By Don Glynn
NIAGARA FALLS —
Most historians agree that the War of 1812 — involving the British, the Americans, their Indian allies, and countless innocent civilians — helped to forge the destiny of a continent.
Now 200 years later, that epic in history seems at times to draw a collective yawn, especially in New York state where there has been an infectious disinterest in commemorating it.
Yet in scattered North American communities there are signs of local and federal government agencies gearing up for the anniversary of the war, a major portion of which was fought along the U.S.-Canada border.
States from Michigan to Virginia have, in fact, had plans for several months, running the gamut from giant fireworks displays, pageants and license-plate themes about the war to a variety of programs in school curriculums.
Meanwhile in the Empire State, two governors have vetoed any legislation establishing a bicentennial commission to coordinate the activities. The financially strapped state is simply in no position to invest in such festivities, both 1812 .
Gov. David S. Paterson and current Gov. Andrew Cuomo have made abundantly clear.
Not everyone agrees with Cuomo’s rationale for the veto. He contends a War of 1812 Commission could cost the state about $1.4 million, an amount he calls totally unacceptable.
“It doesn’t look too promising and I doubt if anything will change because of the budget situation.” Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, said last week.
Commission proponents reply that the state’s indifference is like slamming the door on solid opportunities for a state-endorsed campaign to also secure funding from the private sector or grants from foundations.
The Niagara 1812 Bicentennial Legacy Council, formed in 2010, hired Brian E. Merrett, a former chair of the Niagara Region government in Ontario as the $100,000-a-year chief executive officer of the council. Neil Nolf, the retired public affairs director at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base, is serving as the Niagara County events coordinator. An Erie County coordinator also was named with funds for both $10,000 posts provided by the Niagara 10 group which consists of mayors on both sides of the border.
After Merrett’s formal request for funds from the Niagara County Legislature, the lawmakers approved a $10,000 donation to the bicentennial activities.
In late 2011 it was estimated that the Canadian government had approved some $28 million to subsidize more than 100 battle re-enactments and other events. That extensive investment also was to cover historic site restoration, a new monument near Ottawa, the capital, and an iPhone app for touring visitors to learn more about the war.
At Niagara-on-the-Lake (known as Newark in the war era), the bicentennial committee had initially requested $2.5 million from the federal government to commemorate the anniversary in the town that was center stage during the fighting, especially in the Niagara area, 1812-1813.
Kyle Williams, communications officer for the town committee, was concerned over the lengthy delay in receiving the funds from Ottawa. “We have marketing that we need to do,” Williams said at one point.
Erie County Historian Douglas Kohler, a Seaway Trail board member, was among several other proponents for bicentennial funding, stressing the need for money from Albany to assure the success of the anniversary events.
Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter said the town had secured approval for upwards of $325,000 in Niagara River Greenway money — the allocation from the New York Power Authority as part of its compact for the renewed 50-year license it was granted in 2007 to operate the Niagara Power Project — to observe the 1812-1815 milestone.
In case you missed it, the 1812 bicentennial was officially launched Jan. 1, 2012, with the U.S. and Canada firing cannons at each other from Fort George, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., and Old Fort Niagara, Youngstown.
The Canadians marked the day complete with British redcoats as re-enactors, a large tent for guests, and the Ontario lieutenant governor, the Queen’s representative in the province, holding his annual reception at the fort.
That same day, across the river, Old Fort Niagara was closed to the public. Bob Emerson, executive director of the fort, said, “We’re never open on New Year’s.”
Some people explain they are just not interested. A Ransomville businessman said, “If it’s truly the ‘Forgotten War,’ why should we go to a lot of trouble remembering it?”
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder offers a different perspective: “I’ve never heard of two countries trying to figure out how to have a party over a war.”
Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.