Alex Dale

Fort Malden Heritage Fair a combination of recent events



By Ron Giofu


Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada presented its first “Heritage Fair” last weekend, but it was a combination of events that people have experienced before.

The event saw military re-enactors and encampments, a “trade zone” with blacksmiths and potters, cannon firings, entertainment and more with interpretation officer Alex Dale noting they tried to fit in a cultural theme as well.

Dale noted that Fort Malden has held Military Heritage Days for over two decades and there was an aspect of that in the two-day Heritage Fair. There was also a display from Mark McGuire and his antique bicycles and a steam engine from the Essex County Steam & Gas Engine Museum.

Joelle and Brynn Goegebeur from the Canadian Great War Society were at Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada’s Heritage Fair the weekend of Sept. 29-30.

“What we decided to do is to expand it to include culture and heritage,” he said. “We’ve invited several museums and cultural organizations.”

Many Amherstburg museums were invited along with the local cadet corps and United Empire Loyalists with other museums and organizations from around Essex County also invited. Dale said that was a hit with teachers, as there was an education day last Friday with over 200 students. The teachers enjoyed the fact that students could experience a number of different museums all in one place, Dale added.

Dale explained that they usually do these events in August but when the “Rendezvouz” event was held last year, Fort Malden decided to keep it in September as part of the Culture Days weekend.

“It’s an event where we’ve taken a number of events and kind of combined them,” Dale said of the Heritage Fair. “It is a good opportunity to bring local heritage groups together.”

A number of Fort Malden programs were also offered from the cookhouse to the barracks, he noted, but added they are always looking to do new projects and events. He noted the Escape Room Festival as an example of a new way of attracting the public to Fort Malden.

Tina Ferrari takes aim during an archery demonstration as part of Fort Malden’s Heritage Fair Sept. 29.

The next event at Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada is the Candlelight Tours. That event is scheduled for Oct. 13 with tours running at 6 p.m., 6:45 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8:15 p.m. and 9 p.m. Advance registration is required.  For tickets, please call Fort Malden at 519-736-5416, or e-mail Cost is $12.10 per person.

The House Youth Centre is bringing its “Haunted House” back to Fort Malden Oct. 19, 20, 26 and 27 from 6:30-10 p.m. each night with the last admission being 9:40 p.m. That event features spooky scenes by local students and is a fundraiser for the House Youth Centre. No pre-registration is required for the House Youth Centre “Haunted House” as tickets are sold at the door. Tickets are $9.80 with half of the proceeds going to The House.

For more information on Fort Malden or its programming, visit



First-ever Escape Room Festival held at Fort Malden National Historic Site


By Jonathan Martin


Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada has held its first escape room festival.

The festival featured eight escape rooms – interactive, narrative-based puzzle rooms – and participants were allowed to pick five to escape from.

Fort Malden interpretation officer Alex Dale organized the event and he said he had wanted to expand the escape rooms already offered by Fort Malden but wasn’t sure how to do it without disrupting the historic site’s other programs.  He said the best course of action seemed to be to simply “have a day of fun” and bring the area’s escape room aficionados together all at once.

Dale put together some all-new escape rooms with help from his staff.  He said creating the puzzles for the rooms is challenging but rewarding.

“I like to keep things tactile,” he said.  “I want to engage people by forcing them to interact with their environments.”

Dale also brought in three professional escape room companies to plan and operate four of the eight offered at the event.  Hidden Trail Escape Room, Breakout Kingsville and Exodus Windsor Escape Room showed up, riddles in hand, to confound the day’s parkgoers.

Dustin Vermast is one of the co-owners of Breakout Kingsville.  His room, specially created for the day by managing director Adam Cole, brought participants into the tent of a mid-1920s era traveling magician.

Eventgoers were promised a magic show, but the magician, Mr. Hocus, was nowhere to be found. In his place was a letter promising access to his magical secrets – and a future of riches and renown – if whomever found his letter could solve his puzzles and open his chest.

Christopher Slickboer tries to figure out the combination on a lock in Breakout Kingsville’s escape room at Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada last Saturday. The escape room was one of eight at Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada’s first escape room festival.

