Sunday, October 14, 2012

Has it been 200 years already?

 It was 200 years ago this weekend that the hero of Upper Canada, Sir Isaac Brock, fell at Queenston Heights.  To mark this pivotal point in Canadian history, my brother-in-law Isaiah and I headed to Queenston Heights to witness the re-enactment of the battle of Queenston Heights.  A lot of people in Queenston and St. David’s really got into the spirit of the event as they battled for parking spots and for a place to stand to watch the battle.   I handily found a nice little parking spot on the grassy shoulder of the road leading up to the Heights.  Isaiah and I got out of the car and trekked up the escarpment.  Between our huffs and puffs, we got retrospective and suddenly had a new appreciation for the soldiers who had to drag all their guns and equipment up to the top of the heights.  

We eventually made it to the top of the Heights and found ourselves at the base of the Brock Monument.  Even though I have seen this statue hundreds of times, it still impressed me – especially on this occasion as it was surrounded by Redcoats who were getting ready for battle.

Isaiah and I found a nice place to watch.  We were both stunned at how many people had converged in the park to watch the battle.  Isaiah, my young brother-in-law, wanted to know what soldiers were on our team.  It could have been a confusing event for those who didn’t remember their Canadian History from grade 7.  There were many different groups present; the Americans in blue, the British in red, the Royal Marines also in blue, the Fenians in Green, the Canadian Militia in various dress, and of course the Indians were there as well in their very fearsome war dress and war paint.  I was surprised as the battle went on, at how many people were very familiar with the main characters and with the sequence of events of the Battle of Queenston Heights.      

The attack began on October 13, 1812, as the Americans attempted to cross the Niagara River.  Many of the boats were disabled and shot to pieces by the time they reached the shore, and many Americans refused to cross over.  Despite massive losses on the crossings, a group of American soldiers made it to the heights.  Brock too, was at the heights with a much smaller band of soldiers. Instead of waiting for coming reinforcements, Brock and his small band of men charged into the fray.  Brock, who was an easy and distinct target, was cut down almost immediately.  Eventually General Sheaffe arrived with a large company of British regulars along with a fierce some group of Natives.  The Americans were literally driven off of the Heights.  Many fell to their deaths off of the escarpment, and the rest surrendered.  The British had decisively won, but at the great cost of losing General Brock.

And so, in the re-enactment, applause broke out when General Brock took the field with his men.  He was not on the field for very long.  After about a minute, Brock fell to the ground.  The British soldiers solemnly carried Brock off the field as a hush fell on the crowd of spectators.  I found myself getting drawn into the spectre of the battle at that point.  It seemed to be hopeless as the British retreated with their fallen General in tow.  One of the spectators beside me later noted that “Brock wasn’t on the field for long enough” and that “they should have kept him fighting longer”.  I don’t think history works like that.
It's hard to see from this picture, but Brock is the soldier on the ground.
Things turned around swiftly though with the arrival of Sheaffe’s men and the Natives.  The Americans were out-flanked and out-manned (and in reality were terrified of the Natives) and were quickly driven off of the field.  

The arrival of Sheaffe's men.

At the end of the re-enactment a hushed silence once again fell on the crowds as the soldiers from both sides removed their hats and had a moment of silence for those lost and for the ‘Saviour of Upper Canada’.  

It was an incredible event – an event that you proud to be a Canadian, and an event that induced Isaiah to dress up like an Indian as soon as he got home.

No tongue shall blazon forth their fame-
The cheers that stir that sacred hill
Are but the promptings of the will
That conquered then, that conquers still
And generations shall thrill
At Brock’s remembered name.

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