Saturday, June 25, 2022

Christopher Armstrong (1942 -2022) RIP And Ray Argyle (1930-2022) RIP

Christopher Armstrong, longtime history professor at York University, died recently in Toronto.

He was a prolific scholar, the author (or co-author, often with H. V. Nelles) of histories both heavyweight (The Politics of Federalism) and lighter (The Revenge of the Methodist Bicycle Company), or financial (Blue Skies and Boiler Rooms: Buying and Selling Securities in Canada), or urban (Making Toronto Modern), or environmental (The River Returns: An Environmental History of the Bow), or cultural (The Painted Valley: Artists Along Alberta's Bow River, 1845-2000).

Here is a clip of him from four year ago, remembering his late colleague and fellow YorkU historian Ramsay Cook.


On the obituary theme, I might also note my friend Ray Argyle, who after a long career in journalism and in his consulting firm Argyle Communications, engaged himself writing a remarkable diverse range of mostly historical books on whatever topic appealed to him, from Canadian political campaigns to ragtime music to the liberation of Paris to George Holyoake and the founding of Humanism. He died the other day at the age of 92, and I don't doubt he had at least four more books in mind.  

I particularly liked The Boy in the Picture, a little book about Edward Mallandaine, the little guy who squeezed himself into the great Canadian photo, the driving of the last spike, right behind some guy with a hammer. Ray as a kid in Creston, B.C. met Edward Mallandaine as an old man.    

History of the Canadian crown

The Prince of Wales has told Commonwealth leaders that keeping the Queen as head of state ... is “a matter for each member country to decide”.

Charles made the comments during the opening ceremony of a summit of Commonwealth prime ministers and presidents in Rwanda. He said he believed such fundamental changes could be made “calmly and without rancour.”

About the time the future king made this acknowledgment, I came across an old note in my files. Its from a twenty-year-old column by Chantal Hébert (Toronto Star, October 5 2012):

It is mostly in the margins that political branding is most effective these days and the Conservatives have proven particularly adept on that front. In the process, they have turned their party into a monarchist vehicle. But who speaks for the growing legions of Canadians who have no British roots and no inclination to see their country as a natural part of the anglophile compact that so recently spearheaded the misguided war on Iraq? It is hard to think of a stance that would go a longer way to reconnect the federal Liberals with Quebec and with many of the constituencies that make up the New Canada than the offer of a strong post-monarchy vision of the country.

This was published about six months before Justin Trudeau took up the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. But if Hébert was trying to offer him a policy hint, his strategy geniuses evidently missed it.

Maybe an opportunity for the next one? 


Monday, June 20, 2022

History of Better Living Through Tech

As part of the recent Creative Nonfiction Collective online conference, I took part in a Zoom workshop by Omar Mouallem, the dynamic young Edmonton writer and journalist and founder of Pandemic University. " Organized Chaos" was a presentation on research tools and practices for writers. While listening, I was following some private Chat conversations among some, ah, older writers, not quite so digi-savvy as Mouallem.  

"Whenever I start a new writing project, I like to open a lot of folders," said Mouallem early on, screenshotting a view of his laptop with a bunch of digital folders lined up. (From the Chat: "A lot of my folders are cardboard.")  

He referred to Scrivener, spreadsheeting almost anything, mapping research locations with Google Maps, and using CiteFast, a thing that turns turns URLs into customized bibliographic citations (Chat: "He's never heard of index cards!") 

Then he demonstrated writing in a notebook with a pen -- except the pen was digital and the notebook uses special paper. When you are finished scribbling your notes, you plug in the pen, and somehow you get a word-processed text of all that you just scribbled down. (Chat: "Then you plug in the pen?")

But maybe the most comprehensive "head-explodes" responses was after he asked if we knew about about  Ten years ago, he said, when he started doing these workshops for journalists, people always asked about a tool to make automatic transcripts from digital recordings. You know, you interview someone for an hour, and then you face days playing back the sound on your little digirecorder and trying to type out a useable transcript? Well, there never was much of a solution to that. Now there is.  

"If you have a heap of digital files of audio interviews you created over the years, you might look into, he suggested. (Chat -- and this time it was me: "Okay, if you don't see me at the rest of these sessions, it's just that I have to go talk to Otter for a while.")

I did. It does the first few transcriptions free, in about fifteen minutes, and I had 'em lined up in no time.  I need to do a little wrangling the Otter, but there are transcripts. I did not have to do them by hand myself, or by hiring someone. I'm hooked.

Had some headblowing experience of your own with some of these technologies?  Share.

