By Bob Boughner, Chatham Daily News
Monday, October 7, 2013 3:57:17 EDT PM
Crowds attended the War of 1812 commemoration of the Battle of the Thames, near Thamesville on Saturday. VICKI GOUGH/ THE CHATHAM DAILY NEWS/ QMI AGENCY
THAMESVILLE – The weekend bicentennial celebrations of the War of 1812 were a huge success from both a tourist draw and financial standpoint.
“It was an awesome event,’’according to Nancy Campbell, a Bothwell restaurant owner and member of the Bothwell Optimist Club.
Campbell estimated that as many as 25,000 people filled the grounds east of Thamesville for Saturday’s re-creation of the Battle of the Thames.
Campbell helped serve French fries from her club’s booth on the grounds of the event.
“Business was crazy,’’ she said. “It was hard keeping up with the demand.’’
Campbell said her only disappointment was that Prime Minister Stephen Harper or some other important federal government figure wasn’t present to witness first hand the colourful events that unfolded.
“I’m very proud the hugely successful event was held in our area,’’ she said. “A great deal of work went into it and it showed.’’
David Wesley, project manager for the Battle of the Thames, said police estimates place attendance Saturday at between 20,000 and 25,000 people.
“We were very pleased with the turnout,’’ he said. “It was manageable and there were no major incidents.’’
Wesley described the entire bicentennial event as a “huge success.’’
He said it was amazing that a flock of Canadian geese flew overhead just as Chief Tecumseh was dying on the battlefield.
Wesley said Education Day held on Friday was also a huge success with more than 5,000 students registered and more than 100 buses used to transport them.
Joy Sim, Chatham-Kent’s manager of tourism, was also impressed with the weekend events.
“The event certainly put Chatham-Kent on the map,’’ she said. “People from all across North America and around the world were on hand to witness the many special events that took place.’’
Sim said it would take a few days to compile statistics to try and determine the number of people that were on hand.
“We conducted more than 200 exit surveys,’’ she said. “There is no question it was a major tourism draw for our area during a time of year when it’s normally quiet.’’
Sim said Mother Nature also co-operated by providing excellent weather throughout the week and weekend.
“People from Kentucky were surprised at our warm weather,’’ she said. “They figured because it’s Canada it would be cool.’’
Sim said many people she talked with during the weekend said they were “highly impressed’’ with the events.
Although it’s impossible to put a dollar figure on the amount of money spent in the municipality during the week, Sim said it was “sizable.’’
She said area restaurants, hotels and motels, gas stations and campgrounds reported good business.
Sheila Batemam, manager of the Comfort Inn in Chatham, described business as “very good.’’
She said there were a number of hotel guests dressed in period costumes throughout the weekend either coming from or going to various activities associated with the event.
“We were three-quarters filled both Friday and Saturday night,’’ she said. “It was an awesome event and weekend.’’
Sandy Benedict of Johnny Quest Adventures in Food and Drink in Thamesville said business was more brisk than normal.
Tracy Pretty of Flap Jacks restaurant in Dresden said, “we had a nice crowd on both Saturday and Sunday.’’
Chatham-Kent Essex MP Dave Van Kesteren said Ottawa contributed $115,000 for Heritage Days, an education program for students, held in conjunction with the event.
The MP said he was “very impressed’’ with the gala ball held Saturday night at the Chatham Armoury.
“Most people were dressed in period costume,’’ he said. “It was quite a colourful event.’’