| Speech by Governor Jan Briers – city of Ottawa
Geachte ambassadeur van der Pluijm
Representatives of the US Embassy and the UK High Commission
Your Worship (Mayor Jim Watson)
Representatives of the Treaty of Ghent Delegation
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are honoured to be your guests, here in Ottawa and feel a deep sense of pride in representing the people of Ghent and East Flanders.
The Treaty of Ghent created, out of conflict and strife, the foundations for relationships between the United States of America ( Canada first if in Ottowa!), the United Kingdom, and Canada that have deepened and endured over 200 years.
In the East Flemish capital we feel a very particular pride that such a basis for ongoing peace and friendship was created within our walls.
The Treaty of Ghent is undoubtedly a lieu de mémoire, a symbol at the heart of the memorial heritage of our City and of our province of East Flanders. This deep rooted and living sense of peace is reflected in other striking elements of the East Flanders ethnography. I think of our Flower Show, which is a great celebration of the beauty of flowers and plants, and takes place every five years. During our visit this link will be reinforced by the planting of the Treaty of Ghent rose.
Our province has a rich and diverse heritage, being the home of the world famous alterpiece "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb," which the brothers Van Eyck painted in 1432, or the well-known tapestries from Oudenaarde and Grammont.
We are a growing a vibrant, diverse, economic capability that builds upon our infrastructure of ports in Ghent and Waasland, our historic skills and knowledge in relation to Beer and Chocolate, and the development, lead by the University of Ghent, of a 'knowledge industry' that creates, grows, and sustains our future.
Culinary delights may have contributed little to the choice of Ghent to sign the treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom but it was undoubtedly a bonus for the negotiators. And the time of residence of the negotiators and the signing of the Treaty of Ghent is far from forgotten.
First and foremost the Treaty of Ghent was signed in the Ghent St Jan de Deo convent on December 24th, 1814.
Thereafter the Treaty was also celebrated and commemorated with some regularity.
Traces of these commemorations are known by many of us in the form of a commemorative plate in the Rue des Champs. There is another plate in the Ghent Town Hall and a third one on the forefront of the old Carthusian Convent.
In 1914, the 100-year memorial service was planned to be a huge ceremony. Ghent City Council had taken a delegation to New York, and the Americans were planning a major event. Sadly, as we know the First World War intervened and the proposed party was cancelled.
In 1964 and 1989 there were commemorative initiatives. But they never succeeded in getting firmly anchored in the memory of the people of Ghent.
This year, 2014 marks a hugely important anniversary, and offers us both celebrate and remember what it achieved.
The main cause of the war - where hostilities erupted on June 18, 1812 - was the European influence in the Americas. The War of 1812 to 1815 was a military conflict between the United States and United Kingdom and its North American colonies in the current Canada.
Why is the Treaty of Ghent so important?
Because we take the situation of lasting peace between Britain and the United States as a model for peace in general.
This is all the more significant in times where every year more than 30 wars and conflicts are fought, times where peace is precious and should be cherished by all.
So make no mistake. This event is no mere historic footnote in the annals of the United States and Britain, and in the broader sense of Europe. The Ghent Treaty created a sustainable, lasting peace and understanding between the 2 most influential/powerful Anglo-Saxon countries, which has had profound influence on subsequent world history.
Why exactly Ghent has been chosen for the peace negotiations and the conclusion of this treaty?
Well, first of all a "neutral" area had to be found. The United States and Britain themselves had therefore been excluded immediately.
France emerged as a losing party in the fight against the European allies, and was not eligible. Gothenburg was eliminated as a Napoleon faithful king occupied the throne in Sweden. The Southern Lower Countries were under Allied administration between February 1814 and September 1815. They were considered to be neutral, and so became the preferred choice of location.
So Ghent was neutral ground, but it was also a practical and comfortable place with other assets. The city of Ghent offered - 200 years ago - plenty of opportunities. Gent had known in the past decades a large growth and had prospered, and so had plenty of facilities to accommodate the international community.
The city offered, then as now, an excellent venue for ‘doing business’, in comfort. The U.S. delegation especially spent some wonderful months in Ghent.
The location of the city also played an important role: Ghent was central enough in the Southern Netherlands in order to be easily accessible. Ghent was sufficiently close to the coast so that a rapid evacuation to Britain would be possible in the event that hostilities with France would flare up again.
To honor the American delegation, a special winter flower exhibition was organized in 1815, and two flowers were named after each of the american delegates. The most beautiful rose was baptized “Congres de Gand” flower (Ghent congress flower). To continue this tradition, a new rose, not commercialized yet, cultivated by the Royal Society for Agriculture and Botany is presented to you today, as a symbol of peace. This flower will play a central and important role in the coming.
We are now two hundred years later. Our presence, from the province of East Flanders, here today reflects the importance we attach to that remarkable milestone in the history of the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Canada.
I would like you to thank the ambassador and his staff warmly for the generous welcome and their involvement in the success of this commemoration.
Also our sincere thanks to the City of Ottawa and His Worship for putting at our disposal this prominent site for a rose bed. The lasting memory that takes shape through this commemorative plate ensures that old bonds get a permanent dimension 200 years after date. Thank you.