Thursday, July 17, 2014

Who's your Father?

This is where I'm blogging from.  Which is to say, blogging will be slim to none for the next ten days, unless we find ourselves in more ferry terminal departure lounges with time to kill and free wi-fi

Meanwhile, Take this quick quiz to determine which Father of Confederation you would have been. (Fair warning.  I came out as John Mercer Johnson, someone even I barely know.)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Leaders and Legacies on the Lazier murder reenactment

All the re-enactors except the two hanged men... which seems ominous
Roderick Benns, who attended, gives a full report on an unusual piece of local history re-enacting last Friday: the 1884 trial of two accused murderers, with lawyers and local historians playing the parts, a court-filling audience happily taking sides, and the whole thing taking place in the original courtroom in the original courthouse, in Picton, Ontario.

Photo: Leaders and Legacies

Friday, July 11, 2014

History of aboriginal title... the other shoe?

No forest? No animals, no hunting
I haven't had time to note the historic potential of the Supreme Court's recent Tsilqot'in decision, and now here's another one worth watching: the Grassy Narrows decision to be handed down later today.

Tsilqot'in covered lands never affected by treaty, and the SCC gave what you would think would be a "Well, Duh" decision: if it wasn't given up, it's still theirs.

Grassy Narrows represents the rest of the country: the vast territories where there are treaties in place. The First Nations plaintiffs (actually the appellants at the SCC, I think, but they began as plaintiffs) want the court to acknowledge that when a treaty confirms a permanent right to hunt and fish, well, they have a permanent right to hunt and fish, and so logging and other activities that make hunting and fishing impossible are not permitted without consent.

Consent can be negotiated. Consent can be priced. It has been impressive how much of the reaction to the Tsilqot'in decision has been on the lines of, "Well, if the law doesn't allow us to just steal Indian land anymore, okay, we'll just adjust our business plans a little and negotiate payment for it from now on." Like this one. Pretty reassuring.

It will take more cases, no doubt, but if Grassy Narrows goes the right way today, and it turns out that treaties really are treaties, binding on us as well as on the First Nations, the significance could be profound. I mean profoundly good.  Once the First Nations of Canada own and control and can draw benefit from all the land that is already theirs, it becomes possible to imagine aboriginal poverty on reserves going away. I try not to get too Pollyanna on this, but it's that big, I would guess.

Update:  Well, that was fast.  Barely posted that when the news came in.  7-0 against Grassy Narrows.

I don't like criticizing judges. They know stuff I don't and deal with issues I don't. Apparently much of this was particularly linked to division of powers questions between federal and provincial responsibility that have been pretty much settled law since the 1880s.  The larger issue will come up again.

Image: CBC News

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Reading the Tour

Part of the Tour de France yesterday
I wasn't sure how to follow the Tour this year.

When I started following it, it was just the show that hooked me -- the landscapes, the spectacle, the endurance, the unfolding beauty and sophistication of race strategy. When I first discovered ("columbused"?) a Canadian in the race, he was invisible, never on camera, never mentioned by the commentators, never covered in Canadian sports coverage.  Following Ryder Hesjedal required serious work down deep inside the classifications on the tour website.

Then Ryder became a star. He won a grand tour, contended for stages, climbed like a champion. grabbed the camera frequently, and earned a place in the verbal tics of the commentators, who could not say "Hesjedal" without saying "the big Canadian boy." So I fell back into my usual sports situation.  Like following hockey after Easter or baseball in September, I was becoming a Tour front-runner, gripped by how my team and my guy were doing.

Suddenly we have a Tour without Hesjedal.  He placed high in the Giro d'Italia this past May and announced he would skip this year's Tour de France in order to contend for the Vuelta d'Espana later this summer. It's plausible; few riders do all three. But his team, the US-based Garmin, has a slew of hot young riders coming up. Most of them are Americans, with more potential than Hesjedal the diffident Canadian as the new face of post-Armstrong cycling in the US. Garmin's 2014 Tour promotion is all around a young Yank called Andrew Talansky.  You have to wonder if this leadership sharing -- Talansky the Tour, Hesjedal the Giro and the Vuelta -- is a genuine partnership, or if Hesjedal may have to look for a new team soon.

Defanned, I found myself unsure how to watch the Tour this year. Not quite a week in, I'm learning again.

You can watch soccer in 90 minutes (actually, 120 minutes plus the penalties, too often)  The Tour is more like an enormous novel or a long-running series. You just have to sink into it and let the meaning emerge gradually. I'm still not rooting for anyone in particular (though there are two Canadians deep in the weeds of the tour).  But there are more than enough storylines.

