Review: The Invasion of CanadaEditorial Review - Kirkus Reviews
At the start of the War of 1812, the U.S. expected to overrun Upper Canada (Ontario) and annex it to the Union--a miscalculation almost as little-known to present-day Americans as it is universally known to Canadians. ""How was it,"" asks Canadian writer Berton, ""that a tiny population, badly divided""--most, indeed, were recent arrivals from the US--""was able to ward off continued attack by a powerful neighbor with vastly greater resources?"" His answer is a catalogue of ironies and follies--dramatized through dispatches from each of the warring camps--which leaves hardly a legend intact, including the Canadian belief that the populace closed ranks to turn back the attacker. Linchpin of Berton's reconstruction is Tecumseh the charismatic Shawnee--whose dream of a united Indian nation, as a bulwark against further US expansion, exactly suited the British desire for a buffer state. We see expansionist governor William Henry Harrison parlaying with Tecumseh; then, impressed but uncomprehending, plunging toward the pointless slaughter at Tippecanoe that drives the Indians over to the British (and, decades later, gains Harrison the presidency). ""How does one keep them keyed up to fight, yet hold them back from action?"" a British Indian agent worries. Redcoat commander Isaac Brock, plagued by ""this wretched backwater of York"" and its recalcitrant people, yearns to be with Wellington in Spain; but he is resolute, and his troops are disciplined and well-drilled. His American counterpart, William Hull, pressures the locals to defect--and then flees, allowing Brock to say he's deserted them, and surrenders Detroit without a fight. Brock, with this triumph, has secured the Indians' allegiance and united the local populace. Hull is vilified; but ""had he refused to surrender, had he gone down to defeat. . . his soldiers dead to the last man, the civilians burned out, mobbed out, and inevitably scalped, the tired old general would have stridden into the history books as a gallant martyr."" Ultimately, Brock will die on the heights at Queenston--the victim of an American assault that is otherwise a disaster and ""the first Canadian war hero."" The British will find themselves as much the prisoners of their Indian allies as the American captives--whom only Tecumseh (soon to die too) can save. And the Americans, once eager for a truce, will have to avenge their defeats. ""The war, which began so gently, has turned ugly, as all wars must."" Detail maps pace the dispatches, and an appended cast of characters reminds the reader of who's who. Graphic, engrossing--and to an even greater extent than Berton's The Dionne Years (1978), a small subject writ large.