No celebrating War of 1812 bicentennial, please, we?re Canadian (external - login to view)
By Jack Branswell, Canwest News Service June 19, 2010
While it was a bloody war, the commemoration will look more like a binational love fest.
Documents obtained through access-to-information from Parks Canada, the leading federal agency in the bicentennial celebrations, go to great lengths to state we will not celebrate what Canadians largely see as their first victory over the Yanks in an armed conflict.
“It must remain clear that we are not celebrating war but commemorating the sacrifices made by early Canadians from diverse backgrounds to defend their land against annexation,” the notes say. “The bicentennial represents 200 years of peace and establishment of friendly diplomatic relations with the U.S.”
The U.S. declared war on the British colonies — in what was to become Canada later that century — on June 18, 1812.
During the three-year war, a rag-tag band of militia, native forces and a small contingent of British regular forces managed to repel the American invaders in a series of battles — mostly in what would become Ontario and Quebec, but also in the Atlantic provinces.
“The War also represented an important milestone in Canadian-American relations,” the documents note. “While peace was threatened during the Rebellions of 1837-38, during the Oregon Boundary dispute in the 1850s and in the Fenian raids following the American Civil War, disagreements were settled diplomatically
rather than resorting to arms.
“In effect, the bloodbath of the War of 1812 ushered in an era of peace between British North America (Canada) and the United States and gave rise to the fabled undefended border between good neighbours,” the politically correct documents say.
There are no hints of Canadian triumphalism in the 161 pages, though Parks Canada did block more than 3,000 pages on the topic from being released. The closest they come to being even vaguely partisan is when they state that “the Americans planned to annex Upper Canada (Ontario) and all territory to the west.”
In fact, the documents suggest the anniversary should include “symbolic ceremonies involving the PM and the U.S. President” and further talk about co-ordinating events with U.S. ceremonies. In Canada, the war — and the fact the Yankee invaders were driven back — was seen as a nation-building event that eventually led to Confederation in 1867.
Desmond Morton, a McGill University historian, said there is no clear-cut answer to who won the war.
“Who won and who lost are always vague questions,” he said. “Both sides tell their kiddies that they won it. And both sides are probably telling some of the truth, which is unusual when you have official history.”
And while Canadians like to puff their chests out when we talk about the war, Morton says the conflict, “like most of our wars, has been afflicted with self-serving myths, notably that the brave Canadian militia saved the country from the wicked Americans.
“Who wanted to give any credit to the British redcoats, who suffered almost all the battle casualties in return for brutal corporal punishment and a wage of one shilling a day? The militia played a major role as a transportation corps, an essential wartime service but not seen as glorious to politicians and publicists.”
With files from Philip Ling and Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service
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