Canadians debate prudence of celebrating War of 1812

Well, there’s a columnist who’s debating it, anyway.  She seems to think commemorating a war with a close neighbor smacks too much of jingoism, but it looks like the PM has already made the decision for her.

I think it’s odd that the War of 1812 is The Big One for Canadians.  It seems to me that the French and Indian War was much more significant in directing the course of Canadian history, setting that country on a British trajectory as opposed to a French one.  Of course, a lot of Canadians remained on a French trajectory, at least as far as language and culture went, so that might have something to do with it.

I’d like to see somebody do a comparative full-length study on the memory of the War of 1812 in the U.S. and Canada and explain how the war’s legacy developed to the north and all but vanished down here in the States.  These days we take it for granted that 1812 gets short shrift as far as the popular consciousness goes, but has that always been the case?  And if not, what happened?

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6 Comments

Filed under History and Memory

6 responses to “Canadians debate prudence of celebrating War of 1812

  1. Matt McKeon

    I was in Canada a few months ago, and the national parks were certainly gearing up for some 1812ing. Desperately sorry I missed the anniversity of the Battle of Queenston Heights myself.

    As far as 1812 being the Canadian “big one” it was really a triumph of British Canada over foreign invaders. So its a founding myth of unity vs. outsiders. In 1812, how much did British Canadians actually consider Americans were outsiders, considering many Americans were transplanted Canadians and vice versa?
    Significant groups did: escaped slaves, descendents of Tories who emigrated after the revolution, some of the First Nations peoples.

    • Michael Lynch

      That’s an interesting point–1812 wasn’t long after a lot of exiles ended up there, so there’s a sense in which the American invasion of Canada in that war was a civil war between British settlers. Come to think of it, so was the American invasion of 1775.

      –ML

  2. I certainly like your idea of a comparison study between the memory of the War of 1812 in the US and Canada, but another point you bring up could also be grounds for such a study, i.e. how Canadian memory of the F&I v. 1812 wars differs.

    • Michael Lynch

      I’d like to learn more about Canadian historical memory in general. American historical memory has always revolved around abstractions like “freedom” and “liberty,” as well as military conflicts. Canada’s destiny has been shaped by war, too, but how have Canadians explained their history to themselves?

      A lot of Canadian history parallels U.S. history, when you think about it; Canada had a colonial period, a westward frontier and displacement of the Indians, a “melting pot” experience, and so on. it would be neat to compare any of these aspects of Canadian memory with the same factors in American historical memory.

      –ML

  3. Simon

    My college background was in a double major of US- and Canadian Studies. Alan Taylor recent study of the US- Canadian border war is an excellent study of why US/ Canadian memory of the War of 1812 differs so much. The war of 1812 was important to Canadians because if gave them a national identity, it was one of the few wars both French, and English (and Native Americans) were united in one common goal. Also as Taylor suggests it solidified loyalties around the border region.
    Many of Canada’s national heroes came from the War of 1812 (see Laura Secord) if you can find it there is a very interesting series of advertisements that came out around the 90’s called Canadian Historical minutes or something like that. Many of these revolved around Canadian involvement in the war of 1812. These were aired on national television and designed to build patriotism, in a country not known for flag waving (the Canadian flag is only about 40+ years old)
    Also although I feel I haven’t gotten to your deeper question, it is interesting to look at the preservation of historical sites in the two countries. While the US believes in total preservation (ie preserving as much of the battle ground as possible) Canadian historical sites very often concentrate on a central museum to interpret the history while leaving much of the battleground un-interpreted. Many sites are interpreted but not preserved. For example Fort Erie, the 2nd Bloodiest battle of the war is preserved but the site of the majority of the fighting is not.

    • Michael Lynch

      Thanks, Simon. This is interesting. I’ve been tempted to get Taylor’s book, but haven’t had time to read it yet. I may have to clear a spot on my reading list for it.

      –ML

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