Marine Heritage Festival ~ Port Dover

by Gary McWilliams  (aka Festival Nomad)

Off to Port Dover…

Port Dover is located on the shores of Lake Erie. Its reputation as being a fun place to visit is legendary! Just ask any Friday the 13th Biker! Port Dover was hosting the Marine Heritage Festival and the Marine Heritage Festival was organizing and hosting two battle re-enactments! After a long trip, we arrived in the town of Port Dover.

It was great to see so many people dressed in period costumes! The town was alive with re-enactors! Our first order of business was to find a convenient parking spot. We drove through the downtown streets and found one close to the town pier. Fortunately Port Dover is not that large so we were able to walk to most of the activities. We had arrived in the early afternoon, so we were just in time to experience the first re-enactment.

Because this activity was taking place a little further away from where we had parked, we decided to take the shuttle bus. Here not only was the afternoon battle going to take place, but this was where most of the re-enactors set up camp! After getting off the bus, the three of us started to explore the encampment. It was like stepping back in time!

White tents neatly in a row, glistening in the sun! The tents served many purposes, housing, canteens and merchandise displays. Campfires were scattered amongst the tents. Visitors to the re-enactment wandered along the rows of tents taking in the historic atmosphere.

All through the encampment groups of people in various period costumes chatted about the upcoming battle. Finally, uniformed soldiers broke away from their family and friends and started to gather to receive their instructions. The buzz of excitement was in the air. We left the encampment for the battlefield.

The Military Battle…

We walked with from the encampment to the re-enactment battle area. Crowds were already lining up along the taped barrier. The re-enactment was going to take place along the park pathway that skirted Silver Lake.

We all waited patiently for the action to start. Finally soldier re-enactors began to appear. First it was the gunnery group, pulling their cannons to strategic points along the path! Once they were in place, “ear splitting” cannon shots were fired.

The battle had begun! Then an American scouting party slowly started walking up the pathway looking for signs of the British. After a short walk, the British were found. Rifle shots were fired from both sides! At first it was just long range action! Slowly, however, both sides advanced on one another.

The air was filled with blue smoke as cannons and rifles were fired! At some points it was hard to see the combatants for all the smoke! The American and British soldiers held their ground for some time.

Several soldiers on both sides fell to the ground as if shot. Finally the British started to advance and pushed the American forces back! After much fighting, the American commander asked for a parley.

As a result, a truce was decided upon and the battle was over! On the General command, all the “dead” got up and rejoined their respective units! The British soldiers lined up along the path and accepted a salute from the American soldiers.

It was a great re-enactment and the crowds watching were most appreciative! We left the battlefield area and headed for the shuttle bus. It was time to go back downtown to see the rest of the festival.

Port Dover Harbour

The shuttle bus dropped us back at the harbour area, right outside the Port Dover Harbour Museum.

Judi wanted to go back to the car and then go to a downtown shop. My grandson and I decided to investigate the museum. As we entered the museum I was struck by the amount of marine memorabilia that honored the museum walls and displays.

There was scuba gear, ropes with knots, model ships, radio equipment, ships bells and a replica of a ship’s wheelhouse. There were so many artifacts it was hard to know where to look! My grandson was fascinated by everything. He touched and played with anything he was allowed to! One of the most interesting areas was the communications room.

You could send a telegraph from one station to another! We toured every corner of the museum and finally went outside to the bright sunlight. Judi was still not back from her side trip, so my grandson and I continued to explore the waterfront. North of the museum, a large refreshment tent had been set up. A number of people were inside the tent enjoying the coolness of the tented area. A group of lively musicians were on stage entertaining those present!

A little further north of the tent a waterfront encampment had been set up. Just as we had started our walk through, Judi rejoined us. The encampment was a combination of re-enactors and vendors tents. The re-enactors tents were set up to include all the comforts of home! (Well, almost!) The vendor tents were offering a wide variety of historical and period merchandise for sale. As we walked through the encampment the music flowed through the air.

Trouble On The Beach…

We sat on the beach under a clear blue sky! The sun was beating down on us as we sat in our chairs! Others, on the beach, were also enjoying the heat of the day. A gentle breeze blew in from Lake Erie.

We sat on the beach for nearly an hour. Re-enactment organizers came onto the beach to stake off the battle area. We moved our chairs to behind the taped barrier. During this period white clouds began to form across the lake.

The gentle breeze started to blow a little harder. After about a half an hour, the white clouds had become darker and were starting to move over the lake. Off in the distance lightning danced through the sky! The breeze turned into a wind and started to blow much harder.

The lake that had been quite calm moments before became angry with waves rushing to the shore! The barrier tape began to whip in the air as it was ripped off the stakes! Suddenly someone yelled “Get off the beach, a severe thunderstorm is almost here!” We folded our chairs and ran for our car. We made it just as the rains came pouring down!

We parked near the beach wondering how long the storm would last. It was another hour and a quarter before the re-enactment was scheduled to begin. We debated whether or not to leave for home. In the end we decided to stay until the battle began or was cancelled. Our patience was rewarded! Ten minutes before the scheduled start, the rains stopped completely!

We moved from our car to the beach. There was already a crowd of people waiting for the battle to begin. A cannon was pulled and pushed onto the sandy beach and then made ready for action. Finally a “tall ship” left the Port Dover pier. All was now in place for the military/naval battle re-enactment! Shots were fired from both land and water! The action had begun!

First there was the attach from the water and then the American forces appeared on the shores. At first only a few British and Canadian soldiers stood their ground, but British “Red Coats” soon appeared! The marched onto the beach in solid formation and then prepared to meet the American invaders. A pitch battle took place on the beach with the British forces routing the Americans to save Canadian soil! The crowds, who had waited out the storm, were very appreciative of the re-enactors efforts! We left the battlefield and Port Dover happy to have come and even happier to have stayed!