[Clockwise from top: damage to the US Capitol after the Burning of Washington; the mortally wounded Isaac Brock spurs troops on at the Queenston Heights; USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere; the death of Tecumseh at Moraviantown; Andrew Jackson leads the defence of New Orleans.]
On this day in 1812, the United States government declared war against the British Empire and launched a ground invasion on British holdings in North America, including modern-day Canada.
As in 1775, the American leadership underestimated the military prowess of the Canadian militia, which proved to be more disciplined than the American militia. As a result of the heavy resistance faced in the Great Lakes region, the war turned into a bitter struggle that saw both sides suffering heavy losses for little strategic change.
Widespread looting and arson were committed by troops of both sides. In April 1813, York(modern-day Toronto) was looted by American troops following the battle of York and the buildings of the legislative assembly were burned. The following year, they did the same to several private properties on the north shore of lake Erie. The British later exacted their own toll on the Americans, landing four thousand troops on the eastern coast of the US and setting fire to several important buildings in Washington, including the Capitol building and the White House.
Overall, up to twenty thousand people on both sides may have been killed during the war that lasted from June 18, 1812 to February 18, 1815, including up to 4000 combat deaths.
The war holds tremendous significance for Canada, and is regarded by many here as being a victory, even though the war only resulted in the reestablishment of the pre-war status quo. The Canadian militia held off a superior force from the south, and protected the colonies from falling into American hands. The war also showed how important it was for the colonies to be able to defend themselves, a fact which may have contributed to the Canadian Confederation, over fifty years later. The Canadian militia set a standard of bravery and discipline that lives on to this day in the Canadian Forces. On top of all that, the torching of the white house has become a favourite topic of discussion among screaming historically inept per-pubescent thirteen year olds arguing on youtube about which country is better.
Fast forward two hundred years later and you will find that the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom are now close allies, all three having sent troops to fight alongside each other in many of the armed conflicts that shaped the modern world.
The War of 1812 was one of the most important wars in our country’s history, and it is absolutely necessary that we remember the sacrifices made by the troops on both sides.