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Participation and competition

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To The Editor:

I would not be surprised if participation or attendance may be down at a number of Seaway Festival events held on the three weekends of the festival.

The festival has grown over the years with activities for a relatively fixed pool of visitors from which to draw.

Founder’s Day Weekend, July 20-21, experienced diminished attendance and fewer re-enactors than in previous years. The re-enactor participation may have declined due to the competition of War of 1812 bicentennial events and 150th anniversary commemorations of the Civil War. There is only so much time, energy and money individuals can commit to the hobby and choices must be made.

Likewise for potential visitors to Founder’s Day Weekend, there is much to choose from on the Seaway Festival schedule. Perhaps, too, people suspect once they have visited the re-enactment and colonial trade fair, there is no need to attend again because they have seen it all before. Not true. The core activities, the skirmishes on land and water, are varied year to year, and each year new activities are added. This year special heritage presentations included colonial lighting, period fashion, antique tools and an introduction to the 18th-century navy. There were two book launches and an A/V presentation on an 18th-century St. Lawrence River shipwreck. Admission was free Sunday to youth 17 and under, and Sunday afternoon Native storyteller Jim Bruchac entertained young and old.

There is some irony to the attendance. A significant number of attendees do not live in Ogdensburg. Through the weekend, visitors came from Fort Drum, Watertown, Ottawa, Montreal and other locations outside St. Lawrence County and New York State. Some were tourists who just discovered Founder’s Day Weekend and others who were returning visitors.

Re-enactors, heritage presenters and sutlers came from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and New York, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Nonetheless, why the comparatively low number of local visitors? The weekend was promoted on TV, radio and in the press. There were a number of published stories online and in local newspapers. Assuming people listen to, watch or read the local media, I suppose they too made choices from the many Seaway Festival opportunities.

As reported, Zonta’s antique show was well attended, but had fewer participants. Is this the case for other festival activities or particular to the aging of artists and artisans? If this is a general phenomenon, perhaps a consolidation of similar activities should be considered. A pooling of resources would create dynamic vibrancy attractive to many people.

The promotional rack card for Founder’s Day featured the name and Web address of the Seaway Festival. Thereby the fort association helped advertise the Seaway Festival locally and out of state. We are in this together and must do what we can to ensure success for all participants.

I would add that all involved with the planning of Founder’s Day Weekend were pleased by the turnout to the VIP Social Saturday evening. The 40 or so visitors were introduced to the role of the re-enactment and plans for the fort site. They were given a guided tour of the navy, French and English encampments by re-enactors and of the sutler area, followed by a meet-and-greet discussion with beverages and finger foods.

This letter expresses my views and does not represent those of the Fort La Présentation Association nor the Canadian Friends of Fort de La Présentation.

Michael Whittaker

President

Canadian Friends of Fort de La Présentation

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