Were it not for Johnny Horton's classic ditty, "The Battle of New Orleans" ("We fired our guns and the British kept a'comin. There wasn't nigh as many as there was a while ago" — a No. 1 hit in 1959), it seems Plattsburgh could easily lay claim to the title of most famous American city of the War of 1812.
Unlike Washington, D.C., and its blackened White House, and Detroit, which fell to the British colonials in near comic (and bloodless) fashion, Plattsburgh was, as readers well know, the scene of what historians say was the most important victory for the American side in the war.
Appropriately, we note, celebrations are planned down your way for the bicentennial of the last and final time — excepting the Fenians — there were cross-border military hostilities.
On this side of the border, where the Conservative government of Stephen Harper has taken a particular shine to military tradition, the bicentennial will be getting, dare we say, the royal treatment. We say this with tongue in cheek because just a few weeks ago the prime minister announced Canada's navy and air force would have their traditional titles restored.
Back in 1968, under the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau, Canada's armed forces were unified ("eunuchfication" as one comedian of the day quipped) and all personnel compelled to wear olive-green uniforms. Further, the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force were stripped of their royal titles and became common Commands under the single force.
This move, though rational from the perspective of the hip technocrats who ran the government in those days, was immensely unpopular with the troops, veterans and anyone who had a soft spot for the monarchy.
Harper, who recently ordered portraits of the queen hung in all Canada's embassy reception areas — sparking a spat over the displacement at Foreign Affairs HQ in Ottawa of some cherished Quebec works of art — is clearly excited about the upcoming celebrations of this last burst of British military glory on Canadian soil.
In outlining the array of War of 1812 projects the government has lined up, Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore offered this reflection: "Without the War of 1812, you don't have the expression of a clear, full Canadian identity; without the War of 1812, aboriginal Canadians would have probably seen the same future as American Indians saw; without the War of 1812, the French fact would not have been protected in North America …"
For all the attention the Conservative government plans to lavish on War of 1812 commemorations, there remains a grievous wrong to be righted, according to one of Canada's most passionate and energetic experts on the conflict.
Robert Henderson, author of several books and operator of one of the top websites on the war, has been campaigning to have Canada grant full military honors to veterans of the spat. He notes that for reasons unexplained Canada's army establishment has fixed 1855 as the date when the country's own military came into existence.
"Canada's armed forces does nor officially recognize the War of 1812 as part of its heritage. Most Canadians will find this ridiculous," Henderson writes.
He's started a petition to demand the minister of defence redress the situation. One expects such a change might make for a fitting announcement for bicentennial celebrations.
In the meantime, the Harper government plans to spend some $1.6 million on 1812 heritage moments for television broadcast. There are also plans to spruce up the cenotaphs and cemeteries scattered in towns and villages, mostly in southern Ontario.
Maybe someone will trump Johnny Horton by making a hit of "The Bold Canadian," a tune purportedly penned by one Cornelius Flummerfelt, a simple soldier on the Canadian side: "Come all you brave Canadians/I'd have you lend an ear/Unto a simple ditty/That will your spirits cheer/Concerning an engagement/ We had at Detroit town/The courage of those Yankee boys/So bravely we pulled down."
Peter Black is a radio broadcaster and writer based in Quebec City. He has worked on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in Montreal as a newspaper reporter and editor, and as a translator and freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.