I am intrigued by photos of a 2008 war memorial statue in Toronto designed by Canadian author and artist Douglas Coupland https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Coupland
It is unusual because it marks the less familiar War of 1812. It is also unusual in that is also naturalistic but also in the shape of two giant toy soldiers.
I had come across Coupland’s statues of giant “toy green army men” in the author photos for his books that I have read over the years.
These “toy soldiers” are part of an ongoing series, very similar to his “Vietnam Swamp Soldier” (2000), a statue or installation shown at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, 2015 featured here:
These websites feature several others of these giant green toy soldier statues by Doug Coupland and a monumental Canadian firefighter in similar style.
Monument to the War of 1812 (2008) by Douglas Coupland in Toronto, Canada.
The standing soldier is painted gold and depicts a member of the 1813 Royal Newfoundland Regiment (Canada).
The other fallen toy soldier figure is painted silver and depicts an American soldier from the 16th U.S. Infantry Regiment.
The statue caption or information panel by Coupland mentions a highly local link – one block away is the War of 1812-14 site of Fort York, site of a crucial battle in April 1813 that secured Canada’s future as a separate nation from The USA
Why the Toy Soldier style on the memorial?
The victorious Canadian soldier looks rugged and heroic, not unusual on a war memorial. Certainly more conventionally heroic and rugged than the unfortunate Confederate war memorial in Dade, Georgia, known as “Dutchy”, pulled down and buried by his own townsfolk:
Safely two hundred years past, Coupland’s toy soldier approach to this war memorial is highly unusual, showing toy soldier versions of the protagonists complete with fake mould lines.
Is Coupland suggesting in game terms that this side won, or “you lost” as was recently scrawled on some Confederate war memorials in America?
Gold and silver statues, winner and runner up in sporting terms?
I wonder how we would react to a WWI or WWII statue in this rugged big toy soldier style, replete with figure bases and mould lines.
How would we react now as members of the public or the armed services to a statue in this style of a more recent conflict like the Gulf Wars or Afghanistan?
Is Coupland suggesting that soldiers are pawns in a game of war?
This toy soldier style of memorial or public artwork had done its job, in getting me thinking about its meaning.
I am reminded of H.G. Wells’ wise words in Little Wars book (about fighting battles with toy soldiers) compared with the real blundering thing of Great Wars. Wars, as Yoda wisely observed of great warriors in the Star Wars movies, “Wars do not make one great.”
A 2008 interview with Coupland about the statue features the unveiling, public response, toy soldiers and 1812 reenactors – see this short Vimeo video by Inkblot media https://vimeo.com/5020532
I would be curious to hear what other blog readers think of this interesting War of 1812 ‘toy soldier’ style memorial?
Events of 1812
So watching this video with its short and varied contributors, it seems that there is some controversy from different sides (Canada, America, Britain) on who exactly won and lost the war of 1812-14 in North America. This is partly what statue designer Douglas Coupland says he is challenging or questioning in his 1812 memorial.
All I remember from school about the War of 1812 is that “The British burnt the White House” with no real understanding of why. The events and background to the War of 1812 are outlined here:
In view of recent controversy over the future of some Confederate war memorial statues in a changing multi-racial America, it is interesting to read the response to this less well-remembered conflict or civil war in North America, amongst other controversial markers or memorials.
Tiny but Statuesque
I am always struck by the highly familiar miniature statues that are our childhood Airfix figures.
Some of the spare Airfix OOHO British Waterloo infantry that I have recently found (in a couple of recent lucky Airfix box finds) could do well at a pinch for both British, Canadian and American troops in an 1812 Skirmish. Using Featherstone’s Close Wars appendix rules (from War Games 1962), this is another idea for the Man of TIN 2018 project list.
Such figures would also suit Army Red, Army Blue type of scenarios in Imagi-Nations and my fictional Bronte kingdoms of Angria and Gondal.
My trusty old library / childhood copy of Preben Kannik’s Military Uniforms of the World in Colour features British or Allied troops of the time, as well as these couple of 1812 American troops.
As a child I often thought the 1812 New York Rifle Corps uniform one of the more exotic, almost Santa Claus like in the trimmed hunting shirt, but had no figures similar or suitable.
The Portuguese Cacadores in their brown uniforms are interesting paint variations for Airfix or Napoleonic figures. The fact that the regular Portuguese units wore blue is another chance to reuse any Blue uniformed Airfix British looking troops with Shakos when they are not pretending to be American 1812 troops. The French infantry will provide any opposition needed. Flexible armies result if you don’t look too closely!
Interesting that the Butternut improvisation of dress (green, brown, grey, blue) of the American Civil War was alive in the 1812 US Army as supplies ran short. Good camouflage for guerilla and back woods fighting.
The US 16th Infantry Regiment pictured in Kannik’s book is the US regiment shown in Coupland’s Toy Soldier Statue or Memorial.
My local library service also turned up for me from its stores on loan The War of 1812, an old Osprey Men at Arms. Very useful – several more recent titles on the subject have been added.
The ‘American War’ is also very very briefly covered in Jenny Uglow’s In These Times, as much for the naval blockade as its land battles https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/in-these-times/
As mentioned, another idea for the painting table and the Man of TIN 2018 project list!
Blog Post Script
Interesting comments in the comment section from Ross MacFarlane from a modern Canadian standpoint, worth reproducing here: “Hmm, as I recall the popular reaction to the statue was not exactly favourable, I suppose most of us aren’t enlightened enough. Odd to celebrate Ft York as a turning point since we lost that one but what’s history if you can’t rewrite it?
Its interesting to follow the shift in interpretation over the centuries to match various shifts in politics and culture from “brave Canadians stood up to the American elephant with a bit of help from the Old Country” to “the Brits did it all and the Canadians weren’t really involved” (hard to take in view of battles like Chateauguay where no Brits were involved and others where units raised in what is now Canada were raised as British regiments ) to a more balanced view based on facts.”
Ross’s other comment on Kannik’s uniform book got me thinking:
“I used to wonder just what kind of weird hat that the NY rifleman was wearing, would have been much better if he turned his head a bit to show the common top hat with turned brim. Looking back it was also surprising that the pictures on the dust jacket were not replicated inside, inc that handsome NY Dragoon”.
I had quite forgotten this figure:
I have some ideas in the comments section about making such a dandy Dragoon unit out of Airfix Waterloo British Royal Horse Artillery and Hussars conversions. More food for thought …
Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN, September 2017.