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Step into History at London's Fanshawe Pioneer Village

© By Ann Wallace

The city of London, Ontario is thriving, modern and peaceful; however, each summer, groups of armed men assemble, boats carry others, and, guns at the ready, stealthily, they make their way down the Thames River. There are loud gunfire exchanges; the smell of gunpowder hangs ominously in the air and many fall to the ground, mortally wounded.
     Despite the bloodshed, it's great fun because this is the annual re-enactment of a typical War of 1812 battle, staged at wonderful Fanshawe Pioneer Village in the north-east corner of London. One of the largest 1812 re-enactments in south-western Ontario, it attracts 400 acting soldiers and families, craftspeople and merchants involved in the business of war at the beginning of the 19th century. It attracts myriad visitors from locals enjoying a fine day out to serious historians from afar, ensuring that these battles and skirmishes are conducted correctly. The costumes are accurate and resplendent, the flags correct, the weapons genuine. The only thing inauthentic is the fact that the 'dead' soldiers arise and join in the merriment!


     The re-enactors arrive from Canada and the United States, keen to meet and greet in friendship to keep history alive. They gather and camp for the weekend in a large field adjacent to the Village. Visitors wander about and talk to the soldiers and officers, their wives and children. They peer into the tents and cooking pots and pat the regimental dog. Everyone is fashioned in period dress with no anachronisms allowed: zippers, sneakers, plastic bags.
     In the Village, merchants and craftspeople: the lace-maker and the wool-dyer, the carpenter and the potter, the gunsmith and the weaver demonstrate and sell their wares.
     At the appointed hour, soldiers gather on the beach to greet the enemy, approaching from down river. A battle ensues and combatants tumble while spectators happily applaud. Later, there's the strident sound of drums and bugles, and everyone rushes to the site of the next battle out on an open field.

     Of course, re-enactment weekend is not the only time to visit Fanshawe Pioneer Village with its period buildings and costumed interpreters, a 'living museum,' located in the rustic Fanshawe Conservation Area. The Village is open from Victoria Day weekend in May until Thanksgiving in October and for special events during Christmas holidays. The oldest buildings are the Elgie Log House, a typical settlers' log home, and Peel House, the childhood home of artist Paul Peel. Of course, there's a church, farm buildings with animals, a blacksmith, school and much more. Every building is accessible, and visitors are greeted by costumed interpreters, delighted to share their skills and stories. In addition, there's a safe beach, lots of open space for picnics and a lovely hiking trail alongside the river.
     Every season provides a wide variety of special events. In spring, the Queen's May birthday is celebrated; there's a 'Spring on the Farm' weekend; United Empire Loyalists Day is observed as well as the first of the season's Vintage Baseball game. Summer brings a Pioneer Survivor Day Camp, Treasure Hunts, Lantern Mystery Tours, more baseball and the 'The Fanshawe Frolic' - a popular Victorian dance weekend. Fall is a favourite time of year as the scenery changes into its most splendid outfit and the Village welcomes 'The Invasion of Upper Canada' re-enactors, a 'Fall on the Farm' week-end and haunted hayrides.
     Shopping and lunching are catered to at Fanshawe. The Denfield General Store dates from 1877, when it served as a general store and post office for the community of nearby Denfield. A fine example of balloon-frame construction, it served its community with every essential item for life at the time from sewing needs to musical instruments. Today's visitor can see and purchase old fashioned children's toys and candy, a variety of hand-crafted articles and period reproductions together with a good selection of history books. The Pioneer Village Café specializes in the period baking along with tempting homemade soups, sandwiches and salads. Visitors eat in the rustic building or outside on the deck that overlooks the town square.
     A visit to Fanshawe Pioneer Village offers a wonderful day out for the entire family. Children learn much of life in early Canada and for older folk, time spent here is a nostalgic immersion into a simpler yet not always peaceful time.


Ann Wallace is editor of The Travel Society Magazine www.thetravelsociety.com.

Photo credits
Ann Wallace

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