Saturday, August 19, 2017

From Hill 70 to Dieppe in 25 nightmare years



Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid of 1942. It also hits the one hundredth anniversary of the multi-day battle for Hill 70 in August 1917. What a nightmare the early 20th century was!

Dieppe is, with reason, the better remembered by Canadians of the two conflicts. The First World War being what it was, Hill 70 was "only" one episode in the grim progress from Vimy Ridge in April through Passchendaele in November and December. However, at least twice as many Canadians died at Hill 70 as at Dieppe, and there were more total Canadian casualties there (almost 9000) than comprised the whole Canadian force engaged at Dieppe (about 5000).

There are many studies of Dieppe. One of the first substantial studies of Hill 70, from which I draw the death and casualty estimates, was published by UBC Press earlier this year.


Friday, August 18, 2017

History of cemeteries in a secular age



Congregations dwindle, and churches close all over.  In the cities they sometimes turn into condos. In rural areas they may re-emerge as private homes or retail outlets or community halls.

But the cemeteries beside them endure. Who takes care of them when the congregations are gone?

In Cornwall, Ontario, recently, the problem was handed over to a backhoe and a dumptruck, and tombstones dating back to the 1830s ended up as rubble.

Turns out there actually is an agency for these matters, the Bereavement Authority of Ontario, and it is not pleased with the Presbyterian church that ordered the demolition.
That’s the law. When you’re buried, you’re buried in perpetuity…forever. The cemetery has to be responsible for the care and maintenance of a grave site.
As it happens, a large crowd of my ancestral in-laws are buried in a rural Catholic cemetery in western,Ontario. The church, like many others in that diocese, is long closed, but upkeep for the many little graveyards like it is apparently a serious ongoing burden for the diocese. Perpetuity does not come cheap.

Meanwhile, Cornwall historian and friend of this blog Stuart Manson has to take it personally:
He says his fourth great-grandfather, James Gillie, was and is probably still buried there.
“Our family has no knowledge about his body being disinterred and moved like some apparently were. So, from our perspective, he still lies still there in that cemetery although he’s probably rolling in his grave right now,” Manson said.
Photo creditThe Cornwall Newswatch -- which seems to do a pretty good job covering local news, in an era when local news outlets are about as endangered as local cemeteries.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

History of trade dispute arbitration


The NAFTA negotiations and the return of the dispute-settlement mechanism to the headlines reminds me of a piece I wrote more than a decade ago.  It is a light historical piece about lawyers' fees, mostly, but the beginning, at least, seems timely:
The American inclination to sign trade agreements and then resist being bound by them is longstanding. In 1871 Canada and the United States agreed to give each country open access to the other’s fishing grounds. Since such access benefited Americans more than Canadians, an additional payment was due to Canada. The Americans took the fish but stalled on the payments. Finally an arbitration was held in Halifax in 1877.
Four Canadian lawyers spent seven months making the case to the arbitrator, a Belgian diplomat. His award, $5.5 million, delighted the Canadian government. (It was at least $5 million more than the Americans intended to pay.) Persuaded of the wisdom of using Canadian advocates rather than the complacent British diplomats who had previously represented Canada, the government offered the four lawyers $7000 each for their services.
One of the four lawyers, Joseph Doutre of Montreal, thought he was worth more.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

History of the Acadian National Day


The tintamarre will be rocking out in Bouctouche today; it's the fĂȘte nationale de l'Acadie.

The DCB responds with aplomb, featuring Phyllis LeBlanc's biography of Marcel-François Richard, the nineteenth century priest and Acadian patriot who chose the day (over Quebec's 24 June) and invented many of the symbols of Acadia.

Image: from Canadian Encyclopedia

Monday, August 14, 2017

Why we need history, and historians


1  I'm not sure I know enough about the history of Canadian-American trade to be able to comment usefully, but I was impressed with the historical depth of Robert Bothwell's discussion of trade history from Governor General Lord Elgin's strategy for dealing with the Americans in the 1850s, to the Auto Pact, Nixon, and Simon Reisman.  Kudos to Alex Ballingall of the Star for grasping that historical perspective was relevant here.
“Canada has always been linked into global commodity chains, and trade has been going on forever,” McKenzie said.
This continued once the United States came into existence, and after the remaining British colonies on the continent gained a measure of self-determination — in 1848, with the reforms to create responsible government. Political and business leaders began their long history of trade talks with our American neighbours, with Elgin’s 1854 deal removing tariffs in some natural products, like lumber, though it was far from a free-trade deal. It was one of only three trade agreements that the U.S. signed between 1789 and 1934.
As in subsequent negotiations — such as the free-trade brouhaha during the 1988 election — the prospect of trade with the U.S. brought up concerns about Canadian independence and fears that closer economic ties would pull us down a slide to political integration. As Bothwell explained, however, Elgin’s argument at the time was that trade with the Americans would bolster the Canadian economy and “keep us prosperous and therefore content and therefore British,” (i.e. not American).
2  I'm not sure I know enough treaty constitutional law to understand the Supreme Court of Canada's recent decisions that a certain amount of "consultation" authorizes Canada to do as it pleases in resource development whatever the wishes of the First Nations involved.  That sounds like neither Justin Trudeau's "nation to nation" promises, nor to the "sharing agreement" understanding of treaty relations increasingly argued by historical scholars (and First Nations negotiators). But this piece by Myeengun Henry of the Chippewas of the Thames certainly underlined my concerns and doubts
It is clear the courts are not prepared to protect our constitutionally entrenched rights. And now we must question what the government is prepared to do? Offering our nation an opportunity to participate in fundamentally inadequate consultations does not preserve the “honour of the Crown” and completely ignores our historical treaty relationship.

