The Harper government renamed a federal building in Old Montreal on Wednesday, October 10 as part of a $28 million campaign to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812. Located at 400 Place d’Youville, the Édifice des douanes is now officially the Dominique Ducharme Building.
“Mr. Ducharme fought both at the Battle of Beaver Dams in Upper Canada and at the Battle of the Chateauguay, and played an important role in Canada’s development,” Minister of Public Works and Government Services Rona Ambrose stated in a press release.
“The building’s proximity to the Battle of the Chateauguay site gives it special historic significance for the region,” Jacques Gourde, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, said at the October 10 naming ceremony.
According to the government press release, the Battle of Chateauguay was a decisive loss for the Americans, who abandoned their Saint Lawrence campaign.
Pierre Nantel, vice-critic for Canadian Heritage for the New Democratic Party, told La Presse in French that he is “concerned to see new symbols being imposed as new icons of Canada, implying that the symbols which have been built over the years have not been sufficient.”
In an interview with The Daily, Canadian military history expert and Hiram Mills Emeritus Professor Desmond Morton explained that the federal government is not giving the full story on Ducharme.
“[Ducharme] was the British Army’s Indian Department agent with the Mohawks who defeated the Americans at Beaver Dams, using the information Laura Secord had brought to Lieutenant Fitzgibbon. As usual in our history, reference to the Mohawks is never part of the Laura Secord story,” said Morton.
“The real victors in the War of 1812 weren’t the Upper Canadians [Ontario]; it was the Lower Canadians [Quebec] who provided much of the troops in the early victories,” Morton continued. “The best militia in North America was the militia that had evolved in Lower Canada.”
“Nobody in Ontario ever hears about this. I’m not sure Mr. Harper wants them to, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to recognize that the French Canadians saved them so they could go on being Canadians,” he added.
History Students’ Association (HSA) President Hannah Wood told The Daily, “Canadian history as taught in elementary and secondary schools is highly selective. The War of 1812 was never discussed.”
However, according to Wood, the war was symbolically formative to the Canadian nation. “A fundamental part of popular Canadian identity is the fact we are not American. Although the War of 1812 may technically have been a British war, Canada has historically identified with Britain over America,” she said.
Wood said she hopes “there is a concerted effort to represent events such as the War of 1812 accurately, and not idealize them as the government has done in its press releases and television commercials.”
She specified that these views are her own and do not necessarily represent those of HSA constituents.
In an interview with The Daily, Alan Taylor – Pulitzer Prize winner, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of California, Davis, and author of The Civil War of 1812 – said, “in Upper Canada at the start of the war, most of the inhabitants were settlers from the United States. During the first two years of the war most of them sought to avoid any service in the war, on either side, and some of them did join the invaders.”
“By the last year of the war, most of the Upper Canada inhabitants did reluctantly become more active in defending the colony and the war did create a greater sense of Canadian patriotism,” said Taylor.
However, Taylor noted, “Canadian militia played an important role but of lesser importance when compared to the leading roles played by the British regulars and the First Nation peoples.”
“My dissent from the government position is that it implies that all Canadians immediately rallied to defend the colony [and] that there was already a unified Canada when in fact there were seven distinct colonies,” he said.
Taylor also criticized the Canadian government for glorifying the war. “The government line also misses a golden opportunity to treat the war as a tragedy that persuaded both Americans and the British that they should avoid future wars,” he said. “The 200 years of peace warrant our celebration far more than does the supposed glories of a war full of miseries. At the 1912 centennial commemoration there was much more bi-national cooperation around the message of shared peace.”
“While spending $29 million on TV ads and reenactments, the federal government has gutted the budgets of Parks Canada and the Library and Archives Canada, which strikes me as a misallocation of priorities and resources,” Taylor added.