Recently, in our holiday preparations, members of the Provincial Marine were discussing our annual decoration of the Commissariat Building for the season. Now, over the past decade or so, the way we decorate our headquarters has changed drastically. Not so many years ago, it was quite common for us to go "all out" in our decorating, putting up lights, garlands, tinsel, various candles and statuettes, and, of course, a fully decorated Christmas Tree in one corner. Over time, however, we came to realize that, if we truly wished to represent our 1812 era ancestors properly, we needed to decorate the building in a manner that more appropriately reflected how Christmas might have looked in a household or business office in Amherstburg in the early nineteenth century. And upon a little research and reflection, we realized that we were missing the mark by a very wide margin!
You see, the modern traditions of Christmas decoration practiced throughout most of the British Commonwealth countries and the United States can be traced back very specifically to the Victorian era, more than a quarter century later than the period we strive to portray in our historical impression. Prior to this, British Christmas customs were really quite understated. Yes, there was a traditional Christmas feast held (where it could be afforded, of course), but decoration was rather minimal. It really was, in fact, a celebration that in most ways might even be viewed as "very British" in it's restrained austerity, in keeping with the rather overall conservative nature of the Church of England.
The modern traditions of Christmas decoration throughout the British Empire were actually the direct result of Queen Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert. Victoria was awed by the far more spectacular Christmas customs common to the Germanic traditions of her new husband, and in order to make him more comfortable in his new home during the holiday season, set about implementing them within the Royal household. These traditions included taking the pageantry and spectacle of the traditional holiday feast to soaring new heights, and surrounding it all with lavish and spectacular decoration, both within the palace and without. Naturally, the social preferences of the monarchy were very quickly copied by British high society, and before long percolated down to the masses, beginning the rather ostentatious decorating traditions most of us still adhere to today.
However, in Georgian times, Christmas holiday decoration tended to be simple and understated. Especially here in the North American colonies, and particularly outside the few larger population centres, simple festive decorations tended to be largely made with natural materials, most notably rather plain garlands or wreaths of evergreen boughs. The few interior decorative items would have tended to be primarily religious in nature, with simple crosses or crucifixes being heavily featured. Other minor touches might have been added, in accordance with the location, faith, and wealth of those doing the decorating. It must be remembered that, as today, a wide variety of Christian sects were present in colonial Canada and America, from Church of England protestants to French Catholics, and Scots Presbyterians to Quakers... each with their own views on what, if any, decoration was appropriate to their faith.
In the end, our decoration of the Commissariat this year was very simple and understated; we placed evergreen bough garlands across the front window sills, and hung a simple evergreen wreath on the front door, decorated with a tartan bow (a self-indulgent nod to my own Scots/Irish heritage). Inside. we placed Osage Oranges in each room, with each sitting on a scrap of green and red cloth for a small splash of festive colour, giving the building a pleasant holiday scent. The stark simplicity of the decorations seems to really compliment the old building, and our members were very happy with it when they attended our annual Christmas gathering, which is held each year following our December Board of Directors' meeting.
On behalf of Captain May, myself, and the entire crew at Provincial Marine Amherstburg, I take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you reading this a safe and happy holiday season, and a prosperous new year. Happy Christmas!
Welcome to the first blog post here on the Provincial Marine website!
When I joined the Provincial Marine Re-enactment Unit way back in 2002, I certainly had no idea what an interesting path that decision would lead me down. From joining the group just to have some fun with black powder muskets, to becoming a dedicated amateur historian and living history enthusiast, to taking on progressively more advanced roles within the group culminating in now my sixth term as President of the organization, to taking a job in the region and moving my family here specifically to be able to be more involved, to spreading out my historical and charitable involvements to include other organizations... what a journey it has been!
Along the way, I have met and had discussions with some of the most interesting and knowledgeable people in the North American history community, and had opportunities to visit historic landmarks with a level of access not available to most others. I have learned sailing skills that have been obsolete for well over a century, and mastered the use of weapons that have been out of common use for almost twice that time. I have made lasting friendships with many amazing people. I have been honoured to help lead a dedicated crew of re-enactor sailors on the field, on the water, and at community events. I have tested myself, and have been tested... by my peers, and even by nature herself. I have learned a great deal about many things: history, sailing, warfare, leadership, and human nature, to name a few. And, perhaps most importantly, I have had more sheer fun than I can possibly recount while doing it all.
For those not familiar with the term, the Wardroom is the essentially the Officers' Mess aboard a naval vessel. The term can also be used to encapsulate the ship's officers themselves as a group, not including the officer in command of the vessel, ie: "The Captain had a strong, experienced wardroom to rely upon." At this time, I am the only junior officer within the ranks of the Provincial Marine, serving as Executive Officer and pretty much everything else to our C.O., Cmdr. May. (Dave May serves, in turn, as my Vice-President of the modern organization, and is a multi-term Past President of the group and otherwise long-time volunteer within the region's historic community.)
The living history community, like many others, has taken a beating over the past two years, due to the health restrictions imposed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. With not only historical re-enactments, but almost ALL public events having been cancelled for two straight seasons, borders closed to non-essential travel, and the general population living in a state of fearful self-isolation, many groups like our own have been hard pressed to maintain the interest and involvement of their members, their funding sources, and their public profile. The Provincial Marine have been fairly fortunate in this regard. Our long-standing partnership with the Paradise Charitable Gaming Centre in Windsor resulted in at least a fraction of our usual funding being maintained, which allowed us to keep up the rent on our Interpretive Centre at the Commissariat, as well as put at least a token effort into continuing restoration efforts on one of our boats. Our crew have been wonderful... rather than LOSING members through this trying time, we have actually had a couple of new members recruited by our crew! Members have come out to participate in socially-distanced work parties, sat through outdoor meetings, and all the while stayed the course and maintained their enthusiasm for our hobby and our purpose. I am immensely proud of this group of individuals and their dedication to our group.
If you are new to our site, and unfamiliar with the Provincial Marine, I strongly encourage you to follow our social media posts on FaceBook and Instagram, where we routinely post about our activities, past group events, special dates in history, and other subjects of interest. Check back on this website for new blog posts by myself and others, and for any additions to our Events schedule. And if you are within accessible distance of southwestern Ontario and find what we are doing interesting, don't hesitate to contact us to find out how you too can be a part of it all! We are always recruiting, for both crew and civilian impressions. If you love history, sailing, camping, and good times with great folks, we offer an unmatched opportunity to enter an exciting, educational, and family-friendly hobby. I can state unequivocally from my own experience, it's WORTH it!