Street Name Stories: Building a Nation Part IV: The War of 1812

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

With the plethora of 150 commemorations taking place this year, I thought I could use my usual Street Name Stories blog series to throw another hat in the ring.  Looking at a map of Oshawa, there are a number of streets whose names are commonplace in the history of Canada.  Over the next five Street Name Stories Posts, I will look at street(s) whose namesakes helped contribute to the growth of Canada.  Missed the first three posts?

Part I looked at Oshawa’s Indigenous People
Part II looked at the early European Explorers
Part III looked at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham

There are a few streets in Oshawa that have ties to the War of 1812, including Brock Street, Tecumseh Avenue, and (for a local link) Henry Street.

In 1812, the people of Canada found themselves at war when the US, angry with Great Britain, attacked their possessions in North America.  This came after years of escalating tensions. The US President at the time was James Madison, who signed the Declaration of War on June 18, 1812, and because we were colonies of Great Britain, Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton and Newfoundland were all swept up into the war. Shortly after the declaration, Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying:

“The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching; & will give us experience for the attack of Halifax the next, & the final expulsion of England from the American continent.”Thomas Jefferson to William Duane, 4 August 1812

Hindsight tells us that Jefferson was wrong. Not the first time for this founding father. But I digress.

War rhetoric was plentiful on both sides.  In response to early attacks by Americans, Major General Isaac Brock proclaimed:

“Every Canadian freeholder is, by deliberate choice, bound by the most solemn oaths to defend the monarchy as well as his own property. To shrink from that engagement is a treason not to be forgiven.”

 

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Isaac Brock, from the 1908 book “The Story of Isaac Brock” by Walter R. Nursey.

Isaac Brock (b. 1769) had been stationed in North America since 1802, and knowing a conflict was likely inevitable, when war was declared, Upper Canada was not caught off-guard thanks to Brock.  The first initial skirmishes of the war were won by the Canadians, including the capture of Fort Detroit by Brock, along with the First Nations leader Tecumseh, and the Battle of Queenston Heights.  Although Queenston was successful, one of the many casualties was General Brock.

In 1813, the Americans launched a successful seaborne attack on the capital of Upper Canada, York (Toronto), after which looting and plundering resulted in the burning of York.  In the same year the Americans attacked Niagara and captured Fort George, forcing the British to withdraw from the Niagara Peninsula.

That fall, the Americans undertook their largest offensive of the war by sending an army down the St. Lawrence River and another across the border into Lower Canada (Quebec) to capture Montreal, and they saw defeat twice.  The first battle was the Battle of Chateuaguau, successfully defended by French Canadian commander Charles de Salaberry and his group of Canadian Voltigeurs, militiamen and Indigenous warriors, The second defeat took place at Crysler’s Farm. After both of these defeats the Americans gave up on the invasion of Lower Canada.

In 1814, the last year of the war, the British made a successful attack on Washington. We retaliated for the burning of our capital by burning the White House. The Americans made a major effort in the Niagara Peninsula, where several major battles took place including Lundy’s Lane. This campaign ended with the Americans leaving their positions in November.

On December 24, 1814, representatives from Britain and America signed the Treaty of Ghent, which once ratified, officially ended the war in 1815.  However, news didn’t travel fast enough in 1815, because the last battle of the War of 1812 was the Battle of New Orleans in January, a defeat for the British.

The War of 1812 is an interesting conflict to study because the British (Canadians) and Americans both claim to be the victors.  The Americans assert that because the British stopped impressing American sailors (seizing native-born Americans and put them into service on British ships) and because they won the last battle, they are the winners.  Canadians, instead view the war as a victory for us as we successfully repelled the invasion and stopped American expansionism.

If the Americans and British/Canadians were the winners of the War of 1812, there was unfortunately a loser – the First Nations.  As stated by the Canadian Encyclopedia:

The First Nations allies of the British and Canadian cause suffered much because of the war; not only had they lost many warriors (including the great Tecumseh), they also lost any hope of halting American expansion in the west, and their contributions were quickly forgotten by their British and Canadian allies.

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Tecumseh, Shawnee chief, painting by W.B. Turner (courtesy Metropolitan Toronto Library, J. Ross Robertson/T-16600). Image from Canadian Encyclopedia

The Canadian victory would not have been possible had it not been for our First Nation allies, and yet, their story is often overlooked, or ‘forgotten.’  Tecumseh wasn’t fighting for King and Country as many British Regulars would have been; he was fighting for the plight of his people and for the hope of uniting the First Nations.  Tecumseh was shot and killed in the Battle of the Thames in 1813.

The War of 1812 is an important reminder that perspective is everything in history.

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One thought on “Street Name Stories: Building a Nation Part IV: The War of 1812

  1. Pingback: Street Name Stories: Building a Nation Part V: Durham and his Report | Oshawa Museum Blog

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