Wednesday, October 18, 2017

HIstory of the Persons Case

Today is the 98th anniversary of Edwards v. Canada, the Persons Case, when Lord Sankey decided that making a distinction between "women" and "persons" in Canadian legal interpretation was a relic of "a time more barbarous than ours." The judge declared in the same ruling that the Constitution of Canada was a living tree capable of growth and development within its natural limits, which has become a basic interpretive principle in Canadian constitutional law, a valuable bulwark against "originalism," the odd American view that words can only meant what a gang of slave-holding aristos believed them to mean in the late eighteenth century.

The date of Edwards v. Canada is the reason why it was decided, 25 years ago, that in Canada Women's History Month would occur in October.  Gail Campbell has the deets at the Acadiensis blog

Excavating Democracy

It has long been one of John Ralston Saul's talking points in his case that Canada has abjectly neglected, if not actually denied, the moment in 1848-49 when responsible government, the foundation of Canadian democracy, was secured. Go to Montreal, he would say, and you will find that the site of Parliament where it was achieved, the Parliament thereupon burned down by an anti-democratic mob, is a parking lot.

Well, maybe some people listened. The terrific Montreal museum Pointe-à-Callières has been conducting archaeological excavations at the parking lot since the summer, and the finds are terrific, it seems.

Image:Toronto Star

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Weird Canada 150 projects: Honderich on parks

Haven't been here? Good for you,
I rather admire John Honderich, longtime publisher/CEO/imagemaker of the Toronto Star.  But his Canada 150 project -- to visit every national park in Canada and write about it in the Star -- gets odder and odder, as the latest (and last) demonstrates.

A lot of parks are remote, as they should be, and Honderich is a busy guy.  So many of his reports describe how he chartered a small plane and had his pilot fly over several adjacent parks, so he could return speedily to Toronto to write about how great they are.

But you know, surely the vital thing about Canadian wilderness is the experience. If you go, the point is being there. Honderich must spend most of his time just getting there, and he seems to get less out of most of the parks he "visits" than someone on a "if this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium."

Sometimes, in fact, the point about Canadian wilderness is not being there. Some of the most important parks in the system are wildlife preserves. They are intentionally devoid of road access, campsites, hotels, restaurants "visitor centres," and the like.  They exist for the animals; they need for you not to go.  So when Honderich buzzes Vuntut National Park, a prime caribou herding zone in northern Yukon, he reports:
It is described as one of the least visited parks, which is a shame for its rolling hills and nearby mountainous terrain were stunning, if daunting.
This is not a shame.  Obviously Honderich was not there long enough to learn why a park like Vuntut exists -- and it ain't for drop-in tourism (which is good for the park and the animals.) But why does he write about it as if he actually had visited, and tell his readers precisely the wrong thing about why these parks exist.

Update, October 16:  Should have noted that Star travel editor Jennifer Bain's parallel reports of her visits to various National Parks this year are better -- simply because she actually goes, and stays -- though she too privileges natural parks over historic parks, even in this Canada150 series.  Oh well.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Champlain Society new Volume: Halifax Explosion

The Champlain Society continues its more-than-a-century-long program of publishing an annual volume of handsomely edited documents on a Canadian historical question.  This year, for the centenary of the Halifax Explosion, the volume is "We Harbor No Evil Design": Rehabilitation Efforts after the Halifax Explosion of 1917 edited by David A. Sutherland.

Member supporters of the Champlain Society -- and you could be one -- have been receiving their membership copies this week. The Society's AGM is in Toronto October 28

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Active History explores the Catalan referendum

The pro-Spain demonstration in Barcelona October 8, 2017

Given that Canadians tend to take a certain special interest in separatist referendums, kudos to Active History for providing better coverage of the Catalan secession crisis that most of our major media, AH has provided two fundamentally opposed interpretations in the last couple of days. 

