Thursday, September 19, 2019

HIstory of Graeme Gibson

Graeme Gibson, a beautiful, inspirational man, died in London recently. There is a nice appreciation of him in The Guardian, as well as many Canadian sources.

In June 2013 I interviewed Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood (both of whom I knew -- professionally, you might say, and mostly through the Writers' Union of Canada) as part of an oral history project on the founding of the Union. The following is an excerpt from that interview, previously published in a 2015 Writers' Union publication, Founding the Writers' Union: An Oral History.[1]

What we really were concerned about in the one fundamental area was -- how best to say? -- managing the professionalism. Managing how writers were being treated by publishers, by government, and establishing a sense of authority for the profession.
 Gibson: On some level the Union started with the sale of Ryerson Press.[2] It was perhaps inevitable once that had happened, because Ryerson Press was another one of the traditional publishers that was sold to another country. At that time I had been told by an American-owned publisher that they could not publish Five Legs because New York would not let them and that branch plants do not do research.   That was one part of it.
Jim Lorimer, who was with the Canadian Publishers’ Association — as compared to the branch plants bunch -- got onto this very quickly. He started this rebellion, and a bunch of us decided we had to have a protest. [Jim made a poster that] depicts the Egerton Ryerson statue outside of Ryerson University, at that time called Ryerson Polytechnical Institute. I was teaching there at that point, and Jim and I and others decided it would be a good idea if we had a mournful celebration of what had happened to Ryerson Press around that statue. So I got permission from the principal or the director of Ryerson — he didn’t know what he was getting into. And what we did there is we had a big American flag and a ladder, and we called the press in, and to our astonishment they all turned up – cameras, all kinds of things. I climbed up the ladder and draped the American flag around the statue of Egerton Ryerson, and we all sang ‘I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.’ The press covered it extensively.  And we all rushed home and watched ourselves on television.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Update: service at Library and Archives Canada

Regarding the recent post about service at Library and Archives Canada, I had a response on Friday from Media Relations at the LAC, suggesting that I forward their email to my informant with an invitation to get in touch with them to arrange a prompt solution. They are now in touch.

"Your blog has power," my friend writes.  Well....

Friday, September 13, 2019

History of GG's

Browsing through Veronica Strong-Boag's recently released DCB biography of (deep breath) John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon (Gordon), 7th Earl of Aberdeen and 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair, one-time governor general of Canada, I realized, well, not that I knew him (those British GGs mostly blur together in my mind) but that at least I knew something about his uncle Arthur Gordon, one-time lieutenant governor of New Brunswick, who figures in confederation history, most often as comic relief. 

It's another lesson in how inbred and interconnected were those British dukes, generals, and civil servants who served as Canadian governors general until 1952. Writing Three Weeks in Quebec City, I alluded to a connection of Governor General Lord Monck named Ponsonby as belonging to an Anglo-Irish political family, without realizing another in the Ponsonby line was the Earl of Bessborough, great Irish landlord and Canadian GG in the 1930s.

Strong-Boag's detailed and rather vivid account of Aberdeen makes clear that he did actually stand out somewhat among his fellows, not least by his liberalism. He tilted toward Laurier and the Liberals as much as predecessors like Dufferin had leaned to Macdonald and the Conservatives. Aberdeen was like Dufferin in still presuming upon a governor-general's independent authority in Canadian politics. Strong-Boag notes how Aberdeen made Mackenzie Bowell prime minister when no one else would have dreamed of doing so, partly because the GG and his wife, the proto-feminist Ishbel Marjoribanks, disapproved of the "carnal masculinity" of the leading candidate, Charles Tupper.

(Strong-Boag may here be quietly taking issue with the DCB biography of Tupper, which robustly declares that Tupper's relations with women other than his wife were never "anything more than mildly flirtatious.")

