Celebrating Canada’s War of 1812 Victory: All hail Sir Isaac Brock, Tecumseh, and Napoleon

I don’t know about you, but for me nothing makes waiting in the sweltering heat for a buffet to open more bearable than listening to a speech by Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

And so it came to pass on Friday, when French Ambassador Phillipe Zeller invited various dignitaries and journalist freeloaders to the embassy to help celebrate Bastille Day — held to commemorate the storming of the Bastille in the early days of the French Revolution.

Anthems were played; Zeller gave a speech; then MacKay took the podium. He praised France, praised our troops, praised the enduring ties between Canada and France. So far, so many minutes until roast beef.

Then MacKay got historical. He talked about the impact the storming of the Bastille had, not just on France but the world. All true. And these crêpe appetizers are delicious.

MacKay should have stopped there. He didn’t. In fact, he said, as Canada marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, we should recall that things might have turned out differently without French help to Canada.

As students of history, as well as anyone — well, almost anyone — who has walked through the new War of 1812 exhibition at the Canadian War Museum, knows, France did play a major, if indirect, role in the war of 1812. Unfortunately, it was by waging total war against Britain, thereby preventing it from sending much in the way of troops and hardware to Canada. France, in other words, was on America’s side, not ours.

It will take some creative spinning to argue MacKay had a clue what he was talking about. French Canadians fought hard and well against the American invasion of Canada, notably at the Battle of the Chateauguay, a decisive Canadian and British victory. But these men were generations removed from France and showed it little loyalty. The biggest effect France had on their lives was that when Napoleon took on Britain, America felt emboldened to go to war against them.

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