Sunday, April 22, 2018

Chris visits a Canadian grave: Adam Fergusson Blair

At the Lawyers Guns and Money blog, I frequently find myself reading the "Erik Visits an American Grave" feature. Erik Loomis, a prof of American history and pillar of LGM, is relentless in visiting graves of famous and obscure Americans from across the centuries and riffing on the website about their intriguing and often revelatory lives. I'm not nearly so energetic in grave-visiting as Loomis evidently is, but today I'm stealing his gimmick.

Recently in Burlington, Ontario, we happened on the grave of Adam Fergusson Blair beside the 1832 Anglican church of St. Luke's. A plaque salutes him as first President of the Privy Council of the Dominion of Canada.

Blair, a veteran Reform politician, was one of those who refused to leave the confederation coalition in 1867 when George Brown was striving to rebuild the Reform/Tory polarities and John A Macdonald was striving to create the illusion of a big-tent by coopting some Reformers into his election team.

It didn't work out well for Fergusson Blair.  He died in December, six months after Confederation, and John A. offered his seat to Joseph Howe.  The DCB has Fergusson Blair's biography here.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Supreme Court "free beer" decision: good history, good law

I was on my way to a conference yesterday when my phone told me the Supreme Court of Canada had unanimously overthrown a lower court's finding that s.121 of the British North America Act prevents the provinces from taking steps to manage and encourage economic and social development within their boundaries. Since the SCC's position is pretty much what I had proposed in an expert witness affidavit that became part of the case, I was kinda chuffed. (Full text of the decision is here.  And my affidavit is here.)

I'm happy enough that the SCC decision makes not the slightest reference to my evidence -- historians should make history, not law, and the judges start out by rejecting the notion that any particular expert's opinion should overturn settled law.

Still, of all the historical evidence presented to the various courts drawn into this controversy, mine is most compatible with the constitutional vision set out by the Supreme Court: mainly, that the overarching principle of the constitution is a federal one, in which the provinces are responsible governments whose powers and responsibilities cannot be arbitrarily wrenched away, either by a higher level of government or by a few words torn out of context from the constitutional document. 

I'm claiming the win. Bring me the finest muffins and bagels in the land.

HIstories of Books and Readers

I had an email the other day from a woman in Virginia. Her ancestors, she knew, had been living around Syracuse, New York, since at least the 1880s. But she recently learned that for the hundred years before that, they had lived in Upper Canada/Ontario, having settled there in 1787 as loyalist refugees whose farmland in the Thirteen Colonies had been confiscated by vengeful American authorities.
Thank you for writing The Loyalists which I just finished reading this week. I enjoyed reading it and learned so much.  ... I did not know until a few years ago that my 18th century ancestor was a Loyalist, nor did I understand what that meant. I greatly appreciated being able to learn so much history from your book.
I wrote back to say how I appreciated how a book I wrote decades ago could still be making friends and providing useful information in such unpredictable ways, and she wrote back:
You will laugh... I bought your book 10 years ago, started reading it, but didn't finish it. So, a couple weeks ago, I started over and read the whole thing quickly.  .... I will learn more about the complexities of what the loyalists faced during the late 18th century. It's so much more complex than what we learned in history classes. 
Authors, that book you cast upon the waters long ago?  You rarely know who might be appreciating it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Happy World Heritage Day

Yeah, I didn't know it was World Heritage Day, either, but there you are.  Go see a monument.

I googled Heritage Canada Foundation to see what it was doing today, and the first link was the National Trust for Canada, an evolution I still don't entirely understand, though Wikipedia says they are now the same thing.  But it's a pretty website.

Today also, the Ontario Museum in Toronto announces that its new Daphne Cockwell Gallery of First Nations Art and Culture will be permanently open to the public free of charge. The ROM describes this as
part of the Museum’s broader effort to foster greater appreciation of the Indigenous collections stewarded by the Museum, and to support the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. This is also one in a series of long term initiatives aimed at increasing public access to the Museum.
Free public museums -- there's a heritage initiative I could get behind.

