War will be declared on Canada Monday, and a group on Signal Hill will answer the call to arms.
“We’re going to have a recruiting party take place out on the field,” says Parks Canada’s Glenn Keough.
“We’ll have a sergeant of the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles, and he’ll be recruiting people from the crowd into the regiment for that day.”
The mock declaration, and acceptance, of war will launch War of 1812 commemorations at Signal Hill.
It’ll also commence a summer of activities, themed “The Newfoundland Soldier, Then and Now,” as Parks Canada endeavours to make the historic hill more vibrant and alive.
“We’re trying to develop new opportunities for people to come to the hill to enjoy it, to really engage in things at the hill here, to maybe have some different experiences,” explains Keough.
Those different experiences include a café, encampments, picnics and yoga.
The War of 1812 launch is one of the three major events planned, and through it, Parks Canada is recognizing the Colony of Newfoundland’s contributions to Canada’s defence 200 years ago.
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment of Fencible Infantry fought in every major battle of the war and suffered significant casualties.
“We’re trying to tell the story of the regiment,” says Keough, visitor experience manager for national historic sites in eastern Newfoundland.
The 1812 kick-off is a partnership with a United States National Parks Service site in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, a town where a significant War of 1812 battle was fought.
The Americans will send a live feed of their re-declaration of war on Canada to Signal Hill, which will, in turn, beam back a live feed of the colourful local response.
The second big event around that concept is a 3 1/2-day fantasy camp during the last weekend of July.
Participants will undergo training that prepares them to take part in the Signal Hill Tattoo. They’ll camp on Signal Hill, eat period cooking and attend a mess dinner.
Parks Canada staff have found through their research that people want to be involved in programming, and the fantasy camp — dubbed “The King’s Hard Bargain” — is their first crack at meeting that interest.
Robin Martin, visitor experience product development officer, says it’s one thing to witness a program, but another thing to be inside of it.
“It’s like five senses of interpretation — you smell, you taste it, you touch it, you hear it, you feel it,” he says.
The third big event in Signal Hill’s summer of the soldier is an encampment during the second week of August.
It will feature re-enactors from the Halifax Citadel and Fortress of Louisbourg. Keough also hopes soldiers from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment will be involved.
The participants will be in period costumes and give period performances, including a reenactment of the Battle of Signal Hill.
The encampment will end with an artillery demonstration and fireworks.
“We’re trying to develop an almost a carnival kind of atmosphere for people to come up for the weekend and see a whole bunch of different stuff they normally wouldn’t see,” Keough says.
If successful, the plan is for the fantasy camp and re-enactor encampment to grow and become regular features.
Besides the major events, other things are being introduced or continued this summer.
Shakespeare by the Sea will perform on the site twice a week, as will Dale Jarvis’s “Ghosts of Signal Hill.”
A new traditional music event, Young Folk on the Hill, and a lunchtime yoga session will both take place weekly.
And a new cafe is opening at the Visitor Interpretation Centre Thursday. Its menu will offer picnic lunches.
“It’s reconnecting people to the hill,” Keough says. “The history of the hill is such that ... people used to come here on Sundays, on the weekend, to picnic long before this was a national historic site. So we’d like to introduce that more to people, a place for families to come.”
These initiatives are in addition to regular programming like the tattoo, the firing of the noon-day gun, and a weapons of warfare program that introduces visitors to period armaments.
The hill was a busy place noon Wednesday, as visitors and locals walked the trails, ate lunch and admired the vistas.
Gary Stokes was among the locals. He and his wife regularly drive up on their motorcycle to look for icebergs and whales.
He says he likes Parks Canada’s goal of reconnecting locals with the site.
“I think it’s a great idea,” the St. John’s resident says, “because every time you come up, you see a certain amount of tourists and stuff up here, but of course, people from St. John’s, maybe they don’t come up here enough.”