated up the Thames River followed by a numerically-superior U.S. force.
Along the path of retreat were the farms of pioneer families, who found themselves caught up in the heat of the conflict, with homes and possessions burned by the attackers. The incident culminated in the Battle of the Thames on Oct. 5 in which First Nations leader Tecumseh died.
In the aftermath of the battle, the nearby village of Fairfield was destroyed.
The recreation of the Battle of the Thames is considered to be the local signature event of the bicentennial commemoration of the war, with thousands of re-enactors and spectators expected to turn out for what will be the 200th anniversary, to the exact day, of the battle.
Some of those re-enactors will be from Kentucky, whose soldiers took part in the battle.
Charlene Houle, the tourism product development officer for Chatham-Kent, said the events surrounding the commemoration have been years in the making.
Speaking at the Wednesday meeting of the Rotary Club of Chatham, Houle said preparations for the bicentennial began early enough for a whole slate of activities to be held, with the re-enactment being the largest among them.
Friday, Oct. 4 will be an education day at the site of the battle, with about 5,000 school children expected to attend.
Even before the busiest times of the commemoration, a legacy of the bicentennial already exists with the creation of the Tecumseh Parkway, a driving tour with nine stops in Chatham-Kent, from Jeanette’s Creek to Clachan Road.
“It tells the story of the retreat up the Thames River,” said Houle.
Ongoing events include a guided tour called Tecumseh’s Last Days, with local historians Jim and Lisa Gilbert.
A number of cultural events will also take place around the time of the re-enactment.
Seven Day World Gathering: Rekindle Tecumseh’s Vision will take place from Sept. 28 to October 5 at First Nation communties in the Chatham-Kent area, including Walpole Island and the Delaware First Nation in Moraviantown.
Like A Hero Going Home, a play about the last days of Tecumseh, will be read at Thamesville United Church as part of a roast beef dinner on Sept. 29.
The TVO production, A Desert Between Us & Them: Raiders, Traitors and Refugees in the War of 1812 will make its debut at the Kiwanis Theatre on Oct. 1 beginning with opening remarks at 7 p.m.
The play, War Finds A Way, which tells the story of the final days of the the Moravian settlement at Fairfield, will be performed at the Capitol Theatre Oct. 3 to 5 at 8 p.m. each evening.
Kevin Riordan’s The Second Battle of Thamesville, a comedy dealing with events leading up to War of 1812 commemorations at a fictional bed and breakfast, will be performed at the Chatham Cultural Centre on Oct. 4.
The Ball at the Forkes will be held in the old Chatham Armoury featuring food and dances that would have been popular in the early 19th century.
“This is of national and international interest,” said Houle of the bicentennial events. “Things are happening every night leading up to the re-enactment.”