A Presentation by Victor Suthren
May 27, 2007
Without the war of 1812-1814 between Canada and the United States it is safe to say there would be no Rideau 175 Celebration, no UNESCO Rideau world heritage site, in fact, no Rideau Canal. It was built solely in response to the threat to British sovereignty posed by this widespread war that revealed the vulnerability of Canada to an enemy that, amassed a mere throwing distance away, could completely sever essential supply lines by simply controlling the St. Lawrence River.
In the third Rideau 175 Lecture Victor Suthren, historian, author and authority on British colonial navy history, took us through the battles of the war that threatened to end British rule in North America and indeed, Canada itself. Immersing himself in the role, Victor, dressed as an 1812-14 Royal Navy Lieutenant, described the critical sea-saw battles of the war, wherein at numerous stages, one side or the other given more competent leadership, could have won. We heard of the fall of the brave and daring General Brock and of the crucial role played by Native warriors, led by their wise and noble Chief Tecumseh. Towards the end, the turning point came with the battle in the woods of Chateauguay south of Montreal and the battle on the fields of John Crysler’s farm near Prescott. Massively outnumbered in both battles, these Canadian victories were the final frustration of the American political leaders and led to the final peace treaty in 1814.
Following the war, the Duke of Wellington, who had never been to North America, in reviewing the battle reports remarked that had the Americans cut off British supply through the St. Lawrence, or if they were to do so in future hostilities, the British would lose. As a consequence he gave direction that an alternate route between Montreal and Kingston be determined and that instruction was the genesis of the Rideau Canal. In Victor’s words, “It is one of the pleasanter ironies of history that an undertaking originating in the prosecution of war should have at no time been involved in such activity, but became instead a vital artery for the peaceful creation of new communities in Upper Canada.”
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