The 1812 Battle of Longwoods is fought by re-enactors of the British, American and Native fighters, west of London, Ontario, May, 6, 2012.

The 1812 Battle of Longwoods is fought by re-enactors west of London, Ontario, May, 6, 2012.
Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

Canada acquires rare War of 1812 documents


Library and Archives Canada has bought a large collection of letters, maps and other papers that once belonged to Sir John Sherbrooke, the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia who conquered Maine for the British during the War of 1812.

The collection, which includes a letter written by Sherbrooke to Maj.-Gen. Robert Ross congratulating his troops — composed of Canadian and British soldiers — for successfully burning down the White House in August 1814, sold for almost twice the asking price and cost Canadian taxpayers about $690,000.

Chantal Marin-Moreau, director-general for Evaluation and Acquisition at Library and Archives Canada, said the collection also features early 19th century hand-drawn maps of major Canadian cities such as Halifax, Toronto and Montreal.

“Sir John Sherbrooke was a key public figure during a pivotal era of Canadian history,” said Marin-Moreau. “All through his various activities as both a statesman and a military leader during the War of 1812 he had a profound influence on the formation of Canada.”

Sherbrooke went on to become governor general of British North America, and he gave his name to the city of Sherbrooke, in Quebec.

When he left Canada, Sherbrooke took his maps and papers back to Britain, where they had been sitting in three wooden boxes in family attics for nearly 200 years.

“The manuscripts and printed maps of this collection, they really are a remarkable if not incomparable record of the political, economic and military geography of British North America,” Marin-Comeau said.

Largest collection of War of 1812 documents

The government said its acquisition is the largest known collection of War of 1812 documents.

Heritage Minister James Moore said the federal government is “proud to have acquired this one-of-a-kind original collection of our documentary heritage on behalf of all Canadians.”

“Canada would not exist had the American invasion of 1812–1814 not been repelled; for that reason, the War of 1812 was a defining chapter in our history,” Moore said.

Library and Archives Canada had been tracking this collection for a few years but didn’t know if the or when was it going to come up for auction, Marin-Comeau said.

“We were made aware of the auction a few weeks ago and since then we’ve been putting all of our resources and efforts towards being able to be at the auction and hopefully being successful, and as you know we were,” she said.

Silent bidder

Library and Archives Canada was the silent bidder at the auction organized by the Bonham’s auction house in London with Marin-Comeau calling in the bids by phone from Ottawa.

Nobody knew who was bidding on the other end of the line, Marin-Comeau said.

“I was flabbergasted that we were successful because you never do know how auctions will go and we had some pretty fierce competitors. It was kind of getting tense,” she said. “And when our auctioneer actually told us, ‘You we were successful, it’s done, you’ve got the collection,’ we all cheered.”

Marin-Comeau said the auction house has started preparing all the necessary paperwork to get permission from the British government to repatriate Lord Sherbrooke’s archive to Canada, but it’s unclear yet when the documents will come back to Canada yet.

Related links:

Library and Archives Canada

War of 1812 reinterpreted over the centuries

War of 1812: A timeline of the battles for Canada



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