Tuesday, July 23, 2024

This month at Canada's History: Parks Canada on Canada's History




In a stature-toppling era, Parks Canada adapts its retelling of this country’s complex history. by Christopher Moore

This month, the August-September Canada's History leads with my article "The Unsettled Past," investigating how Parks Canada is seeking to shape a new narrative for Canadian history at its sites and plaques all over Canada.

Update, June 23: The full story is now available at the Canada's History website.

Parks Canada's historic sites agency, like other Canadian museums and historical institutions, was put under tough scrutiny by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC's 2025 report shone a painful spotlight on the pervasive neglect of Indigenous history and historical perspectives at Parks Canada's hundreds of sites and thousands of historic plaques, and it called for a fundamental reassessment. 

 And of course there was backlash.

Nearly a decade into that reassessment, I talked to Parks Canada historians and planners, to administrators, to Indigenous consultants, and also to the critics hotly opposed to what is happening to Canadian history at Parks Canada's sites. I think it's an important story, and a hopeful one too. Subscribe, and it should be in your mailbox already. (The online version will come along a little later.) It's a beautiful issue too: Parks Canada's sites photograph well, let us say.

Also in the issue: David Frank on child labour and neglect in New Brunswick; Sophie McGee on our tangled history with orcas; Nancy Payne's spectacular text-and-picture spread on historic lighthouses; and Enid Mallory exploring historic Yukon roads. The lead in the review section features Gerald Friesen's new and important The Honorable John Norquay, about the remarkable career of the 19th century Indigenous premier of Manitoba.  

And more. 


Monday, July 22, 2024

Wrapping the Tour

This being pro cycling, Tadej Pogacar's solid victory in the Tour de France, consolidated with his dominance of the final day's time trial, can't help but raise the question: is he on something?

Well, I don't know. It is probably not simple drugs if he is.  There are references around to carbon monoxide training (which sounds kinda fatal) and ketone training, and.  Also suggestions that the winningest teams are those that have the most money to invest in R&D and new equipment and the strongest riders.  But I must say there seemed something inhuman about the way this nice young man could simply spring up enormous mountains and seem fresh and relaxed minutes after finishing.

Other notable thing:  Canadian newbie Derek Gee emerges as a serious contender in his first Tour de France -- riding with the leaders throughout the race, putting in a very strong time in the time trial yesterday, and ending with a top ten finish.  

His team, Israel Premier Tech, with a strong Canadian contingent of riders and much Canadian leadership, will have to think about building a team around him if he is to become a serious contender.  But he has the talent for sure.

Major Canadian papers, of course, called an AP story from the States in their sports pages, and didn't note Gee's role at all.

History of the St Lawrence Iroquoians

Who knew the fate of the St Lawrence Iroquoians -- the people whom Jacques Cartier was welcomed by in 1535 at Stadacona and Hochelaga and who were not there when Champlain et al began arriving in the early 1600s -- was news?

The Globe and Mail recently had a long story by Deborah Baic about new techniques and new ideas in archaeology, and how they are reshaping this question. I must admit I don't see the debate being advanced far from when Bruce Trigger and others were discussing th isquestion in the 1970s, but I like seeing public attention to complicated historical questions, so....  Great photos in the digital version of the story -- if it is available to you

Thursday, July 18, 2024

History of the Beaches


 So this is happening.

And if you think the neighbourhood is "the Beach" and not "the Beaches," take it up with Richard. He's the author; I'm doing the Q part of the Q&A. Or read his explanation why in the book itself.  The Beaches, Creation of a Toronto Neighbourhood from University of Toronto Press

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The Tour!

Canadian Derek Gee (centre) third in a tightly contested climbing stage at the Tour

"and the Tour de France in July" it says above. I've been negligent about posting the Tour in its first two weeks, but I have been watching.

Two weeks in, it looks to be Tadej Pogačar's Tour all the way. He is only twenty-five but increasingly he is being counted among the great cyclists of all time. He is strong with or without his team around him. He goes into sprints when the spirit moves him.  His tactical sense never deserts him. It seems he can do anything on a bike. But mostly he can go up hills -- the big, endless, steep ones -- faster than anyone.

Jonas Vingegaard of Denmark, last year's Tour winner who was cruelly injured in a crash earlier this season and somehow made it back to the Tour, is the only rider who has been able to offer any kind of a challenge despite whatever lingers from his injuries, but it has not been enough. Pogačar is making it look easy (it is not!).

Pog's seemingly inevitable victory robs the Tour of some tension this year. But France (and northern Italy, where they started this year) still look beautiful every day, and there have been some stories. 

