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The Pig War, or, The War of Canadian Aggression

In the Lay Centre this year, we have students representing 16 countries, and this means representatives of countries or of nations that have had a history of conflict.

Currently, for example, we have students from Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia – the Balkan wars of the late 1990’s marked almost exactly the years of my high school education. All three were children during the time, old enough to remember the experiences of war.

Since 1979, before the birth of our representative residents, Egypt and Israel have had a peace treaty. Before that, however, there were a series of conflicts starting with the founding of the state of Israel, and notably including the Yom Kippur War and the Six Day War.

In the late 1940’s, immediately following World War II, Indonesia fought for independence from the Dutch Empire. We have in the house the grandson of a Dutch military officer and the grandniece of Indonesian freedom fighters that fought in the same battles during the revolution.

What people have not realized, we discovered last week over lunch, is an even older history of conflict between two other countries represented in the house this year: The United States of America, and the only country to have successfully sacked the U.S. Capital since our Independence, Canada.

[Warning, remainder of post includes tongue-in-cheek humour].

That’s right, Canada. Granted, during the War of 1812, some consider it to be a continuation of the Revolution and really that it was still England we were fighting, as our northern neighbors were still a colony. However, in my part of the country, we know who the real threat is was. This is owed, in no small part, to the victory we celebrate today, 25 November.

Today in 1872, in what is now Washington State, the Canadian occupation was ended, its forces cast out, and the U.S. could finally declare victory against the only enemy against which we have ever lost. At anything.*

For, it was on this day 139 years ago that the last contingent of [Canadian] Royal Marines withdrew from San Juan Island, ending the incident known to history as the Pig War.

At least, that is the popular name. I prefer “War of Northern Aggression” for obvious reasons. However, as that name was stolen by Confederate sympathizers for the U.S. Civil War of the same era, we will stick to the popular one.

And, fair enough, I suppose, as it commemorates the lone causality of the war, a Canadian-owned pig shot and killed by an American settler (the Canadians would say, squatter) on 15 June 1859. From that single incident, to the end of August, the military build-up on the island lead to a force of 461 American soldiers with 14 field canons and 8 naval guns facing off against three Canadian naval warships with 62 total naval canons and a complement of Royal Marines experienced in amphibious assault.

If you want the details, go to the National Park Service page on San Juan Island.

The bottom line is, however, that after years of joint military control under tense powder-keg conditions which might have ignited the entire continent in a conflagration that could have set off World War I half a century early, the Canadians were finally forced to withdraw after Kaiser Wilhelm I, serving as an international arbiter, ruled in favor of the U.S. Today is a day to celebrate the end of Canadian colonialism in the Pacific Northwest, and it is appropriate that this year it is celebrated the day after Thanksgiving.

In the spirit of dialogue and the famous hospitality of the Lay Centre, however, I ask my housemates to remember that we do not hold our Canadian community member responsible for the actions of her forebears; I and the other U.S. residents want to take the time today to offer her our forgiveness and graciously extend the hand of friendship.

Go America! Beat Canada!

* Not counting Cuba, North Korea, Viet Nâm, the War against Drugs, the Taliban, Wall Street Capitalism, etc.



  1. Ray says:

    The tone of your article and implication that Canada was aggressive as if the U.S. was not. Is highly offensive. Furthermore, the claim that the “forces [were] cast out” is misleading as the issue was resolved peacefully. Lastly, Canada/Britain had good claim over the area but you seem to paint them as an occupying force and the sentence “I prefer “War of Northern Aggression” for obvious reasons.” is not so obvious, I find your article to be rudely discriminatory and striking out the word “is” and replacing it with “was” seems to be a Freudian slip on your part, the impression left is that you hate Canadians and have a skewed view of history.

    • A.J. Boyd says:

      Ray, I’m sorry the (nationally self-deprecating) humor of the piece did not translate so clearly in writing. It is all in the tone, i suppose!

  2. No harm, no foul. For what it is worth, it is a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek farce worthy of many a Canadian citation of the American war of aggression of 1812 which we lost badly, saved only by Britain’s much bigger concerns for the concurrent Napoleonic Wars.

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