Image: National Trust for Canada

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Labour History

Howzit, you ask, that the people who hold Tim Horton's franchises can have a union to negotiate terms and conditions with the owners, but the people who hand out double-doubles at the window can't have a union to negotiate terms and conditions with the franchisees?

What, you thought labour relations was fair? But the process may be teaching franchisees and their Great White North Franchisee Association what it is like to go up against the boss.
the Great White North Franchisee Association board said it is “appalled” that Mark Kuziora, who owns two Toronto Tim Hortons franchises, was allegedly told by Tim Hortons parent company Restaurants Brands International in early April that he would be denied a renewal for one of the restaurants at the end of August.
The board said Kuziora had been negotiating with RBI and TDL Group, a Tim Hortons subsidiary, since September and trusted the negotiations were being done “in good faith.”
What, he thought it was fair?

Terry Glavin on British Columbia history

PM Trudeau and Tsilhqot'in representatives
Writer Terry Glavin, always an interesting -- and unpredictable -- writer on British Columbia and much else, has a recent couple of notable pieces of historical journalism in Maclean's, where he is a contributor.

One is a solid backgrounder on the Chilcotin/Tsilhqot’in war of 1864, which led to the hanging of six First Nations leaders Lhats’as?in, Biyil, Tilaghed, Taqed, Chayses, and Ahan. This was the event for which the government of Canada formally apologized in the Canadian Parliament.
The shame and disgrace at the heart of the Chilcotin War’s legacy occurred shortly after 8 a.m. on Aug. 15, 1864, when the war leader Lhats’as?in and several of his comrades agreed to enter the encampment of William Cox, the leader of an expeditionary force of several dozen armed men dispatched by the just-appointed Governor Frederick Seymour, to talk truce. Instead, Lhats’as?in and his warriors were arrested and put in chains.
Seeking a little background on the Chilcotin war at the time of the apology, I was taken aback by how little standard references -- from Wikipedia to the Canadian Encyclopedia  -- had to say. If you still need some of the details behind the apology, this story by Glavin and Maclean's is a place to start.

The other Glavin story covers the remarkable discovery of a set of preserved footprints in Heiltsuk territory on Calvert Island on the west coast of British Columbia.  The 29 footprints, apparently of a man, woman, and child, have been determined to be 13,000 years old. Footprints!

These prints now become part of the growing body of evidence sustaining the theory that movements along the then ice-choked British Columbia coast were among the very earliest human presence in the Americas. Glavin tells the story well.  I was sorry, however, that he framed it as a conflict: the suggestive wisdom of indigenous traditions about early presence against the ignorance of pigheaded scientists.

In fact, the Simon Fraser University archaeologist Knut Fladmark has been arguing for decades that a coastal migration down the west coast of North America, almost certainly using small boats and relying on marine resources  (for an analogy, consider the adaptation of the Inuit to the glacier-bound coasts of Greenland and the Canadian north) was more plausible as a first entry route than the "ice-free corridor" route east of the Rockies. I interviewed Fladmark 25 years ago on the subject, and advances in underwater archaeology, geology, and glaciology continue to shore up his arguments.

So there has been convergence rather than than conflict between indigenous knowledge and scientific thinking for quite a while on this question.  Still, a couple of interesting and well-sourced pieces of historical journalism.

Image:  from Maclean's

Monday, April 09, 2018

Exhibits: General Hunter Shipwreck in VR at Welland Museum

On April 14, the Welland Museum in Ontario's Niagara region, will open the General Hunter Shipwreck Exhibit, featuring the War of 1812 brig General Hunter , which took part in many War of 1812 actions on the Great Lakes before being captured by the Americans at the Battle of Put-In Bay.

General Hunter was wrecked in 1816, still in American service, off what is now Southampton Beach on Ontario's Lake Huron coast.  The wreck was discovered on the beach in 2001 and excavated in 2004.
The exhibit, which continues until the end of December, includes: virtual reality experiences with interactive 3D replicas of the exterior and interior of the ship; videos of the ship in action at the famous Battle of Lake Erie; interpretive panels covering the discovery, excavation and identification of HMS General Hunter; and a specially-constructed replica of the hull. The gallery will also feature a look at other shipwrecks on the Great Lakes. The exhibit is on loan from the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre.
More info here.

