Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Dawson City film cache at HotDocs Toronto

Hot Docs, the year-round program of documentary film showings in Toronto, today starts a run of "Dawson City: Frozen Time," a 2016 feature about the cache of 500 Hollywood films and Canadian newsreels from the 1910s and 1920s, found frozen in 1978 underneath a Dawson City building. Most of the films, made on flammable nitrate stock, were lost and unknown until the Dawson copies were found.

My friend the Yukon historian Michael Gates, then a curator with Parks Canada, participated in the recovery and preservation of the film cache and wrote about it in his 2010 memoir/collection History Hunting in the Yukon.

And speaking of Michael, he has a new book: From the Klondike to Berlin: The Yukon in World War I
Nearly a thousand Yukoners, a quarter of the population, enlisted before the end of the Great War. They were lawyers, bankers, piano tuners, dockworkers and miners who became soldiers, nurses and snipers; brave men and women who traded the isolated beauty of the north for the muddy, crowded horror of the battlefields. Those who stayed home were no less important to the war’s outcome—by March of 1916, the Dawson Daily News estimated that Yukoners had donated often and generously at a rate of $12 per capita compared to the dollar per person donated elsewhere in the country.  

Book Notes: Cuthbertson on Halifax Explosion


Another anniversary for 2017:  December 6 will mark the centenary of the Halifax Explosion, when the munitions freighter Mont Blanc exploded in the Halifax narrows after a collision, producing a blast that levelled much of north-end Halifax and killed over 2000 people.

Marking the occasion, Patrick Crean Editions at HarperCollins Canada will publish Ken Cuthbertson's The Halifax Explosion in November.

Monday, July 24, 2017

This month at Canada's History


The current Canada's History, now reaching subscribers, takes note of the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe raid of August 1942 with a long and vigorous essay by David O'Keefe, ex-soldier and historian at Marionopolis College in Montreal.

O'Keefe focusses the article around the argument he set out in his 2013 book One Day in August: that all the raid's official objectives were cover for an intelligence project to steal one of the new-model Enigma machine so vital to the communications-intelligence war.

Perhaps because my father was a combat soldier up at the sharp end for a substantial part of the European Second World War, I'm inclined to look sceptically at arguments that the Second World War was really fought by intelligence boffins, with such things as armoured divisions and massed infantry being mostly a sideshow. (Remember A Man Called Intrepid?)  And I don't easily discount the likelihood that big military screw-ups like Dieppe were, in fact, just big screw-ups.

But O'Keefe is more rational than that, and his book, which I have not read, got admiring reviews from serious students of the issue, I do recall.  The mag has the tl;dr version, I guess.

Also this month: Carolyn Harris's celebration of Canadian place names culturally appropriated over the years to honour various members of the British royalty family. (Carolyn always reminds me why I'm a Canadian republican!). Plus Icelandic settlers, Grenfell missions, and reviews of, among others, D, Peter MacLeod's Backs to the Wall and The Vimy Myth by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift (which I liked a lot more than the reviewer does, but there you go).

My own column is, in a roundabout way, about how little the centrality of the treaty relationship to the potential for Reconciliation is grasped, even at senior levels of government.
Recently I talked with David Paul Achneepineskum. He has worked on self-government and resource issues since he was a kid at Marten Falls on Ontario’s Albany River. Today he is CEO of the council of chiefs in the Ring of Fire region. After forty years effort he says, “There is no knowledge! Even at the government level, with senior bureaucrats and middle management, there is absolutely no knowledge of treaties. So there is no will at the political level to talk about treaties.”
Read it. Subscribe!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Summer Book List 3: Taxation. And the apocalypse.


Okay, so the other week I took E.A. Heaman's Tax, Order and Good Government, a recently-published 500 page study of Canadian tax policy in the first fifty years of confederation, as my beach reading. "Not just Canadian history. Canadian tax history!," Heaman claims her husband like to say to dinner parties about her chosen field. My reading choice did get some similar mockery at the beach, and indeed I have not yet finished it, though mostly because I find myself stopping to chew on its arguments on almost every page.

