Thursday, August 27, 2015

Women's history webinar starts in September

Canada's History launches a Women's History Webinar series, starting ing September 9 with Veronica Strong-Boag online, and continuing through the fall

Details here

Photo from

Selfies: Moore in the National Post, and the CHR

  • First the Post:  Regulars on this blog know the views regularly expressed here on party leadership and the proper relationship of leaders to caucus MPs. Yesterday, provoked by some of the political assumptions revealed in the Duffy trial, I took that idea to the National Post and they are running it today. The Post is not my political soulmate, but the people there will run my pieces more than the Star or the Globe have.  And I do think it is a commendably non-partisan POV for the middle of an election campaign.  You can find the op-ed  "Want to fix the Senate? Fix the House first" right here.
  • On the scholarly journal side, the Canadian Historical Review for September has Blake Brown's very gratifying review of my Court of Appeal for Ontarifrom last fall (along with Dale Brawn's study of Manitoba courts). Who knew the phrase "worthy of unabashed praise" was even allowed in scholarly reviewing?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

History of Cheating in Sport

The Vuelta a Espana seems to stand distinctly third among the three grand tours of cycling.  The Giro d'Italia goes first, the Tour is the big one, and then comes Spain at the end, mostly showcasing what a hot dry arid country much of Spain is. Also Ryder Hesjedal has skipped the Vuelta to ride in the Tour of Alberta next week, so Canadian attention should be turning to the Rockies: Big mountain finishes around Jasper, bring it on.  (CanCon update Quebeckers Antoine Duchene and Dominique Rollin are both in this Vuelta.)

But in a world where sports cheaters use the most incredibly sophisticated medical regimes and the most obscure drugs, there's something refreshing about a good old-fashioned outrageous breaking of the rules. To wit, this bit of Vincenzo Nibali, last year's Tour de France champion, in the Vuelta the other day (near the end of this short clip):

You have fallen behind the leaders in the bike race.  So you call up the team car. You grab on to it.It goes rocketing ahead at 40 km/hr. The cyclists who had been with you vanish in the rearview mirror.

They threw Nibali out of the race, and his team director too.  But you gotta admit, it has a refreshing simplicity!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

History and Policy

Not a Picasso.  A Toronto regional planning concept, 1970
Richard White's Historical Perspectives on Toronto Planning considers a difficulty for historians: getting their work out of the "antiquarian interest" box and into the policy-making one
The study has plenty of merit, and I have no reason to question its factual observations, but like so much work done by Toronto urban analysts it lacks historical perspective. Toronto’s history is not unknown, and more is being written all the time – Neptis has itself commissioned historical studies, perhaps the only urban research body to have done so – but it always seems to end up in the ‘history’ box, to be brought out and viewed only for antiquarian purposes. Historical analysis rarely informs present-day discourse. But it could, and it should.
White's new book is upcoming from UBC Press.

Monday, August 24, 2015

History of journalism: Historicist on Frederick Griffin's Soviet Union tour

Many of the historically-inclined blogs I look through are more or less on hiatus. It's August. Who can blame them?

But the blog of Toronto history, Historicist (at the news site Torontoist) keeps up its unrelenting weekly schedule. Every Saturday Historicist presents a new piece of Toronto-related history, always lengthy and original, copiously researched, well-annotated, skillfully illustrated, usually by Kevin Plummer, Jamie Bradburn or David Wencer.

This week's was (as often) new to me: It's Plummer on a Toronto Star reporter, Frederick Griffin, and the stories Griffin delivered to the paper during a long tour of the Soviet Union in 1932. There have been a number of hostile exposes about western reporters who were duped or worse by Stalin's Russia.  Plummer keeps his balance, noting what Griffin criticized (or could not see) as well as what he admired. He quotes Griffin saying, “Weigh the terrors of the dictatorship of Stalin [...]against the terrors of czarism and they won’t even begin to tip the pressed down scales.” but he also has Griffin noting evidence of coercion and regimentation, and finally declaring:
My views don’t matter; your views don’t matter. Your views or my views will not change the facts of Soviet Russia one iota or alter the course of the Communists there by a hair’s breadth. Your fear or my fear, your hatred or my hatred, should not blind us to the facts. I have sought to speak not as a visionary or a theorist, but as a dealer in facts. What is happening over there in Russia is not fable, but history.
Nice work, Historicist.

Friday, August 21, 2015

History of professional ethics

Of all the PMO staffers caught up in the Duffy affair, it seems Benjamin Perrin may the one to emerge with his reputation least tainted intact.  He seems to have made full disclosure from the start of who knew what and when, and seems not to have been much complicit in the PMO calculations as they were proceeding.

Is it significant that Perrin, a longtime Reform supporter, was also a lawyer and a law professor, and only on loan in the PMO?  One might surmise that he had an independent career and an independent set of ethical standards and constraints to maintain, and thus had counterweights to the "do it for the team" attitude. (Legal ethics, not a contradiction!) By contract, Ray Novak, who seems to be in the crosshairs nowhas had no career other than as a Harper acolyte. Never elected, never even a candidate for public office, his whole position has depended on Harper's support of him and his support for Harper.

