Deeply Flawed Poll on War of 1812 Awareness

10 12 2009

The Canadian newspapers have published the results of a poll that has tried to gauge the average Canadians’ level of knowledge of the War of 1812. The pollsters asked Canadians: ”

Who won the War of 1812? Canada or the United States?”

The fact many Canadians were unable to give an answer has been the occasion of some debate and angst.

This is one of the most ridiculous polls I have every heard. I’m disturbed that so many people thought that “Canada” won the war. It is anachronistic to speak of “Canada” as being a combatant in this war. One might as well speak of the Roman conquest of the “United Kingdom”. The war was fought in a variety of places, including what is now “Canada”, between British and American forces, not to mention a variety of First Nations. War was declared by the United States on Britain and was ended with an inconclusive peace treaty between those two Powers. Most of the English-speaking colonists in Upper Canada were bystanders in this conflict between two empires.  The Dominion of Canada was formed in 1867 and only gradually acquired a diplomatic personality. In suggesting that “Canada” was a combatant in this war, the creators of this poll are suggesting a gross ignorance of history.

One might say that this was the war that both sides won, but that would involve restricting our focus to just Britain and the United States. Britain’s Native allies lost this war, big time.

The War of 1812 has become something of a touchstone for left-wing anti-Americans in Canada. Part of the folklore of this war is that Canada’s army burnt down the White House. Have a look at the video for this song by the Arrogant Worms, a Canadian group. The video shows George Bush Junior being chased out of the White House by Canadian troops in 1812.

For Canadians to celebrate the alleged British victory over the US in the War of 1812 is to miss the point. Canadians should instead be asking why Britain and the United States have remained at peace since 1815. The two countries drew close to war at various points in the nineteenth century, but their diplomats were always able to work out a solution. Someone should explain the democratic peace theory to the public.

My Teaching This Week

15 10 2009

Undergraduate Teaching:

Normally, I deliver two lectures each week to my first-year course on Canadian history. However, there was only one class this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday on Monday. My lecture on Wednesday was about the War of 1812. As it happens, the popular CBC comedy program Rick Mercer Reports broadcast on Tuesday evening contained a segment in which host Rick Mercer playfully interviewed some War of 1812 re-enactors in London, Ontario. Mercer is a well-known Canadian nationalist and appears to have relished participating in a War of 1812 re-enactment. About ten students in my class of 94 said that they had seen this segment the night before. During the lecture, I spoke about the place of the War of 1812 in Canadian popular culture, using Rick Mercer’s segment as an example of the use and abuse of history. I also spoke about anti-Americanism as a force in Canadian political culture. Rick Mercer’s show was a teachable moment as they say in the edutainment education business. You can view the segment here:

During our discussion of the War of 1812, one student mentioned a song about the conflict by the Canadian music group the Arrogant Worms. A video of this song has been placed online.

I am also pleased to note that a symposium on the military history of the Niagara region will be taking place on 6 and 7 November 2009 at the Lake Street Armouries, 81 Lake Street, St. Catharines, Ontario. The sponsors of the conference include the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies, Brock University, and the University of Waterloo History Department.There is a very extensive programme of speakers laid out, including: James E. Elliott, “Strange Fatality: The Battle of Stoney Creek, 1813”; Heather Moran, “200 Years of Peace: Celebrating the 1812 Bi-Centennial through Public History” and David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, “Robert Rogers: The Original Ranger”.For further information, contact Professor Geoffrey Hayes, at or by phone at (519) 888-4567 ext. 35138. (Hat tip to The Cannon’s Mouth / Par la Bouche de nos Canons, the Canadian military history blog).

Graduate Teaching:

This week I met with my excellent MA student to discuss three readings connected to her thesis, which deals with a fur trading post in north-eastern Ontario. The theme of today’s discussion was First Nations in the Fur Trade: Free Agents or Victims? The secondary sources we discussed were: Arthur J. Ray and Donald B. Freeman, “Give us Good Measure” : an Economic Analysis of Relations between the Indians and the Hudson’s Bay Company before 1763 (Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1978); Sylvia Van Kirk, Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-trade Society in Western Canada, 1670-1870 (Norman : University of Oklahoma Press, 1983); Ann Carlos and Frank Lewis, “Marketing in the Land of Hudson Bay: Indian Consumers and the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1770” Enterprise and Society 3:2 (2002): 285-317.

Canadian History Image of the Day

27 09 2009
Battle of Queenston Heights

Battle of Queenston Heights

This painting depicts the Battle of Queenston Heights. The battle took place in October 1812 and was a victory for the British. The American invasion force, which has crossed the Niagara River from the American territory (right) was dealt a major blow. The painting itself dates from 1866 when the Niagara peninsula region was again invaded from the United States, this time by the Fenians, an Irish republican organization.

This image is in the public domain and is from Library and Archives Canada.