Did War of 1812 Happen Here?

Posted by Daniel on Jan 22, 2012

This year the federal government is beginning a three-year commemoration of the War of 1812. The war, argues Ottawa, was "a defining moment in the history of our nation". But does the war have any meaning for British Columbia?

In 1812 what is now BC was occupied by the First Nations and a smattering of North West Company fur-trading posts. The only events of the war to take place on the Northwest Coast occurred at the mouth of the Columbia River, hundreds of kilometres to the south. There a group of American fur traders had established Fort Astoria in 1811. Two years later, in 1813, a party of North West Company traders from Montreal arrived at Astoria with the news that war had broken out between Britain and the US. A British warship was on the way, they warned the Astorians, so before anyone got hurt, why didn't the Americans just surrender?

Fearing a possible bombardment the resident traders agreed and sold the post to the North West Company. When the promised ship arrived, prepared for combat, it found the post already in British hands and renamed Fort George.

The war ended with the Treaty of Ghent at the end of 1814. One of the terms of the treaty stipulated that any possessions taken during the war should revert to the original owner. Had Astoria been sold or was it a fortune of war? The question was in dispute between British and Americans for several years. In 1818 the two sides sat down at the negotiating table to resolve the issue, and failed. West of the Rockies, the Americans wanted to set the boundary between their territory and the Brits at the 49th parallel of latitude. The British wanted the border to be the Columbia River. And so the matter dragged on until the Oregon Treaty of 1846 settled on the 49th parallel.

All of which suggests that no matter how important the War of 1812 was to the history of eastern Canada, as far as BC is concerned it was a non-event.