With the bicentennial of the War of 1812 less than a year away, there is a flurry of activity in Ontario as organizations develop plans to commemorate the event. The journal Ontario History has extended a call for papers for a special edition dedicated to recent articles about the War of 1812 in Ontario. The city of Hamilton, site the battle of Stoney Creek, is planning a series of events to commemorate the war’s impact on the city. In Kingston, the Kingston Historical Society is planning a conference for October 2012, Sideshow or Main Event: Putting the War of 1812 into regional contexts. At Brock University history professor Kevin Kee and Brock students have developed a GPS-guided interactive tour of War of 1812 sites in Ontario, including Niagara-on-the-Lake and Queenston Heights, available as an iPhone app.
While many of us may be familiar with the major battles and events of the War of 1812 in Ontario, such as the battle of Queenston Heights and the death of Sir Isaac Brock or the battles of Stoney Creek and Lundy’s Lane, few know the stories of the American raids on Southwestern Ontario. Following the British withdrawal from Detroit and the loss of Lake Erie after the Battle of Put in Bay in 1813, the entire peninsula was defended by only small contingents of largely untrained militia. The Americans took advantage of this situation and launched a series of raids meant to demoralize the populace and deny the British army of one of their main sources of food and provisions. The raids also tested the loyalty of those living in the region, many of whom were recent immigrants from the United States.
The biggest and most daring of these raids was carried out by General Duncan McArthur and 700 Kentucky Cavalry. In October 1814, McArthur entered at Baldoon with the ultimate goal of reaching Burlington and penetrated almost 200 km to the Grand River before being turned back by the Six Nations warriors and high water levels. This would be the last time that the Six Nations would fight as an independent nation. McArthur then encountered several hundred Canadian Militia at Malcolm’s Mills, located near the present day community of Oakland in Brant County, in what was to be known as the last battle ever fought on Canadian soil against a foreign power. The mill was quickly overrun, with the militia suffering heavy casualties. The destruction of the fledgling infrastructure of Southwestern Ontario ensued as McArthur made his way back to Detroit unimpeded. A trail of smoldering mills, barns, homes, orchards and slaughtered livestock marked McArthur’s retreat.
McArthur’s raids, the Battle of Malcolm’s Mill, the burning of Dover Mills, the Port Talbot raids, the story of this region’s significant First Nations’ involvement, and many other under interpreted and largely unknown stories from the War of 1812 in Southwestern Ontario are ready to be shared. The Living History Multimedia Association (LHMA), a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Ontario’s local history through educational and entertaining multimedia documentaries, is producing a 3-part documentary series and related promotional and training tools to tell the little-known story of the devastating American raids upon a largely undefended Upper Canadian peninsula (now Southwestern Ontario) in the waning days of the War of 1812 and the lasting effects these raids had upon the area’s inhabitants. The LHMA is working in partnership with many of the museums and communities in Southwestern Ontario, and has received funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Sand Plains Community Development Fund, as well as municipalities and organizations throughout the project area.
As part of the award-winning ‘Ontario Visual Heritage Project,’ the documentary will be distributed for free, along with a curriculum companion book, into every school in Southwestern Ontario. Like other projects in the OVHP series, the documentary’s initial broadcaster will likely be TVOntario. To launch the series, screenings will be held in locations throughout Southwestern Ontario in late 2012 and early 2013, followed by a panel of local historians involved in the project to answer questions and offer additional insight into the impact of the war on their regions. To motivate people to ‘get off the couch,’ the documentary will be supplemented by a website with traditional driving tours and a free ‘Mobile Companion’ application for iPhones and Blackberries. The Mobile Companion will take users on a tour based loosely on McArthur’s Raid – from Windsor to Burlington.
The Ontario Visual Heritage Project has previously seen success in 11 other areas in Ontario: Haldimand County, Norfolk County, Brant/Brantford/Six Nations, Elgin County, Oxford County, Sarnia-Lambton and Chatham-Kent. Four recent projects: Muskoka, West Parry Sound, Greater Sudbury, and Manitoulin Island have been broadcast on TVO as The Shield. Currently, the Ontario Visual Heritage Project is completing The Land Between, which examines the natural and cultural heritage of the transition zone between the Canadian Shield and the St. Lawrence Lowlands.
Rural Raids and Divided Loyalties – Southwestern Ontario and the War of 1812 will bring to life some of the lesser known stories of the War of 1812 and its impact on Southwestern Ontario. Like the other documentaries produced by the Living History Multimedia Association, Rural Raids and Divided Loyalties is an excellent example of community involvement in making history active and accessible to the public.