GRANDAD’S HISTORY OF CANADIAN REENACTING
By Gavin K. Watt
The earliest reenactment unit in Ontario that I’ve seen photographic evidence of was the Queen’s Rangers as they marched into Historic Fort York – if I remember correctly, in the 1930’s, which was probably for the regiment’s sesquicentennial celebrations of its substantial contribution to the great British victory at Brandywine, PA on 11Sep1777 during the American Revolution.
The uniforms looked good, but the carriage of arms seemed a bit suspect. I believe those reenactors were members of the Reserve Army’s Queen’s York Rangers, 1st Americans of Central Ontario. Possibly, they received assistance in their interpretation from Fort York staff members.
The Revolutionary War Queen’s Rangers was likely the only regiment with a full set of contemporary paintings of every uniform worn by their unit in the late years of the Revolutionary War – Huzzars, Grenadiers, Highlanders, Light Infantry, Riflemen and line infantry. Virtually as good as having photographs, and all reenactors know how wonderful that would be.
In the late 1960’s, members of the Ontario Arms’ Collectors Association (OACA) held live shoots at various venues and many members kitted out as Canadian militiamen of the 19th century with the correct firearms and accoutrements.
OACA members such as Paul Peddle, Charlie Hargraves and Jack Barnes, to name a few, created the Upper Canada Rifles, a fictitious, quasi-military grouping of flint and percussion arms enthusiasts, some of whom dressed more like American mountain men than the Canadian shopkeepers, farmers and hunters that one would expect, but, let’s face it – these were early days. At its peak, the UC Rifles was a 20-30-man unit and served for years as the Yankee enemy at Historic Fort York’s pageants during the 1970’s & 80’s. I suspect the UC Rifles was Ontario’s first amateur reenactment unit.
Undoubtedly, the Federal and Provincial governments led the field in uniformed animation with garrisons at Forts Henry, York, George, etc… and later at Fortress Louisbourg, Fort Wellington, Halifax Citadel, Signal Hill, etc… Decades ago, these garrisons exclusively represented British Regulars, not Canadian. An exception was Louisbourg where French Marines were the main feature, as many of the original ‘Troupes de la marine’ companies were officered by prominent Quebeckers and Acadians, although the rank and file were predominantly Metropolitan French. When my friends and I got our start with an 18th Century unit, we very purposely chose to represent North Americans.
In addition to the Queen’s Rangers of the 1930’s, other Reserve Army regiments created detachments to represent their roots. One of the most memorable was the Queen’s Own Rifles, RCIC of Toronto. Through the efforts (and most probably the expense) of Sergeant Major Syd Byatt, a superbly drilled, wonderfully accoutred unit, armed with original Snider-Enfields and uniformed in rifle green and black leather belting appeared on regimental parades and in support of Fort York’s annual military pageants and as guards at Queen’s Park and Casa Loma. In later days, when led by Sergeant Major Eric Simundson, the Rifles were re-armed with reproduction, percussion Enfields.
The Queen’s York Rangers once again entered reenactment when Honourary-Colonel David Macdonald Stewart financed the equipping of a platoon of Revolutionary War Queen’s Rangers in time for the 200th Commemoration of Brandywine. Stewart’s creation appeared at the massive reenactment held in Pennsylvania on the original battlefield. The QYRang were extremely generous and invited the Royal Yorkers (mentioned below) to travel with their period detachment in a bus convoy.
Over the years, many other Reserve regiments created period detachments of various sizes as a colourful method of remembering their past deeds. In particular, I recall detachments of the Royal Regiment of Canada (10th Grenadiers) and 48th Highlanders.
There are two key differences between these recreations and the privately raised and funded efforts. The obvious one is regimental sponsorship. This factor alone provides a unit with a tremendous spiritual boost.
David Macdonald Stewart was a giant figure in reenacting. When the Canadian Forces staged their superb Centennial Tattoo that toured the country and made the heart beat proud, it was Stewart’s contribution that financed the equipping of Fraser’s Highlanders and les Troupes de la Marine (and perhaps even more.) It was Stewart who set up le Vieux Fort on St. Helen’s Island with its tremendous museum of military history and its two guards of French Marines and Fraser’s Highlanders and some of the firearms and accoutrements were manufactured by the engineering staff of Macdonald’s Tobacco, David’s business concern.
And speaking of Fraser’s Highlanders – as an outgrowth of Stewart’s vision and largess, a society was founded to commemorate that ancient, important regiment in Montreal and grew to have branches in Toronto and Calgary. The society fielded a superb, period pipe band that earned praise ‘round the world as well as Officers’ Honour Guards that appeared at official functions in their different locations. The Fraser’s appeared for the Queen and Prince Philip in 1984 on at least two occasions that I know of; however, an attempt by the society to run its own guard of Other Ranks at Fort York failed after two or three seasons. Apparently, a Fraser’s summer guard is again in operation in Ottawa.