But this week UBC Press, sent me its companion volume, Shirley Tillotson's soon-to-be-published other shoe: Give and Take, on Canadian tax policy in the second fifty years of confederation. I have not started that one, but already I'm convinced that Heaman's sub-title justly proclaims what these two volumes offer. TOGG is subtitled "A New Political History of Canada."  And it might even drop the "political," though it is indeed political to the core.

Hence the excitement. A big long, serious, challenging new way to conceive of the history of the country seems to me something anyone seriously interested in the field should be willing to take to the beach. Even if your copy comes back like mine, with a delicate scent of SPF 45.

Actually, if you want more traditional cottage-reading fare, consider Emily St John Mandel's novel Station Eleven. If you need some serious-historian justification, well, it is kind of a history of the apocalypse, but fiction and a page-turner.

It starts with something like SARS returning to Toronto, except this flu is 99% lethal, goes around the world in the blink of a 767's landing lights, and kills just about all of humanity. That's the first chapter, and it just gets better from there.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Summer book list, 2: CanLit as history


This fall, House of Anansi, a fabled participant in the CanLit blossoming of the late 1960s is publishing Arrival,  a history of that phenomenon by Toronto English prof Nick Mount.  I've been enjoying an advance copy.

Mount has some provocative propositions about that 'sixties-seventies transformation in Canadian writing. He doesn't think the Canada Council and public funding for the arts had much to do with it, and deplores the nationalist impulse when he acknowledges it was a factor. Elaine Dewar's Handover, previously noted, is a useful antidote to some of these ideas: call it Departure.

But allow Mount his judgments. This is a terrifically lively telling, based on copious research lightly worn, and I hope it gets lots of attention when it appears in September.

Summer books list, 1: From Vimy to Dieppe


Run a history blog for a while, and publishers will offer you history books, even prior-to-publication books. Looking at the pile of these I have presently have, plus several more I actually purchased, I'm starting a series drawing attention to some of them.

Ron Caplan of Breton Books reminds us that amidst all the Vimy interest in the spring, this summer marks the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe raid of August 1942.  He's republishing John Mellor's Dieppe: Canada's Forgotten Heroes, and in the process has discovered a local history: the many Cape Bretoners who participated in the raid. From a BB press release:
Caplan happened to hear Tuma Young being interviewed on CBC. He caught the brief mention that Tuma’s father, a Mi’kmaw man from Whycocomagh, had fought at Dieppe. Later, Leonard Boudreau of the Cape Breton Highlanders Association told Caplan about R.W.L. MacDonald, a Fisheries Officer in Fourchu who fought in the Dieppe Raid. A powerful swimmer, MacDonald attempted to swim back across the English Channel but was plucked from the water and taken prisoner.

Caplan sent a Letter to the Editor to the Cape Breton Post asking for names of Cape Bretoners who fought at Dieppe. And the flood gates opened!

Calls and emails came from people who had Cape Breton friends and relatives who were in the Dieppe Raid, including a remarkable email from Wayne MacIvar, who maintains a website devoted to Cape Bretoners who served in all wars. MacIvar provided over 30 names of Cape Bretoners who had fought at Dieppe.
A book launch and memorial is planned for Sydney on August 19. (Dieppe is also the cover story of the forthcoming August-September Canada's History.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

As long as the rivers have run and the grass has grown, seriously.


Alan McEachern's recent Active History essay, on reconciling the priority of indigenous title to Turtle Island with the science of the Bering Land Bridge, has provoked a lot of comments. He shows that the indigenous people of North America were North Americans before the British were in British or the Scandinavians in Scandinavia and so on, tens of millennia before any of those people's descendants came in this direction. His demonstration of just how long is 14,500 years is delicious and persuasive, too.

But I think there is a simpler, more persuasive reason why indigenous people are in no sense "immigrants," to be compared to later (vastly later) immigrants.

One of the striking evidences from the paleo-archaeology of Canada, from northern British Columbia to central Ontario to the Maritime provinces and up on the tundra of the Territories, is that wherever excavations reveal an earliest human presence in what is now Canada, it is always at a spot very close to where the southern edge of the great ice sheets then stood, on territory very newly exposed by the steady retreat of those ice sheets. That is, as rivers began to flow in what is now Canada and fish species began to populate them, as plant life -- from shrubs to grasses to trees -- enrooted itself in newly established soil, as herbivores sorted out their grazing rounds and carnivores determined their hunting territories and strategies, people were present and participating. And those people(s) have been here ever since.

