Monday, June 18, 2012

1812, Canada-Style

Black and white version of a portrait painting of Laura Secord
NPR today had a nice report on the differences between how the War of 1812 is taught in U.S. and Canadian schools. While Americans learn that the war was basically a draw, and not too important overall except as an example of our new country beginning to flex its muscles, Canadians learn that it was essential to Canadian independence from Yankee domination.

I learned a lot from the brief story. One fact that particularly surprised me is that Canada has its own Paul Revere figure, except he's a she: Laura Ingersoll Secord, a 37-year-old Ontario resident. Born in Massachusetts, she and her family were British loyalists during the Revolution who later moved to Canada to rebuild their lives after the war.

After marrying, she and her husband lived in what is now Niagara Falls, Ontario. In June 1813, she is said to have walked 20 miles to warn the native warriors and British troops, under a Lieutenant FitzGibbon, encamped at Beaver Dams of an impending attack by 500 U.S. troops. The warning enabled them to prepare, and led to a decisive victory over the Americans.

According to the Wikipedia:
The question of Secord's actual contribution to the British success has been contested. In the early 1920s, historians suggested that Native scouts had already informed FitzGibbon of the coming attack well before Secord had arrived on June 23. Later still, two earlier testimonials by FitzGibbon (written in 1820 and 1827) were found which supported Secord's claim. FitzGibbon asserted that Laura Secord had arrived on June 22 (not the 23rd), and that, "in consequence of this information", he had been able to intercept the American troops.

Over the years, Laura Secord and James FitzGibbon petitioned the government in request of some kind of acknowledgment but to no avail. Finally, in 1860, when Laura was 85, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), heard of her story while travelling in Canada. At Chippawa, near Niagara Falls, he was made aware of Laura Secord's plight as an aging widow and later sent an award of £100. It was the only official recognition that she received in her lifetime.
It appears that, in all fairness, the Canadians are right to think they won the War of 1812, because they prevented the U.S. from annexing their land. Seems like a pretty clear victory.

But from the U.S. perspective, a draw also seems to be a reasonable assessment, since the key enemy was the British, not the Canadians. The Canadian front was lost, but not the war.

As the NPR story concluded, the losers of the war were the native peoples who had allied with the British and fought to preserve their land from U.S. expansion. Yankee domination, indeed.

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