The Maple Leaf
Vol. 15, Issue 02
Commemorating the War of 1812: Canada's role
A War of 1812 graphic depicting Major-General Isaac Brock; Tecumseh; Lieutenant- Colonel Charles-Michel de Salaberry; and Laura Secord.
A graphic of a line drawing of the War of 1812 Battle of Châteauguay.
By: Cheryl MacLeod
What most Canadians remember about the War of 1812 is that we set fire to the White House.
But that event was only a small part of the war. This year, historians and history buffs alike will be busy marking the bicentennial of the military conflict between Great Britain and the US that became known as the War of 1812.
Many government organizations are getting involved in commemorating the War of 1812, providing all Canadians with an opportunity to take pride in our traditions and shared history.
The War of 1812 resulted from the conflict that raged in Europe after the Napoleonic Wars and British trade blockades. Great Britain stopped US ships from trading in Europe (mainly France), and searched US vessels for contraband and British deserters. The last straw came when British captains captured US sailors to serve on British ships.
As well, in its push westward, the US was encountering strong resistance from First Nations, and believed Great Britain was behind this opposition.
On June 18, 1812, the US declared war on Great Britain and its British North American colonies (today, Central and Eastern Canada). English- and French-speaking Canadian militia and First Nations allies repelled US invaders over the course of two years.
What role did Canada play in this war? Some of the land that would become Canada, and the people who would become Canadians, constituted a colony of Great Britain, and so were swept up in the fighting. The War of 1812 was instrumental in the continued development of our military forces; the military heritage and traditions of many Canadian regiments of today began with this war.
The war was also a defining moment that contributed to shaping our identity as Canadians and, ultimately, our existence as a country. It laid the foundation for Confederation and the cornerstones of our political institutions.
Many War of 1812 battles were fought at sea, where warships and privateers of both sides attacked each other’s merchant ships. The Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River played key roles during the war, with many battles taking place on the water and along our shores and riverbanks.
Lacking naval power, US forces tried to take Upper and Lower Canada, where Canadian Governor General Georges Prevost had few options for defending the colonies. He couldn’t rely on the loyalty of many of the inhabitants, but the British had good officers such as Major-General Isaac Brock, who was considered a hero for his role in the early development of Canada.
Governor General Prevost could also count on the native alliance led by Tecumseh, a US Shawnee chief, leader of the First Nations confederacy and a military leader during the War of 1812. Help also came from Laura Secord, who risked her life to warn the British of US plans to capture a British officer.
Then there was Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel de Salaberry, a French-Canadian nobleman who served as a British Army officer in Lower Canada (now Quebec and the St. Lawrence Valley) and won distinction for repelling the US advance on Montréal during the autumn of 1813.
The war came to an end December 24, 1814, when peace negotiations culminated in the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which re-established boundaries that existed before the war. Had the War of 1812 ended differently, the Canada we know today would not exist.
For information, visit www.1812.gc.ca.