So what about Nigel Wright, independently wealthy, with a thriving career in the finance industry? Could he not show some independent judgement? Well, Michael Lewis (Liar's Poker, Flash Boys, The Big Short, Boomerang) is here to tell us that the finance boys, like the tech boys, make so much money that they are above ethics and always get to do what they want.

What's really troubling is that no matter what party is in power, in Canadian politics real authority is almost always wielded by small armies of Ray Novaks, true believers in the leader's retinue without accountability or independence. The really telling revelation of all this may be Wright's casual assumption that the only problem with the Senate majority caucus was that it was not so completely under the control of the PMO as the Commons caucus was.

To fix the Senate, the place to start has to be the Commons.  If the Commons worked, the Senate wouldn't be a problem.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Howie Morenz and the Franklin Expedition

The new DCB entry online today is Howie Morenz, the Canadiens hockey star who died at 34 after a mid-game accident at the Montreal Forum in 1937.

I remember learning as a child that his funeral was held at the Forum, where his casket was placed at centre ice. I misunderstood this to mean he was buried at centre ice. For a while, every time Hockey Night in Canada showed a Montreal game, I was a bit creeped out by the awareness of his frozen body entombed just below the playing surface.

Much later, this memory came back to me powerfully when the archeologist Owen Beattie exhumed the frozen preserved bodies of those Franklin expedition casualties who had been buried on Beechey Island. Exactly!

Why are university presses' contracts so bad?

The (US) Authors' Guild has some thoughts on why scholars should not assign copyright:
"When you assign copyright to publishers, you lose control over your scholarly output. Assignment of copyright ownership may limit your ability to incorporate elements into future articles and books or to use your own work in teaching at the University.” And those are by no means the only potential problems. That’s why we admonish authors never to assign a copyright to a publisher.
And yet:
The copyright grab remains endemic among university presses. To find out why, we recently canvassed several academic authors. Every form agreement that a university press had initially offered these authors contained the copyright grab clause. And yet every author we know of who requested to retain copyright was able to get the publisher to change the agreement.
The problem is that most academic authors—particularly first-time authors feeling the flames of “publish or perish”—don’t even ask. They do not have agents, do not seek legal advice, and often don’t understand that publishing contracts can be modified. So they don’t ask to keep their copyrights—or for any changes at all. Many academic authors tell us they were afraid to request changes to the standard agreements.
One could add a Canadian question:  Why do Canadian academic presses want a waiver of moral rights? (Moral rights: essentially your right to be identified as the author of your work and not to have the integrity of the work tampered with.)

Update:  An object lesson on why not to yield copyright, from this blog just a couple of weeks ago 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Worthwhile Canadian initiative, evidently

A friend emailed a link to Stephen Marche's "Closing of the Canadian Mind," his assault on the Harper government in the columns of the New York Times.

Friend was on to something. When I looked for it, it was being listed as the second most popular item trending on the Times's website, just behind the exposure of the Hunger Games workplace that Amazon has created for its staff.

British politics goes all Canadian. Results, well, what would you expect?

Can't say I've been following it  closely, but following the re-election of the Conservative Party in Britain, the Labour Party has gone into a leadership contest. They are doing it Canadian-rules -- indeed, worse than Canadian rules in some respects.
The Canadian candidate
They have made the leadership selection a Canadian-style vote-buying contest, in which anyone who buys a vote ("membership," they call it) can vote for the new party leader.  And they have added on an odd idea similar to one the Canadian Liberals used recently: now even non-members can buy a vote:
All full party members get a vote, as do members of affiliated unions (who have to register with the party) and anybody who wants to pay £3 to become a “Labour supporter”. To this day, I’m not entirely clear on the purpose of the latter (a revenue stream, or a means to generate data) but it was a half baked scheme not only open to abuse at the margins, but worse, open to the perception of mass abuse.
One result is that many British Conservative supporters are happily laying out £3 (sometimes many times over) to support the candidate they see as the most unelectable of the potential Labour leaders, and the one with the least support among the elected Labour MPs he will have to lead.

The more important result will be to shift another parliamentary democracy more toward the model long established in Canada, in which party leaders are not accountable to the people's elected representatives (because not chosen by them) and equally not accountable to those who did select him/her (because the moment the leadership race ends, the "memberships" and "supporterships" become meaningless).

It's amazing the hold this perversion of parliamentary democracy continues to have. The LGM contributor quoted above simultaneously notes the abuse built into the process -- and accepts it as just part of the process.

Duffy scandal analogy? Sure. In a real parliamentary democracy, with leadership accountability to caucus, it would only have taken a couple of cabinet ministers or a clique of Tory backbenchers to observe that the whole Senate thing the PMO was orchestrating was both disgusting and counter-productive to the party's interests (as opposed to the PMO's) -- and the whole thing would have been knocked on the head.

Photo source

Monday, August 17, 2015

History in the summer LRC

The July-August Literary Review of Canada includes Philip Girard's review of my Three Weeks in Quebec City. It's paywalled, but we can reveal that the concluding sentence calls it a "sparkling, succinct, and thought-provoking account."  The rest of it is not bad either.

