The Dryden Observer

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Thoughts on the War of 1812

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

In the case of most contentious topics, the truth most often lies somewhere in the middle of the two parties whose accounts seem to be at odds.

Lately, I’ve been trying to process a recent escalation of rhetoric surrounding the War of 1812 (and who won it), which observes its 200th anniversary this year.

And until a few days ago, to me Laura Secord was that place in the mall where you buy those mint-flavoured chocolate bars and Brock was the backup university I never attended. But I didn’t need to know the ins-and-out of British impressment on the high seas to gloat with satisfaction about one of the few things Canadians can. Everything I needed to know was taught to me by Edmonton comedy troupe Three Dead Trolls In A Baggie in their song — The War of 1812.

 

“It’s the only war the Yankees lost, except for
Vietnam
And also the Alamo… and the Bay of… ham.
The loser was America,
The winner was ourselves,
So join right in and gloat about the War of
1812…”

 And gloat we are, it seems — a little more so than normal. Even Prime Minister Harper takes the opportunity to present some carefully drafted thoughts on the matter on a new Government of Canada website ‘www.1812.gc.ca’, wherein he states:

“…I invite all Canadians to share in our history and commemorate our proud and brave ancestors who fought and won against enormous odds.”

 Harper goes on to note how the conflict unified Aboriginal peoples, volunteer militias, English and French-speaking regiments to repel the American invasion.

However, the video on the website is far less subtle in its depiction of the victor.

A gravelly voice growls, “Two hundred years ago, they invaded our territory, we defended our land.”

The scene flashes to Laura Secord scrambling frantically through the woods, then to Chief Tecumseh nodding gravely to Sir Isaac Brock before a battle and culminating with a final image of a British regiment raising their muskets against a landing party of American soldiers. “FIRE!” calls Brock. Kaboom!

Blech! Why am I made so uncomfortable by this expensively commissioned propaganda piece? Perhaps because the very approach seems more American than Canadian.

So, why is this happening all of a sudden? Did the Harper government anticipate a rising tide of historical revisionism from south of the border throughout the 200th anniversary of this conflict. I haven’t heard boo from Uncle Sam.

Whatever the Conservatives’ reasons, they’re not messing around. The Harper government will spend $28 million on a commemorative coin, a new national monument, museum upgrades and other materials commemorating the War of 1812.

Is it worth the money to try to cement this mythology further into our national identity? After 200 years, should we not have gained enough distance on the event to recognize how horrendously futile of an exercise it was for either side?

While the United States gained a flag, an anthem and an organized military, they ultimately failed in their attempts to annex Upper and Lower Canada. Both capitals were burned and either nation went about their business three years later with very little to show for the blood of 15,000 men aside from crushing debts.

While most call it a decisive moment in our nation’s history, to me it stands as an example of a senseless war — justified in hindsight.

 

 

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