“This conference celebrates the significance of Fort Ontario State Historic Site and the importance of this region in determining our nation’s destiny,” said David Turner, director of the Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning. “Efforts to elevate the status of Fort Ontario to a national historic landmark remain a priority of the Oswego County Legislature. Our members and other local stakeholders recently met with state and federal representatives to facilitate the process of recognizing the fort as a national park. The Fort Ontario conference will feature new perspectives and research by historians and archaeologists on warfare and conflict in the United States and Canada, as well as exhibits, book sales, and book signings.”
This year the Fort Ontario conference is an official event of the New York State World War I Centennial Commemoration Committee, and the slate of afternoon speakers will be dedicated to presentations on U.S. and Canadian participation in the “War to end all Wars.” On Sunday, a guided bus tour will take participants to regional sites of 1812 activity from Oswego to Sackets Harbor.
The conference opens Saturday, April 21 at 8:30 a.m. with an illustrated lecture by French and Indian War historian George Bray of Rochester, N.Y., who will speak on “Lt. Colonel John Bradstreet’s raid on Frontenac in 1758.” The discussion includes Bradstreet’s use of Oswego as his base for a crippling attack on the French supply base at Frontenac, now Kingston, Ontario. Bradstreet’s raid was one of three decisive British campaigns launched from Oswego leading to the end of the French and Indian War, and French occupation of New France.
Brian Leigh Dunnigan, Curator of Maps of the William L. Clements Library in Michigan, will follow with “Five Straits,” a talk describing the history and culture of the five straits that connect the five Great Lakes. These include the Ste. Mary’s River, the Straits of Mackinac, the Ste. Clair and Detroit Rivers, and the Niagara, emphasizing their differences and similarities and the factors that gave them such strategic significance between 1615 and 1820. During the period before the opening of the Erie Canal in 1824, Oswego was a gateway to the west, and linked the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean by the Mohawk-Oneida-Oswego River. Only the St. Lawrence River provided an alternative waterway to the Great Lakes.
Archaeologist Timothy Abel, PhD, will present “A Battleship in the Wilderness: The Story of the Chippewa and Lake Ontario’s Forgotten War of 1812 Naval Shipyard.” Dr. Abel’s talk is based on historical and archaeological investigations he conducted on the site of Storrs Harbor, a nearly forgotten shipyard established over the winter of 1814-15 when the U.S. Navy shipyard at Sackets Harbor proved too small to accommodate new ship construction.
Historian and author Dianne Graves, originally from Kent, England, and now living in Canada, will present “At the going down of the sun: John McCrae, the Armistice and the Remembrance Day Poppy a hundred years on.” Graves is the author of several books, including “A Crown of Life: The World of John McCrae,” describing the life and career of the Canadian Army physician and poet who wrote “In Flanders Fields,” amid the suffering of the First World War. McCrae’s poem inspired the adoption of the poppy as the symbol of remembrance in Great Britain, Canada, the United States, and other allied countries. She will discuss the life of John McCrae, his poem, and the impact it has had since it was first published.
Following a break for lunch, Fort Superintendent Paul Lear will present “Fort Ontario in the War of 1917,” an illustrated presentation describing the fort’s history as a U.S. Army general hospital during World War I. Lear will cover the conversion of the post from infantry to medical use, medical and army personnel, patients, daily life, training, volunteer support organizations, events, and the impact of the Spanish Influenza epidemic on the post.
Rene Chartrand, the internationally-acclaimed Canadian author and historian will deliver an illustrated presentation on “Canadian Army Uniforms and Equipment, 1914- 1918.” Chartrand is a freelance writer who was a National Defense Historian for nearly 30 years, and has authored over 50 books on military history and artifacts, including “Montcalm’s Crushing Blow: French and Indian Raids Along New York’s Oswego River, 1756,” which will be sold at the conference.
“Mud, Misery, Murder and Plum-Apple Jam: The Daily Life of the Canadian Soldier on the Western Front, 1914–1918, and of Those Who Waited at Home for Him,” is the title of Canadian Historian and author Donald E. Graves program developed for the conference. Mr. Graves will explore the realities of everyday life at the front for soldiers and officers, and their connections and correspondence with their families and friends at home. Donald E. Graves is active in battlefield preservation and is the author of over a dozen books on the War of 1812, Patriot War, and World Wars I and II. He is the only Canadian member of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Scholarly Advisory Council on Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefields.
Continental Army Collectors will host a special Centennial exhibit on uniforms, weapons, medical equipment, personal items, and field equipment of World War I on Saturday. Larry Ruth, author, expert, and collector will set up display of unique .30 caliber M-1 Carbines. Additional exhibits will also be on display. The Sunday, April 22 guided bus tour will start at the Conference Center at 8:30 a.m. to take participants to sites of War of 1812 activity and battles from Oswego to Sackets Harbor. The bus tour will start at the conference center at 8:30 a.m. and return around 4 p.m.
Pre-registration and payment is required for Saturday and Sunday activities. Registration for Saturday is $35 and is the same for Sunday’s bus tour. Registration for both days is $60. The student rate is $50 for both days, $25 for Saturday, and $35 for Sunday. For more information, or to request a complete conference schedule or arrange for registration and payment by check or credit card, call Caroline Lamie or Paul Lear at (315) 343-4711, or email [email protected] or [email protected] .
Updates on the conference will be posted on the Friends of Fort Ontario Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FortOntario/. Special rates for conference attendees are available at the Best Western Hotel, 26 E. Bridge St., Oswego. Call the hotel at (315) 343-4040, and mention the Fort Ontario Conference.
For more Oswego County history and events, go to www.visitoswegocounty.com or call 1-800-248-4FUN (4386).