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November 15, 2013

The 'Pork and Beans War'

A measure of the obscurity of the last organized military confrontation between British North America and the United States is that there’s confusion over the origin of its nickname.

The “Pork and Beans War” of 1839-42, according to various sources, refers either to the regular diet of lumberjacks in northern Maine and southern New Brunswick or to the rations of the British soldiers who were dispatched to said disputed territory, the scene of “the Aroostook War.”

At a time when Canada’s federal government is lavishing money and attention on commemoration of the War of 1812, a bloody and ultimately inconclusive clash, the Aroostook War, arguably a more constructive dispute, remains mostly lost in the mists of time — mostly.

On the western shore of Lac Temiscouata, about midway between the St. Lawrence River and the border with Maine, one finds — if one knows where to look — Fort Ingall. Some 40 years ago, local history buffs, excited by the artefacts and ruins archaeologists were finding on the site, decided to rebuild the fort, which had been abandoned, demolished and forgotten for decades.

On a visit last week, I discovered an impressively reconstructed site surrounded by a palisade of 12-foot logs. The buildings within the walls include soldiers barracks, officers quarters and jail house, all crafted with techniques employed in the 19th century.

The Aroostook War was essentially a bit of unfinished business left over from another, much more spectacular conflict, the War of Independence.

The Treaty of Versailles contained a rather ambiguous description of the border between the State of Maine and British colony of New Brunswick. Something about highlands and headwaters. This was not a big deal until the quest for timber in the region sparked territorial disputes.

The British decided to take steps to defend not only vital timber supplies in New Brunswick but also to protect a vital transportation route known as the Halifax Road. Hence, Fort Ingall and three other fortified garrisons sprung up to guard against an American invasion.

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