By Katherine Grant
Celebrations marking 200 years of peace between Canada and the United States have come to a close but Grimsby residents can be proud of their contribution to the historic milestone.
Residents, businesses and the town stepped up with time, energy and funds to create lasting projects, some of which went on to win awards for innovation.
“There is a real legacy in Grimsby that came from the War of 1812 celebrations,” said Brian Purdy, co-chair together with Bruce Atkinson, of Grimsby’s 1812 Bicentennial Committee.
Grimsby residents, said Purdy, can lay claim and bragging rights to having Canada’s first Peace Garden. The garden is located at the foot of Elizabeth Street, next to the historic pump house.
“We were very fortunate,” said Purdy. “We had the property and we had the budget.”
With the support of the town, the 5,000 square-foot garden, at a cost of $15,000, was planted in 2012.
“The Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, David Onley, came for the official ribbon-cutting in June 2012. It was pretty exciting for Grimsby to have him here,” noted Purdy.
When Paul Phelps was looking for a way to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Phelp’s Homes, Purdy suggested a gazebo would showcase the garden.
Phelp’s Homes created a custom-design based on the shape of Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and soon an award-winning structure took shape and was donated to the town. A cannon ball found by Phelps’ grandfather was incorporated into the design. Legend has it the American cannon ball was among items left behind when the Americans retreated 200 years ago. It serves as a reminder that The Forty was not always peaceful.
In 2012, Phelp’s Homes was presented with the Niagara Homebuilders’ Association Award of Excellence for Most Innovative outdoor space.
The Grimsby Firefighters Association donated $2,200 for a flag pole and plaque and Tom Wills of Wills Chevrolet and John Dunstall at the Fifth Wheel donated two park benches, said Purdy.
“It was that kind of enthusiasm from people and businesses in town that made the project a success,” Purdy added.
In June 2013, a re-enactment of the Engagement at the Forty brought the conflict to life for local residents who were invited to watch. The skirmish, which took place on the 200th anniversary on the exact spot, was recorded and an award-winning video was produced by Purdy’s Mediaimage production company. About 3,000 came out to watch that day.
“The volunteer committee did a tremendous job in gathering information around this significant event and then the actual re-enactment was fantastic,” said Mayor Bob Bentley.
“The reproduction of this event was a terrific history lesson for all who attended or read about the events and then to win accolades and awards for the re-enactment video production has given significant positive global recognition to our community and our place in history.”
Next Tuesday, Feb. 17 in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a re-enactment will take place to mark the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent, signed Christmas Eve in 1814. It came into effect Feb. 17, 1815, marking the end of the war. This is the final event celebrating 200 years of peace.