In October 2011, the Government of Canada began a two-year, nation-wide celebration of the bicentenary of the War of 1812. The widely-criticized initiative returned the public eye to a traditional ‘interpretive tableau’ of war heroes, namely Isaac Brock, Tecumseh, Charles de Salaberry and Laura Secord. While the scope and expense of the federal government’s efforts have been unprecedented, the political battle to maintain certain memories of the War is one that is not new. A struggle against the forgetfulness of Canadians, and particularly young Canadians, has animated commemorations of the War for almost two centuries. Looking at a selection of past commemorative efforts this essay explores how the inertia of a traditional tableau of heroes has tended to overshadow other narratives and newer interpretations. Yet all is not lost. Using the example of the author’s exhibition, Faces of 1812, it is suggested that publicly-constructed histories can be employed as a useful departure point for the public historian and provide a foundation from which the public can obtain a broader, more critical perspective on both the commemorated events and history writ large.