Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 4 of 4

RECAP: Yesterday, or rather in the year 1776, the British drove the Americans out of Quebec. They wanted to attack Fort Ticonderoga, but then winter set in. Rather than continue fighting, it was time for a cup of hot chocolate and stories around the campfire. The war could wait until next year . . .

On July 5, 1777, British General John Burgoyne surprised American General Arthur St. Clair. St. Clair had been put in charge of Fort Ticonderoga after most of the Continental Army moved south to join George Washington’s forces. He was expecting a British attack, so when it came, that wasn’t any surprise. The surprise occurred when General St. Clair looked up. He saw a sight that must have made him shit his pants.

The British had secretly and silently deployed artillery at the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain (now called Mount Defiance).

This was Fort Ticonderoga’s Achilles’ Heal. We all have one. Even fortresses. This fort was surrounded by high ground and mountains. Sugar Loaf Mountain stood just a mile away from the fort, and was easily within artillery range. The presence of British cannon on that high ground left the Americans sitting ducks.

A cannon pointing in the general direction of Sugar Loaf Mountain (Mt. Defiance) and the outfall of the La Chute River.

That night General St. Clair made a very wise move. He gathered his troops and slunk away, abandoning the fort. And so, the British took back the “impregnable” Fort Ticonderoga without firing a single cannon shot.

This was the beginning of General Burgoyne’s Saratoga Campaign. This campaign was named after the General’s favorite brand of cigarettes, which he chain-smoked every waking hour.

Burgoyne hoped to reunify Canada with the American colonies, while dividing the Colonies by isolating New England. It was thought by the British that the main revolutionary fervor came from New England. So by isolating New England, it was theorized that the remainder of the colonies could be quickly and easily subjugated.

And perhaps that’s true, for Southerners don’t know how to think without the help of New England politicians.

General St. Clair’s retreating forces were pursued by General Burgoyne. Some escaped, but others were taken prisoner. Those who escaped, along with other men, were led by Colonel John Brown right back to Fort Ticonderoga. He wasn’t about to let them get away with running from the Brits.

Cannon at the upper ramparts of Fort Ticonderoga.

On September 18th, 1777, they surprised the British defenders of the fort. Brown and company captured artillery pieces and hundreds of enemy prisoners. They destroyed shipping and the outer works of the fort. They freed 100 American POW’s. And they nearly recaptured the fort itself.

The British held the fort, but were shaken. Or, they were shaken, but not stirred. No one knew it at the time, but this would be the last major assault on Fort Ticonderoga.

Meanwhile, General Burgoyne had led his invading troops south to the Hudson River valley. He was running out of Saratogas and needed to replenish his supply quickly. There they engaged in a series of battles against American defenders under Generals Horatio Gates and, once again, Benedict Arnold. His troops got shot all to hell up by the Americans. It was frustrating, and he was having a nicotine fit.

Finally, Burgoyne made it to the town of Saratoga itself. There at last, he found his favorite brand of cigarettes. And he sat back to enjoy them, while watching thoroughbred racing at the local track. Suddenly he found himself surrounded by American troops. The gig was up. He was forced to surrender at Saratoga, New York, on October 17, 1777.

General Burgoyne, very unhappily surrendering his Saratogas.

This was a monumental victory for the Americans. It surprised the entire world. Nobody expected anything like this. What a bunch of smarty-pants the Americans were. Now the world took the American Revolution seriously. And this victory convinced France to join the American side, and provide crucial help in the war. Who knows, maybe they thought they could get Canada back.

The British abandoned Fort Ticonderoga in November, 1777, but not before destroying as much of it as possible. Did I mention that it’s great fun to demolish things? The Revolutionary War then shifted southward, and Fort Ticonderoga became forever irrelevant to all but historians. And tourists. And purveyors of souvenir shops, selling cheapjack crap.

This beautiful greensward is part of a dry moat that surrounded Fort Ticonderoga. During lulls in the war, this is where the officers engaged in sporting games of golf, croquet, and other gentlemanly pursuits.

