February 20, 2013

Winter survival

During the War of 1812, winter months challenged soldiers with harsh conditions. However, the British Army was well adapted to the harsh winter conditions in Upper Canada by the time of the war.

With the arrival of winter, soldiers changed their routine. Breakfast was served before the men went to work in winter months in order to give the men much needed energy to work outside. Soldiers also had more clothing to add in winter months. Normally British soldiers wore grey wool trousers along with a red wool coat. In the winter, a heavy wool grey overcoat known as a greatcoat was added to provide soldiers with some extra warmth. Although the coat provided extra warmth, it was cumbersome and difficult to work with it on.
William 'Tiger' Dunlop

At times the cold winter months proved quite treacherous for some. During the winter of 1814 to 1815, a British surgeon named Dr. William “Tiger” Dunlop found himself in Lower Canada. One day while in the woods Dunlop became separated from his party when he chased after some partridges. Dunlop was unable to find his way back to his party as the sun began to set. He endeavoured to keep moving in the snow in order stave-off the cold but soon he grew sleepy. Dunlop decided on a new plan:

“I took off my snow shoes, and poured a quantity of rum into my moccasins; I buttoned my jacket, secured my fur cap about my ears, drew on my fur gloves, and calling a little dog I had with me, and laying my hands over my face, I made him lie on the top of all.”

Dunlop managed to fall asleep but when the sun rose, he found his feet were frozen. He managed to work his way back to the camp where ‘some old French Canadians’ took off his moccasins and rubbed his feet with snow. Dunlop said he felt extreme pain, along with fainting, when the sensation returned to his feet. After three weeks of bed rest, Dunlop recovered from his ordeal. Unfortunately, his little dog, Moses, died shortly after reaching camp. 

On February 23, you can join Fort Niagara for their Winter Survival event. You can experience what life was like for soldiers stationed at Fort Niagara in the winter and learn some 1812 winter survival techniques. I’m sure these techniques don’t include pouring rum into your shoes. Click here for more information.

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