War of 1812 – Canada, the Real Winner

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. Although the war is often described as a military conflict between Canada and the United States, the war was fought between the forces of the U.S. and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions brought about by Britain's ongoing war with France, the impressments of American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, British support of American Indian tribes against American expansionism, outrage over insults to national honour after humiliations on the high seas, and a possible American desire to annex Canada. Tied down in Europe until 1814 because of the Napoleonic wars, the British at first used a defensive strategy, repelling multiple American invasions of the provinces of and Lower Canada. In 1813, however, the Americans gained control over Lake Erie and seized parts of western Ontario. With the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, the British adopted a more aggressive strategy, sending in three large invasion armies. The British victory at the Battle of Bladensburg in August 1814 allowed them to capture and burn Washington, D.C. American victories in September 1814 and January 1815 repulsed all three British invasions in New York, Baltimore and New Orleans.

The war was fought in three theatres: (1) at sea, warships and privateers of both sides attacked each other's merchant ships; the British blockaded the Atlantic coast of the U.S. and mounted large-scale raids in the later stages of the war; (2) both land and naval battles were fought on the U.S.–Canadian frontier, which ran along the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence River; and (3) the American South and Gulf Coast saw major land battles in which the American forces destroyed Britain's Indian allies and repulsed the main British invasion force at New Orleans. Both sides invaded each other's territory, but these invasions were unsuccessful or temporary. At the end of the war, both sides occupied parts of the other's land, but these areas were restored by the Treaty of Ghent.

Canada emerged from the war with a heightened sense of national feeling and solidarity, having repelled multiple American invasions. Battles such as the Battle of Queenston Heights and the Battle of Crysler's Farm became iconic for English-speaking Canadians. In Canada, especially in Ontario, the memory of the war has immense national significance, as the invasions were largely perceived by Canadians as an annexation attempt by America seeking to expand U.S. territory. Numerous events are scheduled this year to commemorate a Canadian victory including several exhibitions at Fort York.

- Beverly Brooks


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