October 31, 2012

He keeps them awake

Sagoyewatha, also known as Red Jacket, was the Seneca War Chief who fought with the Americans during the War of 1812. The name Sagoyewatha means ‘he keeps them awake,’ which refers to his great oratory abilities. The name Red Jacket refers to his favourite embroidered coat given to him by the British for his service in the American Revolution.

Red Jacket fought on the British side during the American Revolution. When the British were defeated, Red Jacket was part of a delegation that met with George Washington. The delegation ceded Iroquois lands in upstate New York to the new American government for their alliance with the British. During the meeting with Red Jacket, Washington presented a peace medal to Red Jacket, which he worn in many portraits.

Red Jacket
Red Jacket was a reformed drunkard who advocated for social harmony through temperance. He rose to prominence due to his personal political talent as an advisor to the hereditary leadership. He managed to outshine the hereditary Peace Chiefs and dominated tribal/village society.

During the War of 1812, Red Jacket decided to keep his warriors out of the war. However, during the British raid in December 1813 along the American side of the Niagara, Red Jacket and his warriors helped to defend people from British attacks. By July 1814 Red Jacket and his warriors fought as part of the American Left Division invading into the Niagara. After the Battle of Chippawa, which saw many Iroquois fighting their own people, Red Jacket sent a peace envoy to the Grand River Iroquois. Red Jacket proposed that the Iroquois on both sides of the Niagara withdraw from the war. Due to Red Jacket’s proposal, many Iroquois on the British side decided to withdraw from the war.

Today you can see a statue of Red Jacket in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. If you are passing through the area, make sure you stop to pay tribute to a brave warrior.

October 24, 2012

Remember, remember, the fifth of November

Many have heard the rhyme: remember, remember, the fifth of November, Gunpowder Treason and Plot, in reference to Guy Fawkes Night. Guy Fawkes Night usually involves a bonfire of an effigy of Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605.

Guy Fawkes burning at Old Fort Erie
On November 5, 1605 a group of English Catholics planned to blow up Parliament with a massive amount of gunpowder placed in the basement. If successful, King James I would be killed along with the leading Protestant nobility. The conspirators hoped to crush the leading nobility in order to bring a return to Catholicism in England. The plan failed when Guy Fawkes was captured and sentence to be executed.

Days after the failed attempt on King James’ life, people were permitted to hold bonfires to celebrate the king’s survival. In 1606, Parliament passed an act to recognize November 5th as a national day of thanksgiving. Ever since then in England, and many other countries, the tradition of burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes lives on. During the War of 1812, soldiers and citizens in Canada celebrated this tradition with bonfires and other festivities.
Make sure you remember, remember to visit Old Fort Erie, Fort George and the Drummond Hill Cemetery, among others, for their yearly Halloween tours.

October 17, 2012


Halloween has many different traditions but perhaps one of the most popular ones involves jack-o’-lanterns. The jack-o’-lantern story has many different variations but many are similar.

Stingy Jack was an unsavoury character who often got into trouble, mainly due to drinking. One day the devil appeared to Jack and said it was time for his soul to descend to hell. Jack asked the devil if he could turn into a coin so that Jack could buy one last drink. The devil agreed but Jack did not buy another drink with the coin. Jack took the coin and placed it into his wallet next to a cross, stripping the devil of his powers. The devil screamed out and promised to never come back for Jack’s soul if released. The devil vanished as Jack released him.

Eventually Jack died and his soul was left in limbo. Jack was too wicked to go to heaven and the devil promised Jack that he would not take his soul. This meant that Jack was forced to wonder the earth in search of a place to rest. The devil mocked Jack by giving him an ember that would always burn the flames of hell. Jack placed the ember in a turnip to help light his way.

As this story became popular in North America, the turnip was replaced with a pumpkin. Today we turn pumpkins into jack-o’-lantern to help light Jack’s way on his never-ending journey.
If you would like to learn more about the traditions of Halloween and hear some ghost stories, make sure you visit Old Fort Erie, Fort George and the Drummond Hill Cemetery, among others, for their yearly Halloween tours.

October 10, 2012

Not one in ten thousand knows your name

This line comes from a song by Stan Rogers called Macdonell on the Heights. Rogers laments that although Macdonell led a charge up the heights to retake the redan battery during the Battle of Queenston Heights, his death from the charge is not remembered by many.

John Macdonell was born in April 1785 in Scotland. At the age of seven he came with his family to Canada where at the age of 23 he became a lawyer. He later earned a seat in the legislature and in September 1811 he was appointed attorney-general.

Macdonell was not loved by all, especially William Baldwin who duelled with the attorney-general, but his position brought him closer to Isaac Brock, who asked Macdonell to serve as his aide. Macdonell was a lieutenant-colonel in the York Militia where he served as Brock’s aide with energy and poise.
Plaque marking the spot near where Macdonell fell

During the Battle of Queenston Heights Macdonell was not far behind Brock, who had left in the early hours from Fort George to the site of the American invasion. It was not long after Brock’s failed advance up the heights that Macdonell led his own desperate charge to retake the redan battery. Macdonell’s small force did push the Americans back briefly, but a musket ball hit Macdonell’s horse, which reared up as a second musket ball struck Macdonell’s back. Macdonell was shot four times but it did not prevent him from attempting to stand and continue the attack. Fellow officers pulled the lieutenant-colonel from the battlefield as the attack failed to capture the redan battery.

The next day, Wednesday, October 14 in the morning Macdonell succumbed to his wounds. The Niagara Bee lamented: “one of the most enterprising men … has appeared and passed away from us like a brilliant meteor in the firmament.” As in life, Macdonell continued to be at Brock’s side in death as the two men were buried together at Fort George on October 16. Even today the two men serve together under Brock’s Monument on Queenston Heights.
Don’t forget that this weekend is the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Queenston Heights. Make sure you check out all the activities taking place to commemorate this historic event. Click here for details.

October 03, 2012

Brock's Final Resting Place(s)

The current monument towering over Queenston Heights honouring Isaac Brock is not the first. In 1815, the legislature of Upper Canada approved the creation of a monument honouring the late general. Work started on the monument in 1823 and was dedicated on October 13, 1824, 12 years after Brock’s death. A solemn ceremony took place as Brock and his aide John Macdonell’s remains were removed from Fort George and interred under the new monument.

First monument after the explosion
In 1840, the monument was severely damaged by an explosion. Benjamin Lett, who was said have had republican sympathies, was held responsible for the bombing. Lett managed to escape to the U.S. were he was eventually pardoned after committing nefarious acts. Lett eventually died in Milwaukee after being mysteriously poisoned.
After the bombing, a committee formed to create a new monument. Brock and Macdonell’s remains were removed from the damaged monument and placed in the Hamilton family cemetery in Queenston during the construction of the new monument. The new monument’s cornerstone was laid on October 13, 1853 with Brock and Macdonell’s remains being re-interred under the new monument where they currently rest. The monument officially opened in 1859 with many in attendance.
Town of Queenston from atop the monument

One of the most impressive features of the new monument is a statue of Brock at the summit. From the top, you can see the heights and the Niagara River. During the Queenston Heights events from October 12 to 14, the monument will be open to the public. In addition, guided tours of the battlefield will begin at the monument throughout the weekend. Click here for more information.