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Leading Seaman Mathieu Blais receives a War of 1812 memorial pin from Defence Minister Peter MacKay. (Corporal Charles Stephen)
Leading Seaman Mathieu Blais receives a War of 1812 memorial pin from Defence Minister Peter MacKay. (Corporal Charles Stephen)

Canadian soldiers get pins, banners to mark War of 1812 anniversary Add to ...

Canada’s soldiers, sailors and air personnel are being drafted in Ottawa’s commemoration of the War of 1812 and starting Thursday will wear a pin recalling the 200-year-old conflict with the United States.

The pin has a blue background and features a red maple leaf with two crossed cutlasses.

Canadian Forces members will be authorized to include it on their uniforms for three years.

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Canadian military units and formations will also fly a similar banner memorializing the defence of what is now Canada between 1812 and 1815.

The Harper government is spending close to $30-million commemorating the War of 1812 from re-enactments to refurbished historic sites to a video ad running in theatres.

It’s the latest example of the Harper government’s determination to cultivate more appreciation for conflict that saw Canadians’ predecessors repell an invasion by the United States – now this country’s closest ally and most valued trading partner.

“This tribute will be a daily reminder of a key chapter in Canada’s history, and of the courageous efforts made by the regular and militia soldiers, provincial marine and the aboriginal allies who helped define who we are today,” National Defence Minister Peter MacKay said.

The announcement comes nearly a week after Mr. MacKay made what sounded like a major history blunder during remarks at the French embassy’s celebration of Bastille Day.

During the July 13 event – one day before France’s national holiday – the Defence Minister praised France’s contribution to the War of 1812. “Suffice it to say in the 200th commemoration of the War of 1812, had the French not been here fighting side by side, we might be standing here next to each other in a new light,” Mr. MacKay said, according to a tape recording credited by the Ottawa Citizen to Embassy magazine.

The French actually supported the U.S. in the War of 1812.

Mr. MacKay’s office denies the minister erred, suggesting he was talking about French Canadians instead.

The War of 1812 is a major formative event in Canada’s history – but like all wars, was wrenching and destructive. Both the White House and early Parliament buildings in Upper Canada were torched during the conflict.

The Conservatives have long been intent on restoring military exploits to a more central role in the country’s national identity.

The War of 1812 saw the inhabitants of what is now Canada frustrate American attempts to overrun their territory, although British troops arguably did much of the work.

Canada, of course, peacefully achieved independence from Britain, but the Tories are using this year’s 1812 bicentennial to demonstrate how a struggle pivotal to this country’s destiny took place half a century earlier.

For instance, the treaty ending the war confirmed the border between the United States and what would later become Canada.

Ignorance and, to some extent, apathy may be the biggest obstacles for the Conservatives as they try to drum up interest in the 200-year-old war.

A 2011 survey conducted for Ottawa found Canadians know relatively little about the conflict, and eagerness to learn more about it drops off outside Ontario, where a significant number of the battles took place.

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