A new exhibit at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario takes a new approach at looking at the War of 1812, delving into the four perspectives of each group involved—Canadians (including First Nations peoples), Americans, the British, and Native Americans.
The exhibit marks the 200th anniversary of the war, and runs through January 6, 2013.
“We don’t tell people what the War of 1812 means,” historian Peter MacLeod told the Ottawa Citizen. “Come to our exhibit, explore the four different perspectives and draw your own conclusions. At the end, we have a polling station where people can record their decisions and then they are tabulated.”
MacLeod curated the exhibit, 1812: One War, Four Perspectives, and also wrote the book Four Wars of 1812 (Douglas & McIntyre 2012) to coincide with the exhibit.
He explained that the war was something different to each group involved. The Canadians were defending against invading Americans, who were trying to defeat the British, who were so tied up in the Napoleonic Wars that the War of 1812 is often overlooked, and Native Americans were defending their own lands against white settler encroachment.
The museum exhibit is set up in four different zones for visitors to explore, each with artifacts from the four perspectives. One of the artifacts on the display is the original 1814 Treaty of Ghent, which ultimately ended the war.
As an accompaniment to the 1812 exhibit, the museum is also running Faces of 1812, an exhibit created by Library and Archives Canada that features portraits and artwork from their collection.
MacLeod hopes visitors to the museum will gain a better understanding of how the War of 1812 defines Canadians.
“Had the Americans managed to conquer Canada. … I would be speaking in the northern Canadian War Museum discussing the Canadian war of liberation that made us the proud Americans we are today,” he told the Ottawa Citizen. “So, it’s very easy to look at the colonial wars and say these are guys in funny coats, in bright colours with muskets that don’t work well and they’re not relevant to us, but, in fact, these are wars that define us.”
And that doesn’t just apply to Canadians, the War of 1812 was also definitive for Native Americans as well. For more on that, read: “The War of 1812 Could Have Been the War of Indian Independence.”