Posters and dioramas at Vancouver’s Canada Place, replica villages in Gananoque, Ontario, battle re-enactments at Toronto’s Fort York – these are all part and parcel of the Harper government’s bicentennial celebrations of the War of 1812 taking place this summer. I have to wonder if it’s really worth the expense to memorialize what for so many of us is an obscure, inconsequential conflict. Perhaps it is the perceived ignorance of our own history which inspired Ottawa to educate us about the war this summer using tax dollars. We shouldn’t be entirely surprised by how keen the current government is for this sort of thing – it’s in the same vein as the amount of wasteful spending which went into re-branding our army as the “Royal Canadian Forces”. We can’t forget where we came from – after all.
The historical narrative being trotted out by Canadian Heritage is that we were born as a nation through defending our borders from repeated attempts at invasion by American forces and that this deserves recognition. No doubt true: the Americans torched Fort York (Toronto) at the beginning of the war, and we (mostly settlers from America originally) set fire to the White House in retaliation. Yay us! We felt better. Avenged even – and ultimately bonded through the experience, becoming a little more “Canadian” in the process and a little less “American.” An important evolution towards nationhood, no doubt, but does it really merit celebrating what was essentially a brutal, prolonged, nasty little war with no clear victor and little gained on either side?
Canadian Heritage thinks so. As part of its campaign of memory, it has spent close to $900,000 dollars in Vancouver alone (not even on the map in 1812) to make sure that West Coasters know the war happened. To that end – there’s a fake ship’s wheel and cannon sitting at the Canada Place promenade, among some other odds and ends.
When neighboring Coast Guard stations are being shuttered due to Tory budget cuts, could this money have been put to better use? You decide.