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Play fires first shot in 3-year celebration of war's bicentennial

A three-year long commemoration of the War of 1812 will begin with eight performances in January of a dramatic play, "The Lion and the Eagle."

Members of the Dominion Repertory Theatre will present "The Lion and the Eagle" on four consecutive Saturdays and Sundays beginning Jan. 7 in the new Welcome Center at the restored Old Fort Erie.

The performances are among the first of a series of War of 1812 bicentennial celebrations being planned in Fort Erie, across the Niagara River from Buffalo.

"The Lion and the Eagle," written by artistic director Brian Coatsworth of the Dominion Repertory Theatre with guidance from Canada's widely known playwright Sharon Pollock, was commissioned by the War of 1812 Bicentennial Committee to launch the celebrations in Fort Erie.

The main concourse of the new Welcome Center at historic Old Fort Erie will be transformed into Moody's Tavern as it existed in December 1811. Audiences will step into the past complete with Christmas trees, ornaments and rustic furniture.

Characters will mingle with the audience and share stories, food and drink. "Each night will be a new experience as the audience will explore history from a truly unique perspective," according to the Repertory Theatre's executive director, Vince Marinaccio.

TD Canada Trust is supporting the play with a donation of $5,000.

Tickets are available at Benjamin Moore Paints, 401-B Garrison Road. Admission is $15 in advance or $18 at the door. Student tickets are $13 and $10 respectively. The group rate is $10 per ticket for groups of 10 or more.

The Niagara Parks Commission will provide cider and "hors d'oeuvres of the day."

Among other War of 1812 commemorations in Fort Erie will be a parade on June 23 of more than 50 military marching bands from Canada, the United Kingdom and the U.S., with re-enactors and floats. It is expected to be the largest War of 1812 bicentennial parade in North America.

Organizers said armies returning from war were typically given a welcome parade, often called a "triumph" or "grand parade." But soldiers and sailors of the War of 1812 did not receive a grand parade because the war ended quietly and guns were silenced without celebration. The June 23 event is intended to serve as the grand parade for those long-gone returning veterans.

The siege of Fort Erie, the largest annual 1812 re-enactment in Canada, will be presented Aug. 11-12. The Dominion Repertory Theatre also will produce an original play entitled "Sparks from a Campfire" in August at Old Fort Erie.

The programs at Fort Erie will be complemented by many similar observances on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the Niagara River, where numerous confrontations took place between 1812 and 1814. They included the siege of Fort Erie, the battles of Queenston Heights, Chippewa, Lundy's Lane and Fort Niagara, and the burning of Lewiston, Fort Schlosser (Niagara Falls), Black Rock and Buffalo.

The war between the United Kingdom and the U.S. was an offshoot of a confrontation between France and England over domination of the high seas.

Napoleon Bonaparte, the French emperor, had closed European ports to British vessels and to any other ships that had made ports of call in Great Britain. But the British required all vessels to visit its ports before traveling to Europe, putting U.S. ships in the impossible position of obeying both British and French laws.

In addition, the British captured thousands of American sailors on the high seas to man its own ships. A frustrated American Congress declared war on the British on June 18, 1812, and the British blockaded U.S. ports on the Atlantic Ocean and made forays into North America.

The war was officially ended when British and American diplomats signed a treaty Dec. 24, 1814, in Ghent, Belgium.

Because of poor communication, word of the treaty did not immediately reach the United States and the bloody battle of New Orleans was fought in January 1815 with heavy casualties.

The treaty, nevertheless, led to the settlement of the United States' northern boundary and produced two centuries of continuing peace between Canada and the U.S.