The active role of African-American soldiers in the War of 1812 between Canada and the United States is frequently buried and glossed over by Canadian authorities. For example, publicity campaigns for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics emphasized the symbolic role of veteran hikers as well as athletes in their toboggans displaying their sporting talents in the winter wonderland.
When it comes to snowshoeing in Canada, there has been a virtual blackout on Black pioneers. According to the Conversation, soldiers of African descent snowshoed over 1,000 kilometers in about 50 days from Fredericton, New Brunswick, to Kingston, Ontario.
The 104th New Brunswick Regiment of Foot was led by Black officers. They began this journey on February 16, 1813, and traveled through the frozen Saint John, Madawaska, and St. Lawrence rivers until they arrived in Kingston in April 1813. The 104th New Brunswick Regiment of Foot’s mission was to fortify Canadian defenses against a possible US invasion. The conflict was dubbed the War of 1812, despite the fact that it lasted more than two years.
Richard Houldin, Henry McEvoy, and Harry Grant were among the 104th New Brunswick Regiment of Foot’s Black officers. Despite being a part of this epic historical journey, their contributions are often overlooked in history books and national events.
Many historians have criticized Canadian authorities for consciously erasing Black people’s contributions to mainstream Canadian history, raising concerns about Canada’s commitment to issues of race, slavery, and genocide. The only time people of African descent are mentioned is when they are discussing the Underground Railroad and how many people escaped slavery in the Great White North.
There is a deliberate silence on Canada’s role in the 200-year history of slavery on its soil and how it shapes the lives of people of African descent. The 104th march would have been more difficult if soldiers of African descent had not used indigenous technology and survival tactics.
According to historical accounts, a pair of men pushed and pulled a toboggan loaded with food and gear. Tobogganing is a traditional winter mode of transportation. The men also wore moccasins, which are specially designed for walking on ice or snow. This shoe has the advantage of being lightweight, warm, and waterproof. Although winter snowshoes are available, moccasins were the best choice for this assignment. The winter footwear allows for quick passage through the snow.
With only boots, one is doomed to sink into the sea with every step until mobility is impossible. In this case, one may develop cold legs, which can aggravate frostbite and lead to amputation of the leg or death.
The soldiers of the 104th regiment made their beds out of cedar branches and covered them with moss in the evening. Even on very cold nights, a blanket and a fire in the center of the structures provided warmth.