War of 1812, Defending a Nation

The War of 1812 in Canada

On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain and its British North American colonies in what is today Central and Eastern Canada. American invasions were repelled for more than two years by British regular troops, First Nations allies, and English and French-speaking Canadian militiamen. Many have said that had the Americans been successful in their attempted invasion of Canada, our country as we know it today would not exist.

On December 24, 1814, peace negotiations led to the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which reset the boundaries to those held by both sides before the conflict. While the reset boundaries did not harm the Americans or the British/Canadians, many First Nations groups lost all of their land in the war, as they sided with the British but their land was within the American boundary.

The end of the war laid the foundation for Confederation and Canada’s ultimate emergence as an independent nation in North America. It has also led to 200 years of peace and friendship between Canada and the United States.

The War of 1812 in London, Ontario

The present day location of London was an important stopping point along an Aboriginal trail that ran south of the Thames River, which today is known as Commissioners Road. Prior to the War of 1812 the trail was widened and improved by a government appointed road commission to make it easier to move supplies and troops from Burlington Heights to Detroit. Troops from all sides of the war, American, British and First Nations, utilized Commissioners Road as the main route to move across Southwestern Ontario. The route is well-known in the region, as British General Procter and his troops retreated along this route through London, following the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813.

Commissioners Road was also used by the American Kentucky Cavalry under Lieutenant Col. Duncan McArthur to execute a foraging party to raid area farms for food, equipment and fodder for the army’s animals in 1814. McArthur’s force reached as far as the Grand River on November 6, 1814 and then retreated along the Thames on his way back to Detroit, ravaging mills and farms on the way.

London also wasn’t without some battles and skirmishes. Hungerford Hill, known today as Reservoir Hill, was the scene of a potential skirmish during the War of 1812. As the British retreated following the Battle of the Thames in 1813, local legend says that a group of wounded soldiers and Oxford militia came under attack on October 6th or 7th at what has become known as the Battle of Hungerford Hill/Reservoir Hill. A local heroine by the name of Phoebe McNames was said to have aided the British during the skirmish, handing out ammunition and supplies, as well as caring for the wounded. While Phoebe’s role is disputed by historians, you can find her gravesite, as well as the rest of the McNames’ family and other War of 1812 veterans, at Brick Street Cemetery.

The Chippewa of the Thames also lived in the London region during the War of 1812. They were united under the leadership of the great warrior Tecumseh and his brother, The Prophet, and were allied with the British. Oral traditions tell us that they were present at the Battle of Longwoods, where many warriors lost their lives.

As you explore the many buildings and sites participating in Doors Open London, you will learn about local London citizens and businesses that participated in or were impacted by the War of 1812 and the 200 years of peace that has followed.