Studying War of 1812 unleashes sense of pride, expert says

Chris Pattison teaches history at Markham District High School. He believes many students don’t know enough Canadian history - including the War of 1812 - when they graduate. (ANETAPattison_E)

When Ken Weber lectures about the War of 1812, he often witnesses an unexpected sense of pride in his audiences.

“The physical reality is that by resisting the Americans in the War of 1812, the Canadian side of the border made a statement,” he said.

With the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 approaching, Weber, professor emeritus of the University of Toronto, feels inspired to teach Canadians about the war.

For the past year, Weber has lectured about the War of 1812 at libraries, historical societies and other spaces across Ontario. He said his audiences sometimes look surprised when he talks about the impact of the war on Canadian history.

“The significance of the war is that there is a border and Canadians will fight for it,” Weber said.

Chris Pattison has taught high school history and social studies for 17 years. He believes the War of 1812 illustrates one more example of Canadians not knowing enough about their history.

“They tend to think our country is this dull country that never experienced anything exciting,” he said. “I think, maybe, it’s in part because we don’t teach it enough in school.”

Pattison heads the history department at Markham District High School, but he doesn’t teach his students about the War of 1812 because it’s not part of the school’s curriculum. Only students who take Canadian history in Grade 12 learn about the War of 1812, Pattison said.

High school students in Ontario have only one mandatory history course, which teaches them about Canada from the First World War to the present time. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education does cover the War of 1812, but in Grade 7 only.

Pattison believes that younger elementary school students may find the war difficult to grasp.

“I think you develop an appreciation for history with age because there’s a maturity that’s required to understand the big-picture issues,” he said.

Prof. Weber insists, however, that the War of 1812 represents a significant event for Canadians, student or not.

“The War of 1812 was the beginning of this sense that we are different from the (United) States and we want to stay different,” he said. “We all agree that we’re not Americans.”