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Miscellaneous: 4 Feb 2008
Early last week City of Toronto councillors quietly approved the spending of $25,000 to begin planning the bicentennial observance of the War of 1812. Good for them, and let's hope more of Canada's elected officials jump on the bandwagon.
Long-ago war deserves reflection
In Canada, we don't appreciate our heritage and our history nearly well enough. Sadly, too many of us do not understand the significance of the War of 1812, so it's about time our policy-makers set out to change perceptions and give us all a reason to celebrate.
Here's the simple truth -- the War of 1812 was the genesis of the Canadian nation. It is the reason why there is a Canada. It is the reason why Canada is not part of the United States, and why the Canadian provinces are not merely stars on the American flag. The War of 1812 was every bit as significant to the founding of Canada as the American Revolution was to the founding of the United States. While the American colonists fought to assert that their nation would not be governed by the British, our Canadian forebears fought so that this nation would not be governed by the Americans.
In the aftermath of the American Revolution, the colonists who wished to remain loyal to the British Crown moved north into British-controlled territories. This wave of loyalists became the foundation of English-speaking Canada, and wanted no involvement with the American revolutionaries.
In its formative years, the United States actively pursued a policy of acquisition that would become known as Manifest Destiny -- the stated objective of bringing the entire North American continent under American control. The Americans saw their chance, with Britain and Spain preoccupied with their wars against Napoleon in Europe. Through 1812, American military forces attacked British North America on three fronts -- across the Detroit River, the Niagara River and the St. Lawrence River -- in the belief that Canadian colonists would greet them as liberators. They were wrong, and after nearly three years of sometimes vicious skirmishes and battles -- culminating in the July 1814 Battle of Lundy's Lane, in what is now the City of Niagara Falls -- the Americans pulled back across the river.
At the same time, American invaders also occupied the Spanish held territories to their south, and would eventually take control of what became the State of Florida.
The Canadian militia -- with no small amount of help from the British and their Indian allies, notably the Shawnee nation led by Tecumseh -- had turned back the Americans. But there were no victory parades and no celebrations. There was no doubt in any Canadian's mind at that time that the Americans would be back.
Canada, with the support of Britain, would spend the next century building fortifications along the American border and digging canals to supply troops for the war everyone knew was coming.
As it turned out, though, the Americans never did come back. Past aggressions were forgotten, and during the First World War we embraced the Americans as friends and allies. And the significance of the events at Lundy's Lane were forgotten.
Maybe it's time to rekindle these national memories, for the sake of our Canadian-born children and the wave of immigrants who must wonder why Canada exists. Let's not mythologize it, as the Americans have done with their revolution, but let's tell it like it was.
Perhaps it's appropriate Toronto is getting this party started. After all, the Americans did burn the city to the ground in 1813.
(Picture Details:The Battle of Lundy's Lane, [ca. 1921]
C. W. Jefferys
Pen and Ink Drawing
29.2 cm x 36.8 cm (11.5" x 14.5")
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 621234)
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