Friday, April 06, 2018

History of ideas on the Radio; and Creative nonfiction

Bernie Lucht, longtime Ideas producer at CBC Radio, and now a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, participates next Wednesday evening in
an intimate conversation ... about his work at CBC as the producer of "Ideas", sharing his personal experiences about what goes into producing the admired and engaging radio program.
Lucht's Ideas was always hospitable to programs about Canadian (and other) histories, including several of mine (eg, this one), but also from such luminaries as David Wilson, now general editor of the DCB, Margaret Macmillan, Timothy Snyder, Anne Applebaum, and other historians. Next Wednesday night, as Lucht talks at Ryerson, Ideas launches a two-part "trial" of John A. Macdonald for crimes against humanity (based on a talk previously given at Queen's University). The participants in the trial are all lawyers, icluding Riel descendant Jean Teillet, so the potential for irritating historian-listeners is not low, but there you go.

And while we are booking your time for you, registration deadline approaches for Writing True, the 2918 Creative Nonfiction Collective conference May 4-6 in Toronto. At the conference close I'll be leading a Sunday walking tour of the Toronto neighbourhood "The Literary Annex."

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Louis Kamookak 1959-2018, historian

Visions of the North notes the recent death and remarkable life of Louis Kamookak, OC, of Gjoa Haven, Nunavuk, who by becoming a historian of his own people and their accounts of the past, became one of the most consequential historians of the Franklin expedition and its fate.
He guided numerous parties to sites vital to the history of Franklin, Rae, and other key figures, from the days of the Franklin Probe, through to Dave Woodman's searches, the first Parks Canada search with Robert Grenier, the St Roch II expedition with Ken Burton, Ken McGoogan's re-tracing of Rae's surveys, and beyond. He was there for the recent rediscovery of both of Franklin's ships, and was personally brought to the site of HMS "Erebus" by Parks Canada to perform a traditional ceremony of remembrance. His work preserving Inuit oral traditions extended far beyond the Franklin story; he was the central contact for the Inuit Heritage Trust's work on traditional Inuit place names in the region around King William Island (Qikiqtaq), and helped to collect numerous oral histories of all kinds from the Gjoa Haven elders. He was just as much at home with younger Inuit, guiding them on expeditions on the land that retraced traditional routes and knowledge.
Photo from Visions of the North: Kamookak at Crozier's Landing, 1998.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Prize Watch: Canada Prize in, Dafoe pending

The Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences has announced the finalists for its Canada Prize, given annually to scholarly works about Canada that were aided by the Aid to Scholarly Publishing Program. A good representation of historians this year, and four out of five from McGill-Queen's Press.
Christopher Dummitt, Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King's Secret Life (McGill-Queen’s University Press)
E.A. Heaman, Tax, Order, and Good Government: A New Political History of Canada, 1867-1917 (McGill-Queen’s University Press)
Adam Montgomery, The Invisible Injured: Psychological Trauma in the Canadian Military from the First World War to Afghanistan (McGill-Queen’s University Press)
Cheryl Suzack, Indigenous Women's Writing and the Cultural Study of Law (University of Toronto Press)
Donald G. Wetherell, Wildlife, Land, and People: A Century of Change in Prairie Canada (McGill-Queen’s University Press)

I hear rumours about the shortlist for the J.W. Dafoe Prize for Biography -- but nothing up on its website for 2018 yet.

Who Cares Who Wins Canada Reads?

Sharon Bala's novel The Boat People (defended by singer and TV host Mozhdah Jamalzadah) was the first book eliminated from this year's Canada Reads competition on CBC Radio. Bala quickly pointed out how steep the odds were against her and her book. Canada Reads has had something close to gender parity in its authors and advocates: this year 2 books out of 5 by women, and 3 women advocates out of 5. Yet Bala found that no book by a woman and defended by a woman has ever won Canada Reads.

