Unlike the United States, Canada is a nation that gained its independence without a bloody revolution. This does not mean that Canada’s history is without violence. Many consider some of Canada’s defining moments to be on the battlefield. Vimy Ridge, the battle of the Somme and the Passchendaele battles are all examples of Canadian valour in the First World War that went a long way in defining our nation on a global scale. There is nothing inherently wrong with celebrating a military victory and honouring those who fought for our country.
If you have been watching the Olympic games recently, or any television for that matter, there is a good chance that you have seen the Government of Canada’s ad campaign raising awareness about the bicentennial of the War of 1812. The ad features a cast of luminaries from Canadian historical folklore including Tecumseh, Laura Secord, Isaac Brock and Charles de Salaberry all bravely beating back an American invasion. Clearly, Canada’s foe in the War of 1812 is the main focus for the renewed interest in the war and the federal government has decided to sink $28 million into promoting the bicentennial. This campaign aims to fill the perceived need to promote national identity by reminding Canadians that we once beat the U.S. in a war, or held them to a draw at least. Canadians have plenty to be proud of, especially in the realm of military history.
Although it is absolutely true that these men and women fought bravely and suffered for our land, trying to drum up any sort of jingoism from a 200-year-old battle is unbecoming for any nation and smacks of immaturity. The stated purpose of the program is to raise awareness for a particular moment in history where Canadians, if one can confidently identify them as such 55 years before Confederation, defeated a would-be American invasion. Most of the residents of Upper Canada at this point in history were British loyalists or those who had fled the U.S. in the years following the Revolutionary War in America. Jefferson himself even expressed that he believed that it would be an easy task to march as far as Quebec without any real resistance. Keeping the Americans out was indeed an impressive military achievement, just not something that can be re-hashed now to assuage Canadian insecurities.
Putting aside the fact that the physical battle is largely regarded as a draw, perhaps it is time that Canada stops extracting national pride from an ancient military victory against the U.S. When considering the motivations of those who would have fought on behalf of Canada in that war, it seems as though anti-revolutionary sentiments would have been equally as viable as any sort of patriotism for the new Canadian territory. The U.S. desire to march on Canada is hardly illogical. The goal of the American invasion was to once and for all eradicate the British, the imperial power that they had just spent years fighting for independence from. Meanwhile, Canada remained a bastion for America’s political and military enemies.
The War of 1812 should absolutely remain in the curriculum, but Canada does not need to beat its chest and rattle its sabres over the bicentennial of a battle against the Americans. As a nation, Canada has achieved so much since then, sometimes fighting alongside the Americans. Canada should remain proud of its past and confident in its place in the world, and no centuries old battle should change this.