Why does Parliament Hill need a monument to the War of 1812?

John Geddes explains why Canadians ought to be wary of plans for the slope by East Block

by John Geddes

There are few patches of grass in Canada, maybe none, more prominent than the slope by Parliament’s East Block. The building itself is the most intriguing of our Parliament Buildings, asymmetrical and gloweringly gothic. Its lawn overlooks Confederation Square and the National War Memorial, the somber, affecting centerpiece of our Remembrance Day ceremonies.

It’s in this precious space that the government proposes to put a monument to the War of 1812. Today, just two finalists for the project, down from the expected short list of six, were announced by the National Capital Commission. They are Toronto’s  Adrienne Alison, who has made some conventional bronze statues, and Calgary’s Brian Cooley, who is best known for his dinosaur models. If you happen to be in Ottawa, their 1812 monument models will be on display for a mere two hours next Wednesday,  from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the NCC’s offices at 40 Elgin St, Room 702. A jury will choose between them. (Sorry, got that wrong: Don Butler of the Ottawa Citizen reports that  the winner will be picked by the government, and not by the jury that selected the finalists.) The thing is to be unveiled by the fall of 2014.

It is possible, of course, that when we see them, the designs of Alison and Cooley will banish all reservations about this project. Perhaps they will offer ideas subtly integrated with the East Block’s powerful mass, while creating a moving dialogue with the nearby National War Memorial, balanced respectfully against the elegant statue of Sir Wilfrid Laurier that now occupies the slope. But this would be an extraordinary achievement.

And unless at least one of these design proposals rises to that very high standard, this project should be dropped, or stopped. From the start, it was out of keeping with our tradition for monuments at the heart of our democracy, which up to now has logically emphasized memorializing key figures in our political history. There are 15 statues around the Hill, mostly prime ministers in bronze, but also the Famous Five, marking women’s rights, and Baldwin and Lafontaine, to remind us of our pre-Confederation push toward responsible government.

Why add a war memorial to that fine array, so popular with throngs of tourists? Apparently as an inescapable, eternal reminder of this Conservative government’s determination to elevate the War of 1812 in our national mythology. If the 1812 conflict must be given more official prominence, then by all means, add another marker to the National War Memorial, which was originally meant to commemorate the First World War, and later rededicated to the memory of the sacrifices of World War II and Korea.

Next week, we’ll see what this planned departure from Parliament Hill tradition would look like. It is not a place where novelty or eccentricity, or even blandly inoffensive decoration, should be tolerated.




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Why does Parliament Hill need a monument to the War of 1812?

  1. Oh, lordie, you just know it’s going to be blue and have CPC engraved on it somehow. A soldier will have Harper’s chiselled features. Uh, gave myself a willie — but will NO ONE stop this madness?

  2. If in any way it resembles that fat idiot it will be removed

  3. It doesn’t matter what they put up, the leftists will be crowing about it. They’d rather deny our nation’s history than celebrate our victories.

    • Yes, only lefties hate history. Yes, only lefties deny our historical victories. Yes, only lefties don’t see the need to build a monument to something most of us don’t know or care about.

      • Wow, a lefty acknowledging his own ignorance. Amazing.

      • Your sarcasm is just as lame under a different handle OB. The gild is definitely gone right off the turd…er lilly.

      • Because you or anyone else doesn’t know about something is irrelevant. My dog doesn’t know about gravity but it still affects him. History affects you. Loonie lefties just prefer to propound a flat earth and politicize anything they can.

        • Hey, isn’t it lefties who get the history arts degrees and analyze historical docs and become historians? Isn’t it the righties currently in power destroying archives across the nation by cutting funding? What about dictating what museums showcase? It isn’t progressives doing this; it’s progressives fighting the cutbacks!

    • You mean like failing to honour, barely acknowledging the 25th & the 30th anniversary of the charter… Of course that was/is merely a part of the constitution?

      • Which other laws should the government celebrate every year on it’s anniversary? Considering without winning the war of 1812 there’d be no Charter, it seems comparing the two is idiotic.

        • Comparing the two is idiotic eh! The charter is just any old law! And it was a 25th anniversary, no one is suggesting it be celebrated every year- except some troll bent on mis-representing or deflecting any kind of rational debate… like you. The charter IS now part of our shared constitution, moron. You can’t pick which parts of it you like or don’t like.
          I have no objection to acknowledging the role of the war of 1812 in our history. But why can’t people like you ever learn walk and chew gum?And Is that too much to ask of a truly representative govt?

          • Yes. Idiotic. You MUST be a lawyer.

          • It’s clear than you don’t understand the value of law then, is it?

      • And the Charter has helped you or anyone just how? If you’re a lawyer it has. It made Canada a litigious society. Wait for 100 years and then see if the Charter is worthy of celebration. Only lawyers celebrate it now.

        How many Canadians died creating the Charter? What foreign hordes poured across the border? What Tecumsehs and Brocks died?

        • Now that IS an idiotic inference to draw.

