While period dress is not required for attendance at the 1812 Officers’ Dinner on April 5, it might be recommended.
Parks Canada’s Scott Finlay and Peter Martin will be assigning rank at the door, based loosely on costume. And whim. “Better dress equals higher rank — but not always,” says Martin with a mischievious gleam in his eye.
However, rank isn’t really all that important, given that everyone will be punished equally for breaking any of the esoteric rules of the dining event, as dictated by the “20 Rules of Decorum for the Officer’s Mess,” dated 1804.
Be sure not to wear your hat at the table, for instance — and there will be no talk whatsoever of politics or religion. Leaving the table for whatever reason without permission will result in punishment, and junior officers must finish everything on the senior officers’ plates. Punishment in this instance is light and comical, and might involve drinking, or singing, “depending on the level of infraction,” says Finlay, the genial corporate programming coordinator for Parks.
“People can dress with the spirit of the era in mind,” says Martin, special events and product development officer for Parks Canada. “Last year one woman sewed her rank onto her sweater with chevrons.”
But the main thing is to be comfortable, adds Tony Chisholm of the Friends of Fort George. The three-course meal, catered by Beamsville-based D & T Classic Catering, will be generous, and will have one main feature, he says: “Meat.”
A typical officer’s meal of the era consisted of much local game meat, including rabbit, venison, lamb and pigeon.
Lady Simcoe kept prodigious notes about local flora and fauna, says Finlay — she described raccoons as similar to Canadian monkeys, and she loved to watch them frolic and play — and then described them as tasting something like pork.
The event will not feature such unusual foodstuffs, but will offer some offbeat humour with Finlay interspersing games and entertainment throughout. The diners will also have the pleasure of live period music played on the violin by Friends favourite Stephen Fuller.
Finlay will head up a reenactment on a very small scale, using audience members and hats, he says: “One person represents the Americans, and one person represents the British.”
The long wooden table in the elegant Officers’ Quarters (the yellow building toward the rear of the Fort George property) will be set by Friends volunteers with classic Blue Willow patterned china, and the fireplaces will be ablaze, creating that much more of a traditional atmosphere.
Should you choose to immerse yourself completely in this experience, and happen to find yourself without a coatee or gown, what to do?
One option is to follow Finlay’s lead, and consult with famous period costume expert Peter Twist, who designed and helped to produce the Major General’s jacket with real gold braid and thread hand-embroidered in Pakistan. Jokes Finlay, “I like to wear this as I lounge at home sipping sherry.”
Finlay recalls an attempt to sew himself a pair of traditional grey wool pants. “I got the legs done, but when it came to the top part, with the flaps and the split, and the buttons…,” he shakes his head and waves his hands around helplessly.
Amanda Gamble says there are patterns for “smalls” (shirts, pants and bonnets) available in the Fort’s gift shop. Ironically, they are accompanied by online instructions, and are “pretty adaptable,” according to the Friends’ executive director. She models a “lady”s outfit” — although she admits to cheating, because she wasn’t able to recruit anyone to help her lace up and tie her corset.
Finlay reminds people there will be no judgement regarding outfits at the event. “There will be no history police; this is all in good fun,” he says.
As with most Friends events, proceeds from the dinner will help support student employment opportunities at Fort George and Brock’s Monument.
Call the Friends of Fort George, 905-468-6621 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.