The decision of the Supreme Court has an immediate and chilling effect on our nation.
It's long been my theory that politicians, whatever their enthusiasm for Reconciliation as talking point, are unlikely to move very far on treaty issues concerning control of land and resources, given that the population is unlikely to support what is likely to be widely construed as a surrender or giveaway to uppity aboriginals. But I thought that the courts were slowly steadily pushing governments at all levels gradually to accept doing what they would rather not do, and sell it by insisting "The Courts made us do it."  I guess that is going to take a while yet.

3  I didn't know enough about residential school policy history to be very forthright when Prime Minister Trudeau removed the Langevin name from the Langevin Block.  But Dean Beeby's CBC story makes it pretty clear that the PM's own bureaucrats made it clear that the whole thing was pretty bogus as history before the PM went ahead.  Kudos to the anonymous historian (though historians should not be anonymous) in Indigenous Affairs who provided the documentation.

4  And I don't know much about NAFTA history, but I've read enough to be pretty dubious of the profiles of the Global Affairs minister in the Star and the Globe recently that suggested her issues would include environmental issues, labour issues, and rising inequality.

There's a line in Freeland's book Plutocrats that stopped me dead: "Russia is the country that gave plutocracy a bad name." Plutocracy -- the rule of money -- does not need Russia to tarnish its reputation; it's just a bad thing anywhere. Plutocrats, which takes plutocracy for granted and mostly just explores its ecology as if social, economic and political inequality were just natural conditions of the modern world, does not suggest that Global Affairs is going to be much interested in labour issues or inequality issue.

1+2+3+4?  Historical context can be perspective is a good thing, even in the world of twitter and the fast-forward news cycle.

Update, August 15:  Dale Smith finds both Paul Wells and Andrew Coyne speculating that the progressive aspects of Canada's negotiation position are either impossibilities that the government will quickly sacrifice, or triggers it can use if it decides the negotiations are better off failing.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

More History of bookselling


I was planning to post a notice of today's Charlottetown launch for Anne McDonald's Miss Confederation (preface by moi):
when Anne sent me this photo of her own disproof of Gibson's Law -- Miss Confederation being central in the shot, but in which no less than two books of mine feature, thereby also disproving Gibson's Corollary about author's books and author's friends.


So surrender:  Islanders, head to the launch. The rest of you, just go out and buy all the books shown here.

Or:  send me your own disproof of Gibson's Law: author and book and bookstore in one shot.  Identify location: photo may be published here.  There may be prizes.

Also a nice review of Miss Confederation here, though Paul Bennett mistakenly credits me with being the first historain to write about Mercy Coles. (Some guy called Creighton was way ahead of me!)

Friday, August 11, 2017

History of bookselling



The publisher and editor Doug Gibson long ago discovered authors periodically complained accusingly that they could never find their books in the bookstores they frequented. Eventually he distilled these complaints into Gibson's Laws for novice authors, the first law being "An author and his/her book can never be found in a bookstore at the same time. Blame your publisher," and the corollary, "An author's relatives and his/her book can rarely be found in a bookstore at the same time," etc.

I have found Gibson's Laws comforting from time to time, and have passed them on to other writers more than once.

I glad to say that the photo above will document that when I walked past my local bookstore recently, I actually found Gibson's Law being disproved, and in the front window, no less, not spine-out on some remote shelf.

This somewhat consoles me for news that the hardcover of Three Weeks in Quebec City is being remained this month (other editions will survive).  I have a handful of copies myself, if you are interested, and soon that will be it.

