25th Trillium Award

Five Explorer Questions with Richard Feltoe

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Richard Feltoe's wealth of knowledge regarding The War of 1812 has lead to many featured books in the Open Book Explorer. Click on any tour relating to The North American War as he calls it, and you'll see. An archivist and 1812 reenactor, we?re pleased to have him answer our Five Explorer Questions about his work and how he views Ontario's history.

Open Book:

Considering the wealth of material you?ve written on The War of 1812, what is it about this time in Canadian history that carries so much meaning for you?

Richard Feltoe:

My writings are the end result of accumulating research on a wide number of topics related to the War of 1812, or as I prefer to call it, the North American War of 1812 ? 1815. For the most part the research provided documentation I could use in my Living History reenactment hobby of recreating the life and times of a particular Canadian militia regiment that served during that conflict. The research I did about The Volunteer Battalion of Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada resulted in my first book on the war titled, Redcoated Ploughboys.

The information I accumulated became a resource center for myself and others and people suggested I write a book. So I did! And it just went on from there, only I did not anticipate it would become a three and a half year saga of constant writing, map drawing, editing and proof-reading for a series of six books, rather than one.

As to what this period means to me, I believe it represents a crucial point in the development of what today we call Canada. For without the threat of invasion or the need to take up arms against an invader, and the resultant post-war identity backlash that (we were not entirely British then we were certainly NOT Americans), there is every likelihood a slow but more complete assimilation into the American union would have resulted.


In your research for this book, did you come across any surprising details?


Although A Crucible of Fire is the fifth in the series, the fact that the Battle of Lundy?s Lane was the principal engagement for the Volunteer Battalion of incorporated Militia of Upper Canada, meant that it was virtually the first thing I started reading about.

Inevitably, I came across numerous stories, personal accounts and details of events that had never made it into most of the history books. They were not only interesting and illuminating, but in some cases vitally important in understanding the course of the events that occurred.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that almost without exception, ?official? battlefield maps were geographically inaccurate in their area and dimensions, their terrain and vegetative covering, and the relevant positions of the property boundaries, buildings, and roads.

This, of course, subsequently led to the inevitable inaccurate positioning of troops and started a separate detective hunt on my part to reconstruct the correct battlefield as it would have looked at the time. This search lasted over twenty years and not only resulted in the maps I eventually incorporated into the books but was the foundation of what became this entire series.

Lo-and-behold, once I had had the geography correct, the evidence and clues provided in the documentation literally ?placed? the troops and clearly defined their subsequent movements. I have also developed a talk on the subject entitled The Battle of Lundy?s Lane, 200 Years of Getting it Wrong.


You are also a Living History reenactor. Does your reenactment of historical moments help you place readers in the heart of a scene — be it a battle or other?


Without doubt, my hobby of Living History spans over three decades, and is the principal reason I have been able to write about the events the way I do. Although it cannot be considered entirely accurate in comparison to having experienced it first-hand, reenacting has allowed me to gain an insight and appreciation as to what it must have been like for those who did experience these history-making moments.

Walking the battlefields and looking at the ground with a soldier?s eye; learning the nuances and techniques of the soldier?s drill; carrying and firing the same weapons under varying weather conditions; wearing the same clothes - these are all experiences that no amount of reading or research can duplicate.


Do you think Ontario?s history is well preserved and accessible to the public?


Unfortunately no - or at least nowhere near as well as it should be. Here we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Lundy?s Lane and it has just been announced that a large section of what remains of the original battlefield (previously a school?s playground) has been sold and approved for building development. Why? Because insufficient funds exist to purchase and maintain it as a historical site.

The Federal government openly refuses to support this preservation of an original battlefield because - according to a government spokesperson - they have done enough War of 1812 commemoration. By this I suppose they mean their sponsorships of 1812 ?friendship? gardens, dog shows, craft fairs, art installations and other spuriously themed 1812 ?heritage events? are more important than saving something that actually has an 1812 connection.


If readers of your Upper Canada Preserved series could take away one thing from your books, what would you like it to be?


The same lesson that I learned in researching and writing these books. That while Ontario has not yet accumulated a history covering the thousands of years other places in the world have, it nonetheless holds a heritage which we can be proud of and should explore.

Buy this book at Dundurn , online at Chapters/Indigo.

Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Feltoe holds a degree in economics from the University of London. He is the curator and corporate archivist for the Redpath Sugar Museum and is active as a Living History reenactor, re-creating the life of a Canadian militia soldier from the War of 1812. His other publications include The Flames of War and The Pendulum of War.

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