Also in history mode, Joshua Gans on the history of BlackBerry (available online), Brian Brett on Kathleen Rodgers's study of American draft resisters in the Kootenays; Adele Barkley on a new biography of the surprisingly complex figure Calixa Lavallée, composer of O Canada, Ken McGoogan on Debra Komar's forensic analysis of the killing of John McLaughlin Jr at the Fort Stikine post of the HBC... in 1842, and Sophie McCall on indigeneous peoples and national parks around the world

Champlain on the Humber

Well, he wasn't actually, but Etienne Brulé possibly was  This year marks the 400th anniversary of Champlain's sojourn in what is now Ontario, and various events linked to his movements and to the 400th anniversary of Franco-Ontario have been organized.

Including a day long seminar 26 September 2015 at the Old Mill conference centre, right on the Humber on the west side of Toronto: "The Toronto Carrying Place: A Shared Legacy."

Speakers and hosts include:
Annie Veilleux, Cultural Heritage Division Manager at Archaeological Services, Inc.
Christian Bode, President, La Société d’histoire de Toronto
Prof. John Steckley, anthropologist, linguist
Christopher Moore, Governor-General award-winning author and historian
Prof. Carolyn Podruchny, historian, York University
J’net AyAy Qwa Yak Sheelth, Indigenous Outreach and Learning Coordinator, Royal Ontario Museum
Garry Sault, Elder, Mississauga of the New Credit First Nation
Details:  Etobicoke Historical Society  Registration here.

Friday, August 14, 2015

How big is your navy?

That thing about the Canadian navy being the third largest in the world at the end of the Second World War?  This 2009 study by Rob Stuart argues it was not exactly so. The study is not exactly new, but it's new to me.  However:
It was quite possibly the only navy to end the war with more vessels than it had had officers when the war began. 
H/t: LGM.  (Tomorrow marks the seventieth anniversary of the surrender of Japan, ending major hostilities in World War Two.  Or today, depending on how the time differences are counted.)

Photo: Nova Scotia Archives,NSARM accession no. 2002-045/002 F12, HMS Barrie.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

History of Pelee Island (with update)

Mostly swamp once, and the battlefield was off to the left, somehow
The blogger has been travelling more and posting less lately, and anyway these are the dog days when nobody's history blog seems very active (or generating many hits, either, 'tseems)

But a small gleaning from the travel:

I learned (who knew?) that there was actually a battle on and for Pelee Island in Lake Erie once. It was not in the War of 1812 but during the 1838 skirmishes that followed the rebellions of 1837. Where your sympathies lie may depend on your view of those conflicts, but the British and Canadian forces drove their rivals off the island and back to the US of A.  It was winter. All troops on both sides got to the island on foot across the ice. Most of the battle was fought on the ice rather than on the land.  Casualties included "fell through, drowned."

Also much of Pelee Island was originally marsh and swamp.  Its modern shape and size are the result of extensive diking and draining in the late 19th century, and the pumps are still running to keep (most of) it that way.

Which suggests: there is pretty much nowhere that people won't fight over if they get the chance.  And there has always been remarkable enthusiasm for creating new land, even when there is lots of the old stuff available not far away and seemingly more conveniently situated.

As you may guess, Pelee Island Heritage Centre is a pretty terrific local history museum where we spent quite a while the other day.We were the only people there but it's a quiet island. Crowds were larger at the winery tour, but not by so much.

Update, August 16:  Chris Raible comments:

Chris, you are, alas, not alone in not realizing how many Rebellion battles were fought along the Upper Canada/United States border in 1838, that is after defeats of December 1837. Navy Island set the pattern for several incursions that followed that winter/spring- invade an Upper Canadian island in order to establish a base on British territory that could be fairly easily defended and also fairly easily supplied from the US.
In addition to Navy Island in the Niagara River there were invasions of Bois Blank and Fighting Island in the Detroit River, Hickory Island in the St. Lawrence, and, as you noted, Pelee Island. They were not fighting to create "new land" but to establish launching points for larger battles on the mainland. All failed and the next wave of invasions (summer and fall of 1838) were full land invasions - Short Hill (Niagara Peninsula), the Windmill (near Brockville), and Windsor - all intended to stir up the local population and re-ignite the fires of Rebellion.
All these border incursions - dubbed "Patriot Wars" by their participants and sympathizers - were disastrous, largely because they were not supported, but were firmly discouraged, by the American government that had no interest in another war with Great Britain. They did, however, demonstrate that, in the border states of Michigan, Ohio, New York and Vermont, there was strong American support for the Canadian cause. You undoubtedly know that many rebellion participants were sentenced to be transported to Van Diemen's Land. You may not know that of  those who actually made the full trip - that is, who did not escape or be legally released en route - none were December 1837 rebels but rather men captured in failed 1838 raids - and most of these were not Upper Canadians, but Americans. Thanks, Chris, for reminding us all that there is much more to the whole Rebellion story than the debacle at Montgomery's Tavern.
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