Invasion of Canada

One of the prime considerations for forming the new nation of Canada on July 1, 1867, was that the Fathers of Confederation feared a U.S. invasion of Canada. It was a fear based upon the fact that following the American Civil War (1861-65) there were millions of well-trained soldiers at the disposal of the U.S. government and these soldiers could at any time be turned northward against British North America.

Actually it wasn’t too far-fetched a proposition as some U.S. politicians and newspaper editors felt Canada was ripe for the picking. They also had a bone to pick with Britain which at the start of the war tacitly backed the secessionist South.

In the 1864 election campaign, the Republican Party — the party of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln — used annexation of British North America as a way to gain Irish-American support and land-hungry immigrants. An 1866 bill for the annexation of British North America’s provinces and territories (the entire western region under Hudson’s Bay Company jurisdiction was also included) received second reading, but was eventually withdrawn.

The matter of annexing Canada to the U.S. has never really died down. In recent years, other American politicians have mentioned annexation and some have openly wondered why Canadians are so reluctant to join their great union. 

The occasional musings and grumblings against our country by our neighbours to the south should cause us concern, especially since the U.S. does have a 94-page plan for the invasion of Canada. Drawn up in  1930, the invasion document is called Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan — Red that has the word “SECRET” stamped on its front cover.

The existence of the plan was reported in December 2005 by Washington Post staff writer Peter Carlson, who took a bemused view of the U.S. contemplating using force to subdue Canada.

The outline of the plan is for a joint Army-Navy overseas force to capture the port city of Halifax, thus cutting Canada off from its British allies. The plan is then to seize the Canadian power plants in Niagara Falls so that Ontarians would freeze in the dark.

The actual attack on Canada would be three-pronged — a march from Vermont to take Montreal and Quebec, a charge out of North Dakota to capture Winnipeg’s railways, and an attack from the Midwest to take strategic nickel mines in Ontario. At the same time, the U.S. Navy would seize the Great Lakes and blockade Canada’s east and west coast ports.

“At that point, it’s only a matter of time before we bring these Molson-swilling, maple-mongering Zamboni drivers to their knees!” Carlson wrote. “Or, as the official planners wrote, stating their objective in bold capital letters: “ULTIMATELY TO GAIN COMPLETE CONTROL.”

It’s no joke, although in today’s world it does seem rather silly. Americans don’t have to invade us now since we already give them all the oil they need to fill up their gas-guzzling SUVs. (Wasn’t it oil that motivated their invasion of Iraq?) And we’re begging them all the time to take more oil from us — if only they would throw more money into the Alberta tar sands.

Actually, the invasion plan was declassified in 1974 and the word secret was crossed out. Carlson said the plan now sits in a little grey box in the National Archives in College Park and is “available to anybody, even Canadian spies” for 15-cents (American coins only) a page.

In the 1930s, the Americans’ real concern wasn’t the possible threat from Canada’s military, but that of the British. Plan Red was really designed to initiate a pre-emptive strike to prevent the British from using Canada as a base against  the U.S.

Carlson asked one Pentagon spokesman about the plan to invade Canada. The spokesman said he had never heard of it, but would not admit to knowing about it even if he knew about it.

“We don’t talk about our contingency plans,” he remarked.

Carlson also approached Brad Salyn, then the city’s director of communication, and asked him if Mayor Sam Katz was aware his city was specifically targeted.

“You know he would have no clue about what you’re talking about, eh?” Salyn is reputed to have replied.

Carlson then wrote that Katz later told him he was “sure Winnipeggers will stand up tall in defence of our country. We have many weapons.”

The mayor mentioned that the weapons were “peashooters, slingshots and snowballs,” and our best weapon was Winnipeg’s weather which gets to be about -50°C in the winter. He warned the Americans about invading Canada and facing the same disastrous outcome as Napolean’s ill-fated invasion of Russia.

When the Canadian government learned about the secret scheme after it was published by mistake, President Franklin Roosevelt assured the Canadians he wasn’t contemplating war. The news about the Canadian concerns was published on the front page of the May 1, 1935, New York Times.

Besides, if the Americans were smart they’d invade in the summer and even then they couldn’t be assured of success as the historical record demonstrates. During the American Revolution, Benedict Arnold unsuccessfully invaded Canada, during the War of 1812 numerous invasions were repulsed and American Fenians in the 1860s and 1870s (including a farcical invasion of Manitoba in 1871) were turned back. 

Still, one suspects that some Americans have not let go of the dream of taking over Canada by military force. The creators of the 1999 cartoon movie South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, tells the story of American parents, who angered by the toilet humour of Canadian comedians Terence and Philip, call for a war against Canada — the Americans lose but movie-goers get addicted to humming the song Blame Canada!

Now the general feeling is that any attempted invasion would fail because there are too many Canadians embedded in the U.S.’s entertainment industry  — Celine Dion, Mike Myers, Harold Ramis, Michael J. Fox, etc., who would sway American popular opinion against war with Canada. 

Even with our multitude of embedded entertainers in America, Canadians should not become too complacent. 

Keep those peashooters, slingshots and snowballs handy!