27 April 2013

Today is the 200th anniversary...

...Of the burning of York (the original name for Toronto) by American forces.  A brief overview of the battle goes a little like this:  York (a tiny village at the time, most of it down near the mouth of the Don) was situated on a natural harbour.  There was a small fort built at the time for the purpose of guarding the entrance to the harbour, which was actually a problem, as almost all of the defences were pointed to the harbour entrance, thus leaving it vulnerable to attack by land.  The Americans, lead by Zebulon Pike, (the Pike of Pike's peak) understood this, and instead landed to the west of the fort, near the Humber river.  They then marched toward the fort.  The British, severely outnumbered, put up some resistance, but soon realized they would not be able to hold.  They set charges on the grand powder magazine of the fort, and evacuated east towards Kingston,  leaving the citizens behind to fend for themselves. 

At any rate, the powder magazine went off with a huge explosion, killing many Americans (more Americans were killed in the blast than in the battle) including Zebulon Pike.  The Americans, enraged at what they believed was treachery, then proceeded to loot and burn all of York to the ground.  Today, the only in situ building still standing from before the war of 1812 is the haunted lighthouse on the Island.  It has stone walls over six feet thick, so good luck with burning that sucker down.  The second, third, fouth, fifth sixth seventh and eight (and possibly ninth) oldest buildings still standing in situ in Toronto are the buildings in the Fort, which was rebuilt in 1814.  (The Fort had one other battle in the war, when an American squadron, less smart than that lead by Pike, tried to force entrance into the harbour and was soundly driven off by the guns of the Fort.)

The battle was one of many turning points in the war (a recent documentary on the war rather tongue-in-cheekingly pointed out that every battle in that war changed everything).  the people of York, most of whom had come from America and many of whom considered themselves American and were at best ambivalent about supporting the British, were outraged that their "countrymen", so to speak, would rob them and burn down their homes.  After this battle, more Canadian settlers were determined to fight the Americans.  In fact, it was after this battle that many people began to think of themselves as "Canadian".

I now look upon the modern city of Toronto, and how it is governed and how it is run, and all I can say to our American friends and neighbours is this:  All is forgiven! Now, would you be so kind as to come back and burn the place down again?

1 comment:

Freyr said...

Very interesting post...
Unfortunately history is likely to get in the way of my favorite party trick this year. I would walk over to a gaggle of Canadians, say "We won that one, didn't we?", and step back to watch the ensuing argument. Of course the Brit negotiators who made everyone give everything back and go home didn't help much.