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Comedian Dave Broadfoot on the War of 1812 (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Comedian Dave Broadfoot on the War of 1812 (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

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Comedian Dave Broadfoot on the War of 1812 Add to ...

Now retired, Dave Broadfoot was a long-time member of the Royal Canadian Air Farce. Among his comic characters were Sergeant Renfrew of the RCMP, hockey player Big Bobby Clobber and David J. Broadfoot, the Honourable Member for Kicking Horse Pass.

When was the War of 1812?

As far as I know, 1812. The same date as the 1812 Overture. When I was 12 years old, I fell in love with symphonic music. I grew up thinking “The 1812 Overture, wow, it’s about us!” It’s to do with Canada and Laura Secord bringing chocolates through the woods to hungry Canadian soldiers fighting against the Americans. The Americans got into a war with Britain and the only place they could find British to attack was Canada.

Who won?

Canada and the United Kingdom won against the United States. Canada remained Canada and the U.S. had to get by without it.

Most Canadians are ignorant or apathetic about the War of 1812. You sound like you’re neither.

We are ignorant. When I stared out as the member for Kicking Horse Pass, I felt we needed a new party, the NAP – the New Apatheic Party. So many people would be attracted to that name.

The Harper government is spending $30-million to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 with re-enactments, commemorative coins and a monument. Is that money well spent?

When I first arrived in Toronto, I was invited to a party in a home with a lot of painters, some of them quite famous. One of them said, “What are you doing tomorrow, your first day in Toronto?” I said, “I want to see the home of William Lyon Mackenzie.” He said, “Who?” I said, “William Lyon Mackenzie, he was your first mayor and he lead the farmers’ revolt against the Family Compact.” He had absolutely no idea what I was talking about – an intelligent guy born and raised here who knew absolutely nothing. I don’t care if it’s $100-million, it is worth waking people up to their history.

The government is aggressively promoting the military and traditional culture. Part of that seems to be the promotion of the history of Canada as a nation forged out of the blood and guts of 1812, rather that negotiated independence and confederation of 1867.

I’ve always heard it was Vimy when Canada became a nation.

Few Canadians can claim ancestors who were around in 1812. For us, it’s ancient history. For recent immigrants, first-generation Canadians from all over the globe, it’s ancient foreign history. Why should they give a damn about a war 200 years ago?

Why not give a damn? All of history is valid and worth learning. I was expelled from school as an incorrigible troublemaker and I regret that very much. I don’t think we have ever had enough history taught in schools.

Never mind Canadians from abroad, what about Western Canadians, who might see the War of 1812 as a regional war thousands of miles away? Should they care?

Why shouldn’t they? I am from out west. I was born and raised in North Vancouver and still go there any chance I get. How can you run a country where you say certain sections don’t have to be interested in the rest of it? It’s all Canada. I am a proud Canadian. Very proud. There are a lot of values in this country that other countries envy so much they send hundreds and thousands of immigrants here.

One of those values used to be that we were a humble, unassuming nation. If we start bragging about the War of 1812 – we are celebrating a victory over the U.S., after all – might Americans feel we are rubbing their noses in it?

We have some stupid people, but I don’t think we have any that stupid that they are going to brag about how we beat them.

Isn’t that the whole point, though? You don’t celebrate the wars you lost.

No, I think we celebrate the sacrifices we made. In the War of 1812, we lost one of the most brilliant generals we ever had, Isaac Brock, and we lost Tecumseh, who, from everything I’ve read, was pretty close to a genius.

The U.S. very much sees itself as a nation born out of conflict and war. Its anthem is homage to that: “the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” Does Canada need a new, more aggressive anthem with less “glowing hearts” and “standing on guard”?

No. I like the anthem as it is. Maybe “our sons” shouldn’t be in there. It should be all of us.

Oh, come on, maybe just add a line or two? What rhymes with “kick ass”?

No. Even “Kicking Horse Pass” doesn’t really rhyme with it.

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