Friday, June 17, 2022

History of Canadian Soccer

The red shirt is our Alphonso Davies, just sayin'.

The Guardian has published its ranking of all the teams that will participate in this year's World Cup of soccer. Canada is #16.  The tournament's top sixteen will make it out of the first round and move to the (you guessed it) Round of 16, which is sudden death, any team can win any game.

16) Canada

A little-known quantity at this level having previously qualified in 1986, Canada will fancy letting their clutch of top-class talent loose on ageing Belgium and Croatia sides in Qatar. Alphonso DaviesJonathan David and Cyle Larin are capable of troubling anyone. A dispute about prize money has caused ructions this month and John Herdman, their excellent English manager, will hope distractions are kept to a minimum.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Book Notes: Wilson on them Fenians


Went downtown yesterday to join the launch --

-- how pleasant to be able to write that again! Haven't been to an in-person book launch since probably the fall of 2019, and it feels too long --

-- of my friend David Wilson's Canadian Spy Story: Irish Revolutionaries and the Secret Police, newly out in a handsome edition from McGill-Queen's.  Among the speakers was David's friend and mentor Donald Harmon Akenson, who made the case for David being among the half-dozen best historians in the country. He also declared this book is not "definitive," because definitive means a subject is wrapped up and all further interest in it will cease.  

Apparently Canadian Spy Story is not that. I haven't read much beyond the acknowledgments yet, but 'tseems part of the argument is that Fenianism was not just a few American-based raids across the border, but a deeply Canadian movement with many adherents in many places.  

It's clear from the acknowledgments that he has mastered the mature scholar's strength -- deploying an army of loyal graduate students out to research scores of knotty problems that arise in the course of a big complicated book project.  

David admitted that the book appeared somewhat behind schedule. He said the fact that he has been general editor of the Dictionary of the Canadian Biography while writing it might have been a factor in that. (Ya think?) 

Thursday, June 09, 2022

History of troublesome priests

Fallon: Obey!
The weekly new-biography mailing from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography has featured in the last two weeks two really horrifying clerical lives, at least for any reader from a background of secularism, moderation, tolerance, and the separation of church and state: Michel-Thomas Labreque (d.1940, biography by Gaston Gagnon) and  Michael Fallon (d.1931, by Pasquale Fiorino).

"Throughout his life Labrecque suffered from an immense and obsessive fear of freemasonry and liberalism, which promoted secular public schools and the separation of church and state." As bishop of Chicoutimi, he called the possible arrival of some non-francophone labourers “a national and religious danger” for his diocese. He forebade his parishioners from even attending Liberal party rallies, since Laurier "was a traitor to his religion and his nationality." Of him Gagnon writes, with nice understatement: "Certain personality traits – such as irascibility, impulsiveness, and authoritarianism – revealed themselves to be quite the opposite of those of St François de Sales, whom Labrecque looked to as his guide."

Michael Fallon was an Irish Catholic from Ottawa who managed to be both a British imperialist and an Irish nationalist. Also, "he felt strongly that French Canadians ought to place loyalty to the Church above loyalty to their language and culture." He was at once a supporter of separate schools for Ontario Catholics and a fierce opponent of French-language instruction for Franco-Ontarian Catholics. In 1912 he helped bring about Ontario's anti-French Regulation 17, in the process earning "the lasting enmity of French Canadians across the country." Upon his death a colleague acknowledged, “Bishop Fallon failed at times in patience and meekness."  

I mean, one knew people like this existed and prospered, but reading these two lengthy biographies in sequence really rubs your nose in it.

Update, June 12:  I thought of my title above as a clever allusion to the complaint by Henry II that led his knights to go murder Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury.  But apparently the original version of the phrase was "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" (sometimes revised as "meddlesome" or "troublesome," according to Wikipedia).  "Turbulent" would work for these guys, too. And this update allows me to add that the DCB entry does mention that some of Fallon's francophone parisioners actually discussed assassinating him.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

History of the Monarchy, again

Jared Milne writes from Alberta apropos of a recent post

While I respect Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth for handling her duties with dignity and class, I'm no fan of having our head of state reside in a foreign country. I'd rather we have a fully Canadian head of state, but I realize just how tall an order abolishing the monarchy would be. Constitutional requirements aside, here's a piece by Plains Cree writer Doug Cuthand on a First Nations view of their relationship with the Crown and why he doesn't think First Nations people would support abolishing it. (I vaguely recall Governor General Mary Simon saying something similar about the Inuit's relationship with the Crown too.)

