Commemorating Battle, Celebrating FriendshipSeptember 1, 2013
Pride of Baltimore II
Pos: Alongside Dieppe Park, Windsor Ontario
Wx: Calm, Overcast
This morning Pride of Baltimore II quietly stems the current of the Detroit River astern of Denis Sullivan and Sorlandet on the last day of Tall Ships Windsor. As with all the Ontario Ports we’ve visited, the welcome has been warm and enthusiastic here in perhaps the only Canadian city that lies SOUTH of its American neighbors. This evening, after the crowds of visitors clear the decks, Pride II will get underway for Put-in-Bay, Ohio, and the Re-enactment of the Battle of Lake Erie. Or, as our Canadian friend Lisa from the Toronto based Waters Edge Festivals & Events (WEFE) calls it, “The Rematch.”
While the Re-enactment is being “observed” on busy Labor Day for reasons of public visibility instead of the following Tuesday when it was actually fought, there is still no getting around the idea that at this time 200 years ago, we would have been deep behind enemy lines here in Windsor. Capture and interrogation would have been far more likely than the welcome and hospitality we’ve received. So the notion of slipping away down the Detroit River in the darkness seems appropriate, and even gives a contained sense of adventure and realism to our journey. We can indulge, but it’s a bit misplaced.
As part of such a large-scale re-enactment, we could easily become giddily swept away in the fun. Here we are, us captains and sailors, playing war on an epic scale. Like a bunch of kids, except instead of cardboard forts and cap guns or squirt guns, we have full-sized replicas, real pyrotechnics, and the skill, credentials and wherewithal to use them. But the somber reality is that two centuries ago some 1000 men turned the calm waters of Lake Erie in to one of the bloodiest battles in Naval History. Hundreds died, and none would ever be the same. For their sacrifice, the course of the War was altered. Afterwards America controlled the Western Lakes, a fact that would keep the British from pursuing the war, even after General Wellington and his armies were freed from fighting on the continent with Napoleon’s abdication and exile to Elba.
As one of only four 1812 replicas at the battle, Pride II will show well, even if there were no true Baltimore Clippers at Lake Erie. For our part, we will portray the US Brig Caledonian, a ship roughly Pride II’s size, with a crew compliment similar to our total number of combined passengers and crew. At the Battle of Lake Erie she was commanded by a Lieutenant Daniel Turner who, at 19, was half my age, and younger than any professional Pride II sailor aboard today.
In our portrayal, we represent one of the four American ships to close into the thick of the “hot” action with the British. The rest of Oliver Hazard Perry’s squadron lagged behind due to calm winds or cautious minds – history has never decided. Ever eager to do our part, I think it suits Pride II and her crew to be in the thick of things – it exemplifies the can-do volunteerism that is Pride, Inc.’s esprit du corps. Tomorrow, that part will be to re-enact a fierce and hard-fought battle. But for now, as it has been for all of the summer, and all of Pride II’s 25 years, our part is to inspire the public imagination and foster goodwill. Here in Windsor, in Erie next week, or back in Baltimore this coming fall.
On a short break from that busy work of enthralling the public, I had a chance to visit Amherstburg, Ontario, yesterday. Located just south of Windsor, this was the site of the shipyards that built the British Fleet for the Battle of Lake Erie. The town was quaint, historic, and bustling with people, most of them there to see Lynx and Friends Good Will as the two ships lay alongside on their own missions of inspiration and education. It was my first visit to Amherstburg, and as a native of Erie, where the American squadron for the Battle was built, it seemed fitting to see the 1813 counter-part of my home town just a day or so before the Bicentennial Re-enactment.
My wife and I were brought there by our friend Natisha, also from WEFE. Soon Lisa, Kyra, Lea and other Canadian friends would join us to socialize at the historic Lord Amherst Pub, along with Captain Stefan Edick and some crew from Lynx. Shifting venues for dinner, broke bread together and raised a few toasts to the successes of the summer. At the end of the evening bid each other good night with embraces and jokingly teased each other about the upcoming “rematch.” Canadians, Americans, together, engaged not on a battlefield, but over a dinner table. Not screaming over cannon fire, but laughing over jokes.
This is the true victory of 2013. And while we should, must, and will commemorate the Battle of Lake Erie, the War of 1812, and all those who suffered and died to create our collective history, we celebrate the fact we no longer need these battles or wars with our Northern Neighbors, that our shared border goes on a full continent undefended, and that these 199 years (and counting) our battles are just for show.
Captain Jamie Trost and the Battle (re-enactment) Bound crew of Pride of Baltimore II