  4. Oh cum on JGs. You know very well how much more difficult it would be to dig up the national war memorial and plant that in front of Parliament. Be practical now. A classy little statue that looks vaguely like a cross between Harper/ Dief and Brock is the way to go during these straitened times. Just get the nose, the naughty tummy, the jowls and the medals in there… And Timmy’s logo might be a nice contemporary touch?

  5. Well….

    a) The only country that has ever invaded Canada is the US. Five times in fact. We shouldn’t forget that…actually it’s dangerous to do so. War by other means is still war.

    b) The US got it’s ass kicked. Five times in fact. We shouldn’t forget THAT. The US hasn’t.

    c) The invasion only affected the Canada that existed at that time….which didn’t extend past the Manitoba border…but it led to Charlottetown…without which, nothing else would have existed. Hinterlands? Meh.

    d) Is there a problem with a war that only affected Ont and Que? It has a lot to do with current culture you know. And people died creating something. Is that meaningless?

    e) Had FN emerged victorious….all of history would have changed. When Tecumseh died [or disappeared] all of history DID change….and we continue to pay for it. Spence is a direct result of that.

    f) It’s why Canadians say eh….took a lot of cannon fire to keep this country free….very noisy. LOL

    • They are certainly trying to forget (america I mean) if you ask most have never heard of it, its not in any of their text books, they dont teach kids about it, they didnt like it so they are trying to erase it.

  6. Honestly, this column is emblematic of the vacuousness that surrounds discussion of the War of 1812 (and it isn’t a left/right thing; lack if knowledge is free-flowing on either side of the political divide). Quite honestly, had there been no war or had things turned out any differently than they did, there’d be no Canada as we know it. Had the U.S. War Hawks not prevailed in stumping for war, the influx of ‘late’ Loyalists would have continued and in time, the Canadas would’ve been suing for inclusion in the States. Had Brock not successfully taken Fort Mackinaw and Fort Detroit, the States would’ve backed away from invasion because there’d have been no losses to avenge and the influx of the late Loyalists would’ve continued to the same effect. Had the Battle of Stoney Creek been different, the States’ forces would’ve been easily to Kingston (if not Quebec) in 1813 and again the country would’ve been radically different.
    The War of 1812 was the push that the Canadas needed to recognise a difference between ourselves and our southern neighbours. To dismiss it so cavalierly as we have (and continue to do so) is to short-change our own history and those who fought against the invasion while denying them the recognition they’re due.

    • Anything is possible but grand speculation is ultimately meaningless.

    • These are all very interesting might-have-beens.

      In response I would highly recommend reading Doug Saunders article in the G&M from last July where he makes some interesting observations about the comparative political development of Canada an the United States.

      http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/my-ancestors-and-the-worst-thing-that-has-ever-happened-to-this-country/article4285769/?page=all

      Now, don’t mistake me for someone favouring Canada’s being part of the USA. My roots here are strong but of somewhat recent vintage (1st generation from European immigrants). However as someone with much deeper roots, Mr Saunders does bring some interesting nuance to the discussion especially in providing insight into what his ancestors thought.

      For one, he argues quite credibly that our democratic development was stunted by the ‘victory’ in the war, as it permitted the elites then in place to maintain the status quo, this in turn stunted economic development here.

      Now it could be argued that we were lucky to avoid becoming part of the USA given the history that has taken place since. But there are also several might-have-beens of both positive and negative natures. To name some: Could the presence of Canada as part of the USA have hastened the end of slavery there? Would Quebec as a French-speaking region have gone the way of Louisiana? Would free-enterprise have taken hold here?

      Considering all that, it is somewhat ironic that Mr Harper is so anxious on commemorating the War of 1812 given some of the rhetoric he and his supporters have expressed in the past about their admiration of the USA and its values. Or maybe its just a case of Mr Harper always having rooted for the moneyed interests?

      • Little if anything written by Doug Saunders has any value. As for your own lack of education in Canadian history: let us not be the secondary victims. We had plenty of democratic development in the period between 1784 and 1837. We created communities and provinces out of absolute undeveloped wilderness, built schools controlled by local democratic boards prior to 1800, etc. It’s humorous but sad to read claims by people who are wholly unfamiliar with the places and times and culture and community and politics of the time. The War of 1812 came after some salve had been applied to the wounds of the revolution. In 1798 an American engineer was hired to knit together the paths between Kingston and Toronto that by 1801 would be a road, known by different names at each end. The eastern end would be re-routed around the Bay of Quinte in the 1840s, and prosperity would finally come through agricultural free trade with the Americans in the 1850s, and provisioning of the North during their Civil War, the War of 1812 and its groundbreaking treaties having established a permanent and lasting peace like no other in the world, resisting even American expansionism, or perhaps simply re-directing it.

