Nova Scotia

Halifax celebrates its contribution to the War of 1812

Monday afternoon, the daily noon cannon fired from the top of Citadel Hill, with three extra blasts to mark the three years of the War of 1812.
The bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812 was held Monday at the top of Citadel Hill. (Jean LaRoche/CBC)

Monday afternoon, the daily noon cannon fired three extra blasts from the top of Citadel Hill, to mark the three years of the War of 1812.

On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain and the British colonies, in what is today Central and Eastern Canada.

British troops, assisted by English and French-speaking Canadian militiamen and First Nations allies, pushed back repeated American invasions for more than two years.

Although the key battles between the Americans and the British colonies took place in central Canada, Cultural Resource Manager for Parks Canada, Carla Wheaton, said Halifax also played an important role.

"There's a very strong link with Nova Scotia because Halifax served as the home base of the Royal Navy's North American squadron," Wheaton said.

"So, many of the vessels participating in the war effort, in terms of the blockade of the American coastline, the expedition to Maine, the regiments that went to fight in (Upper and Lower) Canada, many of them passed through Halifax."

Richard Geissler, a tourist from Maryland sums up the war succinctly.

"I know that there was one, that we won, you lost," Geissler said.

At least that's the way they look at it south of the border.

Canada did have its victories and Halifax's infamous privateers profited as a result of the war.

"Of course there were privateer vessels that would go out and capture American vessels as prizes of war and bring them back to Halifax to auction off the vessels and goods that they contained; thereby making money and contributing to the war effort," Wheaton said.

Commemorations continue

Along with the three Cannon salute on Monday, officials unveiled a new toonie and a new postage stamp.

Collectors, like Jack Crane of Sheet Harbour, are happy.

"The mint does a beautiful job and this is just a beautiful coin this one, plus the stamp," Crane said.

Inside, the Citadel has a special exhibit dedicated to Halifax's role in the war.

Haligonian Nina Petropolis said she learned more about the conflict in one day than she ever did in school.

"I certainly did and I found it much more interesting… I would advise all teachers to bring their school kids to this exhibition here. It would be a great learning experience for them and they would remember far better," she said.

Local artist Richard Rudnicki has illustrated a book on Native American hero Tecumseh, which is being launched as part of the commemoration.

"When I began to do my research on this book I really found out what an amazing leader he was," Rudnicki said, "An amazing man and the history of the Indian wars in North America - absolutely mind blowing."

 In Toronto, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages James Moore called the war a defining moment in Canada's history.

According to the official federal commemoration website, the end of the war laid the foundation for Confederation, and Canada's eventual emergence as an independent nation in North America.

The treaty also ushered in what has become two centuries of peaceful relations, mutual respect and close cooperation between the U.S. and Canada.

The federal government has committed $28 million to commemorating the anniversary of the War of 1812.

Commemoration events will continue all summer long with the next big event happening next month when the tall ships return to Halifax harbour.