Thursday, May 24, 2018

This Month at Canada's History

Cover story at Canada's History this month features Marilyn Dickson on Eileen Vollick, first woman to earn a pilot's licence in Canada:
"I have never been afraid to go after anything I wanted and to stay until I got it," she wrote, so, "one day I ventured into the proprietor's den and asked him, 'Can a girl learn to fly?'"
Also, Ray Argyle on Solomon Sanderson, the Cree chief who created the term "First Nations" -- in 1980. Cynthia Levine-Rasky on the Roma in Canada. And Peter Blow on a Canadian freedom fighter executed by the Spanish in 19th century Cuba. And much more.

For my own column, I talked to Ian Milligan about Big Data and historians' plans to gain access to and control of what is being called "the infinite archives" -- the vast amounts of historical source material that lives online and only online.  Subscribe!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Legal history: SCC embargoes the documents

Thinking about writing a history of the Supreme Court of Canada? Or any of its judges?  Particularly about the recent decades when it became truly "supreme," began to control the docket of cases that came to it, and was empowered by the 1982 constitutional amendments to wield power as never before?

You might have to wait. The Supreme Court recently put a fifty year embargo on the internal court documents and judges' communications that provide the kind of sources judicial historians require. Biographers and legal historians are pushing back, with the support of many retired judges:
Jim Phillips, editor-in-chief of the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History, which has overseen the publication of several biographies of Supreme Court judges, also said he did not understand why the embargo had to be nearly so long.
“I could see a rule that said ‘nothing that referred to a sitting judge.’ But nothing like 50 years.”
John English, a historian and author of a biography of Pierre Trudeau, said that, decades ago, 50-year embargoes on access to government files gave way to 30 years and then 20. He said the documents disclosing Supreme Court deliberations is critical to understanding how the country’s most powerful judges dealt with major issues since the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms took effect.

Histories of Toxic Leadership: the Ontario case

Would you vote for this guy?
The Globe & Mail has been running a series on the suspected mass rigging of Ontario Conservative Party candidate nominations.  It makes you wonder how anyone could stomach being a political party member -- particularly in that party, but really in all of them.

The previous leader of the Ontario conservatives, Patrick Brown, was a sort of Manchurian Candidate (without the foreign manipulation). Someone with an unimpressive track record turned into a party leader essentially by "organization": which seems to have meant mostly massive buying up of party memberships until the eventual leadership vote was a foregone conclusion.

Brown and his party executive claimed to have built a membership base of 200,000 or more, and they spent more than a year creating an election platform through an extensive consultation he called the "People's MandateGuarantee."  Except when he was forced out by a sex scandal, it turned out there were maybe 74,000 members with genuine credentials and actual mailing addresses.

The new leader, Doug Ford, who was narrowly chosen by a process as dubious as Brown's, was authorized to throw the alleged People's GuaranteeMandate into the blue box, and go into an election with masses of top-down appointed candidates and others chosen by the smelly and possibly illegal processes outlined in the Globe stories
A Globe analysis of the membership list found that more than two dozen fake members listed at one apartment building had the same names as people connected to Mr. Dhillon or his associates through social media. In interviews, two people said they had no idea how their names and Toronto-area phone numbers ended up on a list of party members in Ottawa....
Another of the Globe stories drove home the point that all political parties, federal and provincial, operate pretty much this way
Duff Conacher, co-founder of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, said the system for nominating candidates across Canada is vulnerable to manipulation, because it occurs with no independent oversight. The controversy in the PC Party is an example of why Ottawa and the provinces need to “clean up” the system, Mr. Conacher said, by having elections agencies run nomination races. 
He also said the questions around the disputed Tory races call for a police investigation.
“It can’t be left up to the party leader to decide whether there should be an investigation or not because their incentive is always to cover things up,” he said on Sunday.​
But as long as leadership is everything, and party leaders as isolated from their caucuses as Patrick Brown (and Doug Ford) are accepted  -- both within their parties and by commentators and analysts -- to have quasi-dictatorial powers over their parties, there is a huge incentive for these kinds of actions by would be party leaders and the fixers and organizers who cluster around them.  No wonder someone like Jaspal Atwal looks like the typical Canadian political party member.

I've always voted.  But I'm beginning to wonder if it only encourages them,

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

History on TV: "The Terror"

Visions of the North, the blog of Franklin scholar Russell Potter, recently noted its one-millionth visitor, and credited at least some of the uptick to interest generated by the AMC television drama "The Terror."  ("The Terror" doesn't appear to be on any channel we subscribe to). But Potter offers a list of the principal documentaries of the Franklin expedition, many of which are available in one format or another.

