Jeff Green | Jul 10, 2008
Feature Article - July 10, 2008
Back toHomeFeature Article - July 10, 2008 Verona Couple Seek New Recruits to take Up ArmsBy Julie Druker
Ken & Linda Willis
If your passion is Canadian history with a penchant for the battlefield around the turn of the 19th century, here is your chance to get on board and join the fight.
If it is your dream to fire a musket, a cannon or a fancy side arm; wield a knife, sword or bayonet; play a fife or drum; cook Darby cake over a camp fire or loyally follow the troops, you can count your lucky stars. Ken and Linda Willis of Verona can make your dream come true. In fact, they want nothing better than to recruit you!
The Willises are both members of the Military Re-enactment Society of Canada and belong to the Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada (IMUC), based in Fort York, Toronto. They are searching for members to join a new unit they would like to form in eastern Ontario.
The couple, along with all IMUC members, spend a great deal of their free time re-enacting battles of the War of 1812 and are anxious to share their knowledge and passion with any new recruits.
Both history buffs from the Ottawa area who relocated to Verona two years ago, Ken and Linda take their hobby quite seriously.
At our meeting both are dressed in their 1812 attire and are sitting at a small table in their yard where they have carefully erected two canvas military wedge tents and have arranged some commonly used historic items, including kitchen pots, dishes and utensils.
Their clothes are old-fashioned cotton garments hand made by Linda. She sports a bonnet, a long skirt and tie up vest. Ken dons a blouse with large brass buttons, cotton string tied pants and a felt hat.
Linda is a “camp follower”. Wives of militia men did not fight as soldiers but would often follow their husbands into battle and support them by cooking and maintaining their camps.
Wives of soldiers often thought it safer to leave their homes, which were sometimes pillaged by poorer soldiers in desperate need of food, shelter and clothing. Before leaving, the women were known to bury their china and silver on their properties, hoping to collect it upon their return.
Ken is a militia soldier and has spent many hours performing drills. He has learned how to shoot the guns, muskets and cannons used in the battles. Loaded with black powder, these weapons fire, as Ken says, “with all of the smoke and the bangs but without any of the bullets.”
He has learned how to march and perform many of the key operations involved in the battle scenes.
This weekend of July 12 and 13 the couple will be re-enacting The Battle of Crysler’s Farm of Nov 11, 1813 at Upper Canada Village, a national historic site in Morrisburg, Ontario where the IMUC helped the British expunge the last American soldiers from Canadian turf.
The weekend begins with the usual Friday night nip of sherry, which is accompanied by a toast to King George. On Saturday morning there will be a safety inspection of all weapons and ammunition to ensure a wound-free battle.
The battles are re-enacted on Saturday and Sunday. Ken explains that the re-enactments are interpretations of the original battles and obviously can never be 100% true to the actual battle itself, though all possible efforts are made to create authenticity.
Spectators line the battlefield to watch the re-enactment. Commentators are present at each battle to inform the audience as the events unfold.
Linda especially enjoys the children in the audience. “They get so excited by the events and it is really a pleasure to talk with them and answer all of their questions.”
On Saturday members enjoy a “board supper“, basically a giant potluck, where many traditional dishes of food are prepared in the camps and spread out on boards for all to enjoy.
Other activities include period music, where wooden fifes are played along with drums from the era. “Settlers” are participants who show up in costume to camp and participate and often sell crafts, candy and other goods commonly made at the time.
The perfect recruits must obviously love early Canadian history, love to camp, meet people, be willing to travel and own a car.
While both men and women can fight as soldiers, new recruits who want to handle weapons must be at least 18 years of age. Younger children can be “camp followers” and join the fife and drum groups.
With the 200th year anniversary of the War of 1812 looming, now would an exciting time to join the IMUC and get a real taste of what “joining up” was like back in 1812. The Willises would surely welcome you with open arms.
For more information contact Linda or Ken at (613) 374-3081 and/or visit the IMUC website at www.imuc.org