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Happy Birthday, Buffalo Arrival of 2007 marks a milestone, but a bigger party is just ahead

Today is the dawn of a milestone year in Buffalo's history -- the 175th anniversary of the incorporation of Buffalo as a city. There is, so far, no full equivalent of the Sesquicentennial Committee that helped organize 150th anniversary celebrations in 1982. That is perhaps understandable -- this is an odd and tongue-twisting anniversary year, and there's an even better excuse for a party hot on its heels.

Any celebration of the city's Septaquintaquinquecentennial (beyond the Landmark Society's lecture series to mark what some sources alternately call a terquasquincentennial), would simply pale in the light of an even bigger milestone -- next year marks the 250th anniversary of settlement along the banks of the Buffalo Creek.

That's a semiquincentennial, or a bincenquinquagenary. Just call it the 250th anniversary of the date someone started calling Buffalo "home," and start planning a party.

The original "someone" was Chabert Joncaire, ordered by the French commander of Fort Niagara to establish a provisioning farm in 1758 at what became known as Buffalo. His settlement was abandoned after the French and Indian War, but it marks the start of efforts to permanently settle this place. There weren't even permanent Seneca settlements here until 1780.

There is an exceptionally good reason to commemorate all this. Buffalo currently is rebuilding its waterfront in a major effort to capitalize on heritage tourism. The emerging Erie Canal Harbor development, with its initial infrastructure phase scheduled for completion this year, highlights a later era, but the presumed site of Joncaire's original house, barn, storehouse and blacksmith shop is nearby -- although probably now underwater.

Buffalo could couple its opening of a new harbor district to both the 175th anniversary of a city that was built by that harbor and to the deeper international history here. A small new Riviere aux Chevaux State Park, commemorating the original French "River of the Horses" name for Buffalo Creek, might be sited on the opposite riverbank to provide a public view of the new development; poles for the French, British and American flags and a plaque for the region's native nations would not be out of place.

This city has a fascinating story to tell, but it has not been especially good at telling it. If Buffalo is to sell heritage tourism, that must change. A birthday celebration or two might be a good way to start.

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