Paleo-zoologists have determined pretty conclusively, for instance, not just that indigenous people were present as the American bison adapted to the emerging great plains, but that human hunting behaviours helped transform the bison species from a solitary woodland browsing creature into the herding, grazing animal we are familar with. The whole reorientation of post-glacial Pleistocene ecology in the Americas took place in the presence and with the active participation of indigenous peoples.

The first peoples of Canada did not "come into" a Canadian environment any more than plants and animals did, that is. They actively participated in the creation of the first Canadian environments. One may assert as Alan McEachern does, that indigenous peoples have been "here" at least 14,500 years, and that is not just a very long time but a different order of magnitude.  But to recognize that indigenous Canadians were here as participants as everything we might recognize as constituting the Canadian environment first came into being, is much the same as understanding what "forever" means.

A good reference for all this is Tim Flannery's The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and its People (2001), notably his chapter 17 on the making of the buffalo ("the bison is a human artifact, for it was shaped by Indians and its distribution determined by them," at 227). Peter Storck's Journey to the Ice Edge (2004), a memoir of practising paleo-archaeology in Ontario, is evocative too.

Monday, July 17, 2017

John Beattie, 1932-2017, legal historian, RIP


John Beattie, a giant among the world's legal historians and a pillar of the historical academia around Toronto for decades, died on July 12. English-born, American-raised, and a University of Toronto professor since 1961, he was known internationally for his very influential work Crime and The Courts in England, 1660-1800, but in Canada for his generous and enthusiastic support of legal history and scholarship on crime, criminality, the justice system, and much else. Obit here.

The Tour, 2017, trois


Rest day today, with one week -- and the Alps -- yet to go, and I'm having to say it has been pretty terrific viewing, despite how it seemed unpromising at the start, when there seemed to be a dearth of new stars, the big-dollars Sky team seemed unbeatable, and we didn't have a Canadian to follow.

But in this race the Sky has wobbled though not fallen. Chris Froome has proved vulnerable on several hills, particularly to the young Italian Fabio Aru, who took the Yellow Jersey away with a bold break on a big hill.  Lacking a strong team to support him, Aru couldn't hold the jersey long -- but Sky may slip up again.  Only a handful of seconds separates Froome from several contenders, and one bad day in the Alps this week could change everything for him.

And a slew of exciting new riders are providing watchable days and hopes for the future. Way too many contenders have been eliminated in crashes this year. (The video at top is Richie Porte's awful crash on Stage 9. Dan Martin the rider in blue he took down, got up and continues to contend; Porte's doctor says he has a broken pelvis -- and should be racing again in about a month!).   But the survivors are feasing on the possibilities opened up.

Most hopeful: many of the young riders introducing themselves to the world are French. The French have been spectators at their own Tour for a long time, without champions in any of the big categories: no GC contenders, and few stars among the sprinters, time trialers, the breakaway specialists, even the super-domestiques (the guys who do amazing work to support a leader without getting anything for themselves).

But this year there are flashy young French contenders all over. Warren Barguil is holder of the "King of the Mountains" jersey, stage winner, constant contender on all the tricky stages that mix a lot of smaller hill climbs with a final sprint, and Lilian Calmejane has been right behind him.  Arnaud DeMaure won a big sprint finish, the only sprinter to beat Marcel Kittel this year, and Nacer Bouhani has also been contending. Fabien Bardet is challenging for a podium spot in the GC (total elapsed time) Yellow Jersey race. (Thibaut Pinot, who challenged last year, is off his stride this year.)

No so coincidentally, France has lacked an ambitious team and sponsor for a while. The major French teams seem to lack inspiration, or money, or the willingness to spend it. But an ambitious French sponsor could seize this moment to launch a national contender by recruiting several of these new stars, and adding some senior leadership from the likes of Tony Gallopin and Philippe Gilbert. No team is exclusively from one nation, and a big French team would be unlikely to get all of these. But the Tour needs French stars, and the best way to produce one is to have a French team willing to assemble the elements needed to properly support a star.  FdJ?  AG2R?  Let's step up the game.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Summer hiatus



History goes on, but the blogger occasionally stops. Probably no posts for the rest of this week.

