Wake up and smell the gunpowder at Wasaga Under Siege bicentennial Aug. 14 – 17
If the kids give you a hard time about actually heading outdoors this summer, take them to Wasaga Under Siege this August at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, about 90 minutes north of Toronto. Tell them it’ll be like watching a video game, only for real.
Between August 14 and 17, designated areas of Wasaga Provincial Park will be transformed into an 1812 battlefield, complete with soldiers firing canons with real gunpowder, troops dropping on the battlefield and a narrator giving a play-by-play of all the action, just like Hockey Night in Canada. How cool is that?
The War of 1812
Wasaga Under Siege is an annual event commemorating the epic War of 1812 battle in August 1814 between Americans, British, French (“Canadian”) and First Nations. This living history festival, which honours the bicentennial of the battle this year, allows visitors to see, smell and hear what the battle must have been like.
“We get thousands of visitors coming to watch the re-enactment every year,” says park superintendent John Fisher. “You really get a sense of what warfare must have been like 200 years ago and how hard we fought to hold on to what is now Canadian soil.”
Vastly outnumbered by American troops, the epic battle saw British, French (Canadian) and Aboriginal forces fight valiantly to maintain their stronghold at Wasaga Beach yet the American troops won the battle by sinking the British supply ship, the HMS Nancy in the Nottawasaga River.
Seeking to avenge the sinking, on August 31, Lieutenant Miller Worsley of the British Royal Navy and his meagre force of 92 men paddled 360 miles to Mackinac (Michigan) where they quietly skirted two American ships, the Tigress and Scorpion. On September 3, Worsley heroically led his force in four rowboats to launch a surprise attack against the Tigress, which they captured at midnight in Detour Passage. The Scorpion was lured into position and also captured the next day.
It is this kind of dogged determination to defend “Canadian” soil that Wasaga Under Siege commemorates.
“A lot of the current boundaries that exist between the U.S. and Canada today were determined by many of the War of 1812 battles and the battle for the HMS Nancy was part of that. The fact that she was receiving supplies for the British forts that were dotted along the Nottawasaga River and delivered by bateau is hugely significant. She kept those people alive through the winter,” says Fisher.
“Because of that kind of courage and determination, against all odds, the British were able to maintain British interests and keep the Americans back. I think what is even more significant today is that Canada and the United States have been able to maintain that peaceful boundary for more than 200 years. Two hundred years of peace is a lesson to Canadians and a lesson to the world.”
The Nancy lives on
After the Nancy was sunk, her sunken hull actually formed a barrier in the river, which formed a tiny, muddy island over time. The remains of the hull were eventually lifted from the water and now rest in the Nancy Island Historic Site, which is located at Wasaga Beach. You can visit the Nancy and learn more of her history at the Wasaga Beach Welcome Centre.
To plan your visit to Wasaga Under Siege, visit the Friends of Wasaga Beach website here. To see some cool footage of the re-enactment, watch this video on the Wasaga Beach Provincial Park website.