The biography also reinforces David Cannadine's argument in The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy that in the post-confederation era, many of the GGs took the job because they needed the money. The vice-regal salary was substantial, and the Aberdeen fortune was in serious decline. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Service at Library and Archives Canada

A historian and friend sends me a Dear Abby letter: What about the slowness of service at Library and Archives Canada?
I’ve been dealing with the archives in Ottawa since the 1980s and have never encountered this problem before. Perhaps it is due to cuts in staff or something else. But it takes weeks and weeks and weeks to obtain a reply from them. As an example, I submitted a request in early May [ ...]. After I had not heard anything from them by early July, I wrote again but did not receive a reply. At the end of August, I left a frustrated voice mail message and at long last someone responded with an apology that they have been “very busy”. They told me that I had to obtain permission [ ...] , which I did immediately. After that, they said they would get back to me. That was two weeks ago. So from the time I first inquired to now, it has been four months!
For the book project I’m currently working on, I have also been obtaining documents and photographs from several US archives in New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and elsewhere. Every one of them has responded within in four days at most. Why is the LAC so terribly slow? Are they really inundated with requests? You should investigate further.   [Square brackets above indicate my removal of identifying detail. The item requested is not highly sensitive or confidential, shall we say.]   
I would be proud to unleash the blog's crack investigative team on this.  But since it does not exist, I'll put it to recent LAC users who may see this post. If you let me know of your recent experiences with service at the LAC (via the email address in "Comments" on the right hand side of this page), we can at least share. I have invited comment from LAC as well.

Meanwhile, I note that the LAC's Code of Conduct: Values and Ethics page states, under the title "Excellence":
Excellence in the design and delivery of public sector policy, programs and services is beneficial to every aspect of Canadian public life. Engagement, collaboration, effective teamwork and professional development are all essential to an organization's excellence.
  • we provide fair, timely, efficient and effective services that respect Canada's official languages; and
  • we continually strive to improve the quality of our policies, programs and services in accordance with our mandate.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Moore speaks: on Statues and Citizenships

In July I participated in a discussion of controversial statues and what to do with them, held at McMaster University in Hamilton and moderated by Toronto journalist Steve Paikin, under the sponsorship of the Wilson Institute and the Socrates Institute there.

If I had been keeping up with the Wilson Institute blog like I oughta, I would have known that they have put the film of the whole event up right here.  You can watch James Dashuk, Vanessa Watts and me go into it with Steve and a lively audience of several hundred.  Props to historical philanthropist Lynton "Red" Wilson, McMaster's ex-chancellor and major donor, for making it possible.

Meanwhile, I'm discussing this topic again soon.

On September 17, at McArthur Hall at Queen's University west campus [UPDATE: now moved to] the Grand Theatre on Princess Street in Kingston, I will be participating in another discussion on this issue, a public meeting organized by the Heritage office of the City of Kingston.

It is laudable that the city is engaging its citizens in discussion of this matter. Kingston has Macdonald memorabilia like no other place in Canada. It has the John A. Parkway (and the Macdonald Cartier freeway close by), the Macdonald gravesite, Macdonald walking tours, and many Macdonald homes, sites, statues, and associations. Decisions by the City of Kingston about its honours to John A. would obviously have an impact on the state of this debate nationwide. For details and ticket info for this event, featuring Bob Watts, Charlotte Gray and Lee Maracle as well as me, look here.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Desmond Morton (1938-2019) RIP

I have never meant this to be an obituary blog, but in recent years I seem to have been documenting a growing list of my elders and mentors.  Olive Dickason, Michael Bliss, Craig Brown, Ramsay Cook, John Thompson.... Now Desmond Morton, who has been ill for a while, has died in Montreal at 81,

He came from a military family, descended from ur-Canadian general William Otter and son of another general, and he followed that tradition at Royal Military College.  He used to tell new professors of a military course called Instructional Techniques where the teacher said, "When you write on the blackboard, how do you write on the blackboard?" and all the cadets had to roar out in unison: "F-ing big, sir!" Useful information, he thought.  Soon however, he took a U-turn and became a history professor, activist, and NDP campaigner -- though he never lost his interest in military history.