I believe the first recreation of an actual regiment financed by its individual members was the King’s Royal Yorkers. This effort began in 1975 and was founded by members of Service Rifle Shooting Association (SRSA), which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2005.
Myself and four other Ontario Arms Collectors members founded SRSA in 1965. We had grown dissatisfied with simply collecting military arms, uniforms, insignia and accoutrements and having them hang on a wall or sit on a shelf and yearned to develop a method of using this kit and experiencing its function and capabilities, not just reading about it. In short, we wanted to ‘live’ history.
Although SRSA wasn’t a true reenactment group in the current sense of the term, the organization did stage many reenactment demonstrations. One of the most notable was in 1969 at the old Canadian Forces Winona Ranges off the QEW. In this instance, 46 Tech RCEME of 2nd Toronto Service Battalion and the New York National Guard’s 19th Special Forces from Buffalo were the target audience. We fielded an array of fully-kitted animators representing 1812, the Fenian Raids, the Northwest Rebellion, the Boer War, the Great War (both sides), the Second War (both sides), the Korean War and then-current American, Soviet, Viet Cong and Canadian soldiers, all with original arms, uniforms (primarily original) and accoutrements (mostly original.) It was a tour de force that really whetted our appetite.
That success was followed by many animated displays at Canadian Forces Bases and Armouries, as Second War film extras representing both sides, at local military parades (eg. Stayner’s centennial celebration) and in the U.S. at Old Fort Niagara. For two of the Armed Forces Days at Borden, which featured audiences in the thousands, SRSA fielded Canadian and German Second War Infanteers that later gave us the impetus to recreate both.
Although the activity had little to do with reenacting, Service Rifle’s chief claim to fame was sixteen years of service to the Combat Arms School, first at CFB Borden and then at Gagetown. SRSA provided lecturers and demonstrators of infantry small arms from the Brown Bess to the AK47, G-3, Galil and M-16 and wrote a Foreign Weapons Training Manual for the School. SRSA’s lecturers/demonstrators were recognized by the School as Honourary Instructors.
Service Rifle’s director, Ed Anderson, who had earlier been a leader in the 1960’s Ontario Arms Collectors sponsored shoots, had been agitating for some time with Service Rifle to recreate a United Empire Loyalist Regiment of the Revolutionary War. Ultimately, the members were persuaded by the array of activities that was on the horizon for the U.S.’s Bicentennial.
At that time, the primary umbrella group of the Revolutionary War was the Brigade of the American Revolution which had been founded in 1962. As collectors and historians, Ed Anderson and Victor Zubatiuk were closely connected to Gerry Stowe, the Chief Curator of the West Point Museum, who was a BAR founding member. Gerry was ecstatic with the thought of having real, ‘hair-buying’ Tories as part of the BAR and gave us a great deal of encouragement. We were just as eager to give the Yankee bicentennial the Canadian spin it so richly deserved.
Ed’s first thought was to recreate John Graves Simcoe’s Queen’s Rangers, as that regiment was hands-down the most accomplished British/Loyalist regiment of the war. As well, the reconstituted Queen’s Rangers, under Simcoe’s command as Upper Canada’s first lieutenant-governor, had a critical role in Ontario’s early history.
The idea certainly had its appeal; however, some of us reasoned that recreations of the Queen’s Rangers were the preserve of the perpetuating regiment, the Queen’s York Rangers mentioned above. (at present, the Queen’s Rangers Light Infantry andHighland Companies are perpetuated by ex- and serving members of the QYRang RCAC, with the regiment’s full support. These self-financed companies joined the MAMH in 1995)
Service Rifle’s members decided to recreate loyalist regiments from the Canadian Department — units that had been raised in Canada and garrisoned and fought from Canadian bases from 1775-1782. After all, these units were disbanded in Canada at the war’s end, and, although primarily raised from New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians and Vermonters, with a smattering of Canadians included, they were the very beginning of English-speaking, central Canada and the founders of modern Ontario. Perhaps you recognize the provincial motto – “Loyal She Began, Loyal She Remains.” Pretty powerful and heady stuff!
So, the research began in earnest, and let me tell you, in the 1970’s, these loyalist units were incredibly obscure. At the time, most Ontarians were taught that the loyalists came to the country to escape from the victorious United States, virtually like whipped dogs. There was a broad hint in popular accounts that these people hadn’t possessed the courage to oppose the American rebels; that they were silly monarchists clinging to an outmoded relationship with Britain – simple government placemen and lackeys.
