The White House, today, completely undamaged, with a few tourists visible, the protesters were behind the cameraman (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).


The Day We Burned Ole DC Down? It was today, actually.

But if this was big news 204 years ago, when the fire was actually lit by the Royal Marines and sundry British Army regiments – revenge for the Americans burning down York, now part of Toronto, as a matter of fact – it doesn’t seem to have had much of an impact in Washington today.

Bigger fish to fry, I guess.

The other side of the White House, also today. (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The United States capital is now the Imperial Planetary Capital, of course – or so the occupants of this place seem to believe. So why would they worry about the War of 1812, which they firmly believe to a man and a woman they won anyway. (This is the 19th Century version of “fake news,” which over time eventually solidifies into “fake history.”

The place has only been occupied by a foreign power once, and we Canadians have been taking credit for it so long that we own it now, even though as far as anyone knows there were no Canadians here on the night the British burned down the White House, the Capitol and a few other government buildings, and if there were, they came by way of Bermuda aboard ships of the Royal Navy.

At any rate, no crowds of angry Americans were camped outside the British or Canadian embassies earlier today with pitchforks and torches, infuriated that the British soldiers mocked their nascent democracy by taking a vote in the halls of Congress on whether or not to burn the place to the ground. (The Ayes had it.)

In fairness, there was a small crowd of angry Americans at the White House, but they were going on about something else.

By the same token, there were no mobs of drunken Royal Marines or Canadian hockey hooligans terrifying the locals as they celebrated their (our) fiery depredations of 204 years ago.

No, those events are, as the Americans say, history. Which is to say, almost completely forgotten within the borders of the United States of Amnesia, as Gore Vidal famously called the place. Irrelevant. Of no consequence.

If you want to know how much importance Washington puts on this event, the Post, the local rag, mentioned it in a 30-word today-in-history notation on Page 2, the worst page in any newspaper – and got the number of years since the blaze wrong, apparently because someone concluded the War of 1812 must have been over by 1813.

As for the numerous Americans I obsessively queried about their history, none of them had any idea what had happened. Apparently everyone’s too caught up in the current drama, waiting to learn when – and how – President Donald Trump will be removed from power.

Indeed, it’s sort of weird that President Trump – or someone on his staff, at any rate – actually remembered the occasion, if only to give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a gentle poke on the NAFTA file. Obviously, the president’s heart wasn’t in it, or he would have called the PM a dog or an animal or something.

As previously noted in this space, I blame former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper for Mr. Trump even having taken notice. Mr. Harper’s government spent $30 million in 2012 on a U.S.-style binge of militarism to celebrate the War of 1812, which was about one big fire away from petering out completely by 1814.

If you ask me, we all would have been better off if the (modern Canadian) Tories celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act or the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, both of which fell in the same year as the War of 1812 bicentennial. But conservatives always do love a military parade, speaking of Mr. Trump, as we were. (He’s not getting his, by the way, as alert readers will recall.) And they hate Liberals, who were responsible for the two actual accomplishments listed above.

Anyway, there it is. No one here except the today-in-history guy at the Washington Post even noticed the passing of the occasion, as far as I can tell. They probably wouldn’t have noticed if we’d lit celebratory bonfires along the border either.

Our American Cousins would simply conclude it was smoke from burned forests in California drifting in on the hot winds of global climate change – except here inside the Beltway, of course, where human caused climate warming is not acknowledged to be a thing, and won’t be as long as the Republicans hold the Senate and the House.  In other words, until November.

All’s quiet at the White House tonight. Or, at least, if it isn’t, it has nothing to do with us!

Join the Conversation


  1. It would seem apparent that the current resident of the White House is going to burn it down, all by himself.

  2. Americans haven’t always been ignorant of the burning of the White House. Way back in the 1970s, when I was in Air Cadets, I had occasion to visit DC on an official tour, and we toured the White House, wearing our uniforms. WH security staff joshed with us about this historical event, asking us if any of us were carrying matches or lighters. This was back in the days when even US security folks had a sense of humour.

    Today, the only fire at the White House is a dumpster fire.

  3. So our blogger is poking around Washington recalling the time the Brits torched the White House and the over publicized War of 1812.
    But did he see the spectacle of Trump’s former “friends” getting ready to be fitted with hoosegow duds after being convicted or pleading guilty to criminal felonies?

  4. It is a bit of dilemma for Canadians, being ignored and considered harmless by the USA is no fun, but then do we want to be regarded by them as an annoyance or a threat to them? Countries that fall into the later category do not seem to be treated well by them. Now, it might seem we are veering towards annoyance, but Trump’s trash talking as distressing as it is, is probably just that. One day your great or tremendous, next day you are terrible or horrible – not much in between with that guy, but like a big wind storm the gale often quickly blows over and his attention often quickly shifts to something else. Apologies are seldom made so one is never sure of closure or where he stands, but one gets the sense he does not always dwell on what he says, now not to say he is not capable of holding long term grudges – he can, ask Rosie O’Donnel, but as often as not the gale is transitory.

    Now in fairness to Mr. Harper, he probably did not anticipate Trump when he decided to celebrate the War of 1812 and he probably considered it a harmless bit of military patriotism. After all the USA does not pay much attention to Canada and they are fairly convinced their version of who won the War of 1812 (ie. they think they did) is correct, so they are willing to indulge us in what they consider to be our fantasies. Of course, this was all before Trump took charge – things catch his eye that normal US citizens did not pay attention to and he doesn’t often go along with conventional US views anyways.

    Therefore at this point it would probably be wise for us to be fairly silent about that War of 1812 thing, at least until some other President who accepts the more conventional US version of history, comes along. However, in case this topic comes up I am sure our Prime Minister could quickly reply to Trump – it was the British who did it. In any event, although you never know with Trump, I suspect he has bigger things to distract him at the moment – Cohen, Manafort and Mueller come to mind and also those that know him claim he doesn’t have much interest in history anyways.

  5. I know it’s now September. But it’s really ironic that we now have to re-examine the whole Notwithstanding clause and can no longer celebrate the “patriation” of our Constitution.

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