I'm more of the view of Aitana Giua, who condemns the breakdown of democracy attendant on the Catalan government's referendum strategy while critiquing the malpractice of the Spanish government, than of Ben Bryce, who supports the Catalan independentists pretty much unconditionally, but you can read and learn from both historians.

Image:  The Independent

Moore on Section 121 at SSRN

I was an expert witness last winter. There was a case out west in which section 121 of the British North America Act 1867 was at issue, and one side decided that some historical context might be useful to the court, or at least to the case it was making to the court. 

It was pleasant to learn that I had been approached because the constitutional law expert on the case had read my 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal in his book group.  But I found the idea of the expert witness was, well, thought-provoking. When a historian say A, there is a legion of other historians ready to cry, No, B!  But if you convince a judge of A, he or she brings down the gavel, and A ain't just history, it's law.

Still and all, it was a simulating little research assignment, applying views I've argued elsewhere to a specific set of facts. For those saying, "... and s.121 is about what particularly?" it reads:
All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.
and it is usually understood to be about beer and wine, though I suggest the real issue is federalism. It has been newsworthy recently because a New Brunswick beer-and-wine case that turns on s.121 is headed to the Supreme Court of Canada later this year. Anyway, for those interested in constitutional arcana, I've recently posted my report at SSRN.

Comments and criticisms welcome. There may be revisions.

Friday, October 06, 2017

History of magazines: The LRC struggles

Ominous note:  we're a week into October, and the October issue of the Literary Review of Canada has yet to appear online. It could be just missing a deadline -- except that the September issue never appeared at all, and a money crisis seems to be behind recent changes in leadership at the magazine.  (Not to mention that the little pour-boire I'm entitled to for my contribution to the June issue has never arrived, either.)

The masthead includes a lot of well-to-do and/or well-connected people on its boards.  If they cannot save this one, you know it's tough out there.  (It's tough out there.)

Can Hist Wikipedi-thon

 Via Krista McCracken and Jessica Knapp at Unwritten Histories, news of "a Canada wide, Canadian History-themed Wikipedia edit-a-thon." planned for Wednesday, October 18.

The idea is mostly to increase the amount of Canadian and Canadian historical content on Wikipedia -- plus maybe "disrupting the Western, cis, white male dominated nature of Wikipedia content," though "anyone is welcome to participate," so it's complicated.  But individuals and classes are invited to participate, there is scope both for group gatherings and online participation, and experienced Wikipedians are sought but total beginners welcome. The link above also provides its own link to basic instructions for drafting Wikipedia entries. 

Go at it!

Thursday, October 05, 2017

The AHA on degrees and jobs

The American Historical Association has been researching what careers Ph.D. historians pursue in the United States. Via its blog, it provides a lot of data, and many vivid graphs.  Like this one, on Ph.D grads NOT in university teaching.

Book Notes: Smith on Hall on Alberta Treaties

I was corresponding with Don Smith -- that's Professor Emeritus Donald B. Smith, University of Calgary -- and he recommended D.J. Hall's recent history From Treaties to Reserves to me. At my urging, he then provided this brief "book note" about it for this blog:
From Treaties to Reserves: The Federal Government and Native Peoples in Territorial Alberta, 1870-1905. D.J. Hall. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2016. Pp. 504, $110.00 cloth, $34.95 paper

A number of excellent studies exist already on the numbered treaties on the prairies. Books on Treaties Six (1876) and Seven (1877) in what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta, include: Richard Price’s edited work, The Spirit of the Alberta Indian Treaties (1979, 1999); Treaty 7 Elders and Tribal Council with Walter Hildebrandt, Sarah Carter, and Dorothy First Rider’s The True Spirit and Original Intent of Treaty 7 (1996); Harold Cardinal and Walter Hildebrandt, Treaty Elders of Saskatchewan (2000); Arthur J. Ray, Jim Miller, and Frank Tough, Bounty and Benevolence. A History of the Saskatchewan Treaties (2000), and Hugh A. Dempsey’s The Great Blackfoot Treaties (2015). Professor Hall’s From Treaties to Reserves now joins these important volumes. Professor Hall, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Alberta, focuses on the Dominion government's perception of its relationship with the First Nations in Alberta from 1870 to 1905. The veteran Canadian political historian is totally at ease with the contemporary parliamentary debates, federal sessional papers and pertinent manuscript sources. He has written a strong coherent account of the federal government’s Indian policies in the immediate post-treaty period in the North West to the year Saskatchewan and Alberta both became provinces.
Thank you, Don Smith. (His comprehensive review of the book will appear in the Canadian Historical Review in March 2018.)

