Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lester Pearson and Shakespeare -- twins 333 years apart

A notwithstanding clause, methinks...
Biography of the day at the DBC Online is Lester Pearson, who turns out to share a birthday with William Shakespeare, who is 450 today. Pearson is only 117.

In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik notes the bard's birthday by, among other things, considering the claims to authenticity of the "Sanders" portrait of Shakespeare, which he calls the "Canadian" image of Shakespeare  -- not just Canadian-owned and Canadian-verified, but showing a "civil and agreeable" Shakespeare.

But I see it is subscribers only, and cannot link.

Update, April 24:  Roderick Benns of Leaders and Legacies points out that Stephen Harper and Willie Nelson share a birthday, April 30. You have a week to suss out the historical significance of that one.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

History of big Canadian banks

The New York Times Book Review, reviewing Fragile by Design, a book on banking systems in various countries, notes the authors' observation that since 1840 the United States has had twelve systemic bank crises and Canada has had none, despite their many similarities. Drawing the conclusion that banking is always political, the reviewer goes on:
in Canada, primarily because colonial Britain wanted to limit the autonomy of French Canada, banking policy was centralized in the national government. As a result, Canada ended up with the complete antithesis of the American system: a small number of very large banks with an extensive and diversified network of nationwide branches, which proved to be relatively resilient during hard times.
Say what?  I would have said the confederation-makers (Canadians rather than Brits, actually) were committed to substantial autonomy for French Canada, and worked out a federal system in which most of the "cultural" powers (language, education, social services, local government, most local matters) would be provincial, while the power required to build a national economic space, including control of banking, would be federal.  Right about the centralized banking system, all wrong about the motives.

Seems like a case for Andrew Smith, I thought, -- and then found his blog has already reviewed the book in question, also pretty sceptically, though for different reasons.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Prince George is a city in British Columbia

Republic Now announces a Head of State Policy Discussion in Toronto April 30
Could we continue to have this new “all Canadian” governor general (or president, if you like) essentially selected, as he or she is now,  by the prime minister of Canada? Or is a direct or indirect election, as has been established in the “Westminster-model” parliamentary democracies of Ireland, India, and Trinidad and Tobago, necessary to give our office of head of state democratic legitimacy?
Deets here.

In other news, you can explore with Philip Lagassé and James Bowden how the Queen is something called a corporation sole.

Place to stand

Via Amazing Maps on Twitter.  The green space shows all the space in Canada not currently inhabited by humans. (I was about to protest, "Surely someone lives on Baffin Island," but looking closely I think there are some white bits for Iqauluit and Kingnait and such.)

H/T The Dish, which also shows a fair amount of green in the United States.

Update, April 21: Russ Chamberlayne writes:

The map of Canada below [above - ed.] relates to the "Where the Wild Things Are" map by spotlighting the inter-penetration of wilderness and settlement -- the areas where "wild things" and agriculture are likely to cohabitate.
 The map shows "wildlife habitat capacity on the agricultural landscape" (though woodlands and wetlands are included as landscapes). The capacity scale next to the map reflects the percentage of several hundred vertebrate wildlife species assessed that can "use and value" various land-cover types.
A more subtle image of (potential) wildlife habitat emerges than is revealed in the simple green-white dichotomy of the "Where the Wild Things Are" map.
 The existence of better habitat in human-inhabited regions of central and eastern Canada results, according to the text accompanying the map, from the cultivation of less intensive crops, "natural" land cover, and pasture. The areas of very high habitat capacity in the Maritimes and Quebec contrast sharply with the extensively and intensively cropped regions of southwestern Ontario and the Prairies. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A scholar at Library and Archives Canada

... Montrealer Guy Berthiaume, historian of classical antiquity, longtime research administrator and CEO of Montreal's Grande Bibliotheque and an network of Quebec archives, has been appointed Librarian and Archivist of Canada. After all the turmoil of recent years, the Canadian Historical Association thinks this is a good thing 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How many people read your magazine copies?

Canada's History magazine has the highest readers-per-copy of any magazine published in Canada, at 23.7 readers per copy, according to PMB.  Not far short of a million adult (well, over 12) readers per issue, if these figures are credible.

Come to think of it, I did meet someone recently, in a non-historical, non-blog related context, who said out of the blue, I see your column in Canada's History.  So it must be true.

H/T Canadian Magazines Blog

History of Religion: Jim Flaherty's Faith

When Jim Flaherty died last week, much was made of his "Irishness."  Clearly a personality was implied more than a citizenship (Flaherty was born in Ontario; his parents came from New Brunswick). The implication was: gregarious, male-bonded, pub-friendly, a little rough around the edges, and socially-conservative -- probably a kid who went to a Catholic boys high school where one of the brothers coached the hockey team.

Indeed, Wikipedia sez Flaherty went to Bishop Whelan and Loyola High Schools and went to university in the US on a hockey scholarship.  That fits!

