Sunday, November 9, 2008


As economic conditions worsen, there is an apparent and growing sense of the need to seek from history positive attributes and achievements that may soften the pending doom and gloom.

The election of the Democrat Barack Obama to the Presidency in the United States brings with it a sense of renewal and much hope for better days. Though, for the time being, the reality is that current issues: The economy, seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the great loss of the American dream, create a need to seek solace in milestones, real or fabricated, from the past.

I was reminded of this over the weekend listening to Johnny Horton's iconic hit from 1959, "The Battle of New Orleans". While it is true that the Americans won the January 8, 1815 Louisiana battle, ultimately they lost that war. That war is of course the "War of 1812" fought against British North Canada. We won!We Canadians too have important moments and iconic personages from that conflict to celebrate. General Issac Brock at Queenston Heights, Laura Secord's brave march to warn of a pending attack, the Battle of Crysler Farm near Ottawa, the August 24th 1814 assault on Washington and the burning of the White House.

From our side of the border, the war's conclusion in the spring of 1815 led ultimately to the construction of the World Heritage "Rideau Canal" and Queen Victoria's selection of Ottawa as our nation's capital.

The Canadian and American disconnect over what happened during the War of 1812 is becoming increasingly apparent as both countries hatch plans to commemorate the 200th anniversary of that 3 year war in 2012. Recently quoted in the "National Post", Connie Barrone, the site manager of the Sackets Harbor Historical Park near the Thousand Islands, declared the American troops victorious. When her error was subsequently pointed-out her reply was that..."historical or aesthetic interpretation must be made by the viewer." - In other words, it's in the eyes of the beholder. NOT!

So it is that earlier this month, a provocative new monument unveiled in Toronto gently reminds onlookers who won the War of 1812. It shows a giant British toy soldier of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment towering over a toppled American member of the 16th U.S. Infantry Regiment.

The monument was created by artist Douglas Coupland of Vancouver as a public art contribution for a new multi-storey high rise building in Toronto's downtown. At the unveiling ceremony, Coupland was quoted as saying..."I grew up thinking the Americans lost the War of 1812, and it turns out there's this creeping revisionism happening. Americans are saying maybe we didn't lose. Maybe we won it...I wanted to come up with an elegant and simple way of saying no, the British won."

The National Post subsequently reported that a spokesman for the American consulate in Toronto had no comment on the monument nor Coupland's remarks, but was quoted as saying the United States Government is committed to freedom of speech. Reports say the monument cost about $500,000. It seems in these days a small price to pay to make sure that our history is not revised unduly.

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