After the war, it was plundered by local settlers for wood and stone, and fell into labefaction. And within a hundred years it was nothing but a pile of ruins. No one cared about Fort Ticonderoga. All they wanted was houses to live in. Ungrateful sots.

Daguerreotype of the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga.

Restoration efforts began in 1900, and now Fort Ticonderoga is back to its old 18th century glory. Today it’s a popular tourist attraction. And who knows, maybe it’s part of a secret CIA plot to once again invade Canada.

But Fort Ticonderoga helps to explain why Canada and the United States are separate nations. It was used for invasions both north and south, in attempts to unify. But that thin connecting thread between the St. Lawrence valley and Hudson River valley was not enough to overcome geographical isolation.

Culture, mindsets, and political attitudes developed independently north and south. Even if an invasion had been successful, it would have been very challenging to bring the two peoples together in heart and mind. Canadians are way too polite. And we Americans are way too rude. It just wouldn’t have worked out.

And after the revolution, Loyalists in the new United States were persecuted. Many fled north to Canada. Understandably, they had kind of a sour attitude toward the idea of unification.

“Halt, who goes there?” this cannon seems to say.

We tried once more during the War of 1812, to swallow up the lands to the north. Doncha’ just love good ol’ American Greed? But we were roundly defeated in this effort, while at the same time Canadian identity cemented in strength. They said, “Fuck-all this! We are Canadians! Go the hell home, Yankees!”

This ensured we will always have a Canada, separate and independent from us.

And isn’t it handy to have this foreign jurisdiction? In the 19th century, Canada gave runaway slaves a place of refuge. During the idiotic, insane Vietnam War, runaway conscientious objectors also found a place of refuge in Canada. These days, when prescription drug prices get out of hand, we can smuggle something cheaper across the border to save our lives.

And when we have a president who behaves like a bully, it feels refreshing to see a prime minister up north stand up and politely thumb his nose at the rantipole.

Canada has been our strong friend and ally for many years. I hope it stays that way, and that it always remains independent. We need this ally and counterpoise as much as we, and they, once needed Fort Ticonderoga.

War is an ugly hell. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be prettied up a touch with artistic cannon designs.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 3 of 4

RECAP: Yesterday’s time machine took us all the way back to an improbable 16-year era, when the Canadian colony and the 13 American colonies were unified in a sense. Of course every colony had their own government, overseen by the British, and kept morally divided through constant bickering. But a thin thread existed along the waterways of Lake Champlain and Lake George, that connected the Canadian colony to the American colonies. And Fort Ticonderoga was at the heart of that connection . . .

The barracks where the soldiers lived, worked, and probably played poker, at Fort Ticonderoga.

The British loved Fort Ticonderoga. They found it to be extremely useful as a supply and communication link between Canada and New York. And it was such a safe and secure place. It was just the spot to relax, rejuvenate, and enjoy the magnificent splendor of the Adirondack and Green Mountains, mirrored in the placid waters of Lake Champlain.

And it would have remained this way if only the damned Yankees had not been so revolting.

But on April 19, 1775, the shot heard round the world began the American Revolution. On that date, the British were defeated by the Yankees in the Battles of Lexington and Concord. How dare those Yankees! They had to be punished. So the British laid siege on Boston. They figured if they could starve all the Bostonians to death, it would teach them a lesson.

Ethan Allen giving the commander of Fort Ticonderoga, Captain William Delaplace, a wake-up call.

The Yankees felt concerned, because they enjoyed eating. And they knew that success for the new revolution they had just fomented depended on breaking the siege. So they quickly came up with a plan.

On May 10, 1775, just three weeks after the Revolutionary War began, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, and Benedict Arnold with his volunteers, led a surprise attack on Fort Ticonderoga. Those poor damned British soldiers. There they napped, without a care in the world, living the life of Riley. And then someone shit all over their paradise.

The unprepared British had only 48 soldiers, and they were caught sleeping. Mighty, “impregnable” Fort Ticonderoga fell without a shot being fired.

This is where some of the British soldiers slept, on cozy, Sleep Number beds, while Ethan Allan and his Green Mountain Boys were sneaking up on them.