A point very much worth addressing by anyone in favour of a Canadian head of state! 

(Lemme first say: I don’t follow the Star-Phoenix, but it’s striking how often Doug Cuthand columns turn up in my various media feeds.  And I can understand a First Nations inclination to diss Canada a little by asserting an indigenous right to deal with the real boss in England.)

But I also note that indigenous views on the monarchy vary. It's not hard to find indigenous commentators for whom the Crown represents nothing but colonialism. When Prince Charles dropped into the NWT recently, there was talk of reparations owed and respect to be paid. Indigenous activists tore down a statue of Queen Victoria in Winnipeg in 2021. and the Metis National Council president was among those who have spoken of the need for the Queen to apologize for residential schools, both as Queen and as head of the Anglican Church.  

Amidst this diversity of indigenous viewpoints, I was impressed to hear Murray Sinclair declare he does not agree with focussing responsibility on the Queen personally.  

Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, said efforts to extract an apology from the Royal Family to account for what a government did might change little and could complicate the issue.

"It would bring them unnecessarily into the area of politics and then we're getting into a whole different controversy," Sinclair said.

"It will just detract from and distract us from the very important conversation we need to have about what can we do to change the way that we are, the relationships that we have."

The Queen and her predecessors long since delegated all authority and responsibility for indigenous relations to the Canadian state. Sinclair seems clear that it is the Canadian state that First Nations must hold to account. The monarchy, that is, is largely irrelevant to this as to most other Canadian issues. We talk of "the Crown" and "the government" interchangeably, but Sinclair is aware of which one actually matters to reconciliation and to treaty implementation. 

This is a good moment to stress that all discussions of how to replace the monarchy in Canada must presume full participation from First Nations.  

The constitution requires all provinces to consent to any constitutional change involving the monarchy, and I would say the Assembly of First Nations (or other appropriate indigenous bodies) would also have to be part of that consensus for it to be credible. It would be hopeless to proceed otherwise. Same thing when we get to a selection process for a Canadian head-of-state: full indigenous participation required. Actually, having indigenous confirmation of a head of state, with ceremonials drawn from Indigenous rites, would be pretty cool for Canada.  

But we would have to make some serious progress on reconciliation and treaty implementation to get or deserve that kind of indigeneous participation and consent – so I’d say it would be a double win!

History of commemoration on indigenous territory

This -- permanent inclusion of indigenous representation at the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, in keeping with Call to Action 79 of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission -- seems both like a worthy idea and awkwardly overdue.

There is, of course, the other approach to be maintained: direct negotiations between First Nations as landholders with agencies such as Parks Canada about appropriate commemoration on First Nations lands. But the two approaches can work simultaneously. 

Thursday, June 02, 2022

History of the abolition of the monarchy

This was actually 1953... but who's counting?

According to The Times of London (paywall), spending on the Queen's Diamond Jubilee , centring on today, will add £6.4 billion to the British (English?) economy.  

Impact on the Canadian economy of celebrations of the jubilee of "our" "Canadian" queen of Canada? 

I'd guess somewhere in the vicinity of fifty cents.

See, we have already abolished the monarchy. The rest is just paperwork.

Also Her Maj became queen upon the death of her father in February 1952. Her coronation was on June 2nd, but in 1953.  Why is the seventieth anniversary being marked today? Marketing, I guess.  

Monday, May 30, 2022

History of Haiti; history of journalism

Things you can learn on Twitter:  The New York Times recently published a long and powerful analysis of how the preservation of Haitian independence in the early nineteenth century obliged its new black-majority government to accept a punishing regime of huge reparations to former slave-owners, debts that continued into the twentieth century. The payments, argue, crippled the Haitian economy for generations and helped drive the state into its seemingly permanently impoverished situation.

Powerful story -- but one that produced a wave of Twitter pushback. Historians, many of them Haitian, who have written extensively about this for decades, had even sent the Times journalists to the experts and archives they needed -- only to have the journalists declare they were presenting "a story rarely taught or acknowledged." They have been a little irritated, let us say, that only mention of historians in the story is a claim that "leading historians" have declared the Times story entirely new and entirely the work of journalists. 

The New York Times spent months sifting through thousands of pages of original government documents, some of them centuries old and rarely, if ever, reviewed by historians.


I read that NYT story on Haiti last night and literally LOLed when they said "historians had never" explored the topic. Ridiculous.  @lmacthompson1
The NYT hasn’t dug this up themselves, and they appear to have been quite light (understatement) in their crediting of Haitians and historians of Haiti. And also, now far more people will know something that France has wanted to remain obscure.  @cfryar
I think it's good that the NYT is publishing this. I think it's important to know that Haitians and scholars of Haiti have been screaming about it for generations.  @nanjala1

(The blogging software I use and Twitter seem to be at odds again, otherwise I'd embed these tweets properly.) 