(Historians' brief recommendations, along these lines, of worthwhile new works in Canadian History are always welcome. Emailing info at right)

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Books and Prizes: GGs, Sick Kids, Royal Regiment

The nonfiction GG shortlist

I'm delighted that the nonfiction shortlist for the 2017 Governor General's Literary Awards includes Elaine Dewar, The Handover, How Bigwigs and Bureaucrats Transferred Canada’s Best Publisher and the Best Part of our Literary Heritage to a Foreign Multinational, her history of how McClelland & Stewart, "The Canadian Publisher," became a minor imprint of the multinational Penguin Random House empire. I noted it briefly earlier, and was greatly impressed when I actually read it.

Other nominees:  All We Leave Behind: A Reporter’s Journey into the Lives of Others by Carol Off  ;  The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State by Graeme Wood; Where I Live Now: A Journey through Love and Loss to Healing and Hope, by Sharon Butala; and Where It Hurts by Sarah de Leeuw.

Chalmers Award in Ontario History

The Champlain Society has announced that the Chalmers Award for best book in Ontario history this year goes to David Wright for Sick Kids: The History of the Hospital for Sick Children.  I looked at this book last spring in another connection, and was impressed. And Michael Bliss liked it in a review published in the Canadian Historical Review recently, in what must have been one of his last publications.

History of the Royal Regiment of Canada

The current issue of Fife and Drum, an impressive online magazine published quarterly by the volunteer Friends of Fort York in Toronto, has a substantial review by Robert Fraser of the DCB of Always Ready: A History of the Royal Regiment of Canada by the military historian Donald E. Graves.  Fraser calls it a "tale spun by a gifted military historian at his best, a tale enhanced by the pictures, art, illustrations, and maps. The Royals have been served superbly by this fine regimental history."

He also notes that at $40 for a large, beautifully published and extensively illustrated and authoritative military history, it's a bargain.  Since it's privately published, he adds: "You may buy the book online ($40 + shipping) at"

Update, October 11:  I might have noted I sometimes contribute to F&D, Indee, I have recently become part of an editorial committee to advise and support the new editor Robert Kennedy.

Monday, October 02, 2017

History of vote-buying in Canadian politics

Eric Grénier at CBC News reveals the real dynamic in the NDP leadership race:
Between May and the second week of September — the last date for which fundraising data is available — Singh raised 53 per cent of all the money raised by the four candidates. He was followed by Angus at 20 per cent, Ashton at 16 per cent and Caron at 11 per cent.
Singh: 53% of the money, 53% of the vote. Angus: 20% of the money, 19.4 of the vote.

Grénier has been demonstrating recently that this close relationship between candidate spending and candidate success is a consistent pattern in leadership choice. But the rest of the press, and the political scientists, too, still love a horserace.

I generally emphasize the corrupting influence on party politics of selling votes ("membership") at $10 or $25 a pop, so that 1) the race is mostly about buying and selling memberships, and 2) the "members" are effectively disenfranchised the moment the race ends, leaving the winner largely unaccountable to either party members or caucus members for years at a time.  But Grenier provides another metric of corruption: party leadership victory in Canada is largely a function of how much a candidate spends.

