5 things you didn’t know about the War of 1812

Historica Canada offers up five facts about this important conflict that you probably don’t know. Or maybe you do. If so, then good for you.

(David Kawai/Maclean's magazine)

1. It actually lasted until 1815. The War of 1812 name wasn’t in popular parlance around the time; in fact, it didn’t come into usage until decades after. It was referred to variously as the British-American War, or the Second American War of Independence, and other titles. Why they decided to name it after a year in which less than half the actual fighting occurred is beyond us.

2. A number of our “Canadian heroes” were American-born. After the American Revolution, American Loyalists came to British North America in droves. When war broke out again nearly 30 years later, some feared that close ties between American-born Loyalists and their relatives in the U.S. would undermine British war efforts. This included Laura Secord, Gen. George Prevost, and of course Tecumseh, who was born not in the United States, but in frontier territory sought by the government.

3. There were some crazy acts of personal bravery. John Smoke Johnson, a Mohawk warrior and grandfather of famous Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson, is said to have travelled across the frozen Niagara River and kindled the fire that burned Buffalo on Dec. 30, 1813. Running across a frozen river with a torch in hand—yeah, that’s pretty crazy.

4. Maj.-Gen. Sir Isaac Brock certainly was an inspiration, but he did not win the war. Brock, and many others in the British Army, thought Upper and Lower Canada were in bad shape prior to the War of 1812. Good planning, and some clever early victories at Fort Michilimackinac and Detroit, secured fame for Brock, but more importantly, it gave the impression that defence was possible. When Brock died just months into the war, his figure was used as an inspirational totem. He didn’t even live long enough to learn he’d been knighted.

5. A major key to victory was where? The War of 1812 encompassed a massive theatre of war, stretching from the North Atlantic to the Caribbean and as far inland as present-day Sault Ste. Marie. Fort Michilimackinac, south of Sault Ste. Marie, was a small American post situated in the straits between lakes Michigan and Huron. Controlling this post meant control of inland waterways, and thus trade routes. A canoe party was sent 1,900 km to warn of impending war, and on July 17, 1812, 70 Aboriginal war canoes , with 10 bateaux of British soldiers, took the island. Two years later the British successfully defended the important post.

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