The tenth edition of Doors Open Brant had a decidedly militant flavour.
Of the 13 sites across Brant that opened their doors to the public on Saturday, most had a connection to the War of 1812.
At D’Aubigny Creek Park in Brantford, Sue Draper and her band of reenactors explained how members of the D’Aubigny family repelled American raiders that had laid waste to various settlements along the Grand River, including a battle at Malcolm’s Mills in Oakland that was recreated on Saturday.
Reenactment is a kind of “experimental history,” Draper said.
Along with satisfying historical curiosity, the veteran reenactor finds it a relief to pack up the car, turn off the phone and escape into the past.
“There’s always a point where, just for a minute, you can glimpse it,” Draper said. “And that’s intoxicating. You want to do it again.”
The redcoats were her son, Patrick Macdonnell, and his friends Brandon Showers and Everett Lefebvre.
Wearing black shako caps and hand-stitched uniforms from the 8th Regiment of Foot, a British unit that fought in the Revolutionary War in the United States and later took part in the War of 1812, Macdonnell barked orders to his troops as they drilled.
To complete the period ensemble, each soldier wore a bayonet belt with a cartouche to hold gunpowder and ammunition.
“It’s really fun to get out on the field and practice all the drills. You learn how to fire a musket,” said Showers, 14.
Muskets did not have the pinpoint accuracy of today’s weaponry, he explained. The small metal balls rattled down the barrel and could launch in any direction.
“It’s worth noting that historically, the battles weren’t about killing people, they were about intimidating the other side into running away,” he said.
If the fear of indiscriminate rifle fire didn’t scare the opposing army, an advancing tide of redcoats with bayonets fixed to the ends of their muskets would do the trick, Showers added.
“You’re already morally shaken, so when you see this big wall of spikes coming at you, you’re going to run away,” he said.
Doors Open participants toured cemeteries in Burford and Mount Pleasant, visited heritage sites in Oshweken and Brantford, and researched their family trees at the Six Nations Tourism Office and Ontario Genealogical Society.
“I’ve heard people remark many times that they’ve intended to explore this or that aspect of our local history but it has been an event like Doors Open Brant that has moved them to act – and they are pleasantly surprised by what they have learned,” said Doors Open Brant honourary chair Ruth Lefler.