Americans and Canadians may seem like good neighbors today, but they have a long and complicated history together. In 1812, when America was still a new country and Canada was still a British colony, the two countries went to war with each other.
The reasons why are complicated - economic sanctions, fear of American expansion, the British navy kidnapping American sailors - and the three year war between these two countries is the one blemish in a friendly relationship that's hundreds of years long.
It may seem unusual of friendly, polite Canadians to burn down an American city, but as you'll see they had their reasons.
Earlier in December of 1813, an American militia leader from New York abandoned Fort George and ordered his men to burn down the neighboring Canadian town of Newark (which today we call Niagara-On-The-Lake) as they retreated. He gave the townspeople of Newark a few hours notice before burning down almost all of their buildings.
Earlier in the war, Americans had also destroyed or burned much of the city of York (present-day Toronto), so the Canadian-born men who fought for Britain felt they had a score to settle by 1813.
The Battle of Black Rock, New York
George Drummond, a Canadian-born British Lieutenant-General, led his troops throughout a day of vicious fighting. The Canadian forces captured both Buffalo and the nearby town of Black Rock. Like many battles in early half of the war, the Americans were outmaneuvered by their enemies' strategies. After capturing the city, Canadian troops finally got their revenge. All but four of Buffalo's buildings were burnt down and all of Black Rock was destroyed.
Incredibly, this wasn't even the most impressive victory of the war. In 1814, Canadians managed to capture the city of Washington, torching the White House and the Capitol Building.
James Madison, who was the US President at the time, fled to the small town of Brookeville, Maryland with his government, who named the town "United States Capitol For A Day." While the various buildings destroyed by the British were rebuilt, Washington's destruction remains a uniquely disappointing loss for America on their own soil.
The White House, 1814
If you're wondering why you've never heard of these events, the War of 1812 ended in a very anticlimactic "reset." The war was only a small part of the larger Napoleonic wars in Europe, and the 1815 treaty that made peace between America and Canada restored all the territory both countries had captured.
The end of the war also brought back stereotypical Canadian politeness. British Lieutenant-General George Prevost officially apologized for burning down Buffalo and Washington in 1814, although he said he "miseries inflicted upon the inhabitants of Newark" meant revenge was necessary.
We're just glad Canadians and Americans get along so well after all of this!