Rough Trade: Canadian
“High School Confidential”; ‘Avoid Freud‘ (1981)
Essential Books Aboot Canada — Book Two:
The Invasion Of Canada: 1812-1813
Pierre Berton (1980): History repeats itself, over and over again. We repeat it because no one learns. We think we do, then we walk into the same wall we should have torn down years ago. And even when some of us do learn, it’s generally too late or the Newly Knowledgable is declared a Nut Job because no one else knows what the fuck they’re talking aboot. America’s first lesson in how not to fight wars outside its own borders was taught by Canada in what became known as “The War of 1812”. But making direct connections between the past and present is not what this book, “The Invasion Of Canada: 1812-1813,” is aboot. Pierre doesn’t make direct connections in his books. I, however, do make them on my blog.
When I was in grade ten my history teacher once made a point of telling us about Pierre. He extolled the virtues of learning everything aboot Canadian history we possibly could and Pierre could be our gateway. And I ate it up because I was a Teenage Nationalist. Pierre, my teacher said, had written aboot all of the major points of Canada’s history and as he spoke I was writing down names of Pierre‘s books which I planned on reading as soon as I found them. Until Mr. Clancy said that Pierre had a team of research assistants who helped him. And I, being a Teenage Absolutist, thought that meant Pierre cheated*. The fucker. Plus his books were huge and I, being a Teenage Teenager, really didn’t like hardcover books. And so it went. Until I found this one (in trade paperback).
There’s a weird history between America and Canada. Canadians are, basically, Americans and Americans are, basically, Canadians because we were all once, basically, British. Then there’s our French roots. Most of what became America was once owned by France, while a large chunk of Canada — Quebec — was once a colony of France. Quebec was then conquered by the British in 1759, and as payback France then helped British-Americans defeat the British during the 1776 American Revolution. Then Canadians — French-Canadians along with British-Canadians and Canadian ‘Indians’ — teamed up with the British-British to defeat the American invasion of Canada during the War of 1812, which was really an extension of Napoleons war against Everyone Not French In Europe… which France lost to Britain.
This is from the back of the book: “To America’s leaders in 1812, an invasion of Canada seemed to be “a mere matter of marching,” as Thomas Jefferson confidently predicted. How could a nation of 8 million fail to subdue a struggling colony of 300,000? Yet, when the campaign of 1812 ended, the only Americans left on Canadian soil were prisoners of war. Three American armies had been forced to surrender, and the British were in control of Michigan Territory and much of Indiana and Ohio.” We had also burnt the White House to the ground. Pierre asserts in “The Invasion Of Canada” that if there had been no War of 1812 most of Ontario would be American simply through being more British than not, and if Canada had lost the war the “America” of today would be, basically, North America. But there was, and we won, and here we are with free health care, hockey and edible Beavertails.
The British colonies of Canada (Upper Canada and Lower Canada) and America (the 13 colonies) had already started to grow apart even before the American Revolution, but finally became fully independent of each other after the War of 1812. Before, since and forever-after Canadians, according to Pierre, “valued ‘peace, order and good government’ rather than the more hedonistic ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.”
Pierre wrote this book, or at least it was published, in 1980. Way before Iraq Two, Afghanistan, Iraq One, Bosnia, Somalia, Lybia or Granada. But even if it had been published yesterday Pierre didn’t write to make points against current political policies. He wouldn’t draw parallels between the failed and humiliating invasion of Canada nearly 200 years ago and what’s happening in the world today. Although I would and, basically, I just did. Pierre wrote as an historian and as a (capital J) Journalist. He wrote to bring the events which formed Canada to people who currently call themselves “Canadian”. When I was in high school I was lucky to have two teachers who were able to teach aboot Canada. Most people my age didn’t have any. I was telling a friend recently that the first time I decided I was going to write a book aboot Canadian history (as opposed to an Elmore Leonard-inspired Pulp novel) was aboot fifteen-years ago… I was in a Chapters (a national bookstore chain) looking for a book on Canadian politics and I found four. Four books on Canada in a Canadian bookstore surrounded by rows and rows and rows of British and American history. It has gotten better recently, there has actually been a revival, a renewed interest in Canada by Canadians. But all of those authors will use Pierre Berton as their first source, because Pierre was always there first.
Pierre was born in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, in 1920. His first jobs were working in Klondike mining camps. He started his career reporting for the Vancouver Sun in 1945. By the age of 84, he had written 50 books on Canada. Pierre was made a companion of the Order of Canada in 1986, over his career he also received three Governor General Awards for Creative Non-fiction for ‘The Mysterious North’, ‘The Last Spike’ and ‘Klondike’; two National Newspaper Awards, and; two ACTRA Awards for broadcasting. In 2004, on a national television program’s “Celebrity Tip” segment Pierre — introduced as a “marijuana connoisseur” — taught viewers how to properly roll a joint (he had smoked regularly since the 1950’s). He passed away in 2004. Adrienne Clarkson, then Governor General of Canada, said Pierre “was the most remarkable writer of Canadian historical events in the last 50 years. So much of our nationhood and our collective identity as Canadians were created by him.”
Pierre wrote another book aboot the War of 1812 a year later called “Flames Across the Border: The Canadian-American Tragedy: 1813-1814”.
