Some Fascinating Stories
Parks Canada conserves and presents many national historic sites, forts and battlegrounds where these dramatic stories unfolded. Among the fascinating tales told:
- On May 27, 1813, an American army of 5000 invaded at Niagara (now Niagara-on-the-Lake). The British, Canadian and First Nations defenders, about 1200 men, were slowly driven back by the invaders. Throughout the battle, Mary Henry, wife of the Niagara Lighthouse keeper, strolled the battlefield under a hail of enemy shot to bring comfort to the British and Canadian troops. A chronicler describes her selfless bravery:
“Suddenly they saw a vision. Walking calmly through the shower of iron hail came Mary Madden Henry with hot coffee and food, seemingly as unconcerned as if she were in her own small garden on the shore on a Summer evening before peace was shattered. Time and again she went and came back with more sustenance, apparently guarded by some unseen angel from the peril which menaced her every step. Through the day until darkness brought respite she was caterer and nurse, the only woman in the company to bind the wounds of those maimed in the fight. These who survived never forgot that day nor the courage of Mary Henry.”
- By 1814, 75% of the food issued to British troops fighting against the Americans was sold to the British by Americans. Dr. William “Tiger” Dunlop wrote about his experiences in war, telling about his witnessing an American militia officer from Vermont who was offering to sell cattle to the British. According to Dunlop, the officer recognized that doing business with the enemy was wrong but that he did not consider any man his enemy who paid a good price for his beef.
- Following their deaths at the Battle of Queenston Heights on October 13, 1812, Major-General Isaac Brock and his aide-de-camp Lieutenant-Colonel John Macdonell were buried in a bastion at Fort George. On October 13, 1824, they were reburied on Queenston Heights in a new monument which was destroyed 16 years later by Benjamin Lett, an Irish-Canadian terrorist. It took 13 years to raise the funds to replace the shattered monument. Brock and Macdonell were removed from the ruins of the first monument and temporarily buried in a family cemetery in Queenston. On October 13, 1853, they were buried for a fourth time in the new monument and there they remain to this day. Four funerals must be somewhat of a record!
- Sir William Congreve was 34 years old when he demonstrated one of his inventions, a military rocket with an exploding warhead. Congreve rockets were an improvement on Chinese fireworks and military rockets that had been used unsuccessfully in India. These rockets were used on the Niagara frontier during the War of 1812 but their most famous use was in the attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore in 1814. These are the “Rockets’ red glare” of the Star Spangled Banner.
- Squat pieces of artillery known as mortars threw an explosive projectile great distances at the time of the War of 1812. A ten-inch mortar could propel a 42-kg exploding shell a distance of 3 km. The hollow shell or bomb, as they were known, was filled with a charge of gunpowder with a fuse and had enough explosive power to destroy a small ship or building. Special ships called bomb ketches were used at the attack on Fort McHenry in 1814 to lob shells at the fort from extreme range. These were the “bombs bursting in air” of the American national anthem.
- The Royal Navy bomb ketches, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, with their bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814 immortalized in the “Star Spangled Banner,” were converted to steam vessels and lost during the Franklin Expedition to the Arctic in 1848. They are now the objects of extensive archaeological searches being undertaken by Parks Canada.
- General Sir Isaac Brock, “the hero of Upper Canada” was killed at the Battle of Queenston Heights, a scant four months after the declaration of war - yet is the one soldier most commonly associated with the conflict which finally ended 28 months after Brock’s death.
- At Fort Malden in Amherstburg, Ontario, General Brock and the Shawnee War Chief Tecumseh met and together planned an attack on Detroit. Although outnumbered by the U.S. garrison of Detroit, they were able to bluff their way to victory, accepting the surrender of Detroit and the entire territory of Michigan on August 16, 1812.
- Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake was bombarded by American cannons from New York State across the river from the fort. It was captured by an American army after a fierce battle on May 27, 1813 and occupied by the U.S. army until December 19 of that year. On the American retreat, they burned the town of Niagara, now Niagara-on-the-Lake.
- In Atlantic Canada, while the Royal Navy used Halifax as their main base in the North American theatre of the war, local men fitted up their schooners and fishing boats as “privateers” to prey on American merchant shipping. Fortunes were made by astute privateer captains and the economies of the Atlantic provinces flourished during the conflict. In St. Andrews and St. John, New Brunswick, defences were constructed to prevent American privateers from raiding New Brunswick ports.
- At the Battle of Chateauguay fought on October 26, 1813 near Allan’s Corners, Quebec, Canadian regulars of the Canadian Voltigeurs, French and English speaking militiamen from Lower Canada and First Nations allies prevented an attack by a much larger force of American invaders, thus saving Montreal.