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This Means War!

For the week of Monday June 18, 2012

On June 18, 1812, the United States’ President James Madison declared war on Great Britain, thrusting Canadians into many bloody conflicts on both Canadian and United States’ soil, as well as at sea. The declaration was a result of a series of incidents between the two nations. Ending officially three years later in 1815, the conflict would become known as the War of 1812.

Meeting of Isaac Brock and Tecumseh
© Charles William Jefferys / Library and Archives Canada / 1972-26-1360, 1908
In the years before 1812, the European Napoleonic Wars occupied much of the British Empire’s attention. This conflict with France affected international trade due to blockades put in place by both countries, which made it difficult for neutral nations, such as the United States, to trade. Additionally, during this conflict thousands of British sailors had abandoned the British Royal Navy for American ships, as they offered better wages and working conditions. In response to these desertions, American ships were often searched and frequently seized by both the French and British navies. Thousands of alleged British deserters were captured from American vessels and forced to serve in the British Royal Navy, even if they were true American sailors! Britain ignored requests from the United States to stop the harassment of American vessels, further straining the relationship between the countries.

Studio portrait of warriors of the Six Nations who fought alongside the British in the War of 1812
© Ed Tompkins and Jeffrey Thomas / Library and Archives Canada / C-085127, 1882

Maritime rights were not the only issue, and further disagreements unfolded in North America. Many Americans suspected that the British encouraged and financed Aboriginal resistance since the 1790s, led by the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh against settlements in the Ohio Valley, in an effort to stop American westward expansion. Other Americans could not bear to still have a British colony as their neighbour, and were confident that they could successfully invade Canada, to rid the continent of a British presence. The opening blows of the armed conflict were at the capture of Fort Michilimackinac on July 17, 1812, and the fighting continued on the Detroit River when Brigadier General William Hull invaded Upper Canada in that same month. By August, British and Canadian troops and Aboriginal warriors had forced Hull back to Detroit. On August 16 Tecumseh and Major-General Isaac Brock forced Hull’s surrender.

British, Canadian and First Nations victory at Fort Detroit was only the beginning of a long conflict. The War of 1812 is a significant event in Canada’s history. The war led to 76 designations of national historic events, sites and people across Canada, which most notably include Tecumseh, Isaac Brock, Laura Secord, and Queenston Heights, among many others.

This year is the bicentennial of the War of 1812! To learn more about the War of 1812, please read the stories: The British Lose GroundVictory at Fort Detroit!  and A Warrior's Death in the This Week in History archives. Commemorative events will take place all across Canada! For more information on the commemoration of the War of 1812, read Commemorating the War of 1812 on the Parks Canada website.

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