The War of 1812 Magazine
Issue 8: February 2008
The War of 1812 Revisited
By Chris Wattie
Reprinted with permission from the “National Post,”
As early preparations for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812
get underway in
The historical disconnect between American and Canadian interpretations of the war, during which tens of thousands of American troops invaded Canada - then still a British colony - and were repulsed by the outnumbered defenders, has left Canadian organizers of the bicentennial events shaking their heads in bemusement at their American colleagues' staunch insistence that the war was a victory for the then-young United States.
Sandra Shaul, the city administrator in charge of the bicentennial projects, said she was a little surprised to hear her counterparts on the U.S. side of the border discuss their view of the War of 1812 and see some of the plaques and presentations at historic sites such as Fort Niagara, in Lewiston, N.Y. or Sackets Harbor, N.Y., the base for the two attacks on Toronto in 1813.
"The Americans, well, they feel they won the war," Ms. Shaul says, choosing her words carefully. "They have their perspective and we have ours. It's a question of emphasis: They emphasize their version of the story ... and of course we emphasize ours."
Connie Barone, the site manager of
In 2012, cities across Canada and the northeastern U.S. will begin marking the bicentennial of the three-year war, which was marked by bitter fighting between thousands of American, British and Canadian troops as well as native warriors, most of it taking place in what is now Ontario.
Although former American president Thomas Jefferson had boasted that
In 1814, British forces retaliated for the burning of
"We are not celebrating or debating the winner. Rather, we are
celebrating and commemorating a turning point in North American history,"
said Gary Wheeler, a spokesman for the
Plans for the bicentennial will centre on the regions in
And while organizers on both sides have politely agreed to disagree over who won the war, they agree on the need to raise its profile among the general public. "It will be a challenge to get the public up to speed on the history of this era," said Ms. Barone. "It's a war that's not terribly well-known."
Ms. Shaul says the bicentennial is an opportunity
"If it hadn't been for the War of 1812, we'd all be part of
David O'Hara, the museum administrator at
There has been discussion of an NHL exhibition "grudge match" between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals, the two cities burned down during the war; some kind of linkage between events in Sackets Harbor and Toronto to mark the bicentennial; conferences of historians to discuss the war; a gathering of descendants of the soldiers who fought on both sides.
And organizers on both sides of the border insist that any disagreements over who won the War of 1812 are purely academic and definitely friendly.
"By the end of the war, not much had been gained on either side," said Ms. Barone, adding with a laugh:
"It's been 200 years: time to move on."
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