In an attempt to rebrand Canada as a warrior nation, the federal government is promoting the War of 1812. The Tories have spent $4.5 million on advertising alone.
It’s a bad choice. President James Madison declared war on Great Britain, not Canada, for good reasons. Britain regularly boarded American ships and conscripted sailors. Britain regularly blocked American trade with Europe, especially with Britain’s French enemies.
Few Canadians fought in the war of 1812; not just because Canada didn’t exist as a county. The land that was to become Canada was populated by Americans in Upper Canada (now Ontario), French in Lower Canada (Quebec) and New Englanders (Atlantic Provinces).
Americans flooded into Upper Canada because of lower taxes, writes Stephen Marche in Walrus magazine. In a tactical move, Britain attracted immigrants by reducing taxes in Canada.
French settlers in Lower Canada had no quarrel with the U.S. The Canadiennes had no love of the British, either, after their defeat on the Plains of Abraham.
Maritime Canadians had bonds with their counterparts in New England through trade, traditions, and kinship. In fact, American New Englanders were opposed to the War of 1812. The U.S. declaration of war with Britain barely passed.
The heroes in the defence of Upper Canada were not Canadian. British Gen. Isaac Brock reluctantly took his post in Canada 10 years before the war. If he had his way, he would have been back home where all the action was in the fight against Napoleon. The great Indian leader Tecumseh was not Canadian. His goal was to unite aboriginal tribes from the Great Lakes to Georgia. Tecumseh’s alliance with Brock was one of convenience, not in defence of Canada. The victory that the Tories would have us believe in was due to the bungling of an American general. But for Gen. William Hull, Americans in Upper Canada could have welcomed soldiers as conquering heroes.
Unlike the United Empire Loyalists who fled to Upper Canada from the U.S. for political reasons, later emigrants left the U.S. for economic reasons and had no strong allegiance to Canada. If it weren’t for the alcoholic Hull, American forces would have been welcomed by their fellow countrymen in Upper Canada or if not welcomed, they would have been received indifferently.
But Hull set loose his troops on innocent and vulnerable civilians, burning farms, looting and pillaging villages. Understandably, citizens didn’t see Hull’s forces as liberators but as savage invaders. Given the large number of Americans in Upper Canada, it’s more properly viewed as an American colony, not British, explains Historian James Laxer. In this light, the War of 1812 is a “war of independence” from the U.S., not a victory for Canada.
The Harper government’s chest-thumping over the War of 1812 is a misguided attempt to portray our military prowess. Although the war was significant in the formation of Canada, to claim it as a victory is a distortion of history. Canadians will courageously fight when attacked but we didn’t fight in the War of 1812, didn’t win it.