From foes to friends

 

Friday, August 17, 2012 3:13:46 EDT PM

Sir: This year marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and events across the province are marking the 200 years since Great Britain and the United States went to war for the last time.

Canada did not exist as a country at the time, but Ontario (then Upper Canada) was a colony of the British Empire and because it was so close the United States, was the natural battleground. Armies of professional soldiers, militia, and first nations warriors fought pitched battles from Michilimackinac, in northern Michigan, to Sandusky in Ohio to modern Morrisburg on the St. Lawrence River.

Along the Thames River, some Upper Canadians volunteered to help the Americans after an American army crossed into Upper Canada in July 1812. When the British captured Detroit, the American sympathizers were quelled only to return after the battle of Moraviantown a year later. With the Americans at Detroit and the British troops behind the Grand River, the area between what is now Windsor and Brantford became something of a no-mans land, where foraging parties from the badly supplied American garrison at Detroit, guided once again by the American sympathizers, skirmished with Upper Canadian militia units and bands made up of first nations warriors and regular soldiers.

Tired of the resistance, in January 1814 the United States Secretary of War, John Armstrong, ordered that American forces “make prisoner and remove to our settlements as many of the male British settlers as may be most disposed to do us harm.” For the rest of the war, raids from Detroit set out to capture militia officers – raids that often turned personal and nasty.

For example, in February 1814 the Crawford family barely escaped from their farm on the Thames River before 12 mounted men burned their home to the ground.

They fled to Port Talbot, where they were not the only refugees, leading one militia officer to exclaim “What I am to do with these distressed families and likewise, if we are to expect any protection against these marauders?”

Today, Canadians and Americans can commemorate the war together. Re-enactors from both sides of the border gather to mark the anniversary of battles and tourists flock to events in both countries. The commemorations are made all the more poignant because of the bitter fighting of 200 years ago.

The lesson of War of 1812 is that one-time enemies can become the best of friends.

Christopher Arajs

Ottawa

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