The fact that the Revolution was never lost on the northern American frontiers and that loyalist regiments and loyal native allies, with British and German Regulars, whipped the rebels — well, that was never taught. Very, very few Canadians knew anything about it. The most readily available books on the topic were written by Americans and contained their usual hyper-patriotic spin in which the Tories, i.e. loyalists, were craven traitors to the great American cause. Uh, yeah… you bet!
We applied to the Brigade of the American Revolution to recreate two loyalist corps – Butler’s Rangers, which of all the northern regiments was the best known, and the King’s Royal Regiment of New York (King’s Royal Yorkers) which was the largest regiment in the British Army in Canada and the second best known – and believe me, ‘second best known’ scarcely describes their obscurity.
The Brigade came back with an unconditional approval for us to raise the Royal Yorkers, but advised that, if we proceeded with Butler’s Rangers, we would have to accept the direction of our affairs by an American group from Sayre, PA, which had beaten us to the punch.
Can you for a second imagine!? Here we were, intending to proudly represent Ontario and Quebec’s early history and we’d have to kow-tow to a bunch of Yanks! The idea of recreating Butler’s Rangers was immediately abandoned.
The original Royal Yorkers received a beating order from Governor Guy Carleton in 1776 near Chambly, Quebec. The regiment primarily recruited from the New York frontiers and modern Vermont. The 1st battalion was the largest formation on the St. Leger expedition of 1777 and, with loyal native warriors, Indian Dept rangers and German Jaegers, fought the bloodiest battle of the Revolution at Oriskany near modern Utica. In 1780, the regiment mounted two large expeditions, both commanded by its lieutenant-colonel, the American-born baronet, Sir John Johnson. The first was in May, when the regiment, supported by British and German Regulars and natives, struck at Johnstown, New York on the Mohawk River. The second was mounted in October, when the regiment had eight of its ten companies in the field. Six companies, with the usual complement of British and German Regulars and native warparties, and with the added support of Butler’s Rangers and Brant’s Volunteers, destroyed the Schoharie Valley near Schenectady and then a great stretch of the Mohawk Valley from modern Amsterdam to modern St. Johnsville. The expedition thoroughly defeated a column of Massachusetts Levies and New York militia at Stone Arabia and, the same day, fought a successful action against a large force of New York Levies and militia at Klock’s Field, near the present historical site of Fort Klock. Simultaneously, two companies of Royal Yorkers, William Fraser’s Company of loyalist rangers and a Mohawk warparty struck Ballstown between the upper Hudson River and the Mohawk.
In 1781, active operations transferred to the Royal Yorkers’ 2nd battalion and in October, Major-commandant Ross led an expedition against the Mohawk River supported by a large contingent of Butler’s Rangers, with the usual support of British and Hesse Hanau Jaegers, including the 84th RHE and native parties. A battle was fought at Johnstown and, on the retreat, John Butler’s son, Walter, the senior captain of the corps, was killed in a rearguard action. The final two raids of the war in the Mohawk Valley were fought in 1782, the first led by Mohawk Captain John Deserontyon with KRR and RHE assistance and the latter led by Captain Joseph Brant with the 2Bn KRR Light Company under Captain George Singleton, a Montrealer.
The recreated King’s Royal Yorkers launched its career on the Plains of Abraham in 1975 at a massive commemorative battle marking the defeat of the American armies that almost captured all of Laurentian Canada. There were five founding members: myself, Ed Anderson, Finn Nielson, Tom Dugelby and Wayne Heideman. We were off to a great start.
But, we weren’t the only Canadian, non-government units at Quebec. Glenn Steppler, Phil Dunning, Bill Henry and Carl Benn, to name a few, had recreated les Chasseurs Volontaires, a highly-probable, but fictitious, Canadien militia unit. Us Royal Yorkers were incredulous to discover that all the Chasseurs were Ontarians and the majority of them spoke cornflakes’ box French just like us. Back in Toronto, we significantly improved our drill under the tutelage of the Chasseurs and I persuaded them to convert their unit to another northern loyalist regiment – Jessup’s King’s Loyal Americans. Jessup’s leadership took a long time to decide how to uniform their unit, which was perfectly sensible, because information was so very, very sparse; however, the hesitation lost them a number of men and the unit petered out when Glenn Steppler emigrated to Britain in the early ’80’s.
Some of Jessup’s men joined Robin Upton’s recreated 1st battalion 84th Royal Highland Emigrants. This effort grew out of a large, generic Highland company that had appeared at Quebec in 1975. Robin, and guys like Harry Martin, Glen Forrester, Dan Moreau, Chuck Baker and Doug McComb, swiftly built the RHE into a solid, well-drilled unit with great spirit. Both Jessup’s and the RHE joined the BAR and, with the Yorkers, attended many bicentennial events in the States.
