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Ready for the War of 1812?

The Real 1812 Legacy

Do you remember Canada’s Centennial? It galvanized communities along the St. Lawrence. Groups worked together to host celebratory events. People donned period clothes, many of which are still hanging in closets across the region.

The way people reminisce about that commemoration, or more recent anniversaries for Loyalist-settled towns, suggests the potential for the War of 1812 Bicentennial is even that much greater. 

One thing stands out as being different for the Bicentennial – technology. Since 1967 our ability to communicate has advanced considerably. Thanks to the Internet, we now have the potential to more closely connect Bicentennial initiatives throughout the St. Lawrence region.

In 1967, for example, to find someone who might teach period dancing depended on who you knew – or who advertised in your town. In 2012, through an 1812-focused online community, we’ve been able to foster a growing network of English Country Dancers along the St. Lawrence in just a matter of months.

Why is a network important?

A network of Regency dancers might not seem overly important at the outset, but these members travel to each other’s classes to learn and socialize. When they visit other towns, they tend to eat at restaurants. If one town has an event or ball, the others support and promote it. It’s quite literally a regional community. The scale of which is considerable: these dancers are connected to groups in Toronto, London, Ottawa, Montreal, Plattsburgh – and even Halifax. The potential draw for our region in supporting 1812 dancing is significant.

And that’s just one network. Connected to the War of 1812 Bicentennial are re-enactors, historians, genealogists, heritage craftspeople and many more.

The Potential for Heritage Tourism

If well coordinated, the St. Lawrence region is perfectly poised to foster a unique brand of heritage tourism, which is all about travelling to experience the places and stories that embody the past. And heritage tourism appeals to the History Traveller.

Accounting for 10-30% of all tourists, History Travellers purposefully plan trips to historical places, or end up visiting heritage sites along the way. They are usually more educated and earn more money than the average Canadian or American.

If the total tourism revenue in Ontario was 17.6% in 2008, at the lowest estimate, History Travellers might account for $1.76 billion in revenues – it’s nothing to sneeze at.

And the St. Lawrence region has everything to attract the History Traveller. Heritage architecture graces the natural beauty along the mighty St. Lawrence. Descendants of early settlers have meticulously preserved local histories. And our heritage sites have been lovingly maintained.

The War of 1812 Bicentennial simply provides us with a rare opportunity to showcase all that we have to offer in Heritage Tourism – on an international stage.

The Bicentennial has already helped us create new visitors centres in Bath, Kingston, Fort Wellington and Upper Canada Village, all with innovative new 1812 exhibits. At Fort Henry, for example, visitors will be able to fire a mock cannon through interactive technology. At Fort Wellington the showpiece is a rare hull of an 1812 gunboat that protected the St. Lawrence during the war.

It’s up to us

These visitors centres help attract tourists, especially a younger more tech-savvy generation, but it’s the tourism experience around these sites that will encourage people to return to the area – or better yet, move here.

In that regard we all play a part. Restaurants can offer period dishes. Stores can showcase local heritage crafts offering visitors unique products while supporting the regional economy. Inns can participate by bringing the coach house stop back to life, providing local historical information and dressing up in period clothing. And just about everyone can support and participate in bicentennial events. 

Many communities are offering workshops on clothing, dancing, and various topics related to life in 1812. Gananoque has already held information session period clothing and has an English Country Dance class scheduled for February 12. A monthly 1812 Dinner Series with guest speakers is selling out in Prescott. You might consider attending such workshops and talks – or even offering similar programming in your town.

Just think of the Bicentennial as an ongoing play where the St. Lawrence is a stage and we all act in living historic theatre. What region can you think of that can compete with that experience?

by Alicia Wanless,

As the Bicentennial Manager for the St. Lawrence War of 1812 Bicentennial Alliance, Alicia Wanless will help to market many great events in Eastern Ontario over the next three years. A business developer and marketeer in Eastern Ontario, Alicia's focus has been on branding, market research and creative campaigns for gaining attention. Before joining the Alliance, Alicia helped small businesses grow through her cottage industry @CrowderHouse.  Alicia also sits on the board for the Spencerville Mill Foundation and the Township of Edwardsburgh-Cardinal's Community Development Committee.

Posted in: Event, News Article
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Michael Folsom
Comment by: Michael Folsom ( )
Left at: 10:04 AM Wednesday, February 15, 2012
A great job by Alicia's group and all of Eastern Ontario to find ways to promote the rich history of the region. Its unfortunate that the US side of the river has yet to catch on.
John Barclay
Comment by: John Barclay ( )
Left at: 6:45 PM Wednesday, February 15, 2012
A great read. It will interesting to see whether the 1812 celebrations can kick start some heritage enterprises that last beyond 2015
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 10:45 AM Thursday, February 16, 2012
Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 10:45 AM Thursday, February 16, 2012
Jill Jellett
Comment by: Jill Jellett ( )
Left at: 2:49 PM Thursday, February 16, 2012
Great info!! Will be a fantastic event to witness firsthand.
PLEASE PLEASE !!! ADVERTISE in ALBERTA. No one here knows about the area and it's wonders.
As a Howe Islander and resident of Calgary Alberta we try to spread the word on The Thousand Islands. Get TV ads!! like PEI and the Maritimes are doing here. It really does make a difference.
Alicia Wanless
Comment by: Alicia Wanless ( )
Left at: 7:50 PM Thursday, February 16, 2012
Thank you for all the great comments. We really do hope to have a lasting impact and we're quite excited about some of the tourist products we are developing, such as our heritage tourism map.

Jill, we will do our best to reach the West. While there was a lot of money set aside for 1812 events, the Alliance doesn't actually receive any support in marketing. If you like, we'd be happy to send out some material for you to share with people. Our two handouts, I promise, are quite unique.
Herb Swingle
Comment by: Herb Swingle ( )
Left at: 8:41 AM Friday, February 17, 2012
Great artical-Too much History has been passed bye "The Forgottin War!!
Winky McGowan
Comment by: Winky McGowan ( )
Left at: 5:46 PM Sunday, February 26, 2012
I was excited reading about networks & their potential role in organizing and promoting the 1812 Bicentennial events (the Bicentennial is not on the radar screen in the Boston area). I am part of the dance world (mostly Scottish and contras) and see the draw that one area's events have on other areas (and the efforts to draw in younger people both as dancers & musicians), so I think you're onto a great way to go forward in a wide range of period events.
One idea from a Nova Scotia promotional program a decade ago(?) is house concerts (some held at small restaurants/inns) that was a way of promoting younger traditional musicians, traditional music, while providing events for tourists to enjoy.
Michael Whittaker
Comment by: Michael Whittaker ( )
Left at: 11:43 AM Thursday, March 15, 2012
Bicentennial enthusiam was growing slowly and is rising quickly. When we, the Fort La Présentation Association, began our annual 1812 lectures in Ogdensburg, NY in 2009 we were one of a few organizations promoting the binational nature of the war. Now there are a number of symposia, conferences and seminars. This year our symposium is 27-28 April in Ogdensburg, adjacent to the battlefields las action.