Except his state funeral today is at St James, the Anglican cathedral in Toronto. Just the most convenient location? Was he never a Catholic after all, or did he convert somewhere along the path? It's certainly an old Upper Canadian tradition: converting to the elite church as you seek to move up in the world.

The nice thing about this is that nobody really gives a damn. He could have been some generic 20th century agnostic for all anyone cares. I have not seen a peep in the media about the significance of the place where his funeral is being held.  You can still call Jim Flaherty Irish, but those old tribal religious identities just don't seem to matter any more.  Hurrah.

Rest in peace, Jim Flaherty.

Update, April 16:  Bob Rowlands of St John's comments:
You ascribe a sordid motivation to Jim Flaherty’s move from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism when you write, “It’s certainly an old Upper Canadian Tradition: converting to the elite church as you seek to move up in the world.” What a snide, cynical remark! That you would write such a thing in a public forum perhaps says more about you than it does about Jim Flaherty.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Prize Watch: Pulitzer in History to Alan Taylor

Alan Taylor, the American historian whose The Civil War of 1812 was the one really terrific book I saw that came out of the 1812 bicentennial (okay I missed a lot of them), has won the Pulitzer Prize in History.
Awarded to "The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832," by Alan Taylor (W.W. Norton), a meticulous and insightful account of why runaway slaves in the colonial era were drawn to the British side as potential liberators.
The problem of why enslaved persons preferred potential liberators over continued slavery seems like one of those questions Americans take seriously and everyone else says, well, duh. (Was Jefferson hypocritical about liberty? being another notable one.)  But Alan Taylor is a terrific historian, and I'm sure the Pulitzer jury discerned merit here. Indeed, the publishers' summary of what the book is about suggests a narrative a lot more substantial than the prize citation proposes:

Frederick Douglass recalled that slaves living along Chesapeake Bay longingly viewed sailing ships as "freedom’s swift-winged angels." In 1813 those angels appeared in the bay as British warships coming to punish the Americans for declaring war on the empire. Over many nights, hundreds of slaves paddled out to the warships seeking protection for their families from the ravages of slavery. The runaways pressured the British admirals into becoming liberators. As guides, pilots, sailors, and marines, the former slaves used their intimate knowledge of the countryside to transform the war. They enabled the British to escalate their onshore attacks and to capture and burn Washington, D.C. Tidewater masters had long dreaded their slaves as "an internal enemy." By mobilizing that enemy, the war ignited the deepest fears of Chesapeake slaveholders. It also alienated Virginians from a national government that had neglected their defense. Instead they turned south, their interests aligning more and more with their section. In 1820 Thomas Jefferson observed of sectionalism: "Like a firebell in the night [it] awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once the knell of the union." The notes of alarm in Jefferson's comment speak of the fear aroused by the recent crisis over slavery in his home state. His vision of a cataclysm to come proved prescient.
Last night Taylor, as it happened, was also one of the talking heads on the rebroadcast War of 1812 documentary A Desert between Us and Them.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Macdonald prize shortlist

The Canadian Historical Association has announced the impressively diverse shortlist for the 2014 John A. Macdonald prize for the best scholarly book on Canadian history:
  • James Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life. Regina: University of Regina Press, 2013.
  • Erika Dyck, Facing Eugenics: Reproduction, Sterilization, and the Politics of Choice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013.
  • Kathryn Magee Labelle, Dispersed But Not Destroyed: A History of the Seventeenth-Century Wendat People. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2013.
  • Stéphane Savard, Hydro-Québec et L'État québécois, 1944-2005. Québec: Septentrion, 2013.
  • Todd Webb, Transatlantic Methodists: British Wesleyanism and the Formation of an Evangelical Culture in Nineteenth-Century Ontario and Quebec. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2013.
Winners at the CHA AGM at the end of May.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Givin' it Away: British Review of Canadian Studies

H-Canada reports that Liverpool University Press is giving away access to all contents of all its journals, including the British Review of Canadian Studies, with its range of articles and remarkably comprehensive and concise reviews of most everything published in the field. Just in April, however.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bell of Batoche on DocZone

That thing about the bell plundered from Batoche in 1885 and stored in a legion hall in Millbrook, Ontario, until it was, ah, returned to the Metis nation and restored to Batoche.  Seems maybe it's actually the bell of Frog Lake?  CBC DocZone has a doc on the subject tonight.  Preview here

And whatever the status of the bell, it may be an interesting primer on the issues of 1885.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Greer on The Orenda

Allan Greer has read and thought about Joseph Boyden's Jesuits-and-Hurons novel The Orenda. He shares his thoughts here.

You can test nonfiction against evidence, but the test of a novel is different: if it makes a world that feels true, it works.  Since Boyden's fictional project is to reconstruct several 17th century consciousnesses, I'm glad to see Allan Greer mostly engages on that level. Do Bird and Snow Falls and Christopher think like them, he asks, or mostly like us?  See here.

(Image: Penguin Books Canada)