Canadian officer in Royal Flying Corps, somewhere in France ,1917. The re-enactor is part of the Victoria-Esquimalt Military Re-Enactors Association, which is putting on the Lantern Tour at Fort Rodd Hill this weekend. (Martina Diklitch photo).

Step back in time at Fort Rodd Hill

Annual lantern tour illuminates military history

Stepping back in time may seem impossible to some, but for Don Thomas it’s a regular occurrence.

As a live historian with the Victoria-Esquimalt Military Re-enactors Association, the 66-year-old East Sooke resident often dons military uniforms from different eras and slips into characters from one of the scenes he’s recreating.

“It’s as much as a hobby as it is for someone who enjoys skiing, golfing or fishing. Our passion happens to be history and it’s a good way to be involved in it first-hand,” said Thomas, who has been with the association since its inception roughly 19 years ago.

“When you read a book it gives you a whole different perspective than when you’re actually doing it. It [re-enacting] gives you an idea of what the individuals went through.”

Thomas is one of many volunteers who will be re-enacting four scenes between 1897 and 1956 during the annual Lantern Tour at Fort Rodd Hill this weekend. As part of the one-hour tour, which is a fundraiser for the association, participants are guided by lantern light and eavesdrop on re-enactors in uniform going about the daily activities of garrison life.

Thomas hopes residents will gain an appreciation for what previous generations went through during periods of war.

“They always say if the visitor can go away asking questions and wanting to know more than you’ve accomplished your aim,” he said.

That appreciation is something Thomas learned from a young age. Growing up in New Brunswick, his passion for history was sparked when his grandmother told him stories of Brockway, the village he grew up in.

After joining the military at the age of 17 and serving for 27 years, Thomas decided to combine his love for history with education as a re-enactor. In preparation, Thomas poured over pages of one history book after another to get as many details as he could to make sure scenes were as accurate as possible.

Now Thomas, along with the association’s roughly 45 members (15 from Vancouver Island and between 25 to 30 from the Mainland), put on 16 re-enactments throughout the summer, primarily scenes from the military and related history of Canada and its allies between 1775 to 1960.

“It’s a good way to get the message across, especially in this day and age where everything is so visual,” said Thomas, who has a particular interest in WWI, WWII and the Cold War. “It works out well when you’re trying to convey a message to the public – this is what happened, this is what they wore, and what they ate.”

The Lantern Tour at Fort Rodd Hill takes place on Saturday, Sept. 23 beginning at 7 p.m. Guided tours leave every 15 minutes with the last tour at 9:30 p.m. Participants are encouraged to bring lanterns and flashlights, and wear weather-appropriate clothing.

Organizers encourage those interested to purchase tickets in advance by calling 250-478-4389. They can also be purchased at the site for $10. For more information on the lantern tour, visit colwood.ca.

kendra.wong@goldstreamgazette.com

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