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Ottawa aims to drum up Canadians' interest in the War of 1812

Painting of Laura Secord being brought to see Lieutenant Fitzgibbon by a Mohawk warrior, to warn the British of an impending American attack featured in The War of 1812.

National Archives of Canada, Estate of Lorne K. Smith

Few Canadians think of their country as forged in blood and conflict, but Ottawa is unveiling a War of 1812 commemoration plan that should correct that impression.

The Harper government is casting the 200th anniversary of repelling a U.S. invasion as "the Fight for Canada" and is dedicating tens of millions of dollars to remembering battles it says determined this country's destiny.

Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore will roll out the Conservative government's grand plan for the 1812 bicentennial Tuesday at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., the site of several battles in the war.

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Commemoration will range from historic re-enactments of battles to War-of-1812 themed coins and a national monument.

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.

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 the United Kingdom, but the Tories are using next 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.

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"Without the War of 1812, Canada as we know it today would not exist," said James Maunder, a spokesman for Mr. Moore. "The War of 1812 paved the way for Confederation. It was instrumental in the creation of our military. It was truly the fight for Canada."

Commemorations that Mr. Moore is announcing Tuesday will include:

– Support for up to 100 historical re-enactments, commemorations and local observances of the War of 1812;

– Construction of a permanent 1812 memorial in the National Capital Region;

– Investments at key 1812 battle sites such as Fort Mississauga and Fort York in Ontario;

– Designation of October, 2012, as a month of commemorating the heroes and key battles of the war;

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– Celebration of links between military regiments in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada and militia units that fought in the war. Many reserve regiments in these regions trace their origins to the conflict.

The Tories have survey research showing Canadians are only peripherally aware of the war. That may explain why the Harper government's commemoration plans also include a cross-Canada educational campaign aimed at explaining the importance of the war in the country's history.

Other commemorative plans include:

– 1812-themed stamps;

– A travelling War Museum exhibit as well as a flagship exhibit in Ottawa;

– A high-school essay writing contest;

– An 1812 program for smart phones;

– Commemoration of the battles of Fort George, Ont., and Chateauguay, Que.;

– Interactive tours, exhibits and upgrades at national historic sites across the country, including Fort Lennox, Que., Chambly, Que., Queenston Heights, Ont., and Fort St. Joseph, Ont.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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