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 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,

Friday, April 27, 2018

Fort York, Stephen Otto, and the city of Toronto

Fort York has guarded the Toronto shoreline since 1793, but landfill and development have steadily moved the shoreline away from it. In the twentieth century it stood surrounded by light industry and transit corridors that include an elevated freeway. All through the 20th century, groups of historically-minded Torontonians protected it from development threats. It has been a national historic site since 1923.

By the end of the century, with rising property values and more intense planning projects throughout central Toronto, a strictly negative idea of merely holding back development to "save the fort" seemed mostly to emphasize the potential risk to it.

Around that time, heritage activists and planners began a different initiative:  not so much resisting development as demonstrating how Fort York could be an asset to a reshaped waterfront and a re-imagined Toronto. They pitched the idea that Fort York and Garrison Common around it were a key cultural landmark in the city, as well as the largest green space in the densely used area just west of downtown. They laid out plans for how, as the area around it was transformed for industrial and commercial uses to high-density residential development, the Fort and its environs should become the heart of the new neighbourhood, offering community gathering space, pedestrian and bike corridors, recreational space, and cultural value. 

Most of this has actually come to pass. Thousands of apartment and condo-dwellers now live in "the Fort York district," the site's much lauded new visitor centre provides community space, and the green space, newly made accessible with pathways and bridges, has become the community back yard, even as the fort's programming, particularly for the garrison common, has become open to music events, food fairs, indigenous powwows, and other crowd-friendly events.  Preserving Fort York has become an asset not an obstacle to the blossoming of the new neighbourhood around it.

Much of the credit for this goes to Stephen Otto.  Stephen was an Ontario heritage department official, a major scholar of early Toronto and Upper Canada with deep Ontario roots.   He was private, polite, and reserved, but at the same time a formidable activist for creative integration of heritage and urban planning, and a remarkable organizer of talent, energy and money around historical and heritage causes -- Fort York perhaps central among them.  "Stephen is a fine fellow, but very hard to say no to," summed him up very nicely.

Stephen was inducted into the Order of Canada in January in a special ceremony in Toronto, when he was already in palliative care.  He died on April 22, and there is a memorial service at old Toronto's school, Trinity College, on Saturday. 

Who will I go to for little points in Ontario history no one else has at their fingertips? 

Image: Fife and Drum. Friends of Fort York     

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

J. Keith Johnson (1930-2018), historian of Upper Canada

Archivist, Carleton University professor, and busy historian of Upper Canada/Canada West/Ontario, Keith Johnson died recently. Full obituary here.
His contributions to Canadian history include editing the Canadian Directory of Parliament and Affectionately Yours: The Letters of Sir John A. Macdonald and his Family and his books Becoming Prominent: Regional Leadership in Upper Canada and In Duty Bound: Men, Women and the State in Upper Canada.
I remember Keith as an editor of Histoire sociale/Social History who used to invite me to write reviews on a nice range of scholarly books.  His survivors include Jill Vickers, a founder of feminist political science and former Carleton prof.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Shakespeare's Birthday/World Book Day/Getting Names Right(ish)

It's Shakespeare's birthday.  Also World Book and Copyright Day.

And speaking of words: Tsilhqot'in or Chilcotin? First Nation or indigenous or Indigenous? Cindy Blackstock recommends the Indigenous Peoples Glossary, Second Edition, for sorting out these issues of respect and accuracy.
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