THE WAR OF 1812 FORGING A NATION

by Ron Dale

On June 18th, 1812 the fledgling United States of America declared war on the British Empire. The British North American provinces in what is now Canada would become a hotly contested battleground. The Americans planned to annex Upper Canada (Ontario) and all territory to the west. A badly outnumbered force of British regular army and navy personnel, provincial militia and First Nations allies foiled these attempts over three years of war.

The land battles of the War of 1812 in British North America were concentrated along the water highways, on the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain, and along the St Lawrence, Niagara, Detroit and Richelieu Rivers. Naval actions took place on the Great Lakes and in the Atlantic Ocean. Privateers plied their trade on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The rumbles of war were heard in distant Aboriginal communities across the land and western fur traders hungered for news of American invasions, fearing for their enterprises in the interior of North America. The Niagara frontier was the most hotly contested battlefront of the war.

For British North America, the War of 1812 was a near run thing with the fate of the provinces on the edge of the abyss. Britain was fighting a world war against Napoleon and could spare few forces to defend their North American possessions.

The population of the provinces was one tenth that of the United States. There was some question of whether or not the people would defend their lands against American incursions or whether they would welcome the Americans as liberators. British strategy, if the inhabitants of Upper Canada would not fight, was to abandon everything west of Quebec with the hope of being able to recover the territory through diplomacy if the war ended with an American victory.

However, at Queenston Heights the loyal militia of York and Niagara, men of many different ethnic backgrounds including a squad of Upper Canadians of African descent, along with Six Nations allies, joined a small force of British regulars in defeating an American invasion in the autumn of 1812. At Chateauguay the following year, a very small force of Canadian soldiers with their First Nations allies drove off a much larger American army, saving Montreal from an American attack. In numerous other actions the inhabitants proved their bravery and their fierce determination to defend their land.

The war ended with the negotiation of the Treaty of Ghent signed on Christmas Eve, 1814 and finally ratified on February 16, 1815.