Douglas Coupland’s memorial to the War of 1812

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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:

http://www.artslant.com/ams/articles/show/44508

https://www.iizt.com/project/237/

https://canadianart.ca/online/see-it/2008/08/07/the-big-gift/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1608478.stm

http://www.ysmag.com/features/midCentury.html

https://www.coupland.com/public-arts 

These websites  feature several others of these giant green toy soldier statues by Doug Coupland and a monumental Canadian firefighter in similar style.

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War of 1812 memorial Toronto by Douglas Coupland (Wikipedia source / public domain)

 

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

http://www.fortyork.ca/history-of-fort-york.html

and

http://www.fortyork.ca/featured-attractions/fort-york-guard/the-fort-york-guard.html

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:

https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/04/dutchy-and-dade-the-confederate-history-of-forgotten-georgia/

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.

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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:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_1812

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.

http://militaryhistorynow.com/2012/09/21/monumental-struggles-war-memorials-that-sparked/ 

http://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/coupland-creates-statue-to-mark-war-of-1812-1.717530

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.

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https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/21/airfix-gold-from-the-back-of-a-dark-gaming-shop/

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.

IMG_0405

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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:

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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 …

Thanks, Ross!

Blogposted by Mark, Man of TIN, September 2017.

 

 

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Author: 26soldiersoftin

Hello I'm Mark Mr MIN, Man of TIN. Based in S.W. Britain, I'm a lifelong collector of "tiny men" and old toy soldiers, whether tin, lead or childhood vintage 1960s and 1970s plastic figures. I randomly collect all scales and periods and "imagi-nations" as well as lead civilians, farm and zoo animals. I enjoy the paint possibilities of cheap poundstore plastic figures as much as the patina of vintage metal figures. Befuddled by the maths of complex boardgames and wargames, I prefer the small scale skirmish simplicity of very early Donald Featherstone rules. To relax, I usually play solo games, often using hex boards. Gaming takes second place to making or convert my own gaming figures from polymer clay (Fimo), home-cast metal figures of many scales or plastic paint conversions. I also collect and game with vintage Peter Laing 15mm metal figures, wishing like many others that I had bought more in the 1980s ...

6 thoughts on “Douglas Coupland’s memorial to the War of 1812”

  1. 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.

    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.

    Ross

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting to have a Canadian standpoint, thanks Ross. I know John Patriquin the Wargame Hermit is interested in this era and may have some views too.

      I will pull / copy your comments up into the body of the blog text as B.P.S blog post script, illustrated by the NY Dragoon Officer 1811 from the colourful cover of Preben Kannik’s book. I had forgotten about this dandy!
      Cavalry don’t often make it onto my small cluttered battlefields but dismounted dragoons might. Merging some spare Airfix Waterloo British Royal Horse Artillery heads or bodies with British Hussar bodies and horses might make some mounted NY Dragoon 1811 cavalry. For dismounted troopers, I can’t imagine troopers were all as gaudy as their officer. I will have to do some searching around for more illustrations of these NY Dragoon 1811 troops, along with the NY 1812 Rifle Volunteers.
      As you say, a shame these Kannik’s cover pictures had no text that I can easily find and as for the colourful NY Rifle Corps, exactly what sort of hat is that? A bicorne worn front to back Wellington style? Not very frontier practical.
      Kannik’s uniform book would certainly be on my desert island book list as it seems almost inexhaustible and fresh every time you look. I never tire of it.
      Mark Man of TIN blog

      Like

  2. Thanks for a really interesting post. I’ve always felt plastic toy soldiers well- deserved a statue somewhere. For me the statue very much stands as an anti-war symbol, reducing all the pomp and posturing of war down to the level of a game. Being an inveterate lover of toy soldiers, however, I can claim to love it. It elevates the hobby up to being something worthy of imposing public statuary – and quite right too!

    The HG Wells quote about the temple reminds me of the lines in a Roger Waters song:

    “Take all your overgrown infants away somewhere
    And build them a home, a little place of their own.
    The Fletcher Memorial Home for Incurable Tyrants and Kings.”

    Like

    1. Marvin
      How very H G Wells that Roger Waters song is – thank you for sharing this.

      I think the statue works on several levels with different meanings to different people. I was quite taken with his giant toy green army men statues when I first saw them in book covers, less difficult as they are not functioning as a memorial.
      Mark, Man of TIN

      Liked by 1 person

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