Every year in Stoney Creek, Ontario for the last 30 years, people have reenacted the Battle of Stoney Creek.
Reenactors on the British side at the Battle of Stoney Creek (Image Credit: Michael Cumming)
This was a small but pivotal battle between the Americans and the British during the War of 1812. The British at the time were a great European power while the US were destined to become a great North American power.
The Americans were just establishing their nationhood, their standing army and their military capability. The British, on the other hand, had one of the most professional and disciplined armies in the world.
The War of 1812 is usually portrayed as a battle between two settler nations: the British (helped by Canadian militias and its native allies) and the Americans. Later in the 19th century, both the Americans and the British did rather well for themselves.
The natives were of essential help in helping the British defend itself against the American invasion. They knew the land much more intimately than the British. Their keen sense of how to survive in the northern woods was honed by thousands of years of settlement. Their dwellings and clothing appear the most suitable for warfare in northern forests. They were also known as fierce and skillful warriors who could terrorize their enemies.
Yet, as the actor portraying Chief Tecumseh at the reenactment explained, the native side did less well as result of the war than the British or the Americans.
Despite their help in helping the British not to lose the war, the natives were the only side that can be said to have 'lost' this war: their traditional way of life, their political autonomy, and their hold on their territory was soon to be greatly diminished by the influx of mostly white settlers.
Southern Ontario and in particular the Niagara region, then as now, was an attractive target of invasion: a fruit-belt with a mild climate, with important centres of population, adjacent to impressive lakes and other natural waterways and with some of the most productive farmland in the region.
As luck would have it, the War of 1812 was a draw and residents of Upper Canada remained British, later Canadian. As a result of the War of 1812, most of the current eastern boundaries between Canada and the US were defined.
Therefore, one of the war's outcomes was the establishment of a stable frontier between two large countries. This has given the lands on either side of the border many years in which the inhabitants didn't have to worry too much about the possibility of external invasion or other political or military calamities. Most other regions of the world cannot claim such stability of their frontiers so early in their political history.
This was a type of 'peace dividend' for the region, which unfortunately did not extend to its aboriginal population. Their history after this war was one of increasing marginalization - rather than stability and growth.
The reverberations of this process of marginalization are still felt strongly in the region and have yet to be addressed adequately on either side of the border.
First published in Michael's blog.
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