Canada celebrates 1812 war victories over the US with ship names

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 1:45am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 3:58am

US warships will some day be sailing alongside the Royal Canadian navy supply ships Queenston and Chateauguay, perhaps on a Nato exercise or a humanitarian relief mission.

That might get awkward if a historically minded United States sailor notices that Queenston and Chateauguay were battles where Canada defeated America in the war of 1812.

The battle of Queenston Heights, on October 13, 1812, saw an outnumbered force of 1,300 British regulars, Canadian militiamen, and Mohawk irregulars easily repel a poorly organised attempt by 3,500 US regulars and militiamen to cross the Niagara River.

The battle of Chateauguay, on October 26, 1813, was another embarrassing US loss, when a 1,600-strong British and Canadian force defeated 2,600 Americans who were attempting to capture Montreal.

"The government of Canada has named the new joint support ships to commemorate the war of 1812, in recognition of the achievements and sacrifices made by those early Canadians who fought and died in these significant battles of Queenston Heights and Chateauguay," Canadian navy spokeswoman Lieutenant Jennifer Fidler said.

"The war of 1812 was a defining moment that contributed to shaping our identity as Canadians and ultimately our existence as a country. It laid the foundation for confederation and the cornerstones of our political institutions."

Historians may quibble. Since Canada was a British colony rather than a nation in 1812, then technically the war was fought between Great Britain and the US, and the glory of these victories belongs to the British. But history is no match for patriotic fervour.

"These two key victories helped ensure our independent development in what was then British North America, leading to the eventual achievement of Canadian nationhood and a mutually respectful relationship with the United States of America," Fidler said.

The Queenston and Chateauguay, which together will cost C$2.6 billion (HK$18.95 billion), are scheduled to enter service in 2019. They are designed to replace older replenishment ships.

They are the first vessels to be named after US defeats by Canada, but they may not be the last.

"If an additional joint support ships vessel is constructed, the names of other prominent war of 1812 battles will be considered," Fidler said.

The naming of the two ships comes after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government sought last year to heavily commemorate the 200th anniversary of the war of 1812. However, polls suggest that the festivities did not exactly stoke patriotic fires.

Should Americans feel aggrieved, Canada can say the US is only getting a taste of its own medicine. The United States has never been shy about boasting of its own victories. British sailors must sail alongside current US warships such as the Bunker Hill, Cowpens, and the Lake Champlain.

And the Japanese have to put up with the cruiser Leyte Gulf and the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima.

Not even domestic enemies are spared. Confederate nostalgists can grit their teeth over the Gettysburg and Vicksburg.

Britain and France are more or less friends now, but the British certainly stuck it to the French with the now-retired nuclear submarine Trafalgar.