Des was an early advocate for my first book, Louisbourg Portraits, and not long after it appeared he, as a Dean at U of T Mississauga, tried to get me hired for the history department there. I was not sure I wanted the job, but naively thought Dean Morton could make it happen. Why he was equally naive, I don't really understand -- there were already scads of underemployed Ph.Ds knocking around and big walls against idiosyncratic outside-the-box hirings. Maybe in recompense for that fiasco, he recommended me to Grolier Canada, then an educational publisher, and I did quite a bit of work for them,

Des once said he thought he published too much -- as an old journalist, he couldn't resist the call when someone asked him to write something, and he had a nicely jaundiced attitude to book promos, marketing, and prizes. But his military- and journalism-based habits sustained a formidable work ethic, and he published over forty books, and a slew of commentary.  And not filler either: a lot of major military and social histories in there, a much republished history of Canada, and a chapter in the Illustrated History of Canada too.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Book Notes: upcoming from UTP

You know nothing, John Historian

A quick look at the "new books in Canadian history" page at the University of Toronto Press website suggests a lot of pretty specialized works, and a few of wider interest.  A trio caught my interest (but see here for the full list: much on women, multiculturalism, military history, other topics)

Margaret Conrad tackles just the pre-confederation history of Nova Scotia in a 400 page book, At the Ocean's Edge, promised for October -- though the webpage doesn't have cover art yet, so maybe last-minute work continues there.

In Questions of Order: Confederation and the Making of Modern Canada, Peter Price (or his publicists) declare
Confederation was not just a political deal struck by politicians in 1867, but was a process of reconfiguring political concepts and the basis of political association. Breaking new ground, Questions of Order argues that Confederation was an imperial event that generated new questions, concerns, and ideas about the future of political order in the British Empire and the world.
Then, and this might be interesting, there is Sharing the Past: The Reinvention of History in  Canadian Poetry since 1860 by J.A. Weingarten. The poets, it seems to argue, have been better social historians than the social historians, because
the academy’s continued emphasis on professional distance and objectivity made it difficult for historians to connect with the experiences of those about whom they wrote, and those same emphases made it all but impossible for non-academic experts to be institutionally recognized as historians....
Sharing the Past argues that the project of social history has achieved its fullest expression in lyric poetry, a genre in which personal experiences anchor history. Developing this genre since 1960, Canadian poets have provided an inclusive model for a truly social history that indiscriminately shares the right to speak authoritatively of the past.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

North American prehistory -- keeps getting older

Know how these differ from Clovis points?  Well, they do.
Recent data from an archaeological site in Idaho sets out new evidence for a "pre-Clovis"  (ie, more than 12,000-13,000 years before the present) presence in western North America.

"Clovis" is largely a style of tool-making, with examples found quite widely in North American excavations back to 13,000 BP. It was long considered the oldest evidence of human presence in the Americas. There are now also some genetic data from Clovis-associated remains, which confirm Clovis people shared DNA links with other early North Americans and also with Asian/Siberian forebears.

A "Clovis" presence was compatible (just barely, maybe) with an "ice-free" deglaciated corridor east of the Rocky Mountains that could have given the first Clovisans access from Beringia and Asia into North America as the ice sheets began to recede. But human evidence south of the ice 16,000 years ago is too early for any "ice-free" corridor. So finds that date earlier strengthen the likelihood of a coastal or sea-borne migration into the Americas coming first, followed by dispersal inland from points south of the ice-sheet barrier. The archaeologist at Cooper's Ferry, Idaho, notes that the site might have been accessed by a route opening inland from the Pacific Coast more or less where the lower Columbia River now flows.

I made a documentary, 'Peopling the Americas,' for CBC Radio Ideas as long ago as 1989, and even then the best glaciological opinions I could find were dubious about an ice-free corridor as early as the archaeologists needed, and intrigued by the likelihood of a coastal migration, along a Pacific coast that might have resembled 20th century Greenland -- cold, but habitable and traversable.  Nice to see the evidence grow.