The Yorkers and Emigrants became good friends and solid rivals as two of the largest, best-drilled units in the BAR while Jessup’s took the route of being more historically accurate in period customs. After the passage of a few decades of evolution, I think the old Jessup’s would thoroughly approve of the Royal Yorkers’ realistic portrayal, but in those early days, they looked askance at our polished brass, shiny muskets and super clean uniforms. The RHE outlasted Jessup’s, but when Robin Upton was about to move to Newfoundland, things began to disintegrate and the unit slowly faded away with a great number of their members transferring to the Royal Yorkers.
Although Jessup’s demise was painful, it did give birth to Phil Dunning’s creation of a period-correct field tavern, which he operated in the evenings after the public had gone home and often long into the night. Presently, Phil is renowned around North America for that extra dimension of realism that he brought to the hobby, and for his superb rum punch.
Many black powder reenactors will identify with Jessup’s hesitation to make quick decisions about the design of uniforms and choice of accoutrements. Unlike the US Civil War, Northwest Rebellion, Boer, Great and Second Wars, there were no photographs, nor even that many contemporaneous paintings to point the way. The Royal Yorkers steamed ahead at flank speed and, under the direction of the BAR, selected what was considered to be at the time the correct Provincial uniforms and kit, but decades later, those quick, early decisions have come back to haunt us, as it appears many errors were made which cannot be easily addressed with 100 members.
The Yorkers began with a line infantry company and, by 1977, had two solid sections. This line company is presently designatedDuncan’s Company and is the largest in Rev War. It is led by several very senior members, Allan Joyner, Dan Moreau, Dave Moore, Eric Lorenzen, Dave Putnam and Eric Fernberg.
In 1777, Bill Severin, Glen Smith, Bob Andrews, Ron Dale and Terry McCalmont launched the Light Infantry Company. It wasn’t long before Bill and Dave Owen introduced proper light infantry drills to the Rev War hobby and all companies of the Royal Yorkers continue to practice what Bill introduced. After going through a period of very rough times, the Lights are strongly re-established, led by Steve Sandford, Sean Jeffrey and Allan Lougheed.
The Royal Yorkers’ Loyal Refugees and Followers quietly got underway in 1978 and are now led by Nancy Watt and Amanda Moore, two senior members with decades of experience. This subunit celebrates Lady Polly Johnson’s birthday every year with a grand show of female dress from all levels of contemporary society.
A corps of Fifes and Drums started a year later under Bill Henry and is at present led by Gavin A. Watt of Fort York and Fort George fame, who had been our first fifer in the line company before Bill transferred over from Jessup’s.
We dedicated a stand of Colours in 1982, which were researched by line infantryman and famous author, John Houlding, and a replacement stand in 2004 at which time the Honourary Colonel-Commandant, Sir Colpoys Guy Johnson, 8th Baronet of New York took a key role with his lady, Marie-Louise.
A Grenadier Company was founded in 1983 by Reg James, at present the major of the 1Bn Royal Yorkers, and currently led by Steve Gilbey, Bruce Grundy and Alex Lawrence.
An Artillery section with a 3pr Brass gun was conceived by Ed Anderson and Vic Zubatiuk that same year. In later years, a Cohorn Mortar was added and both guns were fired at Fort Wellington in Prescott during the Royal Yorkers demonstration for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during the bicentennial of Ontario. Glen Smith and Colin Post now command.
The original Royal Yorkers went through two distinct clothing periods during the war. Our 1st battalion units represent the first period in green coats. In 1985, we decided to recreate the 2nd battalion in the second clothing period in red jackets. In 1998, the 2nd Bn line company converted to Singleton’s Light Infantry Company, presently commanded by Jeff Paine and Dave Gutteridge, two senior reenactors out of the 1Bn.
The recreated Royal Yorkers have ranged far and wide during their 30 years of existence – all over southern Ontario; Quebec; Vermont; New York repeatedly; New Hampshire; Massachusetts; Pennsylvania; Virginia; Ohio and Michigan AND, a highlight – to England as members of the newly-founded British Brigade and Continental Line for a superb tour.
In 1984, we appeared for the Queen and Prince Philip on three occasions during their bicentennial tour and were honoured by an impromptu inspection by the monarch at Fort Wellington.
