Niagara Gazette

Local News

February 28, 2011

U.S. losing battle of funds in War of 1812 celebration

While Canadian celebration efforts flourish, U.S. struggling to find money

NIAGARA FALLS — Ambitious planning is under way along both sides of the U.S.-Canada border to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

At this stage, however, it’s strictly an uphill struggle for the Americans to come up with their share of the funding.

To date, Canada — at the provincial and federal levels —has been eyeing an expenditure of nearly $30 million — in the Niagara Region, encompassing Niagara Falls, Ont., St. Catharines, Fort Erie, Thorold and Port Colborne, the figure exceeds $19 million.

Meanwhile on this side of the river, the scene of numerous battles during the three-year war, the grand total is a $10,000 donation from the Niagara County Legislature.

Careful not to demean the county lawmakers’ contribution, Brian E. Merrett, chief executive officer of the Niagara 1812 Bicentennial Legacy Council, said, “It’s a good start and it sends a positive message.”

Other upstate communities that had definitive roles in the war (e.g. Sackets Harbor, Oswego and Plattsburgh) have been generally low-key about their financial commitments to the event envisioned as an ideal chance to boost tourism across the Empire State.

A major jolt to early planning was former Gov. David Paterson’s veto of a bill to create a War of 1812 Commission that would have undoubtedly opened doors to vital funding sources.

Faced with that lack of funds, more than 30 historians, re-enactors and educators met in Albany earlier this year to discuss what steps are needed for the 2010 event to succeed.

Kelly Jordal of the Oswego County Office of Community Development, Tourism and Planning, said the group knew that without a state commission, they needed to band together to ensure an appropriate tribute.

Fort Ontario Site Manager Paul Lear said Oswego County plans a daylong symposium April 2 to discuss that county’s role in the War of 1812.

Lear said Lake Ontario (Fort Niagara), the Niagara Frontier and Plattsburgh-Lake Champlain areas were key locations in the war.

“Whoever controlled Lake Ontario had control of the war,” Lear explained.

While the Niagara border set the stage for many dramatic episodes, the War of 1812 was triggered by events on the high seas, with the British stopping U.S. ships and forcing their sailors to serve with the Royal Navy.

At the same time, the British blockade of enemy ports proved a heavy loss of U.S. trade.  

Merrett, a former Niagara Falls, Ont., alderman who later served as chair of the Niagara Regional Council for six years, has been active in government and civic affairs since 1978.

He also was chairman of the Niagara Parks Commission from 1997 to 2003.

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