JOHNSTOWN - The Battle of the Windmill makes for one of the most fascinating bits of lore in Canadian history, and the large stone tower itself, just east of Prescott, is one of the most iconic historic sites in the region, all of which makes it the perfect subject for a creative writer.
The Friends of Windmill Point are hoping the windmill-turned-lighthouse and its fascinating story will inspire writers young and old, novice or accomplished, from around the region to take part in this year's Windmill 180+1 Anniversary Short Story Contest, which has been running for about a month now and will continue to accept submissions until Sunday, August 25.
Though the Battle of the Windmill National Historic Site is part of Parks Canada, the site is operated by a local volunteer organization called the Friends of Windmill Point, and it's in large part through the efforts of that group that the doors of the site remain open to visitors every summer. One of the things the group does each year is organize a fundraiser to help defray the costs of keeping the site in operation.
Last year, the group held a poetry contest, and received a considerable number of top-quality submissions in both the adult and junior categories. The winner in the former category ended up being a municipal councillor from Merrickville, while the junior winner was a young man from Johnstown.
There will be no age category this year, and the contest is open to anybody living within about 50 kilometers of the windmill site. There is a nominal $5 entrance fee for each story submitted and authors can submit as many stories as they like. All submissions, however, must be between 1,500 and 3,000 words and relate in some way to the windmill site.
The story need not be about the battle, though, says Edie Batstone, a long-time member of the Friends of Windmill Point. She adds that as long as the windmill or some aspect of its 181-year history features in the work, the entrance criteria will have been satisfied. Entries can be either fiction or non-fiction.
It will take some time for the judges to go through all the entries, so it will be about two weeks after the submission deadline before winners are announced. This year, there will be seven winners - one first-place finisher, who will receive a prize of $150; a second-place winner, who will receive $100; and five third-place finishers, who will each be awarded $50.
Last year, the prize money for the poetry competition was donated by an anonymous local benefactor, and this year, that same person again, along with another generous benefactor, have provided the money for the short story prizes.
The first-place story will also be published in The Prescott Journal.
The judges for this year's competition include long-time windmill supporters Sandra Shouldice and John Warren, local historian Fraser Laschinger, and Krista Lang, and none of them will know the authors of the works when they read and evaluate the stories.
The windmill site has been in operation as a tourist attraction since the mid 1990s and the Friends of Windmill Point work closely with staff at the Fort Wellington National Historic Site to keep the building in good condition and open to visitors.
"The administration at the Fort is tremendous," says long-time Friend Ross Batstone. "There is a really good relationship between our group and the Fort."
Ross also points out that the site and the organization have been the beneficiaries of many other generous residents and businesses - including the Windmill Brewery, King's Lock Craft Distillery and Giant Tiger, in whose parking lot, he notes, the British and Canadian militia mustered their cannons to attack the invading American force that had errantly holed up in the 60-foot stone grist mill back in November of 1838.
The Friends of Windmill Point numbers about 10 members at present, though they could do with more and would welcome anybody interested in joining the group. Edie also points out that there are two ladies from Johnstown who aren't formally members of the group but who generously volunteer their time to tend the gardens around the property.
Three years ago, Parks Canada undertook some major restoration of the site, repointing the stone, repairing the windows and the stairwell, and renovating the lamphouse at the top of the structure. Though the lighthouse has long since been decommissioned as an aid to navigation, several years ago an LED light was put back into the lamphouse, and the light goes on every evening about 8 p.m. throughout the year.
The site is open through to the end of August from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week. Entrance to the gift shop at the bottom of the tower is free but a donation of $2 is requested from anyone who would like to climb to the top of the building.
All entries to the short story contest must be submitted electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org, and entry fees can be mailed or dropped off at the Battle of the Windmill site. Anyone interested in taking part in the Windmill 180+1 Anniversary Short Story Contest can find detailed submission instructions and more information about the competition at the Friends of Windmill Point page on Facebook or by calling Jim Devenny at 613-925-5955 or the Batstones at 613-925-4835.