Excerpt One: (page 19) “The Invasion of Canada, which began in the early summer of 1812 and petered out in the late fall of 1814, was part of a larger conflict that has come to be known in North America as the War of 1812. The war was the by-product of a larger struggle, which saw Napoleonic France pitted for almost a decade against most of Europe. It is this complexity, a war within a war within a war, like a nest of Chinese boxes, that has caused so much confusion. The watershed date “1812” has different connotations for different people. And, as in Alice’s famous caucus race, everybody seems to have won something, though there were no prizes. The Russians, for instance, began to win their own War of 1812 against Napoleon in the very week in which the British and Canadians were repulsing the invading Americans at Queenston Heights. The Americans won the last battle of their War of 1812 in the first week of 1815 — a victory diminished by the fact that peace had been negotiated fifteen days before. The British, who beat Napoleon, could also boast that they “won” the North American was because the Treaty of Ghent, which settled the matter, had nothing to say about the points at issue and merely maintained the status quo.” [all italics are the authors emphasis]
Excerpt Two: (page 129-131) “‘A PROCLAMATION: INHABITANTS OF CANADA! After thirty years of Peace and prosperity, the United States have been driven to Arms. The injuries and aggressions, the insults and indignities of Great Britain have once more left them no alternative but manly resistance or unconditional submission. The army under my Command has invaded your Country and the standard of the United States waves on the territory of Canada. To the peaceful, unoffending inhabitant, It brings neither danger nor difficulty I come to find enemies not to make them, I come to protect you not to injure you.
[…]If the barbarous and Savage policy of Great Britain be pursued, and the savages are let loose to murder our Citizens and butcher our women and children, this war, will be a war of extermination. …No white man found fighting by the Side of an Indian will be taken prisoner Instant destruction will be his Lot… . — WM Hull [William Hull, American Governor of Michigan Territory, Commander of the Army of the Northeast]’ Yet Hull has overstated his case. These are farmers he is addressing, not revolutionaries. The colonial authoritarianism touches very few. They do not feel like slaves; they already have enough peace, liberty, and security to satisfy them. This tax-free province [Canada] is not America at the time of the Boston Tea Party. Why is Hull asking them to free themselves from tyranny? In the words of one, if they had been under real tyranny, “they could at any time have crossed the line to the States.” …No Daniel Boones stalk the Canadian forests, ready to knock off an Injun with a Kentucky rifle or do battle over an imagined slight. The Methodist circuit riders keep the people law abiding and temperate; prosperity keeps them content. …There is little theft, less violence.”
Excerpt Three: (page 309) “It was not the war that the Americans, inspired and goaded by the eloquence of Henry Clay and his colleagues, had set out to fight and certainly not the glamorous adventure that Harrison’s volunteers expected. The post-Revolutionary euphoria, which envisaged the citizen soldiers of a democratic nation marching off to sure victory over a handful of robot-like mercenaries and enslaved farmers, had dissipated. America had learned the lessons that most nations relearn at the start of every war — that valour is ephemeral, that the heroes of one war are the scapegoats of the next, that command is for the young, the vigorous, the imaginative, the professional. Nor does enthusiasm and patriotism alone win battles: untrained volunteers, no matter how fervent, cannot stand up to seasoned regulars, drilled to stand fast in moments of panic and to follow orders without question. It was time for the United States to drop its amateur standing now that it intended to do what its founding fathers had not prepared for — aggressive warfare.”
Excerpt Four: (page 312) “The Indians scattered that spring for their hunting grounds. Tecumseh was still in the south, pursuing his proposal to weld the tribes into a new confederacy. The British saw eye to eye with his plan for an Indian state north of the Ohio [River]; it would act as a buffer between the two English-speaking nations on the North American continent and make future wars unattractive. The idea had long been at the core of British Indian policy.
But the Indians were soon ignored. In the official dispatches they got short shrift. The names of white officers who acted with conspicuous gallantry were invariably recorded, those of the Indian chieftains never. Even the name of Tecumseh, after [British General] Brock’s initial report, vanishes from the record. Yet these painted tribesmen helped save Canada’s hide in 1812.”
Excerpt Five (From The Conclusion): (page 313-314) “Thus the key words in Upper Canada were “loyalty” and “patriotism” — loyalty to the British way of life as opposed to American “radical” democracy and republicanism. Brock — the man who wanted to establish martial law and abandon habeas corpus — represented these virtues. Canonized by the same caste that organized the Loyal and Patriotic Society, he came to represent Canadian order as opposed to American anarchy — the “peace, order and good government” rather than the more hedonistic “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Had not Upper Canada been saved from the invader by appointed leaders who ruled autocratically? In America, the politicians became generals; in British North America, the opposite held true.
This attitude — that the British way is preferable to the American; that certain sensitive positions are better filled by appointment than by election; that order imposed from above has advantages over grassroots democracy (for which read “licence” or “anarchy”); that a ruling elite often knows better than the body politic — flourished as a result of an invasion repelled. Out of it, shaped by an emerging nationalism and tempered by rebellion, grew that special form of a state paternalism that makes the Canadian way of life significantly different from the more individualistic American way. Thus, in a psychological as well as a political sense, we are Canadians and not Americans because of a foolish war that scarcely anyone wanted or needed, but which, once launched, none knew how to stop.”
Essential Books Aboot Canada Book One:
Ten Lost Years 1929-1939:
Memories of Canadians Who Survived The Depression
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I’m Canadian, it’s what we do. Off the ice.