22 June 2012

Anniversary: War of 1812, Part 'More' of... we're almost done

The War of 1812: A Canadian’s Perspective

Two hundred years ago the United States and Great Britan, two countries that are now staunch friends and allies, went to war...and the British colony of Canada was caught in the middle of the conflict. Today, the War of 1812 is a minor footnote to history for most Americans, coming as it did between the epic conflicts that were the War of Independence and the American Civil War. The British also attach little importance the War of 1812, preferring, I think, to forget the reaffirmation of independence by their former colonies. In sharp contrast, the War of 1812 holds an important place in Canadian history. The war has been the subject of numerous Canadian books and films, and is marked by national historic sites and museum displays. It is often said that the Canadian national identity was born in 1917 on the bloody slopes of Vimy Ridge but, in fact, the seeds of Canadian nationalism were planted over a century earlier during the War of 1812 when an outnumbered force composed of Canadian militiamen and First Nations warriors leavened with a smattering of British redcoats turned back several invasion attempts by much larger forces of American troops.

A number of larger than life Canadian heroes emerged from the conflict. Major-General Isaac Brock defeated an American army at the Battle of Queenston Heights, but at the cost of his own life. The great Shawnee chief Tecumsah united the First Nations tribes in a mighty confederacy that was later shattered by his death at the Battle of the Thames. The homesteader Laura Secord walked 20 miles over rough terrain to warn the British of an impending American attack, which allowed a small force of British regulars and Mohawk warriors to defeat an American force at the Battle of Beaver Dams. Reminders of Canada’s role in the War of 1812 abound today. Brock’s blood-stained tunic is proudly on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa; Parks Canada maintains key historic sites from the War of 1812, including Fort George National Historic Site, the Battle of Chateauguay National Historic Site, and Crysler’s Farm Battlefield, that attract large numbers of Canadians and foreign tourists; and Laura Secord has been immortalized in song and by the signature chocolates produced by the Canadian candy and ice cream manufacturer that was named in her honour.

It matters little to us that British troops burned the White House but were later defeated by General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. Ask any Canadian who won the War of 1812 and the answer almost certainly will be “We did!” Former US President Thomas Jefferson without doubt missed the mark when he famously asserted that annexing Canada would be “a mere matter of marching”. Even though the eventual peace treaty between the United States and Great Britain maintained the status quo, the arguably mythic Canadian belief that our outnumbered citizen soldiers triumphed over a foreign invader is an important part of our national identity.

By: Shelldrake

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