In six years and a bit, we’ll reach the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the War of 1812. I imagine that should give me ample time to come up with the manner of wargame rules I’d like to have on hand to help mark what should be a interesting three years of history, ceremony, and maybe even some needed civic reflection.
My four year old son will be ten, and he and one or two of my daughters still shy of the hardened years of teendom will be at a good age to absorb, understand, and even enjoy what often seems at first a very odd pursuit. With wargaming - yes, playing with toy soldiers - delving past the shock and dismissive giggles is certainly awkward for a few moments, yet I still believe it manages to combine creativity, art, skill, amusement, intellectual challenge... and most importantly sparks a life-long historical thirst, curiosity and questioning.
Living the vast part of my life in Southern Ontario, the War of 1812 has always been around...discreetly. Growing up in the early 1960s, the differences between Canadians and Americans were still very much in evidence. History was not hidden away, and in Toronto it was not hard to have glancing reminders of this old North American conflict. I recall old uniform plates of the conflict’s units framed and on the walls of the long-gone central Toronto Public Library. In public school we always took trips to Fort York - squirreled away amid the rail lines and pillars and platforms of the Gardiner Expressway - or Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake, or to Brock’s Monument at Queenston. This was very much a standard part of the older Ontario education. And still very Canadian in their role almost as backdrops, rather than solemn pilgrimages or hectoring shrines of bellicosity.
Additional family trips to the Niagara area deepened the connection to all of this; it continued one of the first family trips I remember when about kindergarten age - we lived in Montreal at that point, and struck out for Fort Ticonderoga.
As a tiny boy, noticing that ones parents obviously cared rather a lot about our history only reinforced the idea that somehow all this mattered. And when harnessed to universal childish imaginations amid dark cold stone walls (‘Where’s the dungeon?’), amid flags, drums, guns, costumed men and women...well, it leaves a a strong impression.
During the 1960s and 1970s, before the savage funding cuts of the last two decades, public libraries in Toronto were extremely well-supplied with new books of all types. In different branches I had countless books on history, forts, uniforms that only help feed youthful enthusiasm and curiosity. One of the heavier books published in the flush of histories around the years of Canada’s Centennial was all about the forts of Canada. I hadn’t looked at it in decades, but when I did recently, I smiled when noticing a photo of square drill at Fort Henry in Kingston. The caption mentioned that the famed Fort Henry Guard was a summer employment for students from Queen’s University. Naturally I ended up at both places...and had forgotten about this little seed planted about when...well, yes...I was the age my son will be in six years and a bit.