Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Jonathan F. Vance


Hailed for his spirited defence of what is now Ontario at the outset of the War of 1812, Major General Isaac Brock was widely mourned after his valiant death only four months into that conflict. His daring deeds brought a posthumous knighthood and popular recognition as “The Hero of Upper Canada.” There was also a lasting positive effect on the collective memory of British North Americans, and the patriotism generated by Brock’s legacy was frequently exploited to promote a strong attachment to the British Crown. For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Brock’s name was a watchword for all those Canadians who wished to preserve the imperial connection. And when increasingly nationalistic attitudes began to displace the imperial emphasis, Brock’s heroism was adapted to provide a compelling historical explanation for Canadian Confederation. Not surprisingly, the appeal of a larger-than-life hero was advantageous in promoting the aims of both imperial and national schools of thought. Less clear, however, are the mechanisms by which Brock became a powerful icon to both movements. How did these respective ideas involving Brock originate, and by what manner were they promulgated? To arrive at a better understanding of such an enigmatic process, this dissertation combines military and social history to explore Brock’s enduring popularity within the Canadian context between 1812 and 2012. Central to this unique study is the militia myth, or the traditional story that originated with the War of 1812 and exaggerated the role of Upper Canada’s civilian military force in defending the province. By a further survey of such phenomena as the Ontario-centric commemorations dedicated to Brock’s memory and the indoctrination of impressionable young minds through the collaboration of the Ontario Department of Education and the Canadian publishing industry, the significance of a heroic figure to the formation of a distinctly Canadian national creation myth will be revealed as exercises in social engineering.

Summary for Lay Audience

This dissertation combines military and social history to explore Sir Isaac Brock’s enduring popularity within the Canadian context between 1812 and 2012.

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