Friday, June 21, 2024

Solstice, and National Indigenous Peoples Day

Happy solstice --tho' technically it arrived yesterday afternoon, this being a leap year. Enjoy the daylight. 

It is also National Indigenous Day which falls on the solstice every year  And of course it's been National Indigenous History month throughout June.

The Toronto Star has an article this morning entitled "Liberals lose steam on reconciliation."  It might be about how the Star, and indeed the country, have lost steam on reconciliation. As reconciliation priorities, the story lists federal action to end boil-water advisories in reserve communities, and action on missing and murdered women and on residential schools issues. 

Worthwhile goals, sure, but there is no awareness here that reconciliation is about more than such things as local waterworks. As long as the Minister of Indigenous Affairs has to be the waterworks manager for every reserve in the country, and also the director of the local school board, and the manager of the local clinic and.... there is going to be little progress either on these specific concerns or on the larger matter of reconciliation.

Reconciliation has to come from treaty implementation,* and treaty implementation means adequate indigenous self-government and a secure source of revenues (presumably from adequate indigenous ownership and control of land and resources) so that indigenous communities can run their own water systems and school systems and medical services and cultural activities -- as every other community in the country does.  

The story does quote indigenous leaders arguing there has been more progress in the last nine years "than we have ever had in our history." and fear of "going backwards" under a new government. But we have a long way to go -- even to get started, it sometimes seems.


* By treaty implementation, I mean not the "cede, yield, surrender" texts filed in Ottawa, but the treaties as they were actually settled between the parties on the land, as agreements to share the land.  Surely it is one of the great achievements of Canadian historical research in recent decades to have established pretty conclusively the real intent of treaties-as-sharing-agreements when they were being negotiated. But the message has not travelled very far.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Book Notes and Book Honours

Alan MacEachern of Western University (and Prince Edward Island!) had a double of sorts recently: publication of his book Becoming Green Gables and launching of Green Gables Diaries, which is a website rather than a book, but contains the material on which the book draws.  And Western posted a nice news release explaining what both are all about.

We are having an Island holiday of our own later this summer.  I should start reading the diaries as prep.

The Canadian Historical Association is just wrapping up its annual meeting -- in Montreal this year. TwitteX has been covering various upsets and reorganizations caused by demonstrations and occupations around the McGill campus where it was intended to meet.  

The CHA Prizes (and there are a lot of them) were to be presented on June 18, but the CHA website has not yet posted the winners. I did see (Twittex again) that Thomas Peace won one of the Clio Awards (for regional history) for The Slow Rush of Colonization. That book, briefly noted here previously, also recently won the Wilson Prize from the Wilson Institute at McMaster  -- tho' I'm having a hard time finding the deets on the Institute website.

Are we having a bit of a summer hiatus here? It has been a bit slow laterly, but the publication schedule for this blog has always been "when I feel like it." And that continues.

Picture credit:  Western University news.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

History of changing leaders in mid-campaign: the Canada story

At his blog Parliamentum, James Bowden takes a deep dive into the weirdness of prime ministerial tenure, starting with the very topical question of what would happen if Rishi Sunak somehow abandoned (or was removed from) the prime ministership of Great Britain in the midst of his disastrous general election campaign.

There are an impressive number of Canadian precedents and analogies. Bowden does not bother to point out that Canada has the absolutely worst system of prime ministerial accountability in the world -- even as Britain and other parliamentary states strive to descend to our level.

Bonus: Mackenzie Bowell shows that he remains as newsworthy as ever.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Historians with bodyguards

This story in The Guardian made me sit up and take notice.  

The impact of this culture war on individual historians has sometimes been devastating. It’s a matter of record and a cause of national shame that one of Britain’s most respected historians, David Olusoga, has to employ a bodyguard at some speaking events. I largely stopped doing events for adults for a period because the abuse had become routine. And then there is Prof Corinne Fowler, who co-authored a 2020 report for the National Trust on its estates’ ties to the East India Company and transatlantic slavery and was subjected to a barrage of hate.

