The War of 1812: Whose War was it Anyway?

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This summer marks the two hundredth anniversary of the United States’ declaration of war on Great Britain and her colonies (including what eventually became Canada). The bicentennial of the War of 1812 this summer will be the starting point for a number of commemorations, restorations, re-enactments and monument building. The Government of Canada, under current Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, reiterated its commitment to supporting commemorations across Canada in its most recent Speech from the Throne. Numerous events planned across the country will serve to “perpetuate the identities of War of 1812 militia units,” as well as to demonstrate, in the words of Heritage Minister James Moore, that “This was the fight for Canada.” A public study conducted recently by the Department of Canadian Heritage, however, points out that many Canadians cannot name the three combatants in the war, and argues that it “may not be something that a lot of Canadians recognize or understand.

As preparations for the bicentennial kick into full gear, a simple question may help provide some much needed focus to this apparent amnesia: just whose war was it, anyway? Historians, governments, teachers, and the media are all working to address larger questions around the war and its impact. What were the consequences for aboriginals both during and after the conflict? What about those who refused to fight, on either the British or American side? How did regional, cultural and linguistic differences affect experiences of the war and did they reinforce or conflict with so-called “national” narratives centred on nation building? Can we, in fact, speak of “The War of 1812” or should we instead be considering the many “wars” experienced by those who were swept up in the tumult of the period? How does a consideration of broader experiences of the conflict affect Canadian communities today? Further, how does considering these questions change the way the history of the conflict is taught, both in schools and in other educational settings such as historic sites and museums? Are these broader questions reflected in these settings and in the broader teaching of history?

In the spirit of these questions, the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) Active History Committee, in partnership with The History Education Network (THEN/HiER) and the CHA, has organized a public mini-conference to be held in conjunction with this year’s CHA annual meeting, May 30, in Kitchener-Waterloo. It will engage historians, educators and the general public on a topic that is both timely and of local interest. Divided in two parts, the conference will include sessions on new teaching tools focussed on the war, local tourism and heritage initiatives, neglected legacies of the war and a special evening round table session focussed on the politics and memory of the bicentennial celebrations. In the coming weeks, will be featuring vignettes written by some of the conference participants.

For the preliminary conference programme:

Active History Mini-Conference Provisional Program / Programme provisoire du mini-colloque de Active History: “The War of 1812: Whose War Was It, Anyway?” / « La guerre de 1812 : à qui était cette guerre de toute façon? »

May 30, 2012, University of Waterloo

Business Meeting – CHA Active History Committee, 1200-1300 Math and Computer Building (M & C) 4042


Session / Séance I – 13:15 -14:45 M&C 2065

Exploring the War of 1812 in an Augmented Reality Game / L’exploration de la Guerre de 1812 dans un jeu de réalité amplifiée

Chair / Animateur : Kevin Kee, Brock University

Panellists / Les panélistes :

Tim Compeau and Adriana Ayers, University of Western Ontario: “Tecumseh: Running and Playing a War of 1812 Augmented Reality Game”

Robert MacDougall, University of Western Ontario: “Lies: Inquiry-Based Pedagogy and Subversive Commemoration for the War of 1812”

Devon Elliott, University of Western Ontario: “Here: Place-Based Computing and Augmented-Reality Technologies for History and Heritage Education”


Session / Séance II – 15:00 – 16:15 M&C 2065

1812 History En Route and on Screen: Route 1812, Public History and Tourism / L’histoire 1812 en route et à l’écran : route 1812, l’histoire publique et le tourisme

Chair / Animateur: Jessica Squires, Library and Archives Canada

Panellists / Les panélistes :

Adrienne Horne, Regional Project Manager, Maria Fortunato, Chair, Western Corridor War of 1812 Bicentennial Alliance

Representatives from the Ontario Visual Heritage Project


Session / Séance III – 16:30-17:30 M&C 2065

Historic Peace Churches in Upper Canada during the War of 1812: The Place of Conscientious Objectors in Canadian History / Les églises de la paix au Haut-Canada pendant la guerre de 1812 : la place des objecteurs de conscience dans l’histoire canadienne

Chair / Animateur : Maurice Martin, President of the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario

Panellists / Les panélistes : 1812 Bicentennial Peace Committee

Jonathan Seiling, “The Experience of Quakers, Mennonites and Brethren in Christ in the War of 1812”

Donald Alexander, “The Quaker Legacy of Conscientious Objection in Canada”

Donald Woodside, “Lobbying Efforts for Alternatives to Military Taxation Arising post-1812”


Evening Event – Co-sponsored with the The History Education Network (THEN/HiER) / L’activité en soirée coparrainée avec Histoire et éducation en Réseau (HiER/THEN)

“Whose War Was It, Anyway?” A round-table discussion / Table ronde « à qui était cette guerre de toute façon? »

7pm / 19h00 – James J. Brown Auditorium, Waterloo Public Library, Main Library, 35 Albert Street

Moderator: Julia Roberts, University of Waterloo

Panellists / Les panélistes :

Catherine Emerson, County Historian, Niagara County, New York;

James Elliott, journalist, author of Strange Fatality: The Battle of Stoney Creek, 1813

Jamie Swift, journalist and co-author (with Ian McKay) Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety (appearing summer of 2012);

Keith Jamieson, Manager, Six Nations Legacy Consortium.

Esyllt Jones, co-editor, A People’s Citizenship Guide: A Response to Conservative Canada



The Active History CHA Committee would like to thank The History Education Network/Histoire et Éducation en Réseau (THEN/HiER) for their generous financial support and the Canadian Historical Association for their assistance in extending funding and promotional space for our mini-conference. CHA Programme Chair Heather MacDougall has been most helpful with preparations for the event. Finally, the editorial committee has been very supportive in providing feedback and logistical support.

Jessica Squires, James Trepanier – CHA Active History Committee Co-Coordinators

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