War Stories: Toronto and the War of 1812-14

TD Gallery, Toronto Reference Library
March 30 to June 22, 2013

Setting the Stage

The War of 1812 has been commemorated as a decisive event in the development of the Canadian national identity. However, to the rest of the world, it may be no more than a footnote to the Napoleonic Wars — a much larger conflict between France and Great Britain and other nations.

During the years leading to the declaration of war by President Madison against Britain on June 18, 1812, there were many areas of friction between the two countries. One was a series of orders-in-council issued by the British Parliament which, while aimed at France, had the effect of severely restricting American trade with Europe. Another issue was British impressments of American sailors, seizing them from American ships if they were British-born.

Prominent and influential hawks in the U.S. saw the British-French conflict as an opportunity to seize territory in Upper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) while the British were busy fighting Napoleon overseas. Thomas Jefferson famously wrote to in a letter of August 1812, that “The acquisition of Canada ... will be a mere matter of marching.” Events proved otherwise.

Continue to next section: The Players  > >