Canada and the War of 1812
by Tony Brown


Considering its historical significance to Canada it is surprising that so few stamps have been issued to commemorate the War of 1812. A by-product of the Napoleonic Wars that preoccupied most of Europe at the beginning of the 19th century, the War of 1812, declared by the United States on Great Britain under President James Madison on 18 June 1812, is a source of pride to Canadians as many inhabitants, principally of Upper Canada, fought alongside the Regular British Army and Indian allies to thwart American plans to capture  what were then the British colonies on their northern flank.

The war was primarily caused by the British Navy's boarding of American ships to forcibly enlist any sailors of British origin and its attempts to prevent the United States from trading with France. In addition, the Americans, who were encountering strong resistance from Indians in their push westward, believed that Great Britain was encouraging Indian opposition.

The United States planned to take over Upper Canada (the basis of modern-day Ontario) and Lower Canada (the basis of modern-day Québec) in a single mass attack. The invasion was to occur at four strategic locations: across from Detroit, in the Niagara area, at Kingston, and south of Montréal. If they succeeded, they would isolate and then capture the stronghold of Québec City, thereby cutting off any further British troop movement up the St Lawrence River and into the Great Lakes.

There were wins and losses on both sides during the two years that the war lasted, with no clear victory for either of the warring parties (the Treaty of Ghent signed on 24 December 1814 maintained the status quo). The British colonies, however, remained independent of the United States and their inhabitants would continue to forge what would become some fifty years later the new Canadian nation.

Only three Canadian stamps featuring themes related to the War of 1812 have been issued: one commemorating the birth of Sir Isaac Brock, "the Hero of Upper Canada," one commemorating Laura Secord, and one in honour of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel de Saleberry. Tecumseh, who was an important ally, has never been portrayed on a Canadian stamp. He has, however, been honoured by Guernsey in a 1996 souvenir sheet that was produced for CAPEX 96.

Isaac Brock

BROCK.JPG (16994 bytes)

Sir Isaac Brock was the commander of the British forces at the time of the American  invasion. Born in 1769 to a military family in Guernsey (an island in the English Channel, then known as Sarnia), he joined the army at the age of 16. He was sent to Canada with the 49th Regiment in 1802 where he rose in rank to become in 1811 a major-general and Commander-in-Chief of the forces of Upper Canada. In truth, he was not entirely happy with his assignment and would have preferred the battlefields of Europe. Nevertheless, he planned the territory's defence brilliantly and became a legendary hero when he was felled by a sharpshooter at the Battle of Queenston Heights on 13 October 1812.

The stamp, which was issued in 1969, commemorates the 200th anniversary of the birth of Isaac Brock. In addition to his portrait, the stamp features Brock's Monument, which marks his grave and is located near Queenston, Ontario. The statue of Major-General Brock stands atop a 56-metre column overlooking the territory that his troops successfully defended. The monument was completed in 1856.

Laura Secord

Laura Secord, nee Ingersoll, was born in Massachusetts. She moved to Queenston, which is situated at the mouth of the Niagara River, with her family following the US War of Independence and then married James Secord, a Queenston merchant and volunteer "citizen soldier." James was seriously wounded in the battle of Queenston Heights and was still disabled a year later in 1813 when American forces occupied his farmhouse. Overhearing the soldiers' careless chatter about their mission to occupy the village of Beaver Dam, Laura slipped away to warn the British who were in that location. It was one of the compelling stories of the war; how she lost her shoes and walked in darkness, barefoot, through the woods, finally running into a British patrol under a Lieutenant Fitzgibbon to warn them of the American plans. In the meantime, Indians had learned of the American movements also and ambushed them on their way to Beaver Dam. A small band of Canadian militia also fired upon the rear of the American force. Fearing total annihilation, the American force, which comprised some 570 men,  immediately surrendered to Lieutenant Fitzgibbon when he arrived on the scene.

SECORD.JPG (22066 bytes)

The stamp is one of a 1992 se-tenant issue commemorating four legendary heroes. It depicts Laura courageously travelling through the woods to warn the British of an impending American attack on their position. The figures of Indians, who were preparing to ambush the Americans and whom she met along the way, are visible in the background.

Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel de Salaberry

Charles de Salaberry (1778-1829) was commanding officer of the Provincial Corps of Light Infantry in Lower Canada (Canadian Voltigeurs), 60th Regiment of Foot. He received the rare Field Officers Gold Medal for his exceptional service in turning back a superior force of American regulars at the Battle of Châteauguay on 26 October 1813, thus saving Montréal from attack.

This stamp is from a se-tenant pair issued in 1979.


Tecumseh was a charismatic Shawnee native leader who was brought up with a hatred of Americans, known as "Long Knives" to the Indians, following the death of his father in a bloody clash with Virginian militia. Concerned about the American westward expansion and encroachment onto Indian territory, Tecumseh supported the British in the War of 1812 in the hope that a British victory would assure the Indians of possession of their lands. Indian support to the British side of the war was a key factor in many of the British successes.

Although no Canadian stamp has been issued commemorating Tecumseh, he has been honoured by Guernsey in a souvenir sheet that  was produced for CAPEX '96.

BROCK2.JPG (144781 bytes)

This sheet features a map showing Lake Erie, the cities of Detroit, Sarnia (named after Guernsey), York (Toronto) and Queenston Heights. On the £1 stamp Sir Isaac Brock is shown on his horse Alfred. The 24p stamp depicts Brock shaking hands with Tecumseh before their joint attack on Detroit. At this meeting, Brock gave Tecumseh the red sash from his uniform, and Tecumseh in turn gave Brock his elaborately beaded belt. Brock was wearing Tecumseh's belt when he was killed in the battle of Queenston Heights.


The War of 1812 was of enormous significance to Canada. Had the United States been successful in their endeavour it is likely that Canada would not have evolved as a separate country. In light of this, it would perhaps be fitting for a special issue to be produced featuring the major events of the two-year war or participants in addition to the two who have already been portrayed on Canadian issues.

Updated: 4 October 1998