18 June 2012

The War of 1812—a non-Canadian event

That Mr. Harper and his colleagues are all gung-ho about the War of 1812, and spending millions on commemorating it, is hardly surprising. Reactionaries seem to have a thing about war. Perhaps it appeals to their need for simplicity, for seeing issues in black and white, us and them, and war is the ultimate us and them. And of course the War of 1812 was a British war, and Mr. Harper et al. have a thing about our British heritage as well.

But the War of 1812 was not a Canadian war. Indeed, it occurred generations before Canada even existed. Did winning it, or perhaps I should say not losing it, contribute to Canada as we know it today? Of course it did. But then so did many other things going back into the ancient past, nonetheless they weren't Canadian if they occurred before Confederation. And if the British had decisively lost the war, we might now happily be Americans looking forward to joyously celebrating the 4th of July and regarding the War of 1812 with quite different sentiments. I'm rather glad it worked out the way it did, but if it hadn't I can't possibly say my life would have been any worse or any better—just different.

Is it of interest to know about those events that resulted in modern Canada? Of course it is, at least if you are interested in history, but that doesn't somehow make them Canadian. It is much more sensible to commemorate events that are. If we need anything more than Confederation, I might suggest the patriation of the Constitution in 1982. I certainly wouldn't choose a war.

Others would, of course, have quite different preferences. But let us at least confine the choices to post July 1, 1867, i.e. to Canada.


  1. Indeed, it was the rebellious attitude towards British rule, by the first real Canadians, French and English alike, that eventually forged what is distinct about our nation. The Cons however, loathe that rebelliousness, and its corollary of free expression, as it epitomizes all that they despise.

  2. I have to disagree, Bill. Having been born and raised just a few miles from Fort Malden where Brock and the 49th launched a brilliant, pre-emptive strike into Michigan to defeat Hull at Detroit and on into Ohio, I grew up with a sense of the 1812 war as very much a Canadian matter.

    We were, at that time, Upper and Lower Canada, colonies to be sure but permanently settled by people who considered themselves of the land, not British. Our people, despite their very limited means, also fought in the Canadian Militia, various Fencible regiments and, of course, the famous Voltigeurs who, although seriously outnumbered, repulsed an American attempt to seize Quebec.

    Was this part of Canadian history? Of course it was. Just as pre-revolutionary America is an integral part of U.S. history.

    The War of 1812 was "of the land" and the outcome of that war shaped the future of that land and its people. 1867 is but a nominal date for the introduction of what was an incomplete Canada.

    Bear in mind, Bill, that had the outcome of that war gone the other way, you and I and a lot of other modern day Canadians might well have found ourselves in places like Vietnam.

  3. w/o naming you, Dan Gardner is lambasting you for this post in his latest article


    w/o acknowledging (or even seeing?) that he's attacking a straw man by conflating 'not a Canadian war' (perpetrated by the Gov. of Canada & Canadian citizens) with 'not part of Canadian history.'