In 1977, Service Rifle launched a new project and founded a chartered Ontario museum named the Museum of Applied Military History (MAMH.) As MAMH developed over the years, it became a loose confederation of 45 reenactment units with 700+ members. Eight units represent the Seven Years War; twenty the Revolutionary War; eight the War of 1812; two the Great War (or, if you want to be Yankee about it, World War I) and seven the Second War, or World War II. Many of these are mentioned above and below.
And in case you’re wondering, the finest Butler’s Rangers company amongst the staggering number that have been raised since 1975, came right out of Brantford, Ontario led by Scott Paterson, Zig Misiak and Rick Thompson. Their McDonell’s Company is a force to be reckoned with. How did they avoid the BAR restrictions? – they didn’t join, but they did come into the MAMH in 1993.
A significant move came in 1986, when a handful of Royal Yorkers recreated von Barner’s Brunswick Light Infantry under Claus Reuter and Norm Agnew. The original unit had seen extensive service in Burgoyne’s 1777 campaign and emerged badly mauled and, in later years, served as part of the 6,000-man German garrison of Quebec province. A substantial number of Brunswickers and Hessians settled in Canada after the war. This is another oft-forgotten Canadian history story.
Another offshoot came in 1993, when Mike Hurley, Dave Clare and Dick Reeves left the Yorker Grenadiers to found Westbrook’s Party of Brant’s Volunteers. The famous Mohawk, Captain Joseph Brant, led a mixed force of native and white warriors which fought using native tactics. Brant and his men served across upstate New York and in Michigan and the Ohio & Illinois country from 1776 to disbandment in 1784. The recreated unit has been in the MAMH since its creation.
In 1998, American reenactors Christian Cameron, Dana Bogdanski and Tom Callens, who had recreated Fraser’s British Rangers (Company of Select Marksmen), joined the MAMH and gave us our first dual citizenship unit. Governor Carleton had ordered the original company formed from detachments drawn from every British Regiment serving in Canada in 1776. This reinforced company was pivotal during Burgoyne’s 1777 expedition and was so chewed-up at Bennington, along with von Barner’s, that it had to be reconstituted in mid-campaign. The Company of Select Marksmen began a new thread in reenacting, conducting treks afoot and on the water through the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York where British and Provincial Regulars and their native allies held sway during the Revolution. The Marksmen and volunteers from other MAMH units march, pole, paddle, camp, eat, sleep and fight entirely using 18th Century equipment, often for a week or more. This is a remarkable departure from the luxury of reenactment tent encampments.
One of the most exciting additions to the MAMH in recent years has been the British Loyal Native Allies, representing Iroquois Confederacy and affiliated warriors led by Okwaho (Wolf Thomas) of the Six Nation’s reserve outside Brantford. Several native Canadians are in this unit, which brings an important element to our Rev War presentation. This unit is also a feature of the War of 1812 era when native parties played such a prominent role.
2004 saw the recreation of Herkimer’s Bateaux Company by Brandt Zatterberg, Peter Ferri and Dave Smith. Starting in 1781, this loyalist company, many of them black soldiers who later settled in Ontario, was responsible for moving men and stores from Coteau-du-Lac on the St. Lawrence upriver to Carleton Island and forward along Lake Ontario. After the peace, Herkimer’s transported disbanded loyalist troops and their families from Montreal to the new settlements along the river and Lake Ontario’s north shore. In addition to the usual small arms, the recreated company fields two reproduction bateaux and a swivel gun.
In 2005, Royal Yorker Drum Serjeant Mike Putnam, his Jessup’s fifer-wife Andrea and Yorker drummer Graham Lindsey founded a Loyalist Fife and Drum corps with the assistance of Brandt Zatterberg, in his role as manager of the United Empire Loyalist’s Adolphustown site. The Putnams reasoned that the drummers’ uniforms of this new corps would be red faced green, as this colour combination covered virtually all Northern Department loyalist regiments at some time in their existence.
When the Seven Years War hobby really began to heat up, men from the Royal Yorkers decided to enter the action – and once again, as American Provincials, not British troops. In 1987, Eric Lorenzen and Jeff Paine founded a detachment of the New York Provincial Regiment. This line infantry formation of Provincial regulars fought at Ticonderoga in 1758, at Fort Niagara and in the Montreal campaign in 1759 and at Havana, Cuba in 1761. But, it’s most significant campaign was against Fort Frontenac at modern Kingston in 1758 – the only significant British victory of that year. Some 1758 NY Prov’l veterans and many of their sons later served in the Royal Yorkers and Butler’s and it was fascinating to recognize that Fort Frontenac was rebuilt by the 2Bn, Royal Yorkers in 1782, which is presently the site of a Canadian Forces’ Staff College. Here was an historical loop of great Ontario significance. After over a decade of strange and wonderful appearances from Cape Breton Island, to Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio, this unit became dormant.