And boy, what a haul the Americans stole. Er, confiscated. The fort was stocked chock full of cannons, guns, and other instruments of death. General Henry Knox, who must have been very rich because he later had a valuable fort named after him, transported these cannons to Boston. There, they were used to end the siege.

And now Fort Ticonderoga was occupied by a newly formed Continental Army, all proud of themselves and intent on driving their British oppressors from North America.

When Ethan Allan died, his body was frozen and put on permanent display at Fort Ticonderoga. Here’s a photo of the ol’ block of ice himself.

That’s when somebody got the bright idea of using this fort as a staging ground to sail up Lake Champlain and attack Canada. They thought they could easily defeat the British army and then convince French Canadiens to join the revolution. What could possibly go wrong?

Why shouldn’t the French Canadiens want to go along with this plan? After all, they spoke French, while their British occupiers spoke English. But the American Yankees, they spoke, uh . . . well . . . never mind.

In late-August, 1775, American General Richard Montgomery confidently left Fort Ticonderoga with 1,200 troops, to invade the weak, quivering colony of Quebec. He sailed north and he met with quick success, the lucky bastard. By November he captured Montreal, and then laid siege on Quebec City.

He met up with General Benedict Arnold at Quebec City. Arnold, by the way, had drawn the unlucky straw. To reach Quebec City, he had to lead a disastrous expedition through the wilderness of Maine, losing nearly half of his men to the treacherous terrain. Meanwhile, all Montgomery had to do was sail up Lake Champlain as if he were on a Carnival Cruise. It’s no wonder Arnold later turned his coat and sided with the Brits.

In December, 1775, a new battle was fought for Quebec City on the Plains of Abraham (again, not to be confused with Abraham Lincoln). The Canadians, under General Guy Carleton, soundly defeated the Americans, killing General Montgomery and wounding General Arnold. Ouch!

But General Arnold did not leave immediately. There was no way in hell he was going back through the Maine wilderness. Instead he laid a weak, token siege upon the city, while American occupying forces in Montreal attempted to convince Canadians to join in the revolution.

Problem was, the Americans didn’t have any money except worthless paper printed by the Continental Congress. The Canadians were unimpressed. They said, “Show me the money!” And we didn’t have anything to show.

By May of 1776, it became apparent that the military and propaganda mission to conquer Quebec had failed. Meanwhile British reinforcements and supplies arrived after the ice on the St. Lawrence River thawed out. Uh-oh. In the face of certain annihilation, the Continental Army broke off its siege of Quebec City and fled back to the Colonies. But this time, Benedict Arnold made sure to travel by way of Lake Champlain. No more coach for him. He was going first class.

He led his Yankee troops lickety-split to Fort Ticonderoga.

Sigh, it seemed unification with Canada would have to wait for another day.

But maybe not too much longer, as far as the British were concerned. They were all full of themselves, putting the Yankees on the run like that, and so they pursued the retreating Continental Army, sailing down Lake Champlain toward their fortress at Ticonderoga.

The flagstone pavement and inner structures of mighty Fort Ticonderoga.

But the Americans were not to be underestimated. They had a navy of their own, and they too liked to play in the water. General Arnold took command of this navy and fought the British at the Battle of Valcour Island, in Lake Champlain, on October 11, 1776. It was no contest. Poor Arnold was defeated by General Carleton, who captured or destroyed most of the American ships. And who knows, maybe this is where Benedict first got the idea of jumping ship.

Just the same, it was a Pyrrhic victory for the British. Arnold’s efforts managed to stall the Brits long enough for winter to start sneaking her cold, icy hands up the breeches of the British army. Yep, they were freezing their balls off. So they decided to put away their ambitions to take back Fort Ticonderoga until the next year.

It’s time for bed. Don’t worry, Part 4 will be waiting right here for you tomorrow when you wake up. And smile! It’s the final part! 🙂

I believe this building was the officer’s quarters, at Fort Ticonderoga. Here is where big staff meetings were no doubt held, where some poor bastard always got the big staff.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 2 of 4

RECAP: If you can remember as far back as yesterday, or maybe the year 1758, British General James Abercromby has just decided to attack the newly constructed Fort Carillon, at Ticonderoga, and take it from the French. His long-term plan is to sail north from the fort, and drive the French out of Canada . . .