Unfortunately for those who are proficient at puzzle-solving, Mr. Hocus is a dark magician.  The only things in his chest were pieces of evidence that incriminated whomever touched them.

Those who beat the puzzles lost the game.

The tent Vermast brought to Fort Malden is one piece of a larger narrative, according to Cole.  Mr. Hocus has two other rooms dedicated to him at Breakout Kingsville’s actual facility.

For Cole, this room was an opportunity to further explore the character he has built a universe around.  Hocus’ newspaper clippings, the photos on his armoire, his knickknacks and decorations and personal effects – even his choice of music – all said something about the man Breakout Kingsville dreamed up while fully-immersing the player into that dream.

For Vermast, as much as it was about the art of expanding an ongoing narrative universe, it was also about breaking into a new market.

“We’re here as a bit of a marketing piece,” he said.  “We want to educate the public about how awesome escape rooms are and, as a county business, it’s important that we draw on the Windsor folks who are here today.”

It seemed to be working.  Dale said the public response was “overwhelmingly positive.”  All 46 time slots were sold out.  He said he wants to have another festival in the future and will use this one as a learning experience.

“This was a pilot,” he said.  “There were a few logistical issues to iron out, but we’ll learn from those and will hopefully make this an even bigger festival next year.”

Fort Malden will host its annual Canada Day celebration on July 1.  Its “free admission day” will take place Aug. 4, with a murder mystery following that evening.

Fort Malden National Historic Site welcomes March Break campers



By Ron Giofu


Youth from around the area converged on Amherstburg last week to learn a bit about the town’s history.

Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada held its annual March Break day camp From March 12-16 with a variety of different activities, most of which were historically-themed, presented.

“It’s been good,” reported interpretation officer Alex Dale. “For most of the days, we’ve had 15 or so kids and lots of activities.”

Holly Lucier from Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada explains what they will be making in the cookhouse to a group of children.

The week featured scavenger hunts, crafts, making food in the cookhouse and other hands-on activities for children. There were also movies played for the children.

“It’s been fun,” said Dale.

Dale stated it was the third consecutive year for the current format, which saw children stay all day at Fort Malden. The activities were held from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.

The children were from around the area, not just Amherstburg, said Dale. He said Fort Malden National Historic Site’s Facebook site got the word out with some of the students being returnees from previous years. Some came from as far as Niagara Falls and Orangeville, said Dale, as they were in the area visiting grandparents for March Break.

“I think it’s been a lot of fun,” said Dale. “We’ve done (the March Break program) in so many different ways.”

Fort Malden won’t officially open for the season until May 19, though, when it will reveal its newest exhibit, titled “The British Wore Red?”  According to Parks Canada, the exhibit will feature a timeline of military uniforms, clothing and artifacts from Fort Malden’s history.

Amelie Kinnish breaks an egg and puts it in a bowl with the help of Holly Lucier March 15 at Fort Malden National Historic Site’s March Break camp.

There will also be the first-ever Escape Room Festival June 16. Local escape room companies will bring numerous timed puzzles to Fort Malden with different themes. That event will also include live entertainment, food and beverages.

On July 1, Fort Malden will host the annual Canada Day event in conjunction with the Town of Amherstburg.  As in years past, the event will feature “cool activities and entertainment” and will end with a fireworks display along the Detroit River.

More information and a list of special events can be found on the Town of Amherstburg’s website at or Parks Canada’s Fort Malden page at

Fort Malden’s Facebook site is


—With files from Jonathan Martin

House Youth Centre collaborates with Fort Malden for annual “Haunted Fort”



By Jolene Perron


Over the last three years, Fort Malden National Historic Site has worked with The House Youth Centre to provide haunting entertainment to members of the Amherstburg community.

“They approached us a few years ago asking if we would be interested in doing a haunted house,” explained Alex Dale, interpretation officer at Fort Malden Historic Site. “They had had a relationship with the Thistle Lodge for a few years and did a Haunted House at the actual House Youth Centre so we thought it would be natural to try it here and to try and do a Fort one.”

