Monday, July 25, 2016

Gates on Yukon History

As in most places I've been in Canada, local and self- or non-commercially published works of local history abound in Yukon. ("Canadians don't care about their history, blah blah blah.")  One of my Yukon discoveries, you might say, was the historian Michael Gates.

Michael is a former Parks Canada guy, one of the key people in Parks Canada's conservation/preservation projects in Dawson City, and now a prolific writer on Yukon history. He writes a history column for the Yukon News, and many of the columns are collected in History Hunting in the Yukon, the first of his books I got into while there.

The Yukon being a big village (in a space as large as France), I got to meet Michael for coffee through mutual friends, and he gave me a copy of his latest book, Dalton's Gold Rush Trail: Exploring the Route of the Klondike Cattle Drives. People know about the Chilkoot and White Pass routes to the gold fields of '98. Who knew there was also a trail for beef cattle?  Not an entirely happy story for the cattle, as you might surmise.  Michael has not only worked out the historical account of this trail, but went into the bush to sort out exactly where the trail was and what traces of it remain.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ramsay Cook 1931-2016 RIP

Just to note sadly the death of Ramsay Cook on July 14 -- to my mind the most admirable of his generation of. Canadian historians.

A fuller appreciation should appear when we get back in harness next week.

Ramsay Cook 1931-2016 RIP

Just to note sadly the death of Ramsay Cook on July 14 -- to my mind the most admirable of his generation of. Canadian historians.

A fuller appreciation should appear when we get back in harness next week.his

Monday, July 11, 2016

Confederation at Active History

Active History has been publishing a series of essays on confederation, organized by the journal Canada Watch.  Today it runs a commentary on the series by me. I glad to see it, as it was commissioned by Canada Watch and then declined by it, with the suggestion that it might confuse readers. CW did suggest it be included in the Active History package, so you may judge if you are confused.

Still in Yukon and benefitting today from the wifi offered by Parks Canada Dawson City. You should go!!!

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Blog on hiatus

Yeah, you can blog from practically anywhere these days, and maybe I will a little in the next couple of  weeks.

But mostly the blogger is on holiday until July 22, and the blog will likely be on hiatus most of that time too.

Talk among yourselves.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Queen on Walrus

Celebrate Canada Day with Stephen Marche's post-Brexit reflections in the Walrus on ending the monarchy in Canada:
Constitutional monarchy is an amazingly successful form of government all over the world. There are worse ways to organize government than to have an arbitrary celebrity at its head. But if the head of state is to be an empty symbol then at least the empty symbolism should apply. The royal family of England makes a pisspoor symbol for Canada as it stands.

Historians appointed to the Order of Canada

John English
No small crop of historians and associated creators appointed officers or members of the Order of Canada in the Canada Day list this year.
  • John English, professor, biographer, former editor of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, one-time Member of Parliament -- becomes an officer
  • Joseph-Georges Arsenault, historian and preservationist of Prince Edward Island Acadians
  • Elaine Keillor, musician, musicologist, and music historian
  • Laurier Lacroix, professor of art history and specialist in early 20th century Quebec art
  • James St.George Walker, professor, historian of African-Canadians and minority communities in Canada.
  • Gail Dexter Lord, museologist and principal of Lord Cultural Management, eminent designer of museum exhibitions worldwide.

Among writers, not so many, but I'm delighted to see Robert Sawyer, the very prolific Toronto-based writer of internationally acclaimed science fiction.

Full list here

"Best war documentary ever" on CBC-TV tonight?

"Newfoundland at Armageddon," Brian McKenna's two-hour documentary reenactment of Newfoundlanders at the Battle of the Somme (July 1 1916)  is showing on CBC-TV tonight, Thursday June 30 at 8 pm.
To commemorate the one hundredth anniversary, Brian McKenna’s latest feature documentary film Newfoundland at Armageddon tells the story of this epic tragedy. Using a technique he perfected during his 2007 project, The Great War, 21 descendants of soldiers who fought with the Newfoundland Regiment were recruited. They were offered a unique opportunity to relive the experience of their ancestors in trenches built specifically for this event, on a National Defence of Canada rifle range near St. John’s in Newfoundland. Four of the descendants travelled to Europe to follow in their ancestors’ footsteps from landing in England, training in Scotland and finally marching on the field of Beaumont Hamel.
McKenna is not modest about the film:
"On every level, we are going to make the best war documentary, I think, that's ever been made."

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

History of microfilm

Just like that-- except handwritten in 18th century French

Here's one to warm the heart of any true historian of a certain vintage: a history of microfilm -- and with no respect for all your transient digital toys.

"They put my head in a microfilm reader for about a year, and when I pulled it out, I knew quite a lot about New France."  Capsule description of my apprenticeship as an HR (public service job classification: historical research) with Parks Canada a long time ago.  Hand-cranked readers too:  I've always been ambivalent about the motor-driven ones.

Hat-tip: LGM

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

History of multicultural cities

What is the most multicultural city in the world?  There is a whole industry in Toronto devoted to supporting its claim, but it is hotly contested by Vancouver.  Melbourne, Frankfurt, Birmingham, and Singapore probably don't even notice. Then there are Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.

University of Toronto Press has recently published Multicultural Cities: Toronto, New York and Los Angeles, by Mohammad Abdul Qadeer, who teaches at Queen's in Kingston.  He has some ground rules:
Cities that do not promote civil rights to diversity are not multicultural even if people of different cultural origins live there....They are multi-ethnic without being multicultural.
Multiculturalism, he posits, "is the combination of cultural diversity with a common ground of values and institutions." You need confident, assertive minority communities, not just (potentially marginal) immigrants and expats. Qadeer argues that to be a contender for multicultural status, a city needs to exist within a strong democracy, with strong guarantees of civil rights, and a resulting culture of (at least) tolerance and accommodation. Cities have always attracted diverse minorities. They have rarely been multicultural.

