The Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812

The Legacy of the War of 1812

An Ottawa Indian Chief, 1814

Caption: An Ottawa Indian Chief, 1814

View Multimedia - Changing Boundaries

Caption: View Multimedia - Changing Boundaries

Today the War of 1812 has been virtually forgotten. Even in Canada it is barely mentioned in the schools. Yet it was a crucial event in the history of this country. It is in fact what made possible the survival of a separate country to the north of the United States, that powerful nation with grandiose continental ambitions. It was also the first conflict to unite French and English Canadians, in spite of their profound differences, against a common enemy, and it was the last such conflict in which eastern Amerindians had the opportunity to exercise their military might. Another special feature of that war is that it marked the first time Blacks made an appearance in Canadian militia units.

If the Americans had achieved their ends, one thing is certain: the new conquest would have led to the death of Anglophone Loyalist values and very likely undermined the cultural values of Francophones in Canada. Francophones would have been absorbed, either willingly or by force, into the American "melting pot," which would have meant the end of many of their rights. And what would have been the fate of the Blacks who took refuge north of the American border to escape the large-scale slavery of the South, or of the Amerindians in Canada, at the hands of the American soldiers? Would they have been deported like their American brothers who marched along the "trail of tears"? 71 Would they have fallen victim to the interminable wars against them throughout the nineteenth century, when American soldiers told anyone who would listen, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian"?

The Americans sometimes describe the 1812-15 period as the "second war of independence" against Great Britain. What a distortion! For three years running, Canada had to defend itself against many invasion attempts. It would be more accurate to call it the "Canadian war of independence" against the American invader.