But ... what else would you expect from Canada Reads?  Frankly, I would as soon watch "The Bachelor" or "The Apprentice."  They are all platforms for shouty, bullying, aggressive, vulgar performances -- no wonder men are likely to win!

But Canada Reads is supposed to be about books and reading. I guess I still dream of the CBC encourage listeners to treat Canadian books and writing with taste and judgment, instead of pumping out the demeaning drivel to which Canada Reads subjects the books and the audience every year.

Anyway, someone is supposed to win the competition today, I think.

Update:  Okay, I hear the winner was Mark Sakamoto's Forgiveness, which I understand to be an excellent book on legacies of the Japanese-Canadian internment in the Second World War -- and nonfiction too, usually a poor relation at Canada Reads.  It, and the other fine books that Canada Reads manhandled this year, should not be tarnished by my comments on the program.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Prize Watch: Christopher Dummitt and Ted Rowe at the Cohen

Christopher Dummitt's Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King's Secret Life is among the nominees for the 2018 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.  The other nominees, including three strong women contenders, are:
Carol Off, All We Leave Behind: A Reporter’s Journey into the Lives of Others
Sandra Perron, Out Standing in the Field: A Memoir by Canada’s First Female Infantry Officer
Ted Rowe, Robert Bond: The Greatest Newfoundlander
Tanya Talaga, Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City
It's not entirely clear just what the Cohen means by "political writing," beyond the idea that anything may be political and it's up to juries to find the boundaries.  So this year's nominees are as eclectic as ever -- and not such a bad thing, since it seems like a quality list.

I'm sorry I hadn't previously know about the Robert Bond biography, the other historical work (if we can set booundaries for that!) on the list.  Another justification for book prize lists.

Before read Dummitt's book, I rather thought I knew as much as I needed about the secret lives of Mackenzie King. I found Unbuttoned full of all kinds of new material, and particularly in its exploration of figures other than King, such as Eugene Forsey and Bruce Hutchison, who have passed out of their current-events fame and not much become historical figures yet.  Decision is May 9: $25,000 at stake.


Book notes: McAfee on housekeeping notes from way back

Canadian food history continues to thrive. Melissa McAfee, archivist at the University of Guelph, and local publisher Rocks Mills Press have combined to publish The Canadian Receipt Book containing over 500 Valuable Receipts for the Farmer and the Housewife, based on a book first published in 1867 and held in the university archives. It promises advice from deworming the bronchial passages of a cow to the proper use of "cocoaine" to making a nice lemon pudding.

Podcasts from the Champlain Society

The Champlain Society, a member-supported organization that for more than a century has been publishing scrupulously edited Canadian historical documents in handsome editions, has also been expanding into new ventures, not least of which is "Witness to Yesterday," a podcast series that has been running for some months on the society website, and on iTunes and other podcast sources.

It's hosted by Patrice Dutil, Greg Marchildon, and Kenna Turcotte, and while the focus of each episode is a particular historical document, they tend to talk about just about any CanHist topic that takes their fancy: the Canadian Irish, the diary of Lucy Morrison, the birth of the NHL, the religious use of peyote in Canada.  And more.

If you need something new in your earbuds....

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Photo History of Toronto from big data

Sidewalk Labs is a division of the Google empire which has recently entered into a development agreement with Toronto. Sidewalk gets to create a "digital city" in part of Toronto's port lands, and Toronto gets... well, the future, I guess.

There has been some pushback.  In what is possibly an unrelated step, Sidewalk has just released a fun digitized map of Toronto. Nearly 40,000 historical photos from the City of Toronto archives of buildings and landmarks, from the 1880s to the recent present, can now be explored by roaming over the map Sidewalk provides. Sidewalk stresses the images belong to the Archives and were digitized and coded by the Archives; Sidewalk just geocoded them to their locations. 

This is either pretty cool or a bit disquieting, or some of both. Sidewalk says:
What does this tool have to do with Sidewalk Toronto?
The Old Toronto tool is not directly connected with the ongoing project plans for Sidewalk Toronto, but it does rely on some of the same technologies that can support a future neighbourhood.
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