Visions also notes with approval the commitment "The Terror"' has made to actually having Inuit played by Inuit, and not just "generic" Inuit, but specific named actors. In other roles are an A list crowd of Brits: Jared Harris (Captain Crozier), Ciaran Hinds (Franklin), Tobias Menzies (James Fitzjames)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Canada's History special publication on Treaties

Canada's History has announced publication of Treaties and the Treaty Relationship, a book length exploration of treaties, treaty issues, and the work of reconciliation, edited with Manitoba Treaties Commissioner Loretta Ross.

The volume, which includes essays by, among others, Karine Duhamel, William Wicken, Wabi Benais Mistatim Equay (Cynthia Bird), Guuduniia LaBoucan, and Jaime Battiste, is a resource for educators, funded by a grant from the Government of Canada, and delivered to schools and universities across Canada.  It is also available online via the link above.

Francis on Neary on Depression Work Camp letters

On his blog and at the remarkable online history review site The Ormsby Review, Daniel Francis considers the letters of Alan Collier, Ontario artist turned labourer in the relief camps established by British Columbia in the dirty thirties
The camps were an attempt to deal with the challenge of unemployment and the social unrest the government feared would result. Tens of thousands of single men were travelling across the country looking for work and when work was not available, looking for relief. A large number congregated in Vancouver, which became known as “the Mecca of the Unemployed.” But the city was overburdened and could do very little for the men.
Collier's letters from the camps are collected in Alan Caswell Collier, Relief Stiff: An Artist's Letters from Depression-Era British Columbia, edited by historian Peter Neary and newly published by UBC Press.

Monday, May 14, 2018

More analysis on Comeau and the constitution

Advocates for the Comeau "free beer' case, recently thrown out unanimously by the Supreme Court of Canada, have complained that the judges "disparaged" history and offered a "bizarre" or "dumbfounding" take on Canadian history.

At Borealia, historian and legal scholar Bradley Miller argues precisely the opposite:
the courts took history and historical evidence and inquiry seriously in Comeau. In fact, historical analysis was central to the case against Comeau’s right to bring beer over the provincial boundary. We may not like the policy outcomes of the Supreme Court’s decision, but if unfettered free trade didn’t triumph, it’s not because the justices decided to ignore Canada’s past.... 
In fact, two very different versions of history emerged from two historians involved in the litigation.
One of the two different versions Miller identifies is mine, as it happens, and that is the version of history Miller and the Supreme Court share.

Andrew Smith, an advocate for the other version, responds with, inter alia, a reading list of Comeau commentary he likes better at his blog The Past Speaks.

History of wine and Samuel Pepys

Through the invisible bloggers' underground, I've been recommended a new blog on the history (and philosophy and science!) of wine.

A Most Particular Taste by Toronto wine writer St├ęphane Beauroy takes its title from a 1663 comment by Samuel Pepys, blogger avant la lettre, about a bottle of Chateau Haut-Brion.

Which reminds me that Pepys's diary is itself a blog, where you can read the current day's entries, all exhaustively annotated and commented on by a loving crew of Pepysians. The online diary has not stopped, as I reported long ago, but appears to be permanently cycling back to the beginning when it reaches the end.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Racing season is ON

If it's May, it's the Giro d'Italia. Started in Jerusalem this year, but now back in Italy.  They are going up Etna tomorrow, which ought to be ... steep.  Three Canadians riding this year: Michael Woods, who stepped forward in the Vuelta last year, is among the contenders. Guillaume Boivin from Quebec and the iron man Svein Tuft, doing his last Grand Tour at age 41, are the others.  Follow via Steephill if you are not up for the expensive cable package.

Book Notes: two books on Can-Am history

Joe Martin and Christopher Kobrak have recently published From Wall Street to Bay Street, a comparative history of banking systems in Canada and the United States.  Starting from the observation that Canadian banks suffered nothing like the damage that hit American banks in the 2008 financial crisis, they offer a general reader's history of the banks back to the 18th century.  They like what they see in Canada
The authors trace the roots of each country’s financial systems back to Alexander Hamilton and insightfully argue that while Canada has preserved a Hamiltonian financial tradition, the United States has favoured the populist Jacksonian tradition since the 1830s. The sporadic and inconsistent fashion in which the American system have changed over time is at odds with the evolutionary path taken by the Canadian system.
Think on that next time you consider the whopping fees and enormous profits of whichever megabank has you in his clutches.

