With minor revisions, as posted June 18, 2020, part of a series entitled “What’s in a Name?”
Today is the 205th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the namesake of the Village/Town/City of Waterloo; Waterloo County/Region; the former Township of Waterloo (which included Berlin/Kitchener, Hespeler and Preston), and the University of Waterloo.
At about the same time, the Village/Township of Wellesley and the County of Wellington were named after Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, who led the victorious forces at Waterloo.
This was in 1815, the same year our one and only war with the United States ended (we tend to forget that the War of 1812 was a branch of the Napoleonic Wars).
These Upper Canada namings took place the following year, 1816. I once spent a lot of time and effort trying to convince people in WWW country to make something of the bicentennial of Waterloo, Wellesley and Wellington as Ontario place names.
The idea didn’t catch on.
The story looks different from the other side. For most people, “Waterloo” signifies defeat, as in “meeting your Waterloo.” To me, this is an indication of how dominant the revolutionary republican storyline has been, really since the time of the U.S. American and French revolutions.
When telling the story from a Canadian perspective, Waterloo signifies victory. And peace: The next war of all against all in Europe and its colonies didn’t happen until almost a century later, and there has never been another war between the U.S. and the British, including the land of the Canadas.
From an Indigenous perspective, the peace meant utter defeat. After 1815, the great settler republic began imagining it had a “manifest destiny” to dominate North America from coast to coast to coast to border (including absorbing the future Dominion of Canada). Part of what made such ambitions possible was that the two colonial powers on the continent were now at peace.
As a result, First Nations, who had held the balance of power on the continent and skillfully used it to their advantage, militarily and diplomatically, for more than two centuries, were now at the mercy of any army or police troop, and any armed settler vigilantes who happened to come their way.
Half century later, when the non-rebellious European settlers on the continent achieved partial home rule, they started to imagine that they too had a divine mission to dominate the land and the people on it as a “Dominion” from sea to sea to sea.
For all these reasons, this is an annual milestone worth commemorating.
Like all battles, Waterloo was a gory horror. But it was a fateful day, and we can be glad it was our side that won. Wellington may deserve to have his statue in Glasgow, Scotland torn down, but whatever his villainies may have been, those of Napoleon were far worse.
The Emperor didn’t just delay the abolition of the slave trade, as Henry Dundas has been accused of doing, he tried to restore slavery to his domains eight years after it had been abolished during the French Revolution. The former slaves of Saint-Domingue, now citizens of Haiti, put a stop to these plans.
A year later, Napoleon sold what was left of New France to the rising settler republic, thus sealing the fate of the people of the lands called Louisiana.