It is not every day that one gets invited to dine with a General. Particularly one who fell on the field of battle two hundred years ago!
It was just such an invitation I received from my sister-in-law, and of course accepted with alacrity. Thanks Adrienne. With a grandish title herself (Regional Project Manager for the Western Corridor War of 1812 Bicentennial Alliance), she was down to film some morning show segments with Lori DeAngelis for CHCH TV, as well as ensure that Major General Isaac Brock got to all the events during his historic walk from “Muddy York” (aka Toronto) to Port Dover.
The dinner in question held in the Round Room at the Temple of the Scottish Rite of Hamilton was warmly hosted by the Hamilton Branch of the United Empire Loyalists, many of who turned out in period costume. I sat between the General and a Captain of the Caldwell Rangers (played by Zig Mistiak, Chair of the Brant County War of 1812 Committee.)
The charming Bob Rennie UE (the initials after his name mean he can trace his lineage to colonists who
remained faithful to the Crown during the War of 1812), portrays the General. It must be said he is splendid in his role, with a mastery of the history of the period, including stories of tracking down his ancestry to Lt. Colonel Henry Bostwick.
After a dinner full of formalities, including parading of colours, the British Anthem, the Loyalist Prayer, many introductions, toasts to the (current) Queen, and to King George the 3rd, the General was invited to address the gathering which he did in rousing style, calling us all to join him in the fight for Canada.
Considered by many at the time to be “the best man in Canada”, he called us to arms. “The British troops, Militia, and native warriors among you this day have come to take Ft Detroit away from the Americans.” he began. “You, and your ancestors, have chosen this land. You, and your ancestors, fought for the way of life you now live. You have sworn loyalty to the Crown. Now is the time to defend all that you have from the American aggressors… I now require your zealous co-operation in defense of the Province and repulse of the enemy.”
His rousing speech was met with enthusiastic Huzzahs from the crowd. Stirred by his oratory, many of us left the dinner to follow him as he retraced his steps to a point just below the escarpment. Two hundred years prior he had spent the night there, after a march from Dundurn Castle. It was quite a hike!
As we followed the General in his magnificent hat and uniform (complete with sword), we were introduced to landmark Hamilton buildings, passing bemused residents and several Hamilton restaurants on the way. (For instance, I now know where the well-reputed Ethiopian restaurant, Wass, is on James Street.)
I think the General – who was apparently fond of women’s company, but preferred brains over beauty – would be amazed by the industry generated in Canada as a result of his endeavors and the War. In an earlier column I mentioned a pear cider named after him and made by the Puddicombe Cider Company. Sure enough there is also a brace of 1812 wines by Palatine Hills Estate. They make a Merlot Cabernet ($13.20) that won a Bronze medal at the Ottawa Wine Challenge, and a crisp, unoaked Chardonnay ($12.20), both at your local liquor store. Fittingly, some of the proceeds of these wines are going to fund regional bicentennial commemoration activities. Committed to the preservation of our history, Palatine has also partially funded a history scholarship at MacMaster and Brock Universities.
Meanwhile, beer drinkers can currently also find an ale called Rifleman’s Ration, at the LCBO. Made by Black Creek Historic Brewery, and at $3.95 for the 500 ml. bottle, it’s meant to be drunk warm just as the soldiers got theirs from their garrison’s brewery. Others are joining the festivities as well: Pelee Island Winery has a couple of specially-labelled 1812 wines, and you can drop into Tourism Burlington for some hard tack biscuits made by Mrs. B’s Gifthouse that you could soften in your tipple of choice.
Finally, for the kid in all of us, there are two 1812-themed ice creams from Hewitt’s Dairy (available at some Denningers, Scenic Paradise in Hamilton, and Busy Bee Variety in Aldershot). They’re called “Redcoat Rations” and “1812 Cannonballs”. In her CHCH interview, Adrienne gleefully told Lori that the former should really appeal to the younger set, with strawberry ripple on a green base representing the blood and gore on the battlefields. Mini chocolate rounds are scattered throughout like so many tiny cannon balls.
Brock would be proud, I guess...
For more pictures, click here.