Today’s guest post is from John Bacher, author of Two Billion Trees and Counting.
It is a tragedy that during the next three years a great effort will be expended upon celebrations of the War of 1812. While significant, the War of 1812’s outcome is no cause for rejoicing.
To understand the War of 1812 it helps if you see it in the perspective of director James Cameron’s block buster film, Avatar. The tragic twist however, is that the War of 1812 was an Avatar that failed.
As with the Na’vi who struggled to save Pandora from the wiles of American mining corporations wrecking havoc to obtain minerals, the essence of the War of 1812 was to protect forests. This was well expressed by Shawnee Chief, Tecumseh. He was the leader of the native resistance to American expansionism into the magnificent forests of the interior of our continent.
Tecumseh’s Avatar like mission was most vividly expressed when he travelled to the deep American south to bring the Creek Nation to his cause. Here Tecumseh explained why he was unifying native nations against American expansion. This was because it caused streams to run red with the blood of the land. This vividly captured what happened when streams became contaminated from sediment discharged into them after forests were stripped away.
In the War of 1812 Canadians, like those who deserted the American cause in Avatar, did help Tecumseh in his efforts to rescue forests. This was the heroism of those who fought against the American invasion, such as the Upper Canadian militia commanded into battle by Sir Isaac Brock. The outcome of the War of 1812 however, was much different than in Avatar. The victor was not Brock or Tecumseh, but American Major General William Henry Harrison. He was a clone of the hardened, cynical and calculating Marine commander of Avatar.
Following the peace of 1814, Canada proved no better its care of forests than the United States which Tecumseh fought. Canada’s forests ran red with the blood of the land just like America’s. Fires burnt the forests of the Canadian Shield down to bare rock and destroyed much of our national capital in 1900. Marching deserts of sand emerged from repeated forest burning and livestock grazing. Canadian cities became flooded by streams that swelled from the stripping of forest cover. This saw the deadly sweeping away of subdivisions on the Humber River in response to Hurricane Hazel, and the innundation of a fifth of London, Ontario by the Thames Flood of 1937.
In commemorating the War of 1812 spokespersons for the federal government invariably stress that it was the key time Canadians from diverse British, French and native origins co-operated together. While this co-operation did take place it was for a failed cause. The co-operative victory was won in the struggle to restore forests and keep the blood of the land out of our streams. This began in Oka in 1888. Here at the site of the nefarious golf course that later triggered the Oka crisis, Mohawks joined with French Canadians to restore forests on a hill that had become a pile of sand. Its example spread. Ontario’s long serving Chief Forester, Edmund Zavitz was able to reforest the desert sands of Eastern Ontario, only because a Franco-Ontario agronomist, Ferdinand Larose, studied at Oka and was inspired by its example.
Instead of celebrating heros of a failed war, Ottawa should be putting out of obscurity those who won a green peace. It should also commit to building on Zavitz’s accomplishments by planting a billion trees as recently urged by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.
Photo 1: Photo of Oka forest reforested in Canada’s first successful effort to restore desertified blow sands. Photo taken by Mary Lou Bacher.
Photo 2: Devastation caused by Great Thames Flood of 1937 in Statford, Ontario. Diaster which innundated a fifth of London was key reason for adoption of Zavitz’s Conservation Authorities Act of 1946.
Photo 3: Poster encouraging participation in War of 1812 commemorative event.
John Bacher received his Ph.D. in History from McMaster University in 1985, and has taught at McMaster and the University of Toronto. A co-author of Get a Life: An Environmentalist’s Guide to Better Living, Bacher is a passionate supporter of environmental preservation.
The Markerting Coordinator at Dundurn, lover of books, tea and dancing in the rain.