The War of 1812 as it occurred in the western districts of Upper Canada represents the most violent conflict ever fought on North American soil prior to the American civil war. Published on the 200th anniversary of the invasion of Canada, Black Moss Press anthology An Unfinished War edited by Canada’s foremost anthologist John B. Lee brings together the best literaturefrom the past along with new work by major Canadian writers. Beginning with a poem written in 1811 by John Strachan, “the fighting bishop of York,” and including many fine excerpts from boy soldier Major John Richardson’s novel, The Canadian Brothers, Lee’s selections also include new work by elder statesman of Canadian poetry, Raymond Souster, Governor General Award winner Douglas Glover, and many more authors of great renown including several Poets Laureate. Major John Richardson’s fictional description of life as a prisoner of war based upon his own first hand experience as a captive at the Battle of the Thames is juxtaposed to Doug Glover’s new short story, “A Flame, a Burst of Light,” wherein Glover relates the hallucinatory experiences of a fictional captive. The poem, “An Ode to the High Park Grenadier,” tells the gothic story of a love affair between a woman walking though High Park in Toronto and the ghost of the grenadier who drowned in Grenadier pond during the battle of Fort York. Griffin Poetry prize winning poet, Margaret Avison’s poem “The Valiant Vacationist,” Barrie Poet Laureate Bruce Meyer’s poem, “Victoria Square,” and John B. Lee’s poem, “Old Ironsides, Boston,” all remind us of our present day relationship with events, places and artifacts of great historical significance.
As we commemorate the anniversary of this long ago war, and as we struggle to honour the past, the literature gathered together in this important and fascinating anthology reminds us of truth of Nobel Laureate William Faulkner’s words, “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” From the Battle of Tippecanoe to the Battle of New Orleans, from the death of Techumseh to the Ancaster Bloody Assize, from the surrender of Fort Detroit to the burning of York, from Billy Green, hero of the Battle of Stoney Creek to Swain Corliss, hero of Malcolm’s Mills, these pieces bring to life the lives of both real and fictional heroes of a long ago though unforgotten war. For his part, Wallace Stegner, in an excerpt from his short story, “The Medicine Line,” puts it this way: “…It used to antagonize me, wondering whether or not the Canadians really did defeat the Americans at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane during the War of 1812. …The importance of the battle depended entirely on which side of the frontier you viewed it from.”