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Bicentennial of War of 1812 Problematic for Canada

Bicentennial of War of 1812 Problematic for Canada

 

With the bicentennial of the War of 1812 approaching, Canada has a bit of a problem. How to commemorate this major formative event in their history without offending the United States, who lost that war. It’s touchy business for the Harper government. On one hand, this conflict highlights the military daring and courage of the country as it repulsed an invader, but on the other, it reminds America of its not so noble land grab and one of its few military defeats.

It Was A War of Southern Aggression

The war itself was fraught with death and destruction. Both the White  House and the first parliamentary buildings in Upper Canada were burned to the ground, and while Americans enjoy recounting First Lady Dolley Madison’s bravery as she rescued paintings from the East Wing (silver and other valuables were actually gathered up by her slaves), they aren’t as fond of being thought of as naked aggressors in a war that was largely about expanding the borders of the United States by forcibly annexing its neighbor to the north.

Harper’s Conservatives Driving the Commemoration

Canadians, however, are justifiably proud of their ancestors’ victory, and the Conservatives are pushing to commemorate the bicentennial not just in 2012 but beyond. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made no secret of his desire to promote the heroism in Canada’s military past as part of the country’s national identity. The government’s message, however, focuses on the victory as an important step in the founding of Canada, steering away from any sort of one-upmanship language that might provoke Americans into viewing Canada in a negative light.

In other words, Canada is proud of the butt-kicking it gave the United States 200 years ago, but only in  the “aw shucks” deferential way that America has come to expect from its “nicest” North American neighbor.

Hurt Feelings Unavoidable?

Despite the muted tone, some feel that anti-American sentiment is inevitable, and no matter how the government spins it, feelings will get hurt.

With the Conservatives promising another war monument in the National Capital region and designating the entire month of October in 2012 to commemorate key battles via hundreds of planned re-enactments and ceremonies to honor the heroes of 1812, it’s difficult to imagine hard feelings not arising. But perhaps Americans, embroiled in the last leg of what is already shaping up to be a contentious presidential election, won’t have time to notice.

How Do You Feel?

It’s an important event in Canadian history. Ask any Canadian, and they will recount the victory over the United States in 1812 with pride.

With 200 years having passed and as many years of cooperation in between, should Canada worry about American sensitivities when celebrating its own rich and amazing history? And should the Americans really care anymore about an event that they should probably feel a bit contrite about in any case? Let’s hear your thoughts.

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Photo Credit: War of 1812 by RichardBH

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43 comments

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8:55PM PDT on Mar 29, 2012

I missed this back when it was first published here and only just stumbled upon it, but we're actually having numerous events here in Buffalo commemorating the bicentennial of the war, and I believe there will be events in Canada, as well.

I know some comments had it right, but a lot of others were off the mark, as was the entire article. The revisionist history here is absurd, even beyond the writer declaring it a Canadian victory. The War of 1812 was not about a US land grab, and any invasions beyond our borders were quite mutual and based more on the positioning of the various forts on both sides of the border. The intent wasn't so much as to breach the Canadian border as it was to engage British troops where they were stationed or to attack expeditions outside of the forts.

The initial cause of the war was British conscription of sailors on US merchant ships on the Atlantic because the British needed more manpower to fight Napoleon's French forces in Europe. Therefore, if anyone was the aggressor, it was Britain, not the US, and Canada was only caught in the middle by virtue of being a British colony, so that's where the British troops were stationed.

There was no Canadian victory, not only because Canada was not yet a sovereign nation, but also because neither Great Britain nor the US could claim a decisive victory. If anything the peace treaty ended the war in what was pretty much a draw.

9:20PM PDT on Aug 4, 2011

It is not the Harper government. It's the Canadian government, kthxbai.

10:19AM PDT on Jul 30, 2011

I should clarify that it's good to know the history, but the slant of the article focusing on whether Americans should be offended is silly.

10:17AM PDT on Jul 30, 2011

This is a silly thing to bring to the public's attention, as I bet most Americans don't know and don't care. We are not concerned with offending the British during our annual 4th of July celebration, and we even had a special coinage put into circulation the year of our bicentennial celebrating our Revolutionary war win.

10:19AM PDT on Jul 25, 2011

I don't think wars of any sort are anything to be celebrated or reenacted for entertainment purposes. Acknowledgment of the sacrifices made and solemn remembrance seems like a more appropriate way to remember the bloody events of our history.

War is offensive to any rational mind no matter the justifications put forth by its proponents.

12:42AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Thanks for the article.

12:29PM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

I don't know what Harper is really celebrating, the war was between the U.S. and British North America, not Canada. Canada didn't even become a dominion until 1867. Waste of time.

10:10AM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

Lynn S. Thank you for expanding upon my comments re. the Fenians. They invaded from Buffalo in 1866 & we like to think our little town of Ridgeway, where the battle occurred, is one of the reasons our nation was founded, the provinces from Atlantic to Pacific united & the national railway was built for troop & supply movement for our protection. The Fenians were well trained Civil War vets & the actual planning was done by US generals with full knowledge of the US president. Quebec was to be the main invasion point but the plan was eventually abandoned.
As for 1812, the Brits weren't always angels & did provoke the US. Back then France & Britain were always pissing each other off & Britain never did get over France's interference in the revolution. The war of 1812 had massive casualties.
I like to think Americans & Canadians think well of each other personally (but not often of each other's governments). I hope Americans would learn more about us. We are the wallflowers who do a lot of good things & have a proud history but seldom get recognition for it. The US could have a much worse neighbour.

10:09AM PDT on Jul 22, 2011

Lynn S. Thank you for expanding upon my comments re. the Fenians. They invaded from Buffalo in 1866 & we like to think our little town of Ridgeway, where the battle occurred, is one of the reasons our nation was founded, the provinces from Atlantic to Pacific united & the national railway was built for troop & supply movement for our protection. The Fenians were well trained Civil War vets & the actual planning was done by US generals with full knowledge of the US president. Quebec was to be the main invasion point but the plan was eventually abandoned.
As for 1812, the Brits weren't always angels & did provoke the US. Back then France & Britain were always pissing each other off & Britain never did get over France's interference in the revolution. The war of 1812 had massive casualties.
I like to think Americans & Canadians think well of each other personally (but not often of each other's governments). I hope Americans would learn more about us. We are the wallflowers who do a lot of good things & have a proud history but seldom get recognition for it. The US could have a much worse neighbour.

11:49PM PDT on Jul 21, 2011

I'm with you on this

The US attained 3 of their 4 goals in that war and the 4th they attained elsewhere in very short order, we still view it with some satisfaction, particularly due to beating the Brits at sea. I think, really, that most in the US will be surprised that A) We didn't actually win that one and B) We invaded Canada

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