MORRISBURG, Ont. — Stephen Harper took Remembrance Day back 200 years on Monday to a key battlefield from a war fought decades before Canada was a nation.
The prime minister stood on a rainy hill overlooking the St. Lawrence River to once again pay homage to the War of 1812, this time at Crysler’s Farm near Morrisburg, Ont.
A field near the farm, underwater since the 1950s thanks to the expansion of the St. Lawrence Seaway, was the site of a military engagement that’s often referred to as “the battle that saved Canada.”
On Nov. 11, 1813, British, Canadian and aboriginal forces stopped a much larger American contingency in its so-called St. Lawrence Campaign. The humiliating U.S. defeat prompted the Americans to abandon the campaign and its ultimate goal of capturing Montreal.
“These Canadians were ordinary men who did some extraordinary things,” Harper told the crowd of shivering high-school students, soldiers, veterans and War of 1812 re-enactors as they were lashed with an icy rain as it whipped off the St. Lawrence.
“Their gift to us is a separate and distinct country on this continent … our country Canada, the best country in the world,” the prime minister said to applause and scattered cheers from the spectators.
The miserable conditions were similar to those at play 200 years ago. U.S. troops near Cornwall purportedly burned fence posts on the eve of the battle to stay warm during cold, wet weather.
Harper, for his part, was sheltered under an umbrella for the first few moments of Monday’s event, but soon ditched it to brave the elements along with the rest of the crowd.
In his brief remarks, he recalled the small group of defenders who beat back the Americans.
“Today the Americans are our greatest friends and strongest allies and have been for decades, through thick and thin,” he said.
Two hundred years ago, however, the British and Canadian forces were out-numbered almost three to one at Crysler’s Farm, he said.
“Yet they won here a great and decisive victory, which shows it’s not the size of the army in the fight; often it’s the size of the fight in the army,” said Harper, who headed to Morrisburg after attending the national Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa earlier in the day.