Reviewed by Alex Binkley
The 200th anniversary of the War of 1812-14 has mostly run its course. Enactments have been staged and the federal government has attempted to stir up patriotic feelings about the war that made or saved Canada.
There’s little evidence that the average Canadian actually paid attention to the publicity campaign or learned anything much about the invasion of American troops and the bloody battles that ensued as British troops including French Canadians, local militia and First Nations eventually drove the hated Yankees out of the country. The war preceded by a half century the formal creation of our country.
The anniversary did produce several new books on the topic. Among them is an engaging historical novel entitled Defending Our Home written by Ottawa author Ronald Doering. In contrast to the usual dry academic accounts, the novel draws on local histories of the region and tales of its actual settlers, many of them United Empire Loyalists, to deliver a people’s history of the Battle of Crysler’s Farm in November, 1813 in Dundas Country in eastern Ontario. Although heavily outnumbered, the defenders thwarted the invaders time and again and after a few more battle in 1814, the war was over.
Doering sets the tone of the story on the first page with a letter from Thomas Marselis to his wife on the eve of the battle. In it, he says, “I hate the Yankees for this invasion. I can’t bear to think we could lose our home to them again.” The hatred of the UELs, who were driven from the United States after the War of Independence, toward the Americans resurfaces regularly through the story. At one point a militia member watching approaching invaders quips about the prospect of shooting a cousin or other relative who had remained in the U.S. The looting of livestock, horses and other food from the small farms along the St. Lawrence River by American soldiers does nothing to lessen the locals’ fury against the foreigners. It’s undoubtedly a phenomena that has been repeated many times over in warfare.
The militia was composed of farmers and tradesmen with little if any military training and rifles that were suitable for hunting and not the much heavier use that a battle required. The story also captures their fears for the safety of their unprotected families especially with winter drawing ever closer as well as the endless toil that life required back then.
Doering is a native of Dundas Country and that helped him tap in the untold stories of many of the men and women who lived through the war.
Defending Our Home is published by Borealis Press.