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ROLE OF NEW BRUNSWICK IN THE WAR OF 1812

Honourable senators, I rise today on the anniversary of a great Canadian victory. One-hundred and ninety-eight years ago, a force consisting of French Canadian regulars, local militia and warriors from the Mohawk Nation decisively defeated an American army on the banks of the Châteauguay River. This victory forced the Americans to abandon their campaign to capture Montreal in 1813. Had the war ended differently and had the American invasion not been repelled, Canada, as we know it, would not exist.

Our history cannot be forgotten; it is written in the essential fabric of our national identity. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: "We are not makers of history. We are made by history.

Canada's victory in the War of 1812 helped decide who we are today, what side of the border we live on, and which flag we honour. In forgetting our old fights and conflicts, Canadians came together in a common cause. The peoples in Canada — English, Scottish, Irish settlers, French, Acadians and many diverse First Nations — all came together to fight for our country. Rudyard Kipling once said, "If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten," so let me tell you a story.

New Brunswick has always been a rural province with thick, impenetrable forests and harsh winters. When war broke out in 1812, there was no road linking the imperial hub in Halifax with the Canadian interior. When the rivers froze in the winter, all communications had to be taken over land through New Brunswick.

Recognizing the strategic importance of this route, a full line regiment of the British army was raised locally in New Brunswick. The regiment was named the 104th and was quartered in Fredericton, Saint John, St. Andrews and many small outposts throughout the province. When the war began, the British were desperate for troops. The 104th was called up in the winter to march to Ontario to help bolster the desperate defence of Canada.

The regiment set out on snowshoes from Fredericton, one company following the other, in temperatures averaging minus 31 degrees. The detachment arrived in Quebec in mid-March, having travelled 550 gruelling kilometres through the wilderness in only 24 days. After two weeks in Quebec, the 104th resumed their march, reaching Kingston in April, a total of 1,125 kilometres.

Honourable senators, the story of the 104th is the story of Canada. The regiment was composed of English, Scottish, and Irish settlers, as well as free Blacks, French and Acadians. The regiment would not have been able to complete the march without the aid of the Acadians and First Nations guides.

The best existing account of the war comes from Lieutenant John Le Couteur, a man who spoke French, having been born off the coast of Normandy on Jersey Island. The privation that Le Couteur describes is beyond our comprehension. He relates many common occurrences: men sitting around small fires, cooking frozen chunks of badly salted pork skewered on twigs; men wearing threadbare greatcoats and moccasins swapped from First Nations traders; and men lying freezing in open-roofed shelters made of branches and snow. With their threadbare uniforms and worn-out woollens, these men continued by snowshoe, carrying their equipment on toboggans.

Not one man died along the route. This is partly because of the assistance the soldiers received from First Nations peoples, Madawaskans, Québécois and other settlers. People offered to the soldiers clothing, food and, perhaps most importantly, shelter and guides through the wilderness.

Honourable senators, we should not forget the brave men at Châteauguay and the 104th.