        John A. Macdonald, born in 1815, grew up in a Loyalist community 30 miles west of Kingston, attended a one-room school there, and learned what it was to be an Upper Canadian. The Loyalist values he learned, from a community that had been on the front lines, after being forged out of revolutionary conflict (the townships were all named after the children of George III, towns and villages were given names brought north by Loyalists — e.g. Trenton, Belleville and Demorestville from New Jersey), and from broad multicultural stock, gave Macdonald a deep spiritual basis for the country he was to assemble.

        It’s beneath us, or should be, to ascribe such base modern political motives to recognition of the founding cauldron of the country.

        • Judging by the sampling of your comments on this thread, to me the vehemence you are displaying betrays an obsession with the subject, to the point where perhaps no rational argument can be had with you.
          Yes, the Loyalists were a very important part of Canada’s history, however do you not think it possible that such a group was host to different opinions, including those held by Saunders’ ancestors? Instead you simply attack Saunders himself with no factual basis.

          Further, your comments to me indicate that you are placing the Loyalists on some kind of heroic pedestal, akin to how the Americans place the Pilgrims or their Framers of the Constitution, or how Boers in South Africa did with those who went on the Great Trek.
          Something I think you should consider is that “base modern political motives” have existed since humans started to organize themselves into political communities, so it is fatuous to think the UEL were a noble persecuted minority with only purity in their hearts. The Southern Gentry in the USA thought of themselves in similar terms and did not shy from using the language of dignity and the Bible to justify ownership of some humans by other humans, and maintain power and wealth for themselves. So the Family Compact was just another mechanism to attain the squalid means of maintaining wealth and power.

  7. Bytown, which is the lumber town that became Ottawa, did not even exist in 1812. Its ridiculous to put a monument there for it.

    • Ottawa exists as capital because of the War of 1812. Because that war proved it necessary to remove our capital from the front lines, so it could not be sacked. Without the War of 1812 most of Ottawa would be pasture, there would be no Rideau Canal to bypass the St. Lawrence River, nor any need for it, and we would not have the second coldest national capital in the world.

  8. Dumb column. An 1812 memorial sounds like a good idea to this Liberal. It should acknowledge the British and thank the Empire for defending Canada from the imperialist republicans to our south.

    • Liberals get it. Lefties don’t.

  9. I do not want spending time on war monuments. We are peaceful (hopefully) people. The money to be spend , well, used for Food Banks!

  10. The War of 1812 was the most pivotal moment in Canadian history since the end of the Seven Years of War, in 1763, even moreso than the initial trickle of Loyalists became a torrent in 1784 and transformed the western part of Quebec into what became Ontario. Because in 1812 the British showed more than lip service to the United Empire Loyalists they had embraced after the American Revolution, and the Loyalists embraced back, proving again their loyalty for the guarantees of the British Crown. Three decades removed from the horrors of the Revolutionary slaughters of their families in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and the other colonies, time largely spent carving farms out of the wilderness of Nova Scotia (creating New Brunswick) and Quebec (creating Upper Canada, later Ontario) the Loyalists were called upon to defend their new homeland from the same people who had been their family, neighbours and families’ killers. They did not falter. Without the critical involvement of the Loyalists (which included natives, as well as peoples with origins in 27 nations, not primarily England), all of the British colonies likely would have become American, not just those proscribed in the peace of 1783. This would have changed not only North American but world history. The dominoes affected are many. The British Empire would have stalled. The American civil war might never have been fought, as its juggernaut filled the continent, the messes in Europe would likely have played out differently, world wars perhaps coming earlier and more frequently.

    Geddes, of course, misses the big picture, and in so doing freezes himself into a reality of his present, ironically, so conservatively denying change to Canada’s failures of past recognition. He politicizes rather than enlightens. Attributes shallow motives to others, while his indeed are shallow, in missing, avoiding or simply not understanding the depths of implication of the War of 1812. Those of us who were here before that war, get it. We understand why a memorial to those many brave souls who died along the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence in order that Canada might some day live, that some day a capital would be in Ottawa, not Toronto, Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake), Kingston or Montreal due to their proximity to the Americans, would be most appropriate. Because we understand those souls made that possible. Shame on Geddes. He either is very naive, ill-versed in Canadian history, or just a political hack (or used by them). Shame.

  11. Judging by his taste in Christmas Cards, I assume the design will be a statue of Stephen Harper looking at 1812 statues of himself.

  12. Well, there, John, funny you should ask. This Reform government the very publication your work for likes to support is kinda…how should I put this…obsessed, yes, that’s it ! obsessed with the War of 1812. That an everything with the Monarchy. So John, you, of all columnist, should know. Cheers ! At your Maclean’s office party, you can raise a glass to the Monarchy and the War of 1812.

  13. Parliament Hill has a very special visual appeal, and it is easy to diminish that appeal with a poorly conceived installation.
    1. Can the money not be better spent elsewhere (environmental research comes to mind)?
    2. If the monument must be built, why not put it somewhere near the War Museum?

  14. Just yank the thing down if the CPC steals more of our money to put it up. Tired of this shit and this Government.

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