Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Canadian View: The War of 1812

As someone who has lived in all three of the countries involved in The War of 1812, one of the things that has most tickled me about it (on those rare occasions when I think about it at all) is how completely differently each country approaches the subject.

So when I noticed that one of the Fringe shows was a comedic revue covering that very topic, I went along for a variety of reasons, not least of which was to get the Canadian “take” on it. Of course, the show is not to be mistaken for a genuine history lesson, but the essence of how Canadians view that event is preserved through all the laughs (and there were a lot -- heads up to Orlando Fringers, I hope this show comes your way!).

So, let me summarise how I, as a young lad in the 70s, was taught about The War of 1812 via the UK and then the US school system:

UK version: (best read with a silly foppish accent) “We were completely minding our own business in 1809, busy fighting Napoleon, and decided to reclaim some British Navy men who had ended up in the US (probably against their will). So we told the US ship Chesapeake to surrender any British sea men they had to return to their rightful place in our Navy. The US went apeshit and declared war on us, trying to annex our Dominion of Canada in a wild expansionist fury. We British, along with a handful of brave but primitive settlers and their Indian friends, repulsed the poorly-trained US forces, and we encountered little resistance as we swept down from York (now Toronto) to New York. Things got a little sticky at that point so we sailed ships into Chesapeake Bay (ironic, eh wot?), marched to Washington and burned it. Having made our point, we gracefully and nobly exited, cheerfully allowing the Americans to stay independent even though we clearly could have carried on reclaiming the country for ourselves. We signed the Treaty of Ghent to show that we were gracious winners, and the humbled Americans have been our friends ever since.”

US version: (best read with a Kentucky hillbilly accent) “In 1812, the Brits tried to choke off our supply lines from foreign friends like France, so we fought back. Enraged, they declared war and tried to recolonise America. We kicked their butts, but in the heat of the moment the White House got burned down (damn sore loser Brits!) and Francis Scott Key wrote a right purdy song whut became our national anthem. We won, the Brits lost, no mention of Canada or the Indians, the end. Next up: the Civil War! YEEE-HAW!”

Canadian version: (best read by the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge) “The US was furious at the British impressment of their sailors, and declared war on Britain, but were too lazy to actually go there, so they invaded Canada (much of which was then under British sovereignty). We kicked their butts so hard, they had to retreat to Ohio. With the help of the noble savage Tecumsah and his men, we repulsed each attempt by the Americans to invade Lower Canada. After three years of this, we got fed up and invaded America, taking Detroit and making it all the way down to Washington DC, which we burned down. Having made our point, we returned home triumphant (and decided we didn't want Detroit), and the Americans were so humbled that they decided to expand west rather than north, an idea they stole from us. We won (on behalf of the British, but they were practically useless), and the Americans have ignored us ever since. Sore losers.”

So as you can see, in The War of 1812, everyone (except the Indians, of course) won. Remarkable! :)

Hopefully these days, kids in the UK and the US get a more complete and accurate picture of this historical event than I did, but as I’ve been reading up on the subject lately I’m surprised to learn that the Canadian version is ... well I won’t call it the “truest,”, but let’s say it is the “most inclusive of the undisputed facts” version. Or maybe it’s because I’m getting my info from Pierre Berton books ...

And, thanks to underrated comedic genius Wes Borg and his friends, the most entertaining version as well:


Anonymous said...

Oh my... how can explain the fracas of 1812 without mentioning Laura Secord and her cow? If she didn't have the cow to take for walk the whole brouhaha might have ended differently. For instance, Canada might not have been able to give back Detroit after the war to show that there were no hard feelings....

Salt Spring Fall Fair next weekend.

chas_m said...

Laura Secord (and her cow to a lesser extent) are featured in the show, never fear! :)

Of course, I have yet to look up the Wikipedia entry so that I get the whole "real" story ... but the gist was there ...

Just imagining how different Detroit would be today if Canada still had it. Americans to this day WILL NOT ADMIT that Canada EVER invaded the US or got any of their stuff. :)

PS. "Fall Fair"? Wait! Summer was so nice ... just a little more pls?? :)