After a wasted year, and millions spent, look how few actually vote. Singh becomes leader of a national political party and a viable option for prime minister, on 35,000 votes -- a fraction of what the average MP needs.  And weirdly, the pattern from the recent Conservative "race" persists: barely half of all 124,000 paid up members -- themselves hardly enough to fill an average constituency -- bothered to vote. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

More history of taxes (which is better than more taxes, I guess)

See why historians should welcome anniversaries and centenaries?  Canada150 sparked more lively and useful debate about Reconciliation than almost anything else has managed to do.  The War of 1812 started some lively discussion about militarism and "old" history. The Vimy 100 seemed to conclude with a decisive victory in the meaning of Vimy wars for the Ian McKay forces

And to add to the Heaman, Tillotson, and Tough histories of income tax at its one hundredth, recently noted by Active History's Tax Week (okay, it's not quite as big as Shark Week...), comes news that the Canadian Tax Foundation has its own tax history book, Income Tax at 100 Years, a collection of conference pieces edited by Jinyan Li, Scott Wilkie, and Larry F. Chapman and available from the foundation's website  ($90, however, maybe for specialists or libraries!)

Friday, September 29, 2017

History of the Law ... of ....

May need a new title?
I'm saddened -- though there had been warnings -- to read today that the Law Society of Upper Canada voted to change its name to something as yet undecided, deleting "Upper Canada" and perhaps even "Society" on the grounds that they are elitist or something.

It is an idea that has come up in the past. The Law Society is governed by an elected council, and there has always been the danger that some group of elected lawyers would be blinkered and narrow enough to imagine it was a good or progressive thing to throw away two hundred years of brand equity in the hopes that a new name and the hiring of some image consultants might substitute for serious attention to the society's issues.

As on previous occasions, seriously progressive benchers opposed this gimmick:
Rocco Galati, a Toronto lawyer, spoke forcefully against the change, referring to it as “B.S. window-dressing,” as he suggested the law society remains out of touch with the general public.
“We’re still a pretentious body, whether we change the name or not,” he said. “‘Ontario’ is no less colonial than ‘Upper Canada.’ We have not evolved in any substantive way for a name change.”
But treasurer Paul Schabas was confident that all was needed to complement the name change is 'a “robust” communications and marketing strategy.' Bring in more spin consultants.

The historically minded may appreciate the proposal of former bencher Tom Carey about a previous proposal to change the name.  He suggested the Law Society should consider moving in stages rather than too abruptly.  Perhaps, he offered, it could become the Law Society of Canada West for a while first.

As it happened, I went last night to the opening of EDIT, the Expo for Design Innovation & Technology, a raucous party held in a recently abandoned old industrial building near the Don Mouth in Toronto.  It has been extensively hyped and crowded, and tickets were expensive. (I had been comped having given a teeny bit of historical advice to one of the presenting organizations, so maybe the thing was papered a bit.)  But it struck me as a hot mess. Loud didactic statements everywhere about how good design will change the world, but the place was in massive disorganization, and there was precious little evidence of actual good design.  It seemed to be gimmickly exhibits and billboards, all awash in corporate logos and self-congratulation.  Someone of this mindset will maybe get the Law Society rebrand retainer.

EDIT runs until October 8 in Toronto; day passes from $15.

History of Archival Practice

A link from a link sent me to "Keepers of the Secrets" by James Somers, a appreciation of archives and archives recently published in the Village Voice of New York. It is astonishingly naive, constantly golly-gosh-who knew? that in archives there are actually original documents that do not exist anywhere else, and from which you can actually learn about past events, if you are prepared to open the boxes and work through them. It describes a young archivist at the New York Public Library as "the most interesting man in the world" simply because he works in an archives and does what archivists do all the time.

Yet it is also a rather touching and subtle argument for the importance of archives.  If you have made discoveries in archives, you may appreciate what it argues for. It even discusses some evolutions in archival theory, suggests why archives should perhaps not be digitized, and even has a shoutout to the Canadian archival theorist Terry Cook. I wonder if anyone in a position of responsibility at Library and Archives Canada would read it.
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