On my very first tour with Live History, I didn’t know what to expect. I had only done one show with them prior. It was a gala in Whitby, featuring a wide array of historical characters at a very snazzy event. The people there were a mix of experience Live History performers and new comers, and I was portraying a very well known and easy to research figure in the city, as were most of the other performers.
I therefore was a little surprised when we arrived in Lundy’s Lane, at the Battleground Hotel Museum, to find that the only information found on my character was a small paragraph lifted from the historical society’s notes. Donald Mackenzie built an observation tower, Mr. Fralik built a bigger one in front of it, then Mr. Mackenzie’s tower then burned down mysteriously. The Fralik’s hotel mysteriously caught fire some short time after. That was what I had to go on and I figured I’d learn more on site. This is Live History’s forte, telling the stories that were in danger of being forgotten, but I had no idea how “in danger” it was until we got there. Even his name had different spellings, but each spelling failed to provide additional information in searches. Therefore, we’ll go with “Mackenzie” for this blog.
While the show itself went very well, it was very different. Unlike my prior event in Whitby, very few of the people, including locals, knew who Donald Mackenzie was. When we took a break and visited the local cemetery to find some of our notables mentioned in the show we discovered the Fralik’s graves very quickly. Not a Donald Mackenzie in sight.
We even paid a visit to the museum where the man himself was not even given a footnote, while his tower was mentioned in brief passing.
And yet this very real, very interesting person who had an impact on the landscape, culture, and people of Lundy’s Lane in his time… had seemingly vanished from the memory of the town. His feud with the Fralik’s seemed forgotten, and the man and all his deeds less than a footnote. It makes one think of their own mortality and fragility in their life…of how despite all our accomplishments we too may become lost to time.
It was amazing during the show to see the reactions people had to rediscovering this history. By bringing Donald Mackenzie and his story to life, the audience at our shows in the Battleground Hotel Museum got a chance to encounter a piece of local history completely unbeknownst to them. An original piece of the Hotel still charred by fire led people to assume that the feud between Mr. Mackenzie and Mr. Fralik had escalated into each attempting to burn down the property of the other. They suddenly became interested in this footnote, the long forgotten man, and became invested in him and his life. For a brief moment, Donald Mackenzie was back and alive in the minds of the current residents, and they were trying to learn more about him.
I’ve been with Live History for three years now as a performer and toured with them across the country. I’ve met some amazing people and performed as truly interesting characters in historic locations. For all that, I still think back to my first tour, my second show, and the performative magic of bringing even lost history to life.
I still remember Donald Mackenzie, and I believe anyone who saw the Live History show that day does too.