  • Who knew Yorkshire was so beautiful? 
  • Who knew England would turn out such crowds, or that they would shut down London on a Monday for the Tour de France? 
  • Jeez, look at the role of injuries:  Mark Cavendish, the leading sprinter, out on the first day, and Chris Froome, the defending champion, out yesterday.
  • Moving to see them racing through a landscape of First World War cemeteries, with the Tour helicopter cameras circling round Canada's "Brooding Canadian" statue at Tyne Cot.
  • Ah, so that's how cobblestone sections can reshape the whole race. Yesterday's race was cold, wet, mud-soaked, and absolutely terrific. 
  • Hmm, Vincenzo Nibali, a rather uncharismatic Italian but almost Hesjedalian in his dogged competitiveness, "put time" into everybody, and is emerging as the most serious early contender. You have to have been watching all week to understand how a 2 minute advantage is huge in a race that spans three weeks and 3600 km.  
  • Das Boom
  • A Dutch racer called Lars Boom, and you have to be seriously into the Tour to be aware of him, is a proud dad with a very cute little kid.
  • Canadians Christian Meier and Svein Tuft are 140th and 144th.  And this is good. Tuft, particularly, is a key member of their Australian Orica-Greenedge team. (Maybe Hesjedal will join the Aussies next year!)
  • Aren't TV sports networks the biggest moneymakers in broadcasting? Tour coverage in Canada shifted from TSN 2 to one of the SportsNet channels this year, and while I thought TSN was unreliable, SportNet is seriously cheap and chintzy about their coverage. No pre- or post-race commentators, different commentators without explanation during the race --it's kinda disorienting. Not hard to imagine the jocks in head office just going through the motions until hockey returns.
  • Yeah, Andrew Talansky is doing well, the Garmin team seems strong around him, and he gets coverage as an American anyway.
Anyway, this novel ain't half written yet, but this may be it for TdF coverage here this year. Indeed, fair warning, this blog is soon about to go into summer hiatus for a while.

Update:  Tour of Alberta, September 2-7. Just saying.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Germani on WW 1

Canadian Journal of History offers temporary free online access to a review of five recent books (including Margaret MacMillan's) on the First World War by Ian Germani of U Regina.
(h/t H-Canada)

Friday, July 04, 2014

Tour de France 2014

Okay even if you don't watch the Tour, watch this teaser -- barely a minute.

What else do you need to know?

Historiography of the First World War

... nicely, it seems to me, summed up by Simon Heffer in the British magazine New Statesman.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Archives and residential schools

Regarding the planned destruction of testimony from the residential schools inquiry, archivist Scott James asks an essential question:
Where is the voice of the archivist of Canada in this discussion? I’ve read numerous articles and correspondence on this subject but nowhere have I seen reference to the role of the government agency specifically charged with the identification and preservation of the public historical record.The records of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada are public and subject to the professional attention of Library and Archives Canada. 

Can we afford the Queen of England/Britain?

What comes up if you google "maple crown"
Smith makes the business case for disconnecting Canada from Britain's monarchy:
There are many things the Canadian government can do to help Canadian banks to succeed in global markets. Associating Canada with the empire responsible for such accomplishments as the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Amritsar massacre, and the Opium Wars surely is not one of them. I don’t want to overstate the importance of political symbols in international business, but they do matter, at least at the margins.
He's drawing on the recent op-ed by Paul Heinbecker:
The monarchy adds celebrity to Britain’s reputation but not to ours (ask any American or Asian or African which country William will be king of). It does generate confusion about who we are and what our relationship with London is, and necessitates endless explanations that the Crown is a kind of legal convenience in Canada and historical artifact. 
Coyne's not onside, though in other respects he's good on the politicians' "history wars":
The Crown, likewise, is not some useless foreign ornament 
Image source: (an excellent sipping drink, btw)

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Canada Day puts history (and history blogger) in the papers


Tom Broadbeck of the Winnipeg Sun looks into how the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 worked:
When government leaders from four British North America colonies gathered here in September 1864 to discuss the possibility of a federal union, they did something today’s elected officials would never do: they invited their political rivals to the negotiating table.
And Michael MacDonald of Canadian Press was on the story too:
"It's true that the Canadians had barged in on what had been a meeting on Maritime union, but they were certainly welcomed by the Maritimers," says Christopher Moore, a Toronto-based historian and author of "1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal."
Doubtless lots of stories that didn't quote me, but who care, really?

Image (of the PM in Charlottetown recently): CTV/Canadian Press 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Confederation sads

A death notice in the Toronto Star, June 28, 2014
YVONNE K. WOODS (nee RITCHIE) Aged 98, departed this earth on April 7, 2014. She  ... was born in Toronto, Canada, the granddaughter of The Honourable William McDougall, one of the Canadian Fathers of Confederation. 

War of 1812 not over yet

1812 seems to have been eclipsed by 1914 this summer, but the commemoration battle goes on.

For 1812 diehards, there's a lot of nasty fighting on the Niagara Peninsula still to be noted: battles at Chippewa and  Lundy's Lane in July 1814. My friends at the Fieldcote Museum in Ancaster are observing the Burlington heights executions of July 20, 1814 with -- sweetly odd and sentimental touch -- a reunion of descendants of the eight men convicted and executed for treason.

And Keith Mercer has all the details on how in August Halifax will consider the War of 1812 that did not happen in southern Ontario with an impressive conference at St Mary's University.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Asselin on democratic reform

Aaron Wherry put me onto a position paper on democratic reform by political scientist Robert Asselin that he takes semi-seriously. It struck me as extraordinarily blinkered and ill-informed.  Later, I realized the author is an advisor to Justin Trudeau, and probably was only allowed to think thoughts that complement the Liberal leader's views on parliamentary reform (i.e., nothing that might inconvenience the leader).

Anyway, below is my reading of Asselin on parliament from when I though this was worth taking more seriously as a piece of political thought.