How better to usher in the new year than surrounded by friends and neighbours, some refreshments, music, lifting your glass in toasts, and ending it with a cannon firing across the Niagara River.
The popular tradition, hosted by Parks Canada and The Friends of Fort George, was celebrating its 30th year.
Bill Ashburn had the pleasure of being the honorary cannoneer — for the third time.
He enjoys attending The Friends of Fort George Beefsteak Society dinner held every fall, especially the fundraising auction. Three times he has had the winning bid for the honour of firing the cannon.
“I got a little carried away this year,” he says of the bidding.
Tony Chisholm, president of The Friends, was grateful he did.
“It was a very generous donation, for a significant amount of money,” he said — the funds support student employment opportunities and ongoing projects at Niagara’s National Historic Sites.
Ashburn says setting off the cannon reminds him of playing with fireworks as a kid — only better. “And let’s be honest, we all did that.” It’s fun, but it’s also for a good cause, he says. “If we don’t support our history, who will?”
The crowd of several hundred people jammed shoulder-to-shoulder, along with several youngsters, devoured a table of treats, and filled their glasses with punch for the several customary toasts to the Queen and country.
Scott Finlay, program co-ordinator with Parks Canada, emceed the event, with short speeches and toasts from several dignitaries, wishing all a happy and prosperous new year, recognizing the past and looking to the future, with upcoming Parks Canada and The Friends of Fort George events that include a Murder Mystery, Whisky Tasting, a Regency Ball, Canada Day, Fife and Drum Muster, the Beefsteak Society dinner, and more that will be announced throughout the year.
The Town Crier, Tom Pekar, welcomed those outside as they waited for the cannon-firing. Dressed in period costume, and wearing a badge that identifies him as Town sheriff — the sheriff of Niagara during the War of 1812 — may have stolen the show with his lengthy proclamation. He opens many popular NOTL events, and writes his proclamations with humour to appeal to the crowds — which he addressed at the levee as “my lordships, my worships, my parsnips, my fish and chips,” before welcoming them to the levee. He referred to NOTL as the site of many firsts, and the prettiest town in the world, “where the friendliest people greet you today with open arms, and open bottles. Yes, the greatest concentration of wineries, school of craft breweries, distilleries, 40 Creek Whisky and the largest marijuana grow-op in the world, all to keep you happy.”
He welcomed American visitors, neighbours from all Niagara, and “the many new refugees from the GTA, who have watched too many episodes of Green Acres and come to settle in NOTL, where all is serene and idyllic and boring,” with this message from the sheriff: “Life is too short, break some rules, forgive quickly, kiss slooowly, love truly and laugh with abandon, do not feel guilty for anything that puts a smile on your face.”