The Tour is getting pretty terrific, actually. (Hoping for screens at the beach!) Lilian Calmejane, who I was about to put forward as another unique Grand Tour name, stepped up and took a dynamite stage the other day, and suddenly becomes the hope and future of French cycling. There may actually be some serious French contenders at Grand Tours in the next few years, which would be very good for the sport. But you will have to follow it yourself for a while.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

A little legal history this fall


The Law Society of Upper Canada will host a Canada150 legal history,event, "Lawyers and Canada at 150," at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, September 27.  Speakers will include me, plus many luminaries of legal scholarship, and while admission is free, seating is limited and tickets required. Full program is here.
The Law Society will mark Canada’s 150th birthday with a special event highlighting the role of lawyers in making the Constitution and in the development of the inclusive society we are committed to building. The program will feature two panels; the first panel will speak to the role of lawyers in the making of the Constitution in 1867 and beyond and the second panel will examine the careers of visionary lawyers who, from the causes they pursued and the careers they built, were ahead of their time.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Tour 2017, deux


So the sun came out, the landscapes of Lorraine and the Vosges are gorgeous, and the racing got hot and dramatic. But yesterday longtime sprinting nonpareil Mark Cavendish was eliminated by injury after going down hard a couple of seconds short of the finish line, ending his chance to restore his supremacy among the fast men. Then Peter Sagan, one of the most colourful riders and a Tour contender, was eliminated from the race by the judges -- because it was his elbow that put Cavendish into the barrier and down, to be run over in quick succession by several bike riders going 60 or 70 kph. Dramatic racing, but cringeworthy too.

Froome is methodically dull, Contador sullied by previous drug offences, Cav's out, Sagan's out, Quintana a predictable runner up  -- who's ya gonna root for and against?

Update:  Fabio Aru, the fast young Italian.  Yesterday was the first serious hill stage, and the Sky machine pretty much took over, delivering Froome the yellow jersey he seems destined to carry. Except with a couple of k to go young Aru rocketed away from the leader's group, and sailed up to a dramatic stage win.  He had just a little too much overall time to make up to steal away Froome's yellow as overall time leader -- but Froome could not stay with him on the final steeps.  Know hope.

Curious Tour name of the day: Perrig Quéméneur. Who knew there were babies being named Perrig these days?  Kinda like Zdenek Stybar, too.  Despite a few Yanks, Brits, and Aussies, you are in l'Europe profonde when you follow the Tour

History of statuary



Last week's erasure of Hector Langevin's name from a prominent building in Ottawa is followed this week by reports on the campaign to rename Ryerson University in Toronto and remove Ryerson's statue from the campus because of his support for indigenous residential schools in the nineteenth century.

So I was struck by the opinion of the American historian Annette Gordon-Reed that, while the removal of statues of some Confederate war heroes is justified and necessary, statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both slave owners, should never be removed in the United States.
Gordon-Reed, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her book on the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, said it was not hard to draw a bright line separating Jefferson’s generation of Virginians from the ones who tried to secede.
“We can distinguish between people who wanted to build the United States of America and people who wanted to destroy it,” she said. “It’s possible to recognize people’s contributions at the same time as recognizing their flaws.” ...
(I'm copying Gordon-Reed's view from History News Network, which is drawing on The Atlantic magazine.)

I would not presume to predict Gordon-Reed's opinion on the Langevin and Ryerson situations, but she suggests a useful principle. Neither Langevin nor Ryerson has been honoured specifically for their anti-indigenous views in the way the confederate generals were honoured for their fight to preserve the slave power and white supremacy. Both men are specifically 'people who wanted to build' Canada, and did honourable work in that cause.

The case of Halifax's statue of Edward Cornwallis, honoured as a founder of Halifax but now perhaps principally associated with the British military campaigns against the Mi'kmaq and (after his departure) against Acadians... now that seems more complicated.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

God Bless America


... even if they hold their Canada Day three days late.
 
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