  • There's actually a Covid scandal no one seems to address. Several riders have tried to ride with Covid and ended up half way through a stage gasping their lungs out far behind the peleton and finally withdrawing. Past winner Geraint Thomas tested positive a week ago and continues to race -- the Typhoid Mary of the 2024 Tour, with the tolerance of the officials -- and several other significant riders have had to quit.
  • Mark Cavendish, the great sprinter of the early 2000s, somehow came back to win another stage at age 39 and seized the all-time record for Tour stage wins. That was fun. Cavendish in his prime used to be kind of an obnoxious badboy, but he seems to have mellowed, and his all-time record was very popular.
  • Because of the Olympics in Paris, this year's Tour will not end with those amazing circuits around the Champs d'Elysées. The finish will be in Nice instead.
And we have a new Canadian to watch. Michael Woods, a stage winner last year, skipped the Tour to focus on the Olympic Games races. And at 37, his Tour years must be winding down. 

But Derek Gee has suddenly emerged as a serious overall contender. He burst into prominence last year with unexpected results in the Giro d'Italia. This year he placed third in the weeklong Criterium du Dauphiné in the Alps. Expected to try for a stage win or two this year, he instead blossomed as a general-category contender. He's ninth overall at the moment, and a top-ten finish in the Tour de France is no small achievement. Pretty articulate in interviews too (Ryder Hesjedal and Mike Woods tended to aw-shucks Canadian offhandedness).  And he's only twenty-six.  


Friday, July 12, 2024

History of what sells

On TwitteX, Mark Bourrie expresses disappointment in his recent history Crosses in the Sky being less successful than he had hoped and partly blames himself.  

I've never had much talent for seeing what might or might not make a best-settling Canadian history book.  (1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal -- a confederation book in the wake of Meech and Charlottetown  -- was one occasion I did maybe get in time with the zeitgeist.) 

Stories of heroic white men in rugged settings still hold surprising appeal for CanHist book buyers, so I would not have been surprised to see Crosses in the Sky, a retelling of the Brebeuf and the Huron story.

But I wonder if the moment is not right for white authors using white sources to present indigenous history. Bourrie's sympathies are entirely with the Huron, not with the Jesuits and the French colonizers behind them, for sure. But he tells the same story that has been circulating among Europeans for four hundred years, based almost on the Jesuit Relations' knowledge of the Huron.

The wars that destroyed the Huron nation in the mid 1600s were the largest and bloodiest ever fought in what is now Canada, I would guess.  In less than a century, across much of the territory that is now southern Ontario, one empire was destroyed by another and then the second one was displaced by a third, with great loss of life, dispersion, and dispossession thoroughout. I'm not talking of the French empire, still less of the English.  It was Huron-Wendat, then Haudenosaunee, then Anishnabeg, military, economic, and diplomatic power that drove these events.

That is still an almost entirely untold story, one in which Brebeuf and the other Jesuits would be very much marginal. It needs to be told from Indigenous sources -- Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and Anishnabeg.  And I assume only an indigenous scholar will be able to access and interpret those sources.  

I wish Mark Bourrie were happier with the sales of Crosses in the Sky, because I like to see books about Canadian history succeed.  But I think CanHist readers might be thinking that when it comes to Indigenous history, the time is right for indigenous historians. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

New DCB website

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography used to be a big new book every ten years or so with a heap of short biographies in each  one.

Not anymore. The DCB is becoming an empire. Now that the biographies are published online, will there ever be decade-by-decade hardcopy books like there used to be? It would be hard to do because the boundless space of the intertubes is allowing the DBC to include more people and to produce longer articles on them too. The last printed volumes of the DCB covered notable Canadians who died in a particular decade. Now the biographies in development for the decades remaining to be covered are probably too extensive to go into a single book. 

These days, the DCB publishes a new biography online every week. The 1920s seem to be complete, the 1930s are providing a lot of the new ones, and the odd one from the 1940s can be seen. (Special cases can bend the rules: Pierre Trudeau is among the eminent dead already included in the DCB.) I'm currently drafting a DCBiography about someone who died in 1973, and I have no great expectations of living to see that one in digital "print."

Meanwhile, today the DBC announces a new expansion of its website.

Today we are proud to announce the launch of our updated website, which has a refreshed look and important new features.

We have added more than 300 summaries about topics and events relevant to Canadian history. When reading a biography, refer to “Related Topics” in the left-hand sidebar; click to read the topic summary and discover links to other resources for more information. Readers can also browse by topic: click on Browse (at the top of the site under the Search bar) and then Browse by Topic. As well as improving discoverability of our biographies on the Web, these related topics offer an overview of the many historical themes addressed in our entries. For example, the summary “Enslaved Black people in the Maritimes” provides context for more than 40 related biographies, including a group that we started publishing in Black History Month, among them Name Unrecorded and Lydia Jackson.