Cannon protruding through the battlement of an outer rampart of Fort Ticonderoga. It points southwest, toward the area where the La Chute River empties into Lake Champlain.

He came with an army of 16,000 soldiers. But Fort Carillon was a tough bell to ring. French General Louis Montcalm had only 4,000 troops to defend the fort, but he soundly defeated the British. Yep, he rang their bell instead.

This defeat was very embarrassing for the British. The whole world wondered how they could lose this battle against such an inferior force. The Brits looked like a bunch of wimps. But the British had a face-saving answer. They let it be known that this damned fort was impregnable.

That year the British were losing World War Zero. But then they got to praying. They prayed real hard for a miracle. And in 1759, a year that is known as the Annus Mirabilis (or, miraculous year), their prayers were answered. God switched sides.

In 1759, Great Britain and it’s allies began winning WW0, especially with some victories at sea against the French. Yessir, they hoisted the French by their own petard. Aye mateys, they keel-hauled them buggers. Yup, made them walk the plank into shark-infested waters.

Mortar and cannon aimed at Lake Champlain and the La Chute River.

France got desperate. Their prayers weren’t working, so they concentrated their resources in Europe and left General Montcalm with a skeleton fighting force to protect their Canadian colony. Well, maybe they weren’t skeletons just yet.

Montcalm muttered “oi vey” to himself. Or was it, “oh merde”? Whatever it was, he knew he was in trouble. He pondered his priorities. Should he choose Ticonderoga, or his own ass? He made the smart decision and chose his own ass. He withdrew to Quebec City, and left Fort Carillon with just a small garrison of 400 dupes. I mean troops.

That’s when the British said, “Hmm, maybe that damned fort isn’t so impregnable after all.” And in July, 1759, British General Jeffrey Amherst led an overwhelming force of 11,000 soldiers against Carillon. These 400 Frenchers weren’t idiots. They ran like hell, but not before trying to blow the fort up. After all, what could be more fun than blowing something up?

But perhaps they were drunk, or maybe their matches were wet, or maybe it’s because dynamite hadn’t been invented yet. But they were largely unsuccessful at their demolition efforts, and this “impregnable” fort fell into the hands of the Limeys, nearly intact.

The British renamed it after the Iroquois word. They hated anything French, including a French name. And so from then on it’s been known as Fort Ticonderoga.

Close-up of the business end of a mortar at Fort Ticonderoga. If I was facing this I’d feel mortarfied.

The next step would be to proceed north, and finish the French off at Quebec City. But the fickle British changed their minds. Instead of attacking from the south, they decided to attack Quebec City from the east, by sea. And why not? The British loved the sea. That’s where they had most of their successes.

British General James Wolfe sailed up the St. Lawrence River from the Atlantic, and laid siege to Quebec City. A few months later he drew the French army out of the city and defeated General Montcalm at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (not to be confused with Abraham Lincoln).

Both generals died in this battle, so I’m not sure what they got out of it. But the French were finally defeated and were driven out of Canada. The French government, that is. The French settlers remained in place, and from then on have tried to do their best getting along speaking French in an English speaking country. It’s led to more than one awkward moment.

For the next 16 years, Canada and the 13 American colonies were unified. Yay! At last we were one! Well, sort of. We were connected by the thin thread of the Lake Champlain and Lake George waterways, with Fort Ticonderoga at the nexus.

Perhaps it would be nice for some, if the story ended here. That would mean Canada and America remained unified. And it might mean we eventually became one nation, after Great Britain slowly released its grip on us. But we know that’s not what happened. Camelot can only last for one brief shining moment. Come back tomorrow for Part 3, and find out how everything went all wrong.

A Yankee and Limey soldier fighting over a box of cannonballs. Can’t we all just get along?

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 1 of 4

Introduction

Today is the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I. Since 1938 this anniversary has been an official federal holiday. It was originally called Armistice Day, but that name was changed to Veterans Day in 1954, to honor all of our military veterans, from all of our wars.

