Prime Minister Stephen Harper made his first official visit to Quebec following the election of its pro-independence government and used it to deliver the message that English and French Canada are inextricably linked by history.

Harper visited an island near the U.S. border Friday to announce a new military tribute in honour of the War of 1812, in a pomp-laden event replete with a military inspection and brass band.

He cited examples from that war to illustrate the idea that English and French Canada share a historical bond. His visit came one week after the election of a Parti Quebecois government that is hoping to sever some links between Quebec and the federal government.

Harper came to Fort Lennox, located on an island on the Richelieu River, and lauded military regiments that successfully defended Canada in the War of 1812. He announced that battle honours will be awarded to regiments with ties to units that won decisive battles in the war.

One night-time attack was launched against Canadian positions along the nearby Lacolle River in November 1812. It involved an invasion force of some 5,000 American military regulars. Harper said in a statement that Canada's victory was "a pivotal point in the development of our great country."

"During this war French, English and aboriginal people took up arms and rallied around a common objective: resisting the American invasion," Harper said.

"These bonds created by our ancestors are at the origin of a truly pan-Canadian identity that made possible our Confederation, and led to a country of great diversity with two official languages."

21 units receive new honours

The regiments awarded the new theatre honours and specific battle honours are:

  • The Queen's York Rangers (1st American Regiment) (RCAC);
  • The Sherbrooke Hussars;
  • The Royal Canadian Hussars (Montreal);
  • 56th Field Artillery Regiment, RCA;
  • The Royal Canadian Regiment;
  • Royal 22e Régiment;
  • The Canadian Grenadier Guards;
  • The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada;
  • Les Voltigeurs de Québec;
  • The Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (Wentworth Regiment);
  • The Princess of Wales Own Regiment;
  • The Lincoln and Welland Regiment;
  • The Brockville Rifles;
  • The Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders;
  • Les Fusiliers du St-Laurent;
  • Le Régiment de la Chaudière;
  • Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal;
  • 1st Battalion, The Royal New Brunswick Regiment;
  • The North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment;
  • The Essex and Kent Scottish;
  • The Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Friday's event was laden with pomp. A military band played and Harper inspected an honour guard made up of Royal 22nd members — better known as "Van Doos" — in full dress.

The spot Harper visited paints a complex historical portrait.

Now a Parks Canada historical site, Fort Lennox was built after 1812 in reaction to a U.S. fort erected several kilometres to the south.

The site was used, several decades later, as a British base to crush the rebellions of 1837-38 which demanded responsible government in Canada.

with files from CBC News