Sathnam Sanghera, historian of Britain's empire in India and author of The Empireland, writes how a muscular defence by public figures of a traditional English history of the glories of empire and all the great English heroes has inspired actual threats to historians who practice the history of empire and slaveholding from a different perspective.     

Book Notes: Pekka Hamalainen on Lakota America; Mark Bourrie on Brebeuf

I've been reading in Lakota America: A New History of Indigenous Power, a recent book by Pekka Hamalainen. Hamalainen is not an American historian with a Finnish name, but a true Finn, raised and educated in Europe. He teaches at Oxford and is part of a European network of scholars interested in nomadic empires: societies that endured and held power even without a fixed territorial base. His main work is in a field its practitioners in the US call "the new Indian history" ('new' for a few decades now): trying to look at North American history from Indigenous perspectives.  

Lakota America presents the rise of the Lakota from a minor Siouan-speaking group in the woodlands between the Mississippi and the Great Lakes in the 1600s to being (in the 1800s) a dominant power on the great plains around the headwaters of the Missouri River. In that process they contended variously with gradually shifting French, Spanish, British, American empires, and other indigenous powers. They were the power that put George Custer's army to the sword in 1876 1776 but which was overwhelmed (and slaughtered) by the American army at Wounded Knee. It's a big book, but a bold and impressive one. 

What brought me to Lakota America was reading about Mark Bourrie's current best-seller Crosses in the Sky, a biography of the Jesuit missionary Jean de Br├ębeuf, who spent 15 years among the Huron-Wendat and died in 1649 at the hands of the invading Haudenosaunee armies that were overrunning Huronia. 

Let me be clear; I have not read Crosses in the Sky, and I will give it proper attention when I do.  Even from publicity and reviews, it is clear Bourrie did not come here to hero-worship. His sympathies seem to be entirely with the Huron-Wendat, for whom contact with all things French and European turned out to be almost entirely disastrous. This is no white-saviour narrative. 

But it does seem to be a white-centered narrative, for sure, using Br├ębeuf's career to seek a way into what was done to the Huron-Wendat.  I find myself wondering, meaning no disrespect to Bourrie's project, what a Huron-Wendat-centred history of that story, the collapse of Huronia in the 1640s, would look like, and if one could be written.  

It may be possible. I don't have those contacts (to my regret and shame) but I once talked to an anthropologist/ethnohistorian who claimed to have talked with members of the Haudenosaunee nation who preserved oral history passed down from the masses of "Neutral" ancestors incorporated into the Haudenosaunee after the destruction of the Neutrals. Who knows, really, what indigenous historical traditions endure from the mid-17th century Huron-Iroquois war? Well, only indigenous scholars and memory-keepers know, if anyone does. But I would not be very surprised if significant versions of that story do exist among existing Haudenosaunee or Wendat communities.

How different the historic of the mid-17th century wars in what is now southern Ontario would be if the Jesuit Records were not practically the only source historians use! If an indigenous-kept historiography of those events exists.  

Hamalainen's Lakota America at least tries to imagine a long and consequential war in the centre of North America from a non-European perspective -- as in a different voice Bourrie's Crosses in the Sky also attempts. But I note that Haimalainen's Wikipedia biography includes mention of vigorous criticism of his work by indigenous scholars who apparently reject his whole "empire" construction of the Lakota and (it seems) insist instead on Lakota victimization at the hands of the settler-colonial world.

I don't know what an indigenous-written history of "early Canadian history" would look like.  Or who would write it. No doubt many Indigenous scholars have more recent matters urgently demanding their attention. 

But I think it may start to appear sometime, and that there will be sources, there will be perspectives, that are entirely new to most historians who have (in effect) only the Jesuit Relations to go on.    

Monday, June 03, 2024

The right side of history

"Dear university students in the United States of America, you are standing on the right side of history."   -- Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

When I read this on X last week, I thought it might be a hoax. But evidently it's the real thing.  

Having this guy on their side would make a lot of people wonder if they were on the right side at all, I would have thought.


