How Canada Celebrates the War of 1812

“The Americans are viewed as the aggressors and invaders in that war,” says Wayne Reeves, chief curator for Toronto’s Museums and Heritage Services. “No two ways about that.”

You don’t have to go very far across the border to get the Canadian take on the War of 1812.

At passport control in Toronto’s Preston Pearson Airport, a border agent asks an American traveler the purpose of his visit. When told that he is in Canada on business, and part of that business is the War of 1812, she launches into a concise but remarkably informed summary of the war—invoking the iconic Canadian heroes of the conflict, and even suggesting some significant historical spots around Ontario associated with specific engagements of the war worth visiting.

When it is pointed out to the agent that she seemed to know much more about the War of 1812 than your typical American, she raises her eyebrows and smiles, before stamping the visitor’s passport.

“Well,” she says. “That’s because you lost.”

Americans—losers in a war? We don’t hear that too often, even in the telling of this vaguely-known chapter of our history. But it’s striking to see the differences in Canada, where the bicentennial of the conflict is being marked by a nationwide program of events, ranging from art exhibits to re-enactments, as well as $20 million worth of capital improvements to various war-related historic sites around Canada.


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