Battle of Stoney Creek – 1813
by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams
The Red Coats Are Coming…
We headed west for our next adventure. I had always wanted to experience a re-enactment and Stoney Creek was my perfect chance. We were running a little late on Saturday morning, so we decided to go straight to where the battle was being fought, no detours this time. Our destination was the Battlefield House Museum and Park and our purpose was to watch the Re-enactment of the Battle of Stoney Creek – 1813. Stoney Creek is now part of Hamilton, but it has a wonderful flavour of its own. From the QEW we exited onto Centennial Parkway and headed towards “The Mountain”. Battlefield Park is located on the corner of Centennial Parkway South and King Street.
The park is situated right at the base the “The Mountain” or the Niagara Escarpment. It’s a good size piece of land that includes plenty of parkland (the battlefield) and two main period buildings. When we arrived, the part of King Street that runs parallel to the park, was closed for a Canada Flag Day parade. Park parking was also closed. Fortunately there was a shuttle service running from the local high school back to the park. We found the lot, parked our car and then waited for the shuttle bus. After quite some wait the bus arrived.
As soon as the bus stopped, a greeter, dressed in period costume, stepped out off the bus. Judi and I were impressed! We all climbed aboard and settled in for the short drive to the park. I talked with the greeter and asked how long she had been re-enacting. She told me about 2 years and that she really enjoyed doing it. The bus let us off at the corner. Music was coming from across the street, the parade as well underway. Floats and bands marched by us as we walked along the street towards the park. We stayed and watched the parade for a while, but the main event was calling us…
Entering A Time Warp…
As we passed through the park gates, it was like entering a different era. Off in the distance gleaming white tents were lined up in rows. Settlers dressed in period clothing milled about their tents, chatting with one another or performing simple daily chores.
Children were running about chasing one another. This was re-enactment at its best! Everyone, adults, children, animals, settlers, craftsmen, soldiers and natives were all playing their roll. As we walked the grounds, we realized just how large this weekend enterprise was.
Everywhere we looked there were re-enactors going about whatever activity they were dressed to perform. The museum and park itself is set up to preserve the past. The Gage Homestead, built in 1796, was the centre of the Battle of Stoney Creek. The museum, the park grounds and the historic building reminds us of Canada’ past and how the people fought to make Canada the great nation it is today.
While walking through the tent area, I had the opportunity to talk with one of the re-enactors. I asked him if he was hot in the uniform he was wearing. He said yes, very! I asked him why he did the re-enacting. He said it was his life, his hobby. During the summer months he and his fellow re-enactors attend events every other weekend.
I naively suggested that after the battle he could go home or back to his hotel to cool down. He laughed and told me that for the entire weekend they lived as they would have back in 1813, sleeping in tents and cooking over an open flame. I shook my head in wonder and wandered off to find some cool shade!
The people who re-enact as a hobby are very dedicated. Not only do they have to dress up in hot period costumes, they have to remember act as people would have in the time period they are portraying and they have to remember not to wear anything modern, such as a watch. Off in the distance there were more tents set up. This was the merchant area of the encampment…
Old Time Craftsmanship…
We crossed a small picturesque bridge into the merchants’ area. Here, again, the tents were neatly lined up in rows. Everything within the merchant compound was in keeping with the time period. A seamstress works on a garment. A blacksmith hammers on his anvil. Popping corn steamed open over a camp fire.
Period games for those who wanted to test their skills. As we walked through the area, we were filled with a sense of times gone by. There was plenty of merchandise for sale… clothing, linen, tools and toys. Did I mention toys? My youngest grandson’s birthday was coming up in a few days. I considered buying him a toy wooden crossbow as a birthday present. Judi asked me if I had a death wish. (She didn’t think my daughter would appreciate it.) But I would have really wanted one if I was a kids.
Even the owner of the merchandise in the tent was having fun with one! He was shooting an arrow through an opening in the tent at his wife. She looked like she was having great fun, too! REALLY! After we got home and I told my daughter about the crossbow, I am very glad I didn’t buy it. She REALLY would have KILLED me! Judi, always looking for interesting presents, purchased wooden dice and old fashion fan. How come she gets all the fun!! The heat of the early afternoon was bearing down on us, so we decided to find a shady tree near the battlefield. We needed to rest before the big battle…
June 6th, 1813 Remembered…
We had all gathered on the fenced off field to view the Re-enactment of the Battle of Stoney Creek. Judi and I had arrived to the viewing area early so that we could secure a front row seat.
We watched the re-enactment combatants file out of their barrack area to the battle field. Soldiers (Canadian, British and American), scouts and natives took their respective places. The cannons were strategically placed on the battlefield. The MC, dressed as a British soldier, tested the PA system. Finally he started to talk. He told us some of the history leading up to the battle.
He spoke of the Gage family were forced to give up their home to the Americans so that they could use it as their headquarters and how the Gage’s were locked in their home’s basement so that they couldn’t warn the British.
He told us that the British Army was stationed at Burlington Heights. He went on to tell us how the Americans decided to attacked the British troops but, after a short chaotic battle, the British captured two American generals and their field artillery.
During the telling of the story, the re-enactment of the battle started. Cannons were fired. Soldiers lined up and fired their rifles, reloaded and fired again.
Soldiers lay dying on the ground. Gun and cannon smoke filled the air. Battles, skirmishes, parlays were all part of the re-enactment. It was like being on the edge of history.
At the end of the re-enactment, the re-enactors gathered together and marched off the field. What an end to an exciting day!
The Re-enactment (in photos)…
Seeing the re-enactment showed us how the soldiers of 1813 fought. The strategies we saw were certainly not the same as the battles we see on TV today, but the results were just as world changing as they are now, if not more so. The success of the Canadians and British at this battle and others helped changed the relationship between Canada and the United States. This successful and prosperous relationship that has spanned almost two centuries. We left the battlefield and the park with a new appreciation for “Living History” and the people who participate each weekend.
NOTE: The Battlefield Monument, shown below, opened June 6, 1913, one hundred years after the Battle of Stoney Creek. The Battlefield Cemetery also known as Smith’s Knoll is across from Battlefield Park.
This memorial is the final resting place for the men who gave their lives during the battle. Both British/Canadian and American soldiers are buried in the crypt. There is a large stone cairn and lion at this site. Each year during the re-enactment weekend, the local legion and participants from the Re-enactment of the Battle of Stoney Creek host a memorial service at the site on Sunday morning.