YOUNGSTOWN – Bundle up and trek to Old Fort Niagara to experience some old-fashioned, pre-holiday magic during the annual Castle by Candlelight program planned from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday and repeated Dec. 21.
The Youngstown Garden Club bedecks the 286-year-old French Castle with traditional Christmas decorations, incorporating plenty of greenery and other natural items found in the surrounding area.
Also look for wool-clad soldiers as they prepare their muskets, and artillerists ready their cannons for a grand “feu de joie,” or “firing of joy,” to honor the holiday season. And while candles glow in the windows of the French Castle, the air will be filled with the traditional music of fifes and drums.
In addition to outdoor activities, cooks will be demonstrating how they prepare traditional holiday fare in the stone building’s kitchens, and period characters will regale visitors with stories of 18th century winters. A Recollect priest will recite the Christmas story in the traditional Latin in the fort’s Chapel, while re-enactors portraying fur-traders and French soldiers pass the winter evening in more boisterous pursuits.
Elsewhere on the fort grounds, re-enactors portraying Native Americans and frontier residents will advise visitors on how they survived the cruel winters on the shores of frigid Lake Ontario 250 years ago.
The French first established Fort Conti here in 1679, building the permanent fortification now known as the French Castle in 1726. The French held it until 1759, losing it to the British in the French and Indian War.
Visitors also will see demonstrations of woodworking and horn smithing, and learn how to prepare traditional hot chocolate. They will also have the opportunity to write with a quill pen and play a traditional game.
The grand “feu de joie,” featuring the rolling fire of muskets and cannons, will be performed by the massed garrison at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. The fort’s Log Cabin also will be open, offering hot beverages and live holiday music. Admission to the event is $8 per person, with proceeds benefiting the fort’s educational programming. Visitors are encouraged to dress for the weather, wear walking footwear and bring a flashlight.
The fort’s Museum Shop also will be open throughout the holiday season. The shop is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily and offers books, apparel and historic reproductions.
Old Fort Niagara is a not-for-profit operated by the Old Fort Niagara Association, in cooperation with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.