Image: from

Thursday, August 29, 2019

HMS Terror: new video from inside

John Franklin and all his men are still dead. The how (entrapment by ice, followed eventually by starvation) and the why (bad luck, failure to understand the risks, overconfidence, etc.) remain well known.  The "Franklin mystery" mostly comes down to small details.

Still, it is impressive to see how much of the small detail seems likely to be teased out in the coming years, with the expedition's sunken ships now located in pretty good condition, and with new reports coming in from Parks Canada on just how much material awaits investigation aboard the Terror:  possibly even notebooks, lettters, charts, and papers preserved in their cabinets in the cold water.

Here is Parks Canada's report on the 2019 exploration season, blessed with good weather this time, and here is an appreciation by Franklinist Russell Potter.

Image: Parks Canada.

History of build that wall: Francophones in New England

19th century New Englanders torch a Catholic church in Bath, Maine
Franco-American historian David Vermette has a notable piece on the Smithsonian History website about the time when the invasion of French-Canadians from Quebec was seen as a dangerous threat to New England.

In 1892, the New York Times suggested that emigration from Qu├ębec was “part of a priestly scheme now fervently fostered in Canada for the purpose of bringing New-England under the control of the Roman Catholic faith. … This is the avowed purpose of the secret society to which every adult French Canadian belongs.”
The New York Times reported in 1881 that French-Canadian immigrants were “ignorant and unenterprising, subservient to the most bigoted class of Catholic priests in the world. … They care nothing for our free institutions, have no desire for civil or religious liberty or the benefits of education.”
In Canadian and Quebec historiography, the movement of some million francophones out of Quebec and into New England to rebuild the textile industry workforce after its Civil War collapse has mostly been recorded as a crisis for Quebec -- with the Catholic clergy being prime movers in colonization projects in the Saguenay, the Laurentians and other areas intended to prevent the draining away of francophones from Quebec.  Perspective is everything, I guess.

Vermette is the author of A Distinct Alien Race: The Untold Story of Franco-Americans. published by the Quebec (English-language) publisher Baraka Books.

Image: US National Gallery of Art, via Smithsonian History

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Book Notes: Wynn and Coates (and friends) on The Nature of Canada

The Ormsby Review draws my attention to a new collection of environmental history essays.   The Nature of Canada is curated by historical geographer Graeme Wynn and historian Colin Coates, and published by the OnPoint imprint of UBC Press. Reviewer Jenny Clayton writes:
I was impressed by how much each author was able to cover and how they brought together case studies from various regions of the country. Most chapters whet my appetite to know more about particular topics, and they provide the means to do so with detailed “References and Further Reading” sections. Seeking to create a collection of “lively, wide-ranging, thought-provoking, and informative reflections on topics of broad significance to Canadians in the twenty-first century,” the editors and contributors have certainly accomplished these goals.
And the publishers claim:
Intended to delight and provoke, these short, beautifully crafted essays, enlivened with photos and illustrations, explore how humans have engaged with Canadian nature and what those interactions say about the nature of Canada.\
Tracing a path from the Ice Age to the Anthropocene, some of the foremost stars in the field of environmental history reflect on how we, as a nation, have idolized and found inspiration in nature even as fishers, fur traders, farmers, foresters, miners, and city planners have commodified it and tried to tame it.

Science proves history FALSE!

The Memorious blog has recently run Ted McCormick's analysis of "Why Most Narrative History is Wrong" by Alex Rosenberg, published in the online magazine Salon.  McCormick ain't convinced, shall we say:
[According to Rosenberg,] Science doesn’t just cast doubt on the explanations of “even the best histories”. Cognitive science, evolutionary anthropology, and neuroscience are now showing that all the explanations history has ever offered are wrong. Get ready, historians, your minds are about to be blown!
Spoiler alert: I’m still here, mind unblown.  The article, excerpted from Rosenberg’s new book, is so horrendous a muddle that I had to start tackling it paragraph by paragraph — at times sentence by sentence  ... just to keep Rosenberg’s shifting claims and multiplying promissory notes straight.
McCormick is persuasive .I haven't gone back to the Rosenberg post or the book it draws on. 
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