The Times has now produced a 5400 word bibliography of sources, "to give credit to historians and researchers whose work formed essential building blocks for our stories," and crediting "hundreds of books and articles" that underpin the story. But that's hardly the message in the story itself.

D'ya ever think people who shout "it's not in the history books" probably don't read history books much?

Histoire du nationalisme québécois, encore un fois

In La Presse, Yves Boisvert has an interesting examination as to whether Québec nationalism has taken a conservative ethno-cultural turn away from the progressive nationalism of the Parti Québécois of the late twentieth century.  He considers: 

un « réajustement », un retour à l’affirmation d’un « nous » canadien-français au centre du discours du Parti québécois – qui, pour lui, n’était pas hostile à « l’autre », mais qui n’avait plus peur de s’affirmer tel quel.

I'm inclined to think there was always a strong "pur-laine" strand in late twentieth-century nationalism. True, the PQ had a tremendously influential base among Montreal idea-makers who saw the Quebec state as essential to the building of a modern, progressive, open society in place of the old traditional one.  But the PQ really took off electorally when it captured the bas du fleuve and Saguenay-Lac St-Jean and all the most rural and traditional parts of the province, where a "nous autres" worldview and a "nous sommes opprimés" cry remained powerful. But Boisvert's interviewees -- also in a Francine Pelletier documentary on Radio-Canada -- argue that the more recent PQ and CAQ legislative campaigns to make visible minorities invisible, to reduce the sound of English (even in private conversations!), and to heighten language and identity tensions really are expressing a different culture from that of the previous nationalism. 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Tallying reconciliation

Eva Jewell, an indigenous sociologist, and historian Ian Mosby, both of the (newly renamed) Toronto Metropolitan University, have a strong piece in the Globe and Mail that draws on their annual report for the Yellowhead Institute on implementation progress on the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Or, rather, lack of action: they count 11 actions completed since 2015. And these have been "actions that require little in the way of structural change and are largely symbolic in nature."

One of the most telling failures on Canada’s part is that four of the legacy calls to action simply ask that meaningful benchmarks and annual reporting requirements be established in areas such as child welfare (Call No. 2), education (Call No. 9), health (Call No. 19) and justice (Call No. 30). None of these have been completed.

If Canada can’t even report the truth about the way Indigenous peoples are treated in this country, how can we ever expect it to make lasting and meaningful change?

Jewell and Mosby note that simply ticking off boxes on an implementation chart has significant limitations, given that action on some Calls would be much more transformational than others, but they intend to continue their annual reports. At least until someone else takes up the benchmarking called for.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Prize Watch: GG Awards in History; Canadian Historical Association Prizes

At the recent Governor-General's History Awards in Ottawa, Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was awarded the Pierre Berton Award for "exceptional achievement in the exploring and sharing of Canadian history through popular media." Don't think of truth and reconciliation work as popular history?  Consider the argument in the citation.

 The combined work of Sinclair and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was monumental in scale and scope, having created unique historical archives that document the experiences of multiple generations of Indigenous people,” the award jury said in making its selection.

The records in their many forms give voice to grief and hurt, resilience and renewal. Furthermore, the commission’s work, with its ninety-four calls to action, has been crucial in revealing the need for a new national narrative. Sinclair’s articulation of that mission has helped to create a profound shift in many Canadians’ understandings of this country’s history, while also charting a path forward based on respect, reciprocity, and good relations.

The Governor General's History Awards, administered by Canada's National History Society, are presented in five categories: Teaching, Scholarly Research, Museums, and Community Programming, as well as the Berton for Popular Media.

The Awards were presented May 16. Canada's History has published a full list of recipients (listed as 2021 winners; the presentation was this month).  Here's the Winnipeg CTV story about Manitoban winners, which provided the quotation about Murray Sinclair. 

The Canadian Historical Association, meanwhile, has published the complete list of prizes awarded at its recent conference. The prize for the best work in Canadian history went to Benjamin Hoy for A Line of Blood and Dirt: Creating the Canada-United States Border Across Indigenous LandsThe CHA prize doubles as the Governor General's Prize for Scholarly Research. Last year's CHA Prize winner, Brittany Luby, received her GG History honours this month; Hoy will get his invitation to Rideau Hall next spring. (Did I say this awards stuff is simple?)

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