Excitement is brewing this weekend as Fort Henry NHS will be performing along side the United States Marine Corp (USMC) in what is always a capturing performance. What many may not realise, is that Kingston’s Fort Henry Guard and the USMC have a very unique and long standing relationship.
It all began in 1954 with celebrations commemorating the signing of the Ogdensburg Agreement. The Ogdensburg Agreement was a document signed in 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, binding Canada and the United States to the joint defense of North America. As commemoration, The USMC and representatives of the Fort Henry Guard were invited to Ivy Lea Bridge, a symbol of a partnership, and posed together shaking hands.
The USMC were then invited to perform for the first time on the parade square of Fort Henry NHS, in what was a grand spectacle of joint military performance. The restorer of Fort Henry and the founder of the Fort Henry Guard, Ronald L. Way, successfully presented the Guard as an outstanding example of what living history could look like. Commander General Lemuel C. Shepherd was extremely impressed with the performance standards of the Guard, which to this day was made up of young adults without formal military training. Ronald Way and General Lemuel, quickly garnered respect for each other and struck a mutual friendship which would cement the comradery between FHG and USMC.
The following year, General Lemuel invited Ronald Way and the Fort Henry Guard to the Marines Barracks in Washington D.C, the only non-military unit to ever be extended the privilege. The Guard and the USMC performed together for the second time as they marched past the Iwo Jima Memorial. The two groups began a tradition of exchanging commemorative gifts that year, including a brass cannon to the USMC and an USMC drum to the guard. In 1955, no greater honour was presented then to General Lemuel C. Shepherd, who became the Honourary commander of the Fort Henry Guard, which he served with pride until his death in 1990.
This year marks the 63rd anniversary of friendship between these two unlikely comrades. For years, both groups have travelled to- and-fro to perform together, with bi-annual performances at Fort Henry NHS. The Fort Henry Guard is one of five units in the world, and the only Canadian unit, honoured with the presentation of the Marine Corps Drums. Fort Henry has a whole collection of objects and images that show off their friendship with the USMC, some of which can be seen in the exhibits of the fort, and The Marine Barracks has a whole room dedicated to the Fort Henry Guard, where they hang the FHG colours.
I have personally had the pleasure to work at Fort Henry when the Marines last visited in 2015, and can say that the USMC enjoys visiting as much as we enjoy having them, as many voiced that Kingston and Fort Henry was their favourite place to perform.