Image:  The blogger (faintly visible reflected in the store window).  Store credit: BookCity Bloor West Village branch.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Toronto Dreams Project on Simcoe and Slavery



In Toronto, the August long weekend holiday Monday is called Simcoe Day in honour of John Graves Simcoe, first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada. The Toronto Dreams Project, a lively website by Adam Bunch, contributed a look at Simcoe's complicated relationship with slavery,
He saw no place for the practice in his new province. "The principles of the British Constitution do not admit of that slavery which Christianity condemns," he wrote before he officially took his post. "The moment I assume the Government of Upper Canada, under no modification will I assent to a law that discriminates by dishonest policy between natives of Africa, America or Europe."
But the legislative council Simcoe himself had appointed was dominated by slave-holders
He was forced into a compromise — the exact thing he had promised never to do. The new law didn't abolish slavery immediately; instead, it would be gradually phased out. No new slaves could be brought into Upper Canada, but any who were already here would spend the rest of their lives in slavery. Their children would be born into captivity, too; they wouldn't be free until they turned twenty-five. Finally, anyone who wanted to free a slave was discouraged from doing so: they would be forced to provide financial security to ensure the newly freed slave wouldn't be a drain on the resources of the state.
When he returned to Britain, he was assigned to lead troops in assisting the French royalist regime in Haiti to suppress the slaves' growing independence war there -- a task he eventually dropped out of.

Image: from Toronto Dreams Project.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Prize Watch: Ontario Historical Society awards


This was back in June, but just came to me:  the history book and article awards of the OHS  (details here, covering also many historic site and history society awards):
Fred Landon Award: Richard White, for Planning Toronto: The Planners, The Plans, Their Legacies, 1940-80 (University of British Columbia Press, 2016)
Alison Prentice Award: Deborah Gorham, for Marion Dewar: A Life of Action (Second Story Press, 2016)

J. J. Talman Award: Sarah Bassnett, for Picturing Toronto: Photography and the Making of a Modern City (McGill-Queens University Press, 2016)

Riddell Award: Jeffrey McNairn, for “The common sympathies of our nature’: Moral Sentiments, Emotional Economies, and Imprisonment for Debt in Upper Canada,” published in Histoire sociale/Social History (2016)

Donald Grant Creighton Award: Steve Paikin, for Bill Davis: Nation Builder, and Not So Bland After All (Dundurn Press, 2016)

Huguenot Society of Canada Award: Mohamed Fahmy and Carol Shaben, for The Marriott Cell: An Epic Journey from Cairo's Scorpion Prison to Freedom (Penguin Random House, 2016)

Joseph Brant Award: Keith Jamieson and Michelle Hamilton, for Dr. Oronhyatekha: Security, Justice, and Equality (Dundurn Press, 2016)
I did not know there was a Huguenot Society Award -- or a Huguenot Society -- but it's for books about human rights and freedom of conscience, and The Marriott Cell is a terrific book, so: good.


Monday, August 07, 2017

6 on the Humber: creative public history


Ars Musica's Michael Tobey, tenor (centre left, with cap) singing "Joshua" forWalk the 6 West participants
Saturday we went down to the Humber River in west Toronto to follow "Walk the 6 West: History on the Humber," a terrifically creative piece of public history produced by a consortium of local history societies: the Etobicoke Historical Society, the York Pioneer, Heritage York, West Toronto Junction HS, Swansea HS, etc.  In recent years these groups have grasped that working together they can leverage grant funding and deliver substantial audiences for all kinds of public events.

Saturday's was an ambitious walk on a beautiful afternoon: severla hundred people walking 3 kilometres along the Humber riverside trails (and often 3 kilometres back). The walkers encountered:

  • William Pearce Howland giving a bit of his political campaign speech, delivered locally in 1864
  • Artist Tom Thomson, dead 100 years this month, describing his early days in Toronto, when he took the train out from Toronto to sketch along the Humber shore. 
  • Anna Leung, a Chinese-Canadian who broke the colour bar in Toronto theatres and Mrs Brown, local African-Canadian shopkeeper, among a variety of characters from the local past.  
  • Ars Musica, the Toronto opera group, presenting a vignette from its opera-in-development about an African-American who took the underground railroad to Canada West and farmed locally. 
  • Cheri Maracle from the Six Nations of Oshweken with a bit of her one-woman show about Pauline Johnston,,
  • A moment from Mixed Company Theatre and playwright Rex Deverell's work-in-progress about local girl turned western and northern photographer Geraldine Moodie.

These might all have been little talks from a standard walking tour, I suppose, but the historical society organizers had partnered with theatre companies and musical groups to turn each into a brief musical or theatrical presentation.

It was a unique and dynamic event. The historical societies had used their membership mailing lists and a few public notices to generate an audience of some 500 people, carefully organized into four escorted groups at various times, half from the south end of the route, some from the north. Performers were paid, but their groups also got exposure -- and evidence for their own grant-getting efforts of public outreach and public support.

The whole event was a pleasure for the body and mind, and reminded me again of the vigour and creativity that comes from local historical societies all over the country, in all kinds of clever and imaginative ways -- and the appreciative audiences that come forth when they get the opportunity.
 
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