History of hockey

I didn't watch much of the hockey playoffs, even when the Maple Leafs were still contending.  But last night I thought I might check in on the Edmonton Oilers' Game 6 chance to clinch a place in the Stanley Cup finals.

Nothing!  No network I have any connection to seemed to be carrying it. I was reduced to following some YouTube stunt where a crew of commentators talked us through the last few minutes and seconds. 

Where is the National Broadcaster when you need it? Gotta say I agreed with Jack Todd, a columnist with the Edmonton Journal  Would the CBC be covering the Leafs if they had gone this far? Todd is pretty sure he knows the answer. 

Even for CEO Catherine Tait and her Merry Band of Bonus Bandits, it was breathtaking folly. The Edmonton Oilers, Canada’s most exciting team, were a couple of wins away from playing in the Stanley Cup final for a nation that hasn’t seen a Cup parade since the Canadiens won it all in 1993.

So where was the CBC, for decades the home of Hockey Night in Canada?

Nowhere to be found, that’s where.

...The decision to opt out of playoff games even if they featured a Canadian team had been made months before, when the CBC decided to air instead something called the Canadian Screen Awards followed by a Just for Laughs special on the evening of what turned out to be Game 5, and a reality show called Canada’s Ultimate Challenge during Sunday evening’s Game 6.

Worse, the CBC did show the final game of the Panthers-Rangers series featuring two American teams.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

This Month at Canada's History

The June-July issue of Canada's History, now in the hands of subscribers, features a long, thoughtful article by Francis Furstenburg about the Quebec Act on its 250th anniversary, entitled "Tolerance or Tyranny" and exploring how what became a confirmation of francophone and Catholic rights in Quebec was framed as imperial tyranny and oppression in the Thirteen Colonies.

Also a memoir of youthful Canadians playing baseball in Cuba in 1964, when Fidel himself came up to bat.  And astrophysicist Allie Vebert Douglas, a visit to Butchart Gardens, and a slew of reviews in the Summer Reading Guide.

I appreciated the letter from Warren Bell of Salmon Arm BC.  He likes "the diversity of articles" in a recent issue and their willingness to address "challenging but importnat subjects whose visibility in our world needs to be enhanced."  One of the ones he cites from a recent issue is my own "Fuelling Anger" from Dec '23-Jan '24.

Have a look: June-July 2024 - Canada's History (

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Joy Parr 1949-2024 RIP, historian

I have a list of postable things I have yet to get done. But it's high time to note the death of the great historian Joy Parr, who died May 16 in Southhampton, Ontario, not far from her birthplace. 

There's a tribute to her by Jessica von Horssten on the Niche and Active History blogs (Sensing (everything) Changes: A Tribute to Joy Parr – NiCHE (  and an obit from Queen's University where she once taught. (Joy Parr, former Queen's History professor, passes away | Department of History, Queen's University (  from which I have borrowed this photo.

Her now some thirty-five years old book The Gender of Breadwinners, about mostly women knitting-factory workers in Paris, Ontario, and mostly male furniture-factory workers in Hanover, Ontario, first drew my attention to her work.  Indeed, I published a long profile of her in one of my first columns for The Beaver magazine (now Canada's History) in the early1990s.  It probably was my first discovery of how essential and revealing gender history can be.  And yes, as she tells me in the profile, men have gender too.

Excerpt from "Lives of Men and Women" (The Beaver, 1992)
Talking to the women of Paris -- including some who immigrated in the early years of the century and remained Penmans employees into the 1970s -- Parr learned how women's work in the factories changed life in Paris. More than elsewhere, women owned homes or boarded together in self-supporting groups. They might marry younger men and expect them to share the housework. They would leave the factory for a few years to raise children and expect Penmans to take them back when they chose to return. They were militant about their rights, but they had a hard time with outside unions with traditional ideas about women and work. In Paris, being a woman and a factory worker was always complicated -- but always possible. Paris showed the "women don’t work" rule never applied everywhere. It opened a way for Parr to explore the many curious ways in which ideas about what men and women "ought" to do have shaped work and home – and politics and labour strife, too.

