Gov. Gen. David Johnston says the War of 1812 is the perfect time for Canadians to reflect on the peace the country has enjoyed on its soil.

"This is a very blessed country," he told CBC News during an event at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., to mark the bicentennial of the war's declaration. "And because we've enjoyed peace so long, because our freedoms seem to be so readily available, I think we have a tendency sometimes to take that for granted."

He said that remembering the war reminds Canadians that they had to fight for freedom, liberty and democracy and they should "work constantly to improve and enhance" the country.

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Gov. Gen. David Johnston said the war "gave Canadians a sense of shared experiences." (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is spending more than $28 million on the war's bicentennial commemoration, complete with a special silver dollar coin, a new national monument, funding for historical re-enactments, and upgrades for historic sites and museum exhibits.

The war paved the way for what would become Canada. Monday marks the anniversary of the day the Americans declared war on the British Loyalists in Upper Canada. The Americans, boasting a superior military force, invaded Upper and Lower Canada several times.

But the colonies' British defenders and First Nations allies held the territory through a series of plucky defences and bold counter-moves, creating a new spirit of Canadian nationalism in the process.

Battle foreshadowed multiculturalism

"The war gave Canadians a sense of shared experiences in relationships, opening up possibilities for Confederation half a century later," Johnston said.

The diverse groups who fought in the war foreshadowed Canada's multicultural society, he said.

"They were a cross-section of early Canadians, including British soldiers and First Nation warriors, local volunteer militias and freed slaves," he said. "In other battles, French-speaking militias joined the fight to fend off the American forces."  

The bicentennial is also being marked with a number of events in Toronto this weekend.

Two hundred white canvas tents have been set up at the city's Historic Fort York, which will be the site of music, dancing and storytelling.

On Sunday, bells at St. James Cathedral will play 200 versions of a song from 1812. During the service, people will read accounts from witnesses who saw the battle in Toronto, and pray for those who lost their lives.