Canada was born in 1867, raised from its Colonial roots by our first Prime Minister, Sir John A MacDonald, a man who never met a bribe or a drink he didn’t like. That is the official history.
But for many of us, the real creation of what became Canada happened back in 1812, when Sir Isaac Brock defended the land of Upper Canada from the invading Americans. Some in fairness also point to Sir John Graves Simcoe in the late 1700’s and William Lyon Mackenzie in 1837 as instigators of our founding, and they have valid arguments. But while one built up and the other fostered change, respectively, neither took up arms to defend our borders.
For various and sundried reasons, the United States of America decided to declare war on Britain, their former overlords, in 1812. And since the nearest British place was Upper Canada, our country’s maiden name, we became the chosen target. Brock was the leader our mostly ragtag and underdeveloped land mass, and was saddled with a lack of men and the support of the homeland. But he persevered. Forging an alliance with the First Nations leader Tecumseh – who perished in the war, and using military cunning, he carved out several decisive victories early on. Until he died in battle.
Other events happened during the war. The Americans invaded Fort York, set in the heart of what is now Toronto, and we blew up our munitions supply to try and save the day. A massive explosion, epic for it’s time, occurred. We retaliated by going down to Washington, driving the President out of the White House, then set fire to the building. After we left, they repainted the place white in order to cover the burn marks.
After many battles on land and lake, the whole thing ended in 1814. All the supposed reasons for the whole thing never seemed to be resolved or whatnot, it was just that the Americans were reeling from a more full British involvement in what was happening. History moved on, Brock was immortalized with a monument at Queenston Heights, Canada was born, and all the old wounds healed over and now our countries are best friends.
That is, until the Scouts got involved. Sort of. Back in the bygone era of the 1980’s, Scouts Canada wanted to teach history and foster international co-operation with our southern neighbours. So the Fort York and Fort George re-enactments were invented.
Hundreds of Scouts and the adult leaders would knit together uniforms from the period, create fake canteens and munition pouches and bayonets and hats, and would dutifully show up for a weekend of time travel.
I went to several of these over the years, fighting the good imaginary fight to protect the Colony from the aggressors. American Scouts would come up as well and try to take our Fort, with a pitched “battle” on Sunday.
For various and sundried reasons, the whole thing ended after a few years. Less and less Americans made the trek to greet us, and it seemed sometimes like the Fort staffs were never quite prepared. Internally, the Canadian Scouts suffered from too many of the adult leaders taking the war games far too seriously, sucking the lessons and fun out of the whole enterprise. My first Fort York in particular suffered from this malady.
During these multiple campaigns I was promoted from Private to Corporal, which was fun, and I quite often, thanks to my historian father, schooled some of the grownups around me as to what happened when. I also possessed an extra advantage at these events.
When on a family vacation in Ottawa in those years, we stumbled upon a shop with replica ancient weapons. And we scored a musket. While it was technically from later in the 1800’s, was heavy as heck, couldn’t fire a shot, and once broke thanks to my stupidity (soon fixed), it became a fixture of fascination to young and old alike. My dad still has it, even all these years later.
From these historical camps to my musket and my own natural interests, The War Of 1812 has always held a place in my psyche.
Maybe it was because it felt like Canada was made in those battles and skirmishes. Maybe it was the tragic “what if?” nature of the deaths of Brock and Tecumseh, with the wondering of what could have been. Maybe it is just the bloody nose we gave our bullying neighbor. While many many others also contributed to our genesis, 1812 is slightly special to my sensibilities, all because I was a “soldier” in it.
I never met Brock, but it sure felt like it.
…is currently reading Superman: Doomsday and Beyond by Louise Simonson.