Roots to Boots Festival attracts 40,000 visitors


By Joel Charron

Howard Cobb strolls along the Amherstburg riverfront deciding what Roots to Boots Festival event him and his wife Dottie will attend next.

“There is so much going on, we want to make sure we soak in as much as we can,” said Cobb.

Cobb, a 59-year-old retired businessman along with his wife Dottie, drove from Arizona to take part in the Roots for Boots, War of 1812 bicentennial celebrations.

“It was a long drive but it has been totally worth it,” said Cobb.

Cobb calls him and his wife “life long history students.”

For the past few years the American couple said they have visited a historical battle site each summer. Cobb said they have visited the Alamo, Gettysburg and Pearl Harbor.

“We can check Amherstburg off our list now as well,” he laughed.

Cobb recalled stumbling upon the War of 1812 while surfing the internet one day.

“I was checking a few links a friend sent me when I came upon the War 0f 1812,” he said. “The more I read the more interested I became about it and when I found out that the bicentennial was this year and your town was putting on a festival celebrating it, we thought it would make a really cool adventure for us…and it has,” explained Cobb.

After a long journey that began in the wee hours of last Monday morning, Cobb and Dottie arrived in Windsor Friday morning and attended the opening ceremonies later that afternoon.

“We wanted to make sure we were here for everything,” he said.

Friday’s opening ceremonies featured the dedication of the Provincial Marine Legacy Monument, created by Mark Williams.

The Provincial Marine Legacy Monument will forever serve as a reminder for those who fough and gave their lives during battles on the water during the War of 1812. The two bronze sculptures depict two men loading a cannon, one of which is an ordinary sailor arming a cannon while the other one is a gun commander holding a pistol up in the air, preparing to fire the cannon.

Amherstburg Mayor Wayne Hurst called the monument dedication “a fitting opening” to the celebrations of a war that laid the foundation of a country that would later become Canada.

“To see so many of you here to celebrate the bicentennial is so very important,” said Hurst.

Hurst praised the organizing efforts of everyone involved and stated, “when Amherstburg puts on an event, people come out.”

“We have put our best foot forward, all roads lead to Amherstburg,” said Hurst.

MP Jeff Watson also was on hand and gave his well wishes to the large crowd.

“Our government thought it was important to dedicate funds for this signature event where we can come together and celebrate our united history and the values and heritage come together,” said Watson.

Although Watson said the federal government did not help fund phase one of the Provincial Marine Legacy Monument, he announced the government would contribute up to $100,000 for two additional pieces for the monument.

“Identity is so critical,” said Watson. “In order to understand who we are and where we are going we have to take a look back at where we have come.”

MPP Taras Natayshak said Amherstburg has showcased the history of Essex County very well and called the monument an “incredible additional to Navy Yard Park.

“This town, undeniably is the marquee region to pay tribute to our participation and our history in the War of 1812,” he said. ‘”We should be enormously proud of the work that has happened here.”

Friday night was capped off with the “Spirit of a Nation” musical and a fireworks display over the Detroit River after sunset.

The festival kicked into high gear Saturday morning, starting off the War of 1812 bicentennial parade.

According to War of 1812 project assistant Sarah Van Grinsven, over 18,000 people braved the heat and lined Dalhousie Street from Pickering Street to Fort Malden.  The audience applauded Native dancers, marching bands and decorated horses.

“I’m always amazed how a small town like this can put on such an impressive event,” said Brenda Duncan, who attended the parade with her two children.

The parade kicked off a plethora of 1812 events including an original stage musical by Theatre Intrigue Society; historical scenes performed by Provincial Marine and First Nations re-enactors, art displays at two galleries; tall ship appearances; historic cricket matches, and various guest speakers and readers at the public library.

Saturday night came to a conclusion with a performance Chantal Kreviazuk.

“Chantal’s performance was simply breath taking,” said Windsor resident, Margret Theisen.

The activities continued on Sunday with the Destiny Art Exhibit opening as well as the reenactment of the “Capture of the Cuyahoga.”

The festival concluded with a reenactment of Chief Tecumseh presenting General Brock with his sash.

Anne Rota, manager of Culture and Tourism and the driving force behind the Root to Boots Festival estimates over 40,000 people came through Amherstburg over the weekend.

“Our objective of what we were trying to present and how it all unfolding really was met,” she said.

Rota praised the efforts of the 300 volunteers who worked the three-day festival, stating, “it was because of their hard work and dedication that a significant event such as this can be pulled off.”

Rota said she felt a “great sense of pride in what Amherstburg was able to host for the entire region.”

“We were able to provide a safe, memorable event,” she said. “We are hoping this is the type of event that people will remember forever.”

Rota mentioned she received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback from the public.

“A lot of people came up to me and told me that this is not what they were expecting,” she said. “They loved it. They loved everything from the parade to the reenactments to the people walking around in period clothing.”

Rota said the festival “really made use of all the town’s assets.”

“We have these amazing assets in Amherstburg and people this weekend used them,” she said. “People appreciated the Navy Yard Park and we were getting compliments saying that this is one of the best parks they have ever visited.”

Rota was also pleased how the information was presented.

“The presentation really engaged people to learn about the War of 1812 in a totally different way,” she said. “People were really, really interested. It wasn’t just about boring history, it was about ‘wow, this really happened in Amherstburg.”

Robert Honor, chairperson of the 1812Alive committee was also very pleased with how the weekend unfolded.

“One of the thing that was nice about this festival was that it featured art, visual art, drama, music and culture,” he said.

Although the Cobb’s travelled a long distance to attend the Roots for Boots Festival, they weren’t the only ones who travelled long distances. The guest book was littered with people from both coasts of Canada, several states in the US, England, Scotland and Germany.

Honor said he wasn’t surprised that people travelled long ways to attend the festival and recalled a distant relative in Ireland telling him they saw a commercial on the BBC about the Roots to Boots festival. Honor said he credits Rota for her “aggressive” marketing campaign.

“We have to thank everyone on every level,” said Honor. “Everyone wanted to be a part of this.”

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