OTTAWA—On the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, the Canadian War Museum is presenting an easily understood overview of what they call “Four Wars of 1812.”
The first thing that strikes the visitor is that there were four aspects to what most people call the War of 1812. Glenn Ogden, senior interpretive planner at the museum, led a group of journalists through the exhibition, explaining the four viewpoints.
To Canadians, the war was about preventing American invasion; to the Americans it was about standing up to the British; to the British, the war was what a museum press release calls “an irritating sideshow to the Napoleonic Wars raging in Europe”; and for native Americans it was “a desperate struggle for freedom and independence” in their fight to defend their ancient homelands.
D. Peter MacLeod, a pre-Confederation historian at the Canadian War Museum, curated the exhibition. His passion for understanding 18th century Canada has resulted in several books, including “The Battle of the Plains of Abraham” and “Northern Armageddon.”
His latest work is a 96-page paperback with many excellent illustrations called “Four Wars of 1812.”
In the third chapter of the book, MacLeod tells of an American officer who said to Jacob Cline, a 13-year-old Canadian: “You’ll soon be under Yankee government, my boy.” Jacob replied, “I’m not so sure about that.” And he was right.
At the famous battle of Queenston Heights (just north of Niagara Falls) an American army, thirsty for more territory, invaded Canada.
Major-General Sir Isaac Brock (1769 to 1812) who had been placed in command of Upper and Lower Canada in 1806, led British forces, French- and English-speaking militia, and First Nations warriors in a brilliant defence of the fledgling colony. That battle changed history.
As MacLeod states in his book: “For modern Canadians, the War of 1812 is the epic story of the successful defence of a small colony under attack by a much larger neighbour.”
It is difficult to know whether that small colony would have survived without the help of the First Nations, or what the museum calls “First Peoples.”
According to MacLeod, Canadian First Peoples from Lake Superior to the St. Lawrence valley served as independent allies of the British Crown, choosing when and how to take part in the defence of Canada.
As MacLeod explains in his book, many distinguished chiefs and warriors served in the War of 1812. Among them was Odawa war chief Mookomaanish (Little Knife).
Odawa chief Jean-Baptiste Assiginack described Mookomaanish as “an eminent war chief who distinguished himself in the late American war … with nine of his young men he fell upon a party of Americans, killed nine, took one prisoner, and received a severe wound in his knee.”
Mookomaanish received a presentation sword from the British after the war in recognition of his humanity towards an American prisoner.
Attending the press preview were several direct descendants of Mookomaanish, including Kingston resident Ray Kinoshamy, his niece Nancy Kinoshamy, and her daughter, Evangelista Naokwegijig, both of Ottawa.
This excellent exhibition is at the Canadian War Museum from June 13, 2012 until Jan. 6, 2013. For information please visit www.warmuseum.ca/1812.
Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings, and Doctor’s Review, among many others. E-mail: email@example.com
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