You will also begin to see biographical summaries at the head of new entries and, in the case of long biographies, subheadings; consult, for example, Ward Chipman. The addition of summaries and subheadings will be ongoing in the coming weeks.

As well, the site’s display is now responsive, adapting to all screen sizes, whether desktop, tablet, or mobile phone.

I think this is good. I can see the additional material and the links back and forth add context for readers. It must also makes the DCB seem more classroom-friendly and teacher-friendly. 

But I will confess to some mixed feelings about the unsigned interpretive essays that have been gradually added to the website and that are now becoming even more integrated with the biographies. It's more fun, sometimes, just to follow links from one biography to another, gradually putting together a sense of their shared time and place from their combined experience.

Which reminds me. Has anyone ever tried to put together a course in Canadian history or some field or period of it, using only the DCB as the course text? Could one? Would anyone?  You could get quite a long way -- and the course materials would be right at hand.

(Update, July 11:  I have a little case of covid at the moment, and covid-brain may have scrambled some of what I tried to write above yesterday.  I've done some rewriting for coherence.  Also: I should have noted the some of the new elements of the DBC will be added gradually and are not entirely in place at the moment.



Monday, July 08, 2024

History of land back, not that it ever went away

Unlike most major Canadian media, the New York Times has recently run a front-page story on the Haida Nation and the implications of its long and increasingly successful campaign to secure recognition of its title to their territory on Haida Gwaii islands. 
Their methodical and painstaking quest came to fruition in May when the government of British Columbia passed a law — the first of its kind in Canada — recognizing the Haida’s aboriginal title throughout Haida Gwaii. No provincial or federal government in Canada had ever willingly recognized an Indigenous people’s title to their land.

Over the next few years, the provincial government’s authority over the land and resources is expected to be handed over to the Council of the Haida Nation, the Haida people’s government.

British Columbia must be the only Canadian province where a government could take this kind of action and survive. In most of the rest of the country -- and in our media, no doubt -- a kind of disbelief prevails, an inability to take seriously indigenous declarations to ownership and control of land and resources.  

But it's coming, not only in places like Haida Gwaii, where no treaty has ever underpinned British Columbia's or Canada's authority to control land and resources. The growing understanding of historians and courts is that the treaties between Canada and indigenous nations were always negotiated as sharing agreements, not surrender agreements (no matter what the written texts filed away in Ottawa say about "cede, yield, surrender.") This understanding will eventually have to be acted upon, hopefully by governments (as in the Haida Gwaii example) rather than by courts, though doubtless nudged upon by court decisions.

In some form, what's happening in Haida Gwaii will happen everywhere: a degree of indigenous control sufficient to provide a steady revenue base sufficient to support indigenous self-government, often in a sharing agreement with Canada and the provinces and territories.

We may not be paying much attention to what's happening in Haida Gwaii. But indigenous peoples across the world are. Even the New York Times is. 

Monday, July 01, 2024

Prize Watch: Historians and Writers on the Canada Day Order of Canada list

I thought the Canada Day Order of Canada list was usually the "artsy" list, but there are not too many writers on this year's. 

(Update: On review, I'm not so sure of this. Searching some past posts, I find quite a few writers and artists on the New Year's lists as well. So whadda I know?)

I note Professor Terry Copp, the military historian, and William Fox, the Parks Canada archaeologist, among the historians and history-adjacent appointments. Congratulations to them both, and also to Arnie Gelbart, the Montreal documentary filmmaker, co-creator with the late Brian McKenna of many historical documentaries of note.  And Sylvia Hamilton, the Nova Scotian historical educator and promoter of Black culture in the Maritimes.

Among literary writers, bill bissett seems to be about it. There is a handful of musicians (eg, Daniel Lanvoie and Avril Lavigne), artists (Christi Belcourt), and actors (Tina Keeper). But it seems to be scientists and innovators more than artists and writers, who got attention this season.

The full list is here on the Governor-General's site.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Prize Watch: The CHA Prizes 2024

The prizes awarded annually by the Canadian Historical Association at its AGM are now posted on the CHA website here.

It's a long list and I won't try to summarize it. They do suggest there is a lot of impressive and diverse work being done in academia. And the prize list has a notable mix of elder scholars and young up-and-comers.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Oilers make history?


There is some debate in Toronto media as to whether Maple Leafs fans should cheer for the Edmonto Oilers to win the Stanley Cup tonight.

I'm a fairly passive Leafs fan -- haven't watched a game in years, that kind -- but I'm happy to root for any Canadian team in the finals.  And the Oilers are them.  

Go, Oilers! Leafs in 2025 for sure.

Follow @CmedMoore