The following year saw the recreation of a Quebec militia unit from Fort Chambly district in Quebec founded by Andre Gousse, an ex-Yorker. Of the many US-based, French units already operating in this era, the Milice de Chambly was the first to truly speak and give orders in French. It was lovely; it was so damned Canadian!
Now, the MAMH has four companies of French Marines, LaCorne in Quebec under Daniel Roy, Portneuf in Ontario under Armand LaPointe, La Verendrye in Manitoba under Michelle Loiselle and le Detachement de la colonie under Martin Bricault and Louis Valiquette. These are supported by other units of Canadien militia under Francois Gousse and les volontaires of Bernard and Canadien militia artillery from Quebec City under Francois Gagnon. These units joined the MAMH over the span 1998-2003, but due to changes to liability insurance coverage procedures, some have left the MAMH.
Undoubtedly, the most striking unit of this era was Hobson’s Grenadiers, 40th Regt with their tall, embroidered mitre caps. The original 40th Regt was in part composed of Independent British Regular Companies from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Hobson’s company was part of the ad hoc Grenadier battalion – i.e. the Louisbourg Grenadiers – led by Wolfe during the successful attack on Louisbourg in 1758 and a critical part of the army on the Plains of Abraham in 1759. Led by Robert Henderson, Peter Twist and Larry Ostola, Hobson’s joined the MAMH in 1995, but, not long after their pivotal role in the CBC’s History of Canada documentaries, it became dormant.
I know I’m going on for too long, but I hope it’s an interesting story. Let’s face it – the War of 1812 is a key, early conflict to commemorate, especially for Ontarians. Unlike the Seven Years War, it doesn’t pit Canadians against Canadiens; we’ve got a Parliament to do that. And, unlike the American Revolution, all Ontarians recognize the 1812 role as Canadian history.
A great segment of the War of 1812 was fought on Ontario soil. British Sailors and Regulars and Canadian Sailors, Regulars and Militia and loyal native allies fought a brutal, but effective war and the Yanks were beaten. As the war matured, so did the Yanks, and they got harder and harder to handle. It’s a great time period to reenact and it will only get better as the bicentennial rolls along, although, unlike the Rev War, there will never be great enthusiasm for it in the States, so a solid opposition may continue to be sparse.
Victor Suthren has been a very active reenactor since at least 1975 when he commanded the British line at the Rev War bicentennial battle of Quebec. Victor wrote the manual for all reenacting at Fortress Louisbourg, the jewel in Parks Canada’s crown. Not long after 1975, he and Tony Parkhouse founded Roger’s 2nd Bn, King’s Rangers, a northern department loyalist unit. In 1995 and 96, Victor was a Second War Naval Commander at the War Museum’s sponsored events commemorating the 50th anniversaries of D-Day and VE-Day respectively.
But, in my opinion, Victor’s greatest love is 18&19th Century sail. In 1992, he commanded a flotilla of sailing vessels at the 200th anniversary of Simcoe’s Landing in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which had sailed across Lake Ontario from Toronto. What a beautiful scene, with the ships lying offshore and the troops drawn up to receive Simcoe.
Then, there were the Tall Ships that came from all over the world to concentrate at Louisbourg under the command of Admiral Suthren. The Seven Years’ War units were there to rather inaccurately commemorate the fall of Louisbourg in 1745 and it was a memorable affair.
And, remember Victor’s leadership in the battle of Put-in-Bay, and so, so many other events.
Victor’s intense interest in naval affairs probably spawned the several Naval units which primarily recreate the 1812 era. The Royal George Whaler and Shore Party and gun led by Richard Price joined MAMH in 1993 and the Ship’s Company of Penetanguishene with their gunboat, shore party and gun crew led by Ray Deschenes joined in 2001. But, those are only two of the active units that provide an important sea element to 1812 reenactments.
I am entirely unqualified to talk about the creation and original history of units such as he 49th Foot, the Battalion of Incorporated Militia (BIM,) the Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada (IMUC,) and the Norfolk Militia. I’ll leave that to others with more knowledge and specific experience.
The MAMH’s first venture into the War of 1812 was the Canadian Regiment of Fencible Infantry (CFenc), a Regular line infantry battalion raised in eastern Ontario and Quebec. Bob Anglin founded the CFenc in 1985 and it grew quickly to have a major presence on the field. When Bob retired from reenacting, CFenc went through a period of regression and is now on a major rebound under the guidance of Keith Lindsey and Dave Smith. Crysler’s Farm and Chateauguay were two major victories where the Fencibles fought, and they also garrisoned Forts York and George.
