New book looks at why Isaac Brock is the one we remember

David Sharron, left, and Wesley Turner check out Astonishing General, Turner's new book about Sir Isaac Brock.

David Sharron, left, and Wesley Turner check out Astonishing General, Turner's new book about the popularity of Sir Isaac Brock.

Many generals have come and gone in Canada’s military history, but one in particular maintains celebrity status — Sir Isaac Brock.

Now a book by a retired Brock professor is asking why.

Wesley Turner, a professor of History at Brock from 1967 to 1998, is author of Astonishing General: The Life and Legacy of Sir Isaac Brock. Turner’s book asks why, when he was killed early in his second War of 1812 battle, Brock is the name that everyone remembers.

“You really have to look at his whole life to see why people in Upper Canada regarded him so highly,” said Turner, a Niagara-on-the-Lake resident. “Even Americans across the river had great respect for him.”

Turner’s book poses several potential explanations, but a big factor was the charismatic Maj.-General’s ability to understand the psychology of people, he said. He was gifted at anticipating what other people were going to do. That influenced politicians and fellow soldiers, and won him some loyal friends.

In an example of the latter, in 1811, Brock had amassed a debt of 3,000 pounds, which was tremendous in that day, Turner said. A prominent business owner, Edward Ellis, offered to pay off Brock’s debt.

“It was about his treatment of soldiers, his relations with the military and his role as a political leader in Upper Canada,” Turner said.

Brock’s influence was such that when he died in 1812, the British government voted to erect a monument for him at St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1813. By comparison, Viscount Horatio Nelson’s monument in London’s Trafalgar Square wasn’t erected until 1843, nearly 40 years after his death.

A longtime Brock scholar, Turner studied old and new material for his book, published this year by Dundurn Press.

“I looked at the material in a different way,” he said. “I asked different questions.”

Much of his research was done in Brock’s Special Collections and Archives. Turner has returned the favour by donating a copy of his book.

“With the bicentennial coming, we have the opportunity to take new looks at incredible lives,” said David Sharron, head of Special Collections and Archives.

New classes at Brock are being developed regarding the War of 1812, Sharron said.

“Having a new book with new details, looking at things in a new light, is fantastic for researchers.”

Posted on November 29, 2011

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