In Canada, today is called Remembrance Day.

I’ve decided to honor our veterans, as well as Canadian veterans, with a four-part post. And I’m going back, way back, to our very first wars.

We partly fought these wars against Canada, and they help to explain why Canada and the United States are two separate nations, rather than one unified country.

Today is part one. Tomorrow is part two. Whatever the hell day comes after that is part three. And if my math is right, I think I’ll have part 4 come after part 3.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US

Part 1 of 4

Ever wonder why Canada never joined the United States? I mean, what’s wrong with us? Bad breath? Impolite manners? All of the above? We’re good guys, so it just doesn’t make sense.

One way to make sense of it is to understand the little hamlet of Ticonderoga, in upstate New York, just 80 miles from the Canadian border. I lived for a year in that little hamlet, having come from California to stay with my Dad for a while. I even graduated high school there. And to tell you the truth, I never quite understood the town myself. But I’m going to give it my best shot, with these posts.

Ti High, the brain factory where I graduated several score and many years ago. Whenever I did or said things out of the ordinary, I’d get brained by a teacher or student. So this is where I got all my brains.

Ticonderoga straddles the land between Lake George and Lake Champlain, and was once a very strategic spot for raiding, robbing, and killing people. Native Americans slaughtered each other on this spot for thousands of years, before we came along. Now the town’s natives just assassinate each others’ characters and run off black people. But that’s a whole different story. Perhaps one to tell after sundown.

An Indian battle near Ticonderoga, in 1609. Drawing by the explorer and cartographer, Samuel de Champlain.

There’s a waterway highway of sorts that travels from the mouth of the Hudson River, at Manhattan Island, all the way north to the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. And before the invention of the airplane it was the easiest, quickest way to get from south to north, or vice-versa, in this neck of the woods. Otherwise, you had to climb a bunch of mountains, or take a long sea voyage.

Native Americans used the route for trade and travel. They’d paddle up Lake George in their canoes, and then portage four miles from Lake George to Lake Champlain. Portage means, getting out of the water and carrying your frickin’ canoe on your frickin’ back, while you slog from one body of water to another. It’s a pain in the back, ass, and feet.

Naturally they wanted to take the shortest route possible on this portage. And so naturally that’s where rival tribes would hide out and ambush them, stealing all the goods they carried with them, that they had brought to trade. As they say in the mafia, “It’s business. Just business.”

Ticonderoga is an Iroquois word that means, “the place between two waterways.” Or maybe it means, “the place where you have to carry your frickin’ canoe, while wild savages chase you around with a hatchet.”

The entrance to the inner workings of Fort Ticonderoga. Many famous people passed this way, including Ethan Allen, Henry Knox, and Benjamin Franklin. And a man named George Sleppington often bathed himself at the nearby lake. So it is said that George Sleppington washed here.

Anyway, the French came along and colonized the St. Lawrence River valley. They were the ones who started the whole Canada thing. Meanwhile, the British stole New Netherlands from the Dutch, and renamed it New York. Then they both proceeded to try to murder each other.

That’s when World War Zero broke out. WW0 refers to any world war that occurred before World War One. Apparently there’s been a bunch of them. But the WW0 I’m referring to is the Seven Years’ War. Which lasted nine years, by the way.

We Americans call it the French-Indian War, but that just refers to the North American front of a greater war fought all over the world by France and all her allies, against Great Britain and all of her allies.

WW0 started right here in America, in 1754, when 22-year-old Major George Washington led Colonial troops against a French fort in present-day Pittsburgh. French General Teré Bradshau kicked Washington’s ass, leaving him so embarrassed his skin turned red. So he returned home and chopped down a cherry tree just to take out his frustrations. Later, he started a football team.

14 of the cannons at the restored Fort Ticonderoga, were provided by the British government. These cannons had been cast in England during the American Revolution, but the war ended before they could be deployed.

In 1755 the British got it up their butts that they could sail up Lake George and Lake Champlain, and drive the French out of their Canadian colony. They fought a great battle for Lake George, and eventually ended up victorious.

