The battle took place off the shores of our city – and soon there will be a plaque telling that story.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  March 13, 2013  Some history might get “righted” and Burlington just may see a plaque somewhere in the city telling the true story about the “Burlington Races”, which despite the name, tell of a critical part, perhaps the most critical part, of the War of 1812 as it related to the Great Lakes.

Many believe that the country that controlled the Great Lakes would win that war.  And the battle that took place in 1813 right off the shores of Burlington and up to the entrance to Hamilton harbour was clearly won by the British.

Rick Wilson, a member of the Heritage Burlington Advisory Committee, points out what he believes is a glaring error on a historical plaque, located in Hamilton overlooking Burlington Bay. Wilson hopes there can eventually be a plaque in Burlington correcting the error.

It’s an exciting story that is seldom fully told – Burlington seems to have that problem with its history.

Local amateur historian Rick Wilson has for some time taken umbrage with a plaque that sits up at the Burlington Heights, which is located in Hamilton, that tells of the naval battles that were a part of the War of 1812 during which the British repelled American efforts to invade the country and who knows what they would have done with us.  Perhaps we would all be singing Yankee Doodle Dandy today.

After years of telling anyone who would listen that this plaque was historically incorrect, Rick Wilson, an amateur historian who has focused on the War of 1812, just may have succeeded in getting the plaque corrected and having a plaque placed in the city of Burlington with the true story.

The offending plaque was put up, Wilson thinks, sometime in the 70’s.  Wilson found that most people agreed with him – that the plaque was wrong – but no one knew what to do to correct the error.

For Wilson the offending part of the plaque begins with:” After a sharp engagement, the British squadron was forced to withdraw toward Burlington Bay where it could take refuge under the batteries on the adjacent heights.  A close chase ensued but by the skilful seamanship, Yeo was able to bring his ships through the shallow channel in the sand bar to the safety of this bay.”

That never happened according to Wilson.  The draft in the channel was such that a ship could not have gotten into the bay.

Wilson would take his story to anyone who would listen.  His persistence paid off when, it is believed, that Councillor Craven brought up the matter up at the Joint Bay Area committee where Hamilton agreed the plaque was incorrect and they undertook to do something about it.

Because there cannot be two plaques in the province about the same event in two different places, the Burlington Heights sign has to come down and then a Burlington plaque can go up.  The expectation is that Hamilton will put up a new plaque with the correct information.

Wilson has been fighting this issue for a couple of years.  He said he “got blown away” by  MPP Jane McKenna, who was no help at all.  And while he got all kinds of support from MP Mike Wallace, there was not much Wallace  could actually do.  The plaque is provincial and Wallace explained to Wilson that federal people never intrude on provincial historical stuff even though the federal government poured a tonne of money into War of 1812 events.  Figure that one out!

Wallace did get Wilson an invitation to an event being attended by the Prince of Wales at Fort York in Toronto.  There wasn’t an opportunity to chat up the Prince explained Wilson.

Burlington now has to find a location and work with the provincial branch that handles these things.  To the surprise of everyone, and to the absolute delight of Rick Wilson, the project is moving faster than anyone imagined.

There doesn’t appear to be any animosity with the Hamilton people,  who have agreed their sign is factually incorrect.  The Heritage Committee expects to ask for a Staff Direction to get this project moving on our side of the Bay.

Where would a plaque telling the story be placed? Wilson thinks somewhere in Burloak Park would be about right but no one really knows where that critical battle took place.  All we know is that it did take place and the British won it.



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