The annual Haunted Fort was put on in partnership with The House Youth Centre and Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada for the third year. Fort Malden worked throughout the week carving pumpkins and assembling hay bales throughout the grounds, while The House Youth Centre decorated the grounds and provided its volunteer members as actors and actresses. The organizations also worked together to come up with the storyline.

Since its’ first year at Fort Malden, the haunted house has grown and the organizations have found a great way to work together to come up with the scripts and storylines. Fort Malden worked throughout the week carving pumpkins and assembling hay bales throughout the grounds, while The House Youth Centre decorated the grounds and provided its volunteer members as actors and actresses.

This year’s Haunted Fort incorporated a lot more historical accuracy according to Ashley Marchand, activities coordinator for The House Youth Centre.

The annual Haunted Fort was put on in partnership with The House Youth Centre and Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada for the third year. Fort Malden worked throughout the week carving pumpkins and assembling hay bales throughout the grounds, while The House Youth Centre decorated the grounds and provided its volunteer members as actors and actresses. The organizations also worked together to come up with the storyline.

“We did some brainstorming sessions with the members and some leaders,” said Marchand. “We came up with a rough idea of a script and The Fort helped to vamp it up, fill in the story blanks and add some historical information to it. We talked about identifying the names the places, the barracks, the latrines, the cookhouse, we have soldiers on site firing shots, we refer more to the ditches, the trenches that were dug out for that, however we have started to drift a little bit more away from the haunted fort storyline and this year we are focusing more on the families of the soldiers.”

Thanks to Fort Malden National Historic Site and The House Youth Centre, a spooky time was had by all of those who attended last week’s “Haunted Fort.”

The House Youth Centre and Fort Malden National Historic Site would like to thank everyone who came out to participate in their annual Haunted Fort, which wrapped up Monday night.

Candlelight tours showcase Fort Malden in new “light”



By Jolene Perron


Guests had a chance to see Fort Malden by candlelight Saturday evening, a new tour idea, which their interpretation officer hopes will continue.

“We decided to do the candlelight tour this year to really showcase some of the evening stories of the history of The Fort,” explained Alex Dale, interpretation officer at Fort Malden Historic Site. “Not just the military history but some of the other stories, from the lunatic asylum period, to the establishment of the historic site itself, a lot of the stories that we really don’t talk about during the day. We focus more on the actions and the battles and events of the War of 1812 or the Rebellions of 1837 and the daily lifestyle of the soldiers, we don’t really talk about a lot of the evening aspects.”

Fort Malden National Historic Site of Canada offered a candlelight tour last Saturday night. Their next event is this week’s Haunted Fort, run in conjunction with the House Youth Centre.

Dale explained, the tour didn’t just involve storytelling but there were even re-enactors on the grounds in period uniforms playing games, cooking in the cookhouse, and on guard duty. He said it’s very different from what they’re doing next week, which is the Haunted House Tours with The House Youth Centre. While that is more of a spooky, jump out at you sort of thing, this weekend’s events were more educational while still casting a new “light” on the stories of Fort Malden.

One of the stories Dale shared was the mass desertion of soldiers from the 89th regiment. He explained, soldiers were on guard duty, which was a standard, 24-hour shift. Their job was two-fold – to watch out for anybody who might be approaching The Fort and also to try to stop any soldiers who might desire to run away from deserting.

“Little did anybody think the guards themselves would be doing the deserting,” Dale said.

At quarter to one in the morning Feb. 24, one of the guards, shouted “all is well.” It was repeated all the way along. Then the next 15-minute interval he shouted “all is well” and there was nothing. There was no return, so he then shouted “all is not well” and the sergeant of the guard came running. A total of 12 soldiers had deserted that night, and as far as they have found with any documents they have tried to research, they were never found.

“I enjoy storytelling,” said Dale. “It’s my passion, as an interpreter. It also helps me with my own learning and my own passion in historical research because now I can find other stories and share them in a different light than some of the more normal stories we tell. For me it’s a new and exciting, and fairly enjoyable event. I’m hoping that it’s something we can carry on and do in the future as well.”