In Hanover, the subject of the second half of Parr's book, wives worked at home and men built furniture in Daniel Knechtel’s factory. That seemed a more normal work situation, but when I told Joy Parr that I had wondered how she would apply her theme of gender, she laughed. "As if only women have gender!"

Book Notes: MacLaren on Paul Kane

Went down last night to Cowley Abbott's Toronto gallery Canadian Art Auctions | Cowley Abbott Auctioneers and Appraisers ( for the launch of a new history book.

It was not just a few friends in the back of a bookstore this time. Cowley Abbott are holding an art auction tomorrow for a lot of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Canadian art: Krieghoff, Milne, Carr, Kurelek, Mary Pratt, a bunch of Group of Sevens, much more. The walls were looking fabulous last night. I guess they will need a lot of new hangings in the next few days.

Among the artworks on offer are two by Paul Kane, whose work is mostly held in public collections and rarely comes to auction. And the gallery book launch honoured Ian MacLaren of the University of Alberta history department and his long pursued study: Paul Kane's Travels in Indigenous North America: Writings and Art, Life and Times (Paul Kane's Travels in Indigenous North America | McGill-Queen’s University Press (

It's a critical study for sure, not a coffee table book. As the catalogue copy says, it 

rediscovers the primary fieldwork underlying Kane’s studio art and book and the process by which his sketches and field writings evolved into damaging stereotypes with significant authority in the nineteenth century, in both popular and learned circles.

MacLaren observed last night that most Kane works have been removed from display by major Canadian art museums, and some are disposing of them to raise funds for new acquisitions. So a few Kanes are back on the art market.

I generally observe the rule that when invited to a book launch, one buys a copy of the book. But Ian MacLaren was understanding about the dearth of sales last night. The book is four volumes in hard cover; McGill-Queen's offers it for $450 without the slipcases. And even that price required years of searching for donors and grants. 

Update, June 1:  At the auction on Thursday (I did not attend),  Kane's 1855 oil "Party of Indians..."  sold for $720,000, just below the upper limit of the gallery's estimated value for it.  


Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Book Notes: Mossman on Women Lawyers

I have at least dabbled in Canadian legal history, and I have from time to time been drawn into to what might be called the genealogy of law firms. Where law firms large and small come from, how they perpetuate themselves, what they inherit from their earlier incarnations, and how small ones grow big or vice versa: it's like a little secret field no one has ever heard of.

So I'm a sucker for Mary Jane Mossman's Quiet Rebels: A History of Ontario Women Lawyers -- even though what I'm describing above is not at all her focus. This is a group biography of almost two hundred women who became lawyers in Ontario from 1897 to 1957.  A group biography of almost two hundred people is really two hundred separate research projects, and I'm in awe of the immense amount of work involved in digging out pretty much everything about each of these lawyers, now matter how brief or uncelebrated their legal practices may have been. 

Gradually it all gels into a very detailed and convincing case about just what kept women out, what allowed them in, what circumstances they faced, and what changes and accommodations they faced. In the meantime, there are a couple of hundred quick sketches of all the ways individual women found their way into a mostly hostile profession and gradually made their changes in it.  You can read it for all the little histories -- or follow the big one.

I have to admit it's pleasant to see my own legal historical writing cited pretty regularly in this book. Moore, The Law Society of Upper Canada and Ontario's Lawyers (UTP, 1997) must be my most cited work, though it's probably not among my best known. It started a lot of new research into topics I barely alluded to, which is satisfying. Quiet Rebels might have that effect too.

Book Notes: White on the Beaches

Okay, Richard White is a good friend of ours, but I'm really liking his new book The Beaches: Creation of a Toronto Neighbourhood

Richard lives in and appreciates the Beaches neighbourhood of east Toronto, but he is also a historian of urban planning (Planning Toronto, etc.). The planner in him wasn't interested in merely celebrating the place, so there's some urban history data and analysis here, and you might learn a little about Sam Bass Warner's theory of street car suburbs and such. Nor is he inclined to preservationist "preserve this urban form at all costs" arguments that might come from residents' associations and such. 

