- Fri May 17 2013
- 1812: A Guide to the War and its Legacy, by Terry Copp, Matt Symes, Caitlin McWilliams, Nick Lachance, Geoff Keelan and Jeffrey W. Mott (Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies Press of Wilfrid Laurier University, 264 pages, $34.95 softcover) — One might be forgiven for thinking there would be little to say this year about the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
After all, it’s not called the War of 1813, is it?
But this misunderstood and somewhat under-appreciated conflict that drew in Canada, the United States, Britain, Spain and First Nations peoples, trundled on from 1812 to 1814 (and continued on in bloody battle even after a peace treaty was signed), so there are many significant events and historic figures caught in the bicentennial spotlight this year and next.
For anyone with a car, a bent for things historical, and a few weeks to spare in good weather — and who prefers a summer excursion with a theme — this book will be a gift.
It is a two-part offering, with 106 pages of history of the conflict, written by Wilfrid Laurier University historian and professor Terry Copp and New Brunswick historian Jeffrey Mott, and another 135 pages describing tours of battle sites, monuments, plaques, historic sites and vistas along both sides of the so-called “undefended” border between Canada and the United States, with contributions from Copp, Mott, Caitlin McWilliams, Geoff Keelan, Nick Lachance and Matt Symes.
The latter four are staff members at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo.
The Copp/Mott history is as succinct a piece on the War of 1812-1814 as anyone would want — not a “Cole’s notes” version, but a detailed and observant telling of the highs and lows of the military and political manoeuvres.
The “tour” portion of the book is a Lonely Planet-esque review of War of 1812 highlights from Mackinac Island in Michigan to the Citadel at Halifax, a distance of roughly 2,600 kilometres .(Compare the sweep of this to Napoleon’s march from Paris to Moscow in 1812, at more than 2,800 kilometres.) To complete the entire War of 1812 tour would not be for the faint of heart.
Indeed, this book does not cover the war in its entirety: perhaps not wishing to weary the car-bound traveller, the authors left out Chesapeake Bay, Bladensburg, Washington and New Orleans, locations that loomed large in the war, but were not really part of the Canadian experience.
The tour portion of the book comes with Google maps of the present-day locations and road directions, plus such helpful information as the beer selection offered at a potential lunch-stop in Sandwich, Ont. (30 types) and the tip that one can blissfully ignore the “No Trespassing” signs at Boblo Island on the Detroit River.
Sprinkled throughout are such orthodox travel guide phrases as “If you have the money” or “the guides are fantastic.” And as the writers indicate, much of the tour is about seeing the land and water, usually described as stunning or picturesque, which is likely the hope of any summer traveller.
1812: A Guide to the War and its Legacy is worthy of a place in any Canadian’s bookcase, and likely somewhere handy in the car as well.