Peter Twist’s well-known King’s (8th)Regt was founded several years before it associated with the MAMH in 1996. As all you 1812vers know, the original King’s was significant in a great many battles including the American attack on York. Larry Stutt presently leads the unit.
In 1997, the Royal Yorkers’ artillery under Glen Smith and Colin Post adopted a second interpretation and recreated the 1st Lincoln Artillery, right in the heart of the Niagara Peninsula battleground. Glen actually lives in the original home of one of the unit’s officers that escaped the burning of Newark by Canadian renegades – that’s really living history!
In 1998, another unit joined the MAMH, when an offshoot of Butler’s Rangers led by Rick Thompson took the role of the 16th US Infantry Regt and provided a few much-needed Yanks to play against.
We in the east tend to think that nothing in reenacting happens west of Winnipeg. One of Canada’s the most exciting recreated units is headquartered in Calgary – Steele’s Scouts. Steele’s was an integral element of the Northwest Rebellion in the far west. The recreated unit is mounted and wears a mixture of working clothing and uniforms and carries both civilian and military arms just like the original unit. I’ve never seen these guys, but a relative of mine came across them riding beside the highway and was captivated. It should be noted that the Plains Cree Nation isn’t happy with this commemoration because of the original unit’s activities during the fighting and raiding their villages; however, nothing is to be gained by ignoring these realities.
Not to be ignored is the largest reenactment era in the world – the American Civil War. At times, commemorations of Civil War battles have almost as many reenactors on the field as troops at the original events. Many Canadians have been attracted to this colourful era and both Union and Confederate units have been established in Canada with an event schedule on both sides of the border. I can recall three units in particular – 1stand 10th Louisiana and the 49th New York. The latter was distinguished by the number of Canadians who served in its ranks during the conflict. As I know very little of the history of these recreated units, I won’t comment further.
A Canadian unit of roughly this same time period which was born out of the American Fenian threat and sent men out west during the Reil and North West rebellions was the 12th York Battalion. The original 12th Yorks were amalgamated in the 1930’s with the Queen’s Rangers to form the present Reserve army regiment, the Queen’s York Rangers. The recreated 12th was raised by Roger Holliday and Darcy Murray as an outgrowth of the 1st Louisiana.
Entering more modern times requires much more care. To begin with, the use of modern firearms is heavily restricted by law and closely monitored by the law enforcement agencies. As a second consideration, because to Criminal Code statutes, the portrayal of 20th century Canadian regiments and corps requires two approvals, the perpetuating regiment or association and National Defence Headquarters. Even when given, the approval is conditional upon the continued quality and performance of your portrayal.
Again, as another outgrowth of Service Rifle’s earlier ventures, the MAMH founded two generic Second War units in 1982 – Canadian ‘general list’ infantry which we called Maple Leaf Up and German infantry. The two portrayals allowed the MAMH to exhibit both sides of the conflict when called upon. Many appearances with static exhibits and active demonstrations were conducted in support of Canadian Forces Bases, Borden, Trenton, Kingston and Meaford, as well as the Canadian War Museum, Parks Canada and Toronto Historical Board sites.
After much work, approval came through the pipeline in 1990 to recreate the Perth Regiment of 11th Infantry Brigade, 5th Canadian Armoured Division (5CAD.) The original Perths, one of Canada’s many fine county regiments, was a line infantry unit and enjoyed an enviable service record. Over time, the reenactors enjoyed an excellent rapport with the regiment’s Veterans’ Association before it disbanded two years ago. The unit was founded by Ed Anderson, Bob Anglin, Brian Cox, Rob Grieve, Doug Lawrence and Gavin K. Watt. It is currently led by James McRae, Norm Drouillard and Pete Wells, with myself and Doug Lawrence still very much involved.
Our representation of German infantry was designated Kampfgruppe Norden (KgN). During the war, German forces were feared for their capability to quickly weld together disparate forces from many regiments and corps into highly effective forces known as Kampfgruppen. The unit’s two founders, Sylvester Haase and Gary Dare, both of SRSA and the Royal Yorkers, saw this procedure as an ideal vehicle to allow MAMH German troops to represent a wide variety of units. When Syl Haase passed away two years ago, the unit was re-named Kg Haase (KgH) in his honour. Steve Lehman, Pat McKeeman and Guy Despatie currently lead this group.
A new German unit, the 115th Panzer Grenadiers, emerged in 2005 under the direction of Markus Schneider and Brian Luscombe. These two German operations provide an important counter point to our Canadian units.
1991 saw the birth of the Signals Section, 5CAD with the approval of the appropriate authorities. 5CAD Signals operate original Second and Korean War wireless equipment, netting across southern Ontario and across the ocean. Amongst many other appearances, this unit often supports the fascinating Camp X site in Whitby where so many secret service operatives trained and where an intricate wireless operation monitored Axis radio signals.
