Rise To Rebellion
(Georgina Pioneer Village, Keswick Ontario)


by Gary McWilliams (aka Festival Nomad)

A Rebel With A Cause!

We drove the back roads to Keswick. It was a sunny spring morning and we were ready to “Rise To Rebellion”! The Georgina Pioneer Village, located in Keswick, was hosting its first “Rebellion” re-enactment. Although the rebellion took place in December, the folks at the Village decided it would be more comfortable for visitors to view it in a warmer month.

I couldn’t agree more! The actual rebellion took place in December 1837 near Niagara. The leader of the rebellion was none other that William Lyon MacKenzie, grandfather of Canada’s 10th Prime Minister, William Lyon MacKenzie King! The following is a notation shown on literature handed out by the village staff . “This is as accurate a reproduction as possible, excerpted from the Proclamation of William Lyon MacKenzie to the inhabitants of Upper Canada, on Dec.13, 1837 from Navy Island in the Niagara. The Proclamation, farsighted in its aims and spirit, would have formed the new Constitution of Canada as the 1837 rebels envisioned it. Before it could be implemented however, hundred of Canadians in Upper and Lower Canada were jailed, shot, hanged and sent in slave ships to penal colonies of Australia and New Zealand, never to return.” When we arrived at the Village, MacKenzie was already speaking to his supporters. “We are wearied of oppression and resolve to throw off the yoke. Rise, Canadians, as one man, and the…

The Rebellion…

After we had paid our admission fee, we were directed to the Village’s curator/manager, Phil Rose-Donahoe. Phil greeted us and than gave us an overview of the upcoming re-enactment activities. Unfortunately we were late for William Lyon Mackenzie’s speech (although we could hear his finishing words in the background). We were, however, in time to hear Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, Sir Francis Bond Head’s speech. The Lieutenant Governor mounted the stage and began, in a loud voice, his address to the on looking crowd.

After the speech the audience was directed to the battle area. From the north end of the village we could hear the rebels preparing to confront the British troops. At the other end of the village, the soldiers were methodically checking their equipment and readying themselves for the confrontation with the rebels! Soon both sides met and a skirmish ensued. Shots were fired from both sides! First from the rebels and then from the British troops.

The professional British soldiers overpowered the rebels and the rebels were forced to beat a hasty retreat! MacKenzie escaped into a nearby home and cleverly avoided capture through an ingenious disguise. All the way through the re-enactment a historically dressed narrator described he action that was taking place.

All this added to the excitement and enjoyment of the re-enactment! When all the smoke had cleared, MacKenzie had escaped and the British were in firm control once again. It would take 30 years before Canada would become a country! With the rebellion over, it was time to explore the re-enactment encampment and the Georgina Pioneer Village.

The “British” Encampment…

The “Rise to Rebellion” re-enactment had taken place in front of the Joseph Vandenberg General Store. After the re-enactment Judi and I decided to take a look at the store.

The inside was neat and tidy and had all the items you would expect to find in such a store. Back out side we moved south towards the “British” encampment.

It had bee set up in a large field that was located just across from the “Cedar Brae” Schoolhouse. The schoolhouse had been built circa 1890. Inside the school an activity area had been set up for visiting children. After visiting the schoolhouse, we headed over to the encampment.

Re-enactors and village visitors were milling around the area. As we walked through admiring the encampment, I thought about how our forefathers must have lived. With all the modern conveniences we have today, it’s hard to imagine how they could have existed and thrived in those conditions!

Incredibly, these enthusiastic and dedicated re-enactor that we were now amongst, live this way many weekends per year and love it! During our tour of the encampment a group of re-enactors had formed a ring. Inside the ring one of the re-enactors was handing out service awards for years of involvement.

A few were receiving their 10 and 15 year certificates! This certainly proves that most re-enactors are VERY dedicated to their hobby! We quietly left the encampment and headed back towards the General Store. Beyond the General Store there was more Village to discover…

Turning The Corner…

Having passed the General Store, we turned left. As we walked east down the street, there was a house on the left, the Smallwood Log Cabin.

This is where William Lyon MacKenzie fled from the British troop during the re-enactment and eventually escaped capture by dressing as a woman. We entered the house to investigate.

It was a log cabin with a Great room in the front and a kitchen at the back. Upstairs was a bedroom. The re-enactors we met in the cabin were demonstrating different heritage crafts. Across from the cabin was the Free Methodist Church.

Inside three musician re-enactors were playing music on period musical instruments. We sat and listen. The music was great! At the front of the church was a magnificent organ. The house next to the church was the Darius Mann House. The inside was beautifully restored with wonderful vintage furniture. We walked through the main room to a large serviceable kitchen. While we were in the house a re-enactor told us about the house and some of its history.

The final house on the south side of the road was the Roche’s Point Post Office. The building is still being restored. We were told that it was going to become an eating facility. I am not sure if this is true.

However, for this event, a loom had been set up inside. A lady was at the loom showing visitors how the loom worked and how intricate its design could be. It was now time to cross the road…

Meeting MacKenzie…

On the north side of the road, opposite the Post Office was the Blacksmith Shop. Inside the shop were a large forge and an array of blacksmith tools.

In the yard just outside the shop, some of the rebel re-enactors had set up camp. A few had were standing in a circle talking to one another. William Lyon MacKenzie was in the midst of the group. Here he was dressed as himself. Earlier in the day I had met MacKenzie in the Smallwood Log Cabin.

He was still dressed in disguise as a woman. We walked back down the road to the Georgina Pioneer Village’s front entrance. At the crossroads a merchant area had been set up for visitors to browse through the various displays. Here I re-met the re-enactor who had given me information at the Toronto Sportsmen’s Show  about the different re-enactments that were taking place across Ontario. In the same area was a Band Stand and a picnic area.

Many re-enactors were taking a break during the lull in the activities. This was a fun event where we actually got to meet, listen to and talk with history! Other re-enactments await…

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