This scared the hell out of the French, so they decided they needed to build a fort at Ticonderoga, to stop any future British advances.

Some of the cannons at Fort Ticonderoga have been artistically designed and cast. It gives soldiers some beauty to enjoy, while going through the horror of being shot at.

They constructed a star-shaped fort, at first made of wood, and then stone, and named it Fort Carillon. It got this name from the nearby La Chute River, which connects Lake George to Lake Champlain. La Chute means, “The Shit” in French. It seems the tinkling sounds of the rapids on The Shit sounds just like carillon bells.

And speaking of shitting, as sure as a moose shits in the woods, the French were right. In 1758, British General James Abercromby had all the gall and stupidity to attack Fort Carillon. He really wanted to ring the French’s bell.

Will he succeed? Or will he get his ass kicked? You’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow, same bat blog, new bat post, and find out in Part 2. (And no cheating. Stay off Wikipedia.)

An inner rampart of Fort Ticonderoga, with cannons protruding through battlements. Rather intimidating, wouldn’t you say?

Stolen Quote: Friendship

I always felt that the great high privilege, relief and comfort of friendship was that one had to explain nothing. ~ Katherine Mansfield, Author


Yes, my experience has been that the best friends require the least amount of talking.

Stolen Quote: Death

Explain the concept of death very carefully to your child. This will make threatening him with it much more effective. ~ P. J. O’Rourke


I think it’s more effective to take your children to church. Then threaten them with more church if they don’t stay in line.

Vote Moderate!

Stay centered and vote moderate!

I am not Democrat or Republican. Nor am I liberal or conservative. No, I’m a boring, nonpartisan, mealy-mouthed moderate.

I don’t like demagogues, revolutionaries, or charismatic leaders. I prefer politicians who are as middle-of-the-road and monotonous as me. I like those who serve as ballast, sitting in the center of the boat and suppressing dramatic rocking actions.

I want political progress to inch along slowly, deliberately, and contemplatively, rather than dramatically jumping back and forth. And I want to read about it not on the front page of the newspaper, but somewhere around page 10.

I prefer political leaders who hem and haw. I like them best when they scratch their heads and say such things as, “Gee, I don’t know,” “Shucks, maybe,” and “Heck, I guess so.” I like a legislator who votes for or against a bill and then later says, “Hmm. Maybe I should have gone the other way.”

That’s because I want our politicians to be reflective. They’re making important decisions that affect our lives, so I want them to cogitate carefully about what they support and what they resist.

Let’s not hold it against them when they waffle. Allow them to change their minds a dozen times. There’s a difference between being vague and evasive, and frankly admitting, “I don’t know.” Evasive politicians have already decided. They just don’t want to reveal their decision. But the truly indecisive ones are candid about their inability to make up their minds.

Am I right? I think I am. Or maybe not.

And I believe those leaders are dangerous, who pound the podium with thundering declarations, while stirring up crowds and making news headlines. They make politics exciting, but they also put everyone in peril. They stir up movements that inspire equal and opposite counter-movements. The resulting conflict polarizes our country, destabilizes our institutions, and hamstrings progress.

At least, that’s my view.

Family members turn against each other. Violence against those who disagree with us becomes acceptable. And the economy suffers when the present is chaotic and the future contains great uncertainties.

What do you think? Correct me if I’m wrong.

But moderate politicians have a soothing effect on society. They help us keep calm, stable, and on steady footing. Sure they may be monotonous, and at times exasperating in their indecisiveness. And their mealy-mouthed speeches do have a soporific way of inducing comas. But when you listen carefully, you’ll find them complex, thought-provoking, and empathetic to all sides.

This is my current belief.

Tomorrow is Election Day. I encourage you to get out and vote, if you haven’t done so already. And please be careful, deliberate, and reflective in the manner in which you vote. Yes, please be boring tomorrow. As you study your ballot, take your time. Look for those candidates who interest you the least. Avoid the exciting ones. Seek out the eggheads, the nerds, and the wishy-washy, mealy-mouths. And put your “X” by their names.

Vote moderate!

(But only if you really want to.)