In 1993, we received permission from RCN authorities and NDHQ to recreate a Second and Korean War Naval element,H.M.C.S., which became heavily engaged with the famous Tribal class destroyer, Haida, when she was birthed in Toronto. With the movement of the vessel to Hamilton, this unit unfortunately became dormant.
In 1995, a new organization appeared known as the Athene Section. This group, led by Penny Kuhne, Janice Lang and Susan Cox, commemorated Canada’s Women at War. Its animators portrayed WRENs, CWACs, WDs – RCAF, Nursing Sisters and home front workers and were able to create a truly spectacular static exhibit. Unfortunately, the unit is now dormant and much missed.
Two elite Canadian parachute infantry units came on board MAMH as spin offs from the Perth Regiment. In 1998, the First Special Service Force (Devil’s Brigade) was recreated with John Dallimore in command. This famous unit, composed of a blend of Canadian and American paratroopers, saw widespread action – first, in the abortive landings against the Japanese at Kiska Island in the Aleutians and then in heavy combat against the German and Italian fascist units in Italy at Monte le Defensa, Anzio and the relief of Rome. Their final campaign was the invasion of Southern France. The recreated FSSF is in strong support of the veterans’ organization, having appeared at reunions at CFB Petawawa and the old training base at Helena, Montana. MAMH’s Forcemen had a significant role in the History Channel’s special on this famous, but oft forgotten corps. Presently, John Dallimore, Mathew Drouillard and Kyle McNally lead the unit.
In 2001, the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion came on board created by Dan Copeland and Len Heidebrecht. Both men had extensive reenacting experience. The original unit saw service with the 6th British Airborne Division and played key roles in the D-Day Landings and the massive airborne lift over the Rhine River in 1945. 1CanPara was the only Canadian unit to penetrate far enough into Germany to link up with Soviet forces. Tim Sullivan presently leads this unit.
One of my favourite eras is the Great War of 1914-18. The accomplishments of Canada’s truly remarkable Expeditionary Force are mostly forgotten now, but that formation was the key assault corps (Shock Troops of the British Empire) of the British Army in 1917&18. Canadian Great War reenacting really started in Ottawa under MAMH members Bob Anglin, Dan Moreau and Len Skinner. To begin with, they and a few others including myself, represented a range of CEF battalions; however, in 1990, we received formal permission to recreate the 20th (Central Ontario) Battalion of 2nd Division.
Reproduction uniforms from the Armed Forces Centennial tattoo were put on permanent loan from the War Museum and the Toronto Historical Board, which gave us a great leap forward. Pattern ‘08 Webbing was incredibly scarce at the time and we were extremely fortunate that Rob Grieve located a large stockpile of original web at decent prices. The reader has to remember that when MAMH began this project, there were no reproduction uniforms or accoutrements. With a blend of original and reproduction insignia, we launched the 20th’s career under the leadership of Ed Anderson and Brian Cox, both SRSA and ex Yorkers.
At its high point, the 20th fielded a platoon of 30 men. Ed and Brian developed some of most imaginative and enjoyable events in my experience in four different eras. Their crowning achievement was putting a full section overseas in France and Belgium to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Armistice. Our 20th Bn appeared at the official Vimy Ridge ceremony; an official appearance at the Menin Gate in Ypres and at the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month, 75 years to the very second, we stood on parade at the official ceremony in Mons, Belgium where, after a spectacular 100-day drive, the Canadian Corps ended the war. Sadly, we were the only Canadian troops on parade!
The 20th tapered down for several years and was kept alive by Ron Atkins, who poured his heart and soul into the endeavour. As I write, Great War reenacting is on a new surge. 20th Bn member Fred Van Sickle and ex-member Al Fraser have restored one of the famous 18pr Fieldpieces, perhaps the only one in Canada. Work is underway in Tillsonburg to create a proper trench and bunker network.
Mark Giroux and Cliff Nyenhuis, former Canadian Great War reenactors of the 116th Bn, CEF, founded Soldiers of the Kaiser in 2003 to add the other dimension to remembering this terrible battleground, which some say was the true birthplace of Canada.
And again, not all reenacting takes place in the east. Mike King, a genuine cowboy from William’s Lake, BC recreates the Great War Cavalry regiment, Lord Strathcona’s Horse, presently a Regular Force Armoured regiment. Mike’s kit for himself, his mount and pack horse, is simply superb. Mike’s kind of lonely in the far north, but when he comes south to Calgary, he falls in with another Strathcona of the Great War.
Gavin K Watt