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Old Fort Niagara plans activities to mark arrival of French army

The French are coming! The French are coming!

The 250th anniversary of the French army's arrival at Old Fort Niagara will be celebrated this weekend with a re-enactment of the landing from two tall ships at the mouth of the Niagara River.

The first and only commemoration of the historic event is expected to attract up to 5,000 people over two days, said Ray Wigle, operations director at the fort.

Dozens of re-enactors will arrive from Toronto in the brigantines, Playfair and Pathfinder, and come ashore at 2 p.m. Saturday at the U.S. Coast Guard station, just below the fort's walls. Spectators will have their best view of the landing from Postern Gate Hill inside the fort, the highest point above the river, Wigle said.

The re-enactors -- from Quebec, Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan -- will march into the fort with flags flying and drums beating, accompanied by an artillery salute. They will be greeted by French Consul General Francois DeLattre, who will travel from New York City to take part in the event.

Thus will begin two days of public programs and activities, which will include guided tours of the old fort, musket demonstrations, artisan shows, native dances, concerts and an art show in the French Castle of works depicting the colonial frontier. On Sunday, the tall ships will be on display at the Youngstown Yacht Club, 491 Water St. They will return to their home berth in Toronto after the weekend.

On Oct. 28, 1755, about 500 French soldiers landed at the site under the leadership of Capt. Pierre Pouchot.

Pouchot, a military engineer, was responsible for enlarging the fort from a handful of small buildings to a sprawling facility, Wigle said. Pouchot designed and supervised the construction of the fort's earthen walls that still stand today.

Pouchot's memoirs were published in 1781 and remain the best French account of the French and Indian War, said Robert Emerson, the fort's executive director.

Edited by former fort director Brian L. Dunnigan, the memoirs were recently republished by the Old Fort Niagara Association and will be available in the museum shop. Dunnigan, now curator of maps at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, will be on hand to autograph copies.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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