Public Affairs Publishing in the US wants us to know of Jared A. Brock's new biography of Josiah Henson, The Road to Dawn: Josiah Henson and the Story that Sparked the Civil War.  Their promotion emphasizes that Henson has been forgotten.
Josiah was a slave for more than 40 years, escaped with his family and trekked 600 miles to Canada, spent his life fighting for the cause and ultimately rescued 118 slaves. He founded a settlement called Dawn, which was known as the last stop on the Underground Railroad. And he was the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s title character Uncle Tom. But he’s been lost to history.
Henson may be more a part of the historical record in Canada, where his home and his story of escape from slavery and settlement in Canada West have been part of Ontario Black history for a long time.  But Brock's book and an accompanying film documentary may change things in the States too.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Cross-posting at the Champlain Society website

My friends at The Champlain Society run a website crammed with findings, sources, readings, and podcasts about Canadian history. They have just done me the honour of inviting me to cross-post now and then from here to there. So every ten days or so, a post from this blog will go up on the Champlain Society site at well. And the first one selected from here is now there.  Go take a look, and browse around.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

The Annex walking tour: a reading list

One special narrow-cast posting today. This is directed particularly at those who have joined today's Jane's Walk exploration "Walking the Literary Annex."  What follows is a listing of some further readings about the literary history of Toronto's Annex neighbourhood  -- particularly those I relied on and borrowed from while planning this walk.

Greg Gatenby, Toronto: A Literary Guide (Toronto:McArthur & Co, 1999).  Gatenby hunted out practically every writer who ever lived and worked in Toronto, then pinned down where they had lived at various times, then devised dozens of walks to lead devotees to them.  Only after I failed to persuade Greg to lead this walk did I take it on myself, and his book was invaluable (not for the first time). It is a work of inspired and passionate research, not only about the Annex.

Jack Batten, The Annex: The Story of A Toronto Neighbourhood.  (Boston Mills Press, 2004).  Journalist, novelist, and film and music critic Jack Batten is  a longtime Annex resident, and this words-and-pictures account is the best introduction to his nabe.

Douglas Fetherling, Travels by Night: A Memoir of the Sixties (Lester Books, 1994).  To my eye the best and most evocative account of young literary Toronto in the 1960s, when Fetherling lived at many Annex addresses. 

Katherine Govier, Fables of Brunswick Avenue (Penguin, 1985). A short-story companion to Travels by Night, perhaps, the first book of stories by the now widely published novelist.

Christopher Moore, Founding the Writer's Union of Canada: An Oral History (Writer's Union of Canada, 2012)  This one is only indirectly about the Annex, except that many of the Union's founders describe how they lived in the Annex and held their organizational meetings in houses on Brunswick Avenue and bars along Bloor Street. David Lewis Stein:  "It was all on Brunswick Avenue.  We used to joke that if a bomb hit Brunswick Avenue and the Annex, the CanLit movement would have been wiped out."

Update, May 7:  A million thanks to all the dedicated Jane's Walkers who joined us yesterday to walk the literary Annex. We were one hundred walkers, in perfect walking weather, and such a friendly, enthusiastic, dedicated group -- it was a pleasure being part of it.  We even stopped at Jane Jacob's former home on Albany Avenue. 

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

History of Toronto's Annex: a literary Jane's Walk

                                         Drifting up Kendal to the
Turrets and gables, the looney apertures, the squiggles and
     Arches and baleful asymmetric frontal glare of the houses he loves
Toronto gothic
Walking north in the fine rain, going home through the late afternoon
     He comes to Sibelius Park.

-- Dennis Lee, "Sibelius Park," 1968

This is Jane's Walk weekend in Toronto and many other cities: a few days of urban discoveries through city walks, inspired by urban theorist Jane Jacobs.  It is also the weekend the Nonfiction Writing Collective meets in Toronto, and it likes to wrap up its conference with a literary walk.

So Sunday, May 6, "Everyone Walks on Brunswick Avenue Sooner or Later: An Annex Literary Walk" goes at 12.45 p.m from the St George subway stop, Bloor and St. George.  Since I could not convince Greg Gatenby, author of Toronto: A Literary Guide, to lead it, I'm doing it myself.  We will hit both Dennis Lee's Sibelius Park and Gwendolyn MacEwan's own park, and find out why Katherine Govier declared "Everyone lives on Brunswick Avenue sooner or later."

Jane's Walks are always free.  All the deets here.

Monday, April 30, 2018

History of magazine writing

Wonder why the writing in so many magazines seems so ... amateurish?  Michael Harris in Medium has a well documented explanation.  It's the pay rate, which has stagnated for fifty years and more.
Beyond the basic numbers, writers also told me about a grab bag of smaller frustrations and indignities that make the economics of their job problematic: checks that arrived on a geologic time scale while the landlord still charges monthly; publications squeezing out reprint, TV, and film rights; editors who assign and fix pay for pieces at word counts they know writers will likely exceed to meet the scope of the assignment.
Harris's material is all American. Canadian experience is less documented but surely worse. The Periodical Writers of Canada changed its name to Professional Writers of Canada years ago, because hardly any of its members seriously working as writers worked for periodicals anymore,
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