He has a citizen's interest, you might say, in how cities and neighbourhood grow and change. He's just interested, and often amused, at the way this particular neighbourhood came to be the way it is. He notes that early in the 20th century, as the Beaches was growing fast, the idea of comprehensive town planning was beginning to be tried in places like Vienna:

But one suspects that Toronto city councillors knew as much about Viennese city-building as they did about Sigmund Freud.

You need not be an urban historian to share his interest, but you might come to learn a little about what urban history knows.

The cover art is by William Kurelek, probably better known for his prairie scenes and Ukrainian imagery. Who knew he lived in the Beaches for a while? Well, Richard White, anyway.

The "Beaches" and not "The Beach"? Torontonians familiar with that debate will want to see his assessment of what the "correct" title has to be.


Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Jacques Monet (1930-2024) RIP, historian of 19th Century Canada


Jacques Monet, historian and Jesuit priest, died recently at the age of ninety-four. He was a longtime history professor at several Canadian universities and the author of The Last Cannon Shot and other works in mid-19th century Canadian history. Monet was an admirer of the pre-Confederation politics of French-English co-operation -- to the point that in the tempestuous 1970s he was known to some of his more nationalist compatriots as "Union Jacques."

He was head of the University of Ottawa history department when I was a graduate student there and always charming and gregarious. I recall him describing once how he lived at the Jesuit Fathers House in Ottawa, which was listed in the phone book (this was a long time ago) under J for Jesuit Fathers. They received a letter one day from a genealogical marketing company addressed to "Dear Mr. Fathers Jesuit."  It gushed for a page and a half about the great things the children of the Jesuit family had achieved since their forefathers came to North America long ago, and offered to provide, for just X dollars, a handsome hardwood crest bearing the family coat of arms.  

Monet could not resist, and in due course he and his brethren at the Jesuit Fathers House received the promised crest in the mail:  a shield-shaped piece of wood with a red background and a large J in the centre.

Somewhere Jacques Monet's many descendants are still smiling.    

Giro d'Italia update

On Sunday, the Giro d'Italia ran its "queen stage," (that is, its longest steepest most unendurable day of racing.  And Tadej Pogacar cruised through it, going away alone to the snowy top of the final peak looking like he was on a Sunday pleasure ride. He now has the greatest lead going into the Giro's final week that any rider has had in decades: almost seven minutes over second place Geraint Thomas. 

The commentators spent most of the final minutes of the day discussing whether Pogacar is poised to become the greatest Grand Tour rider ever ... or whether he already is.  Sadly, in bike racing, amazing results automatically triggers thoughts of new drug regimes and new ways of concealing them, and one wants to speculate about mad Slovenian scientist and what they have done to the recent crop of Slovenian riders.  But for the moment Tadej Pogacar is the best rider in the world and seemingly a master at every aspect of the sport.

Below is what I wrote a few days earlier, but held back, due to a bug in Blogger's picture insertion system, pending a fix. (Still pending)

The Giro, looking more every day like Tadej Pogacar's practice run for the Tour, went through Ortona today. The announcers were not well briefed on the military history of the place, saying only that Allied forces fought the German army there -- no Canadiense recognition -- and seemed to get the details wrong.

But grand tour races provide terrific reconnaissances wherever they go. In recent years I have seen Verdun and the Vimy battlefield, the D-Day beaches among military sites.  Yesterday the Giro made a spectacular start at Pompeii, and while they formed up the helicopters gave us the best views of Pompeii I've ever seen.  And every day there are castles and villages and monuments and mountains and seascapes.

Okay some bike racing intrudes.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

History of the Senate from Emmett Macfarlane

On his Substack, political scientist Emmett Macfarlane offers much good sense on the Senate (as he has done before) and confrontation  being set up between a Poilievre government and a Senate full of independent senators -- who owe their seats to Justin Trudeau's new appointment process.  Macfarlane's book Constitutional Pariah is the best book available on the Senate: my notes on it are here.

Andrew Coyne, meanwhile, suggests the Charter of Rights and the notwithstanding clause may be the prime minister's last best shot as an election issue..

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