So where exactly did the whole Canada Burned Down The White House "fact" get started?

Until fairly recently it was common to see numerous Canadians spout off randomly that among their countries many national achievements was “Burning down the White House”. Until of course President Trump also exclaimed that “fact” and every Canadian was forced to hit the brakes and start reversing away from it. You’d see it said everywhere, in political cartoons, in Canadian made 25 Things You Don’t Know About Canada factsheets, repeated by Canadian historians, and in the past even on this very forum.

I’ve seen people who claim this cite they learned it in high school which makes me wonder if Canada actually does teach this as part of their curriculum. Which is weird because it’s very obviously wrong. The troops that burned down the White House were British regulars fresh from Europe as they had been fighting Napoleon’s armies in France. There may have been a few soldiers who had been born in Canada in there but nobody actually important came from Canada. And while it may have been inspired by the American burning of Port Dover in Canada the British orders were just to burn any American cities they came across, not specific Canadian ordered vengeance on Washington D.C.

So can anyone explain why this gained so much traction despite it never happening?

Well, that’s because it happened and the White House burned down. The only difference is that Canada’s role is embellished cus that’s what people do, embellish their nations’ role in historic events. Not difficult to understand the traction.

I never heard it that way before, the Brits of course did burn the White House in the war of 1812 and it would have been a lot worse if not for a freak and unexpected hurricane. I guess the Brits had some Canadians with them?

(British soldier to Canadian volunteer): “C’mon, join us! You know you want to burn it down! Heck, the Americans burned down the Legislative Assembly in York, doesn’t that make you want to get even? They even stole the Paliamentary Mace! I don’t think the Americans have one of those, but this is the next best thing!”

Canadian: Well, if you put it that way…

Canada was part of Britain in 1812 so they say “We burnt down the White House” the same way any team member says “We won” whether he hit the game-winning home run or sat on the bench the whole game.

They’re just trying to whip up patriotic Canadian sentiment to forestall the inevitable American invasion of Manitoba.

I’ve always only heard that British troops burned the WH.

I’ve always heard the British too. And Dolly Madison saved a painting and then went on to create a line of tasty snack cakes.

It was the British; there were no Canadians.

It’s hard to determine exactly where this odd myth started in part because in the past the concepts of British and Canadian were a bit intertwined. Canadians of British extract still thought of themselves as sort of British until at least past World War I. In 1906, when the flag of Canada was the British flag and the national anthem of Canada was God Save The Queen, a lot of English Canadians would have thought of themselves as part of a greater community of British folk first, and Canadian second. To such a person, “we burned down the White House” was, in a sense, true.

In modern times, Canadians do not think of themselves as British, but the “we burned down the White House” thing has lived on and, by virtue of today’s Canadian national identity, because an actual misapprehension as to whose troops were there in Washington.

Basically, Canada burned down the White House in 1814 the way the US captured Quebec City in 1759. Both the US and Canada however, were defeated in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. :slight_smile:

More seriously, there were units of militia from British Canada involved in various actions in the War of 1812, but the British victory at Bladensburg MD which opened the door to Washington was by British Army regulars, three regiments ‘fresh’ (as far as possible in those days) from the fighting in France and another regular regiment v a predominantly militia US force. The repeated lesson of that war was how unlikely it was for militia forces to stand up against veteran regular units, though many battles involved more evenly matched scratch forces on both sides. The successful US defense of Baltimore later in that same Chesapeake campaign was a partial exception, but benefited from stronger fortifications and some facsimile of regular forces as part of the US contingent.

Do Americans consider the first settlers and pioneers, prior to the war with England to be, in any sense, American? Or were they British?

What about the independent states prior to statehood? Were they Americans?
At what minute did the people settled on the land become Americans? And prior to that? Can they be claimed as American ancestors?

Clearly on 11:23 am on Oct 20, 1765.

Assuming they cared about the minute back then, which I doubt.

I think that most Americans most commonly call the pre-revolution, non-indigenous and non-enslaved, residents of what is now the US colonists. I’m not sure what you mean by independent states, do you mean, for example, Texas when it was briefly a country?

I agree. Although it would still be weird to hear a Canadian patriot bragging about how “we” beat the French at the Battle of Jumonville Glen with forces commanded by “our” colonel George Washington.

I think the feeling is that anyone tied to the land that became the US, rather than being essentially visitors or transient or foreign somehow, was fundamentally American but just didn’t know it yet. Even the French and Indian War (aka the Seven Years War) is typically considered an American victory, whose hero was George Washington, even if the soldiers wore red coats. The colonials were the Good Guys because they were Us, even through the Revolution - the Loyalists stopped being American because they lost and left, not because they hadn’t been Americans until then.

never mind

Same here. And my knowledge of history leaves much to be desired, but I never heard any connection to Canada. I’ve never heard anyone but the British associated with burning down the House.

It’s like saying Australia beat the Germans at Vimy Ridge. It’s accurate in a very vague sense of the word.

Canada burnt down the White House the same way as the United States defeated the Spanish Armada and shot the French knights at Agincourt.

Kate Beaton, a treacherous Nova Scotian, has the best explanation for this: