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Explore the War of 1812 at Leddy

In conjunction with our War of 1812 Display near the Williams Coffee Pub, Leddy Library invites you to explore the rich regional history related to the War of 1812.  Check out Dr. Marshall Bastable’s suggestions for 5 Books You Should Read about the War of 1812 and read his concise overview of this fascinating historical event below.


The War of 1812 was fought between American soldiers and American militias and their Indian allies on one side, and British soldiers and Canadian militias and their First Nations allies on the other side. The conflict involved eight major battles on land and water and several dozen lesser battles and skirmishes, along a front stretching along the northern shores of the Great lakes system from Detroit-Amherstburg to Montreal. A secondary theatre was a British naval blockade along the American Atlantic coast, and a final battle at New Orleans. Most of the action took place in the Niagara Peninsula.

Key Military Events
When President James Madison declared war on Britain in June 1812, British forces in Canada under Major-General Sir Isaac Brock immediately invaded the United States, seizing Detroit. The Americans invaded across the Niagara frontier but were defeated at Queenston Heights. Brock was killed, becoming English Canada’s second military hero and adding Queenston Heights to the Plains of Abraham at Quebec City where General Wolfe fell in 1759 as sacred military ground in English Canadian history.

In 1813 American amphibious forces burned Toronto, and their army overran the Niagara Peninsula. Their advance was beaten back at Stoney Creek but they held on to Niagara-on-the Lake. The Americans gained a strategic advantage when Commodore Oliver Perry defeated the British navy on Lake Erie. With their supply lines cut to the western front the British abandoned Amherstburg and retreated towards Toronto.

During that retreat the First Nations leader Tecumseh was killed at the Battle of the Thames, and the native coalition he had forged dissolved, ending any chance for North American native peoples to secure their own nation state in North America. Thus the first two years of the war produced three military heroes for the future: Perry for the Americans, Brock for the British and Tecumseh for the First Nations peoples.

In the east theatre American forces failed to take Montreal and the British secured a decisive victory at Crysler’s Farm, on the St. Laurence River between Montreal and Kingston, thus securing British communications between Upper and Lower Canada. Finally, British and Canadian First Nations forces then drove the Americans out of the Niagara Peninsula.
In 1814 British naval forces raided the American eastern seaboard, burning Washington, attacking Baltimore (which inspired the writing of The Star Spangled Banner). The American attempt to re-take Niagara was driven back in heavy fighting at Lundy’s Lane, Chippawa and Fort Erie. A peace treaty between Britain and the United States was signed in December 1814 and peace treaties between the United States and various Indian tribes were signed in the next few years.

Consequences of The War of 1812
Conceptualizing The War of 1812 is a complex problem: some say Canada won the war, others say the United States did, while others call it a draw; some say it was an international war, others say it was a civil war. The War of 1812 determined the fate of North America. Tecumseh’s dream of a First Nations state of the Great Lakes was lost forever. Canada and the United States still confront the consequences of that tragic outcome. Both the United States and Canada became continental expansionist “sea-to-sea” nations. The War of 1812 certainly laid the foundation for Canadian-American relations that continue today.

The War of 1812 exacerbated the bitter partisanship of American national politics and did not ease the sharp constitutional disputes and the regional divides between North and South, East and West. The war did not unite English and French Canada, nor did it unite Canada and the First Nations. Britain betrayed First Nations several times before 1812 and at the settlement treaty of 1815. Does Canada continue that legacy today?

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