And multiculturalism is a set of political/societal choices, not just a byproduct of mobility or prosperity.

Published in March. I haven't found much in the way of reviews yet.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Confederation at Active History

Active History, in collaboration with York University's Canada Watch publication, launches a series of essays on confederation by a group of Canadianists who find themselves teaching the subject from time to time.

Last winter, the Canada Watch editors asked me to read the essays in draft and add a commentary.  I found myself having to say I was, ah, disappointed, to the point that Canada Watch decided it did not want my commentary at all.  But Active History promises to run it on July 11, one of a couple of responses.

Around July 11 I expect to be sitting by the marge of Lake Lebarge in the light of the midnight sun -- or maybe in some other Yukon landscape.  Blogging will be slim to none for a good chunk of July. Hence the heads up.  You can follow the Canada Watch contributions at Active History from today, and form your own opinion.  

British Parliament goes all Canadian

Maybe they could turn it into a bingo hall
Spectacularly repudiated in the referendum he launched in Britain, after he had been defied for months by much of his cabinet and caucus on a fundamental matter of government policy, after he had put to referendum a matter which surely was the responsibility of Parliament to decide,  British Prime Minister David Cameron declared last Friday, well, yes, he would have to resign.*

With an asterisk,though.  He would resign next October, more or less, probably.

Why the hell was he not gone by Friday lunchtime?  Her Majesty was right there in Buck House (or one of her other palaces, I don't know). The whole thing could have been wrapped up in an hour.

The British Conservative Party has gone all Canadian in making Parliament irrelevant. Parliament had no say in whether Britain would leave Europe or stay. (Indeed, cabinet had no say, many leading cabinet members having defied cabinet solidarity - and remained in cabinet.) Now the parliamentary caucus is being told it must not remove a disastrously failed leader but must allow him to leave on his own schedule, at some futher time of his own choosing. In October, if he does go, anyone who buys a vote in the race will be able to determine which latest clod becomes leader and prime minister, probably without the support of most of the Conservative caucus

Should not the parliamentary caucus simply tell Cameron they have lost confidence in him, and choose his successor? That's parliamentary democracy.

The Labor party caucus, meanwhile, is asserting its authority, as Labor MPs steadily announce withdrawal of support from leader Jeremy Corbyn, another figurehead imposed on the party by a mass vote that had much the same hysteria and bad faith as the Brexit referendum. But it's mostly a con and a stunt. The caucus is unwilling to hold a vote to sustain or remove Corbyn. [Update: see note below]  And even if they do remove him, they will not replace him, but simply trigger another of the crazy uncontrolled mass votes that put him in office in the first place.

Both parties have surrendered to the worst kind of plebiscitary excess, first in letting a complex matter of public policy be left to a crude Yes/No vote by te public at large, second in doing pretty much the same for party leadership.  It's almost.... Canadian.

Update, same day:  The Guardian now reports that Labor party MPs will vote on Corbyn's leadership tomorrow. They are unCanadian to that extent -- MPs agree they can fire the boss. However, Corbyn retains support outside the caucus, who presumably will attempt to sustain him in another mass-party vote no matter what MPs do, and may even encourage him to ignore the will of caucus.

Update, June 28:  Dale Smith gets it:
Meanwhile, the meltdown happening in the UK’s Labour Party, with a problematic leader who refuses to resign in the face of a full-blown caucus revolt, is another object lesson in why membership selection of party leaders is a terrible, terrible system because it gives those leaders an excuse to refuse to be held to account, citing a “democratic mandate” as Jeremy Corbyn is doing right now.  [....]
Accountability matters, and needs to be balanced with democracy. Membership selection of leaders does not provide the needed accountability, and the horrifying lesson of a leader who won’t be held to account is playing out right now and should give everyone pause about the system that we blazed the trail for in this country.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Heritage Minutes: treaties and residential schools

Historica Canada announces a couple of new entries in the Heritage Minutes series, now twenty-five years old. (You just think they have been around forever!)

The early Minutes were usually irreverent and unpredictable. The Historica-era ones, much more directly government-funded, have become semi-official, with most of the minutes from the Harper years emphasizing wars, politicians, and anniversaries. The new pair, funded by the Government of Ontario, are both set in Ontario. I miss the independence and irreverence.

But it's hard to complain about an indigenous take on the far northern Ontario Treaty 9 ("Naskumituwin," below)  and a minute on kids resisting residential school mistreatment ("Chanie Wenjack," above).

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

History of electoral reform from Joseph Heath

I've been kind of assuming that this electoral reform discussion in Parliament would expose its own follies sufficiently that the whole thing would mostly just go away.   In that vein, Toronto philosopher Joseph Heath has a useful essay reminding us that "every party wins, every party gets ponies," is not a goal worth pursuing .
In an electoral contest with more than three options, not only will there be no majority preference, but there will also be no way to winnow down the choices to produce a stable majority winner. If you pitch all three against one another, obviously there is no guarantee that any one will get more than 50 percent. If you break it down into a set of pair-wise competitions, however, you can get shifting majorities, such that any option can beat any other, depending on how they are paired off.
Since the legislative process is based on the majority principle, every democratic system will need to do something more than just add up votes, in order to constitute the majority that will make legislative decisions.
This is why the mediating institutions of democracy are so important, and why we will never live in any sort of deep, decentralized democracy, or a techno-utopian “e-democracy,” where the people get to decide directly all major policy questions. Because majority will is often non-existent or indeterminate, we need to do something artificial, in order to create ruling majorities.
There is no overriding reason why party support has to correlate mathematically to how many seats a party holds in the House. We don't elect parties.
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