Back in 2007 when local boatbuilder Charles Wilton came across a half-scale replica of a 1768 schooner left derelict in Rockport, his goal was to restore it, then resell it. Then the economy hit its downturn and there weren’t many likely buyers, so instead he decided it might be a good boat to do some re-enactment work, and, as it turned out, Canada had some big plans under way for the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
That bicentennial hasn’t received too much attention on this side of the border, but the Canadian government has committed $28 million toward its bicentennial celebrations. This June, Wilton, who is Canadian, finally decided to hitch up his boat, the S.V. Caledonian, and set out for Kingston, Ontario, to take part in the re-enactments.
“For Canada, the War of 1812 really planted the seeds of Confederation,” says Wilton.
When the war broke out, Canadians, still governed by Great Britain, at first relied mostly on local militias to defend their territory, before reinforcements arrived in 1813.
As Thomas Jefferson famously said, taking Canada would have been a “mere matter of marching.” But Jefferson was proven wrong, as Canadian militia regiments were able to hold their own defending the Northern border. With Great Britain preoccupied with the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, the War of 1812 instilled in Canadians a sense of unity, and it is widely credited with creating the pathway to independence in 1867.
For Wilton, the War of 1812 is not about patriotism, but rather connecting with a fascinating period in history.
“Battles were won and battles were lost, but no one won the war,” he says. “It was really about commerce. The real winners were whoever was prevailing with the biggest contracts. Everybody lost family, and the prison ships that Americans were interned on were terrible. There were atrocities on both sides.”