Monday, August 15, 2022

History of Acadians

Today is the Acadian National Day. In towns throughout Acadie, they have doubtless been making le tintamarre, wearing and waving a great deal of blue and yellow and employing a lot of noise-makers.

Bonne fête, mes amis.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

History of Memorials

Last week, about the time my Twitter feed was including reminders of the anniversary of the start of the First World War, we were driving along quiet country backroads on Manitoulin Island (you should go) and came across the site of a local township's 1920s war memorial, which has gradually become the island's "Memorial Corner"  -- including, across the street from the usual memorial, this extensive tribute to women's services in the twentieth century wars -- something I'd never seen before. 

No matter how small the community, anywhere, the lists of names from the First World War are always long, and the one here includes a notable number of Odjigs and Migwans and other names from Manitoulin's substantial Anishnaabe communities.

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Book Notes: going foreign for the summer

Okay, this blog says "History (mostly Canadian)," but we can go abroad from time to time.  

One of my summer reads, on the recommendation of historian, activist, blogger Claire Potter has been Ted Widmer's Lincoln on the Verge. On the surface, it looks like another American presidential hagiography. This one is a long, immensely detailed and annotated account of virtually every single moment of the thirteen days Abraham Lincoln spent travelling by train from his home in Illinois to Washington, DC, for his inauguration early in 1861. If a child of 1861 remembered in 1920 what she thought she recalled of the great man's passage through her town, Widner devotes at least a paragraph to the history of the town and to each version of the alleged memory. Long-gone blogger Historiann used to call examples of this kind of worshipful attention to the lives of Founders and Presidents a "sausage fest" every time another one appeared.

Yet Potter has a point: Widmer's onto something. Beyond the pleasures of a well-told microhistory that comes from a lifetime of diligent trawling through obscure sources in which Lincoln is only a peripheral interest, this is a history with an argument to make. 

Lincoln, Widmer insists, was a fluky nobody as president-elect. He won only because the vote split four ways.  But his candidacy was the closest thing available to a principled rejection of the slave power in the United States, just as attempts to appease it were coming to be understood outside the South as useless, ineffectual, and immoral. Widmer effectively argues that Lincoln's long circuitous train trip and its endless whistle stops allowed people of the northern states to see a new leader.  The crowds gathering to hear him say a few words often outnumbered the population of the towns themselves. Something important to American history was happening, as Lincoln and his crowds saw in themselves a conviction that the Union should be saved and slavery somehow ended. The awkward homely man was growing into President Lincoln.  Widmer also effectively Lincoln took his bearings from the 1776 declaration of independence ("all men are created equal") rather than the 1797 constitution designed to allow (and disguise) slavery. And indeed the consequence of Lincoln's victorious war was substantial amendment of that constitution to bring it more into line with the Declaration.  

It often seems that Canadians know too much American history just as we know too much of American current events.  But Widmer keeps me reading as he developed this point.  And it's topical. The book was published before the 2020 election, but Widmer recounts how 1860 was the previous case of the losers conspiring to use the official Congressional certification of the vote as the moment for a coup d'etat. (Could some Trumpian thug possibly have seen this book and said, hmmm?)  

A little earlier in the summer, seeing Colm Feore as Richard III at Stratford sent me looking for a historical backgrounder on Shakespeare's villain.  Sure, Shakepeare was writing for the Tudors who controlled what could be said and seen in his day, and sure, he made up most of his drama, as a playwright should. But a recent biography by Chris Skidmore convinced me he had the essentials down: Richard was surely one murderous son of a bitch, and lethally dangerous to be around. His only saving grace was that everyone else of consequence in War of the Roses England was just as awful. if he didn't whack them, they'd have whacked him in a heartbeat.  Did, in the end.  Skidmore's is a clunky uncreative piece of work, though it has the evidence you need. A much better read on the period is The Winter King, Thomas Penn's biography of Richard's killer, Henry VII, founder of anothe line of murderous psychos, the Tudor dynasty.

Any reads to match these from Canadianists? I may have some more summer reading reports to come.

Update August 10:  I see the standard history of the Civil War, McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, says briefly of Lincoln's railroad voyage, "This tour may have been a mistake." And Widmer does have to keep finding genius in some pretty anodyne speeches, dismissed by McPherson as "platitudes and trivia."

Tuesday, July 26, 2022



Blogging will be slim to none for about a week.  Enjoy a holiday yourself.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Podcasting confederation

Have to say I continue to be impressed and intrigued by Christopher Dummitt's blog, 1867 and All That, now in its second season and getting right to the confederation negotiations of 1864. 

I'm biased, no doubt, by the nice things he says about my own work, as here, and by the sense I get that at least some of my takes on confederation have become mainstream. But Chris D definitely has his own approach to the topic, and delves into many stories and situations beyond my coverage.

Fin du Tour

Two messages to the blog last week. One says, I love the blog but tend to skip the cycling stuff. The other: thanks for the cyling coverage

Friday, July 22, 2022

History of the empty corridor

Not to keep banging on about the British Columbia Review, but I have to recommend Richard Mackie's essay in historical memoir "Along the Empty Corridor of British Columbia" not only for its historical content but also for its reflections on what has been publishable and unpublishable in Canadian history and journalism over the last few decades.

Photo credit: John Harvey from BC Review.

Local blogger charts in techy survey

There's a thing called FeedSpot  -- "the Internet’s Largest Human Curated Database of Bloggers and Podcasts."  I'm not sure I had ever heard of it before yesterday, when I saw, quite accidently, that on July 19 they posted a ranking of "25 Best Canadian History Blogs and Websites." ranked by "traffic, social media following, domain authority, and freshness."

 The top ranked blog is the Canadian Museum of History Blog. Until now I had no idea of its existence. It rates high for Facebook and Twitter engagement, but is credited with only 2 posts per quarter. I'll start looking.

Second is The Canadian Historical Association website. I didn't know the CHA had a blog, and none is mentioned on its home page, though there is a Teachers' blog somewhere on the site. FeedSpot credits the CHA website with two posts per month.

Third takes us into serious blog territory: Active History. Though FeedSpot credits it with only thirty posts a year, it must be more like twenty a month.  Active History is active, it's history-focus, it has a big readership, lots of contributors, and good social media linkages. This is a high ranking that is definitely deserved.

And fourth is the blog you are reading now, Christopher Moore's History News. Our posting score, I'm pleased to say, is far and away the best by the survey's metrics, at three posts a week -- which seems about right. It would probably lead in the linking it does too, if they measured that. (Linking should be a key indicator of a blog's value, blogging being a collaborative medium.) Let me say as well that of the top five, Christopher Moore's History News is not only ranked the most active in posting.  It's also the only one with a single author, no institutional mandate -- and no institutional funding. No funding at all, actually.  In twenty-odd years, expenses here have been precisely zero. (Its revenues: also precisely zero. No donation box, no grants, sponsors, or advertisers, and likely to stay that way.) 

If the humans at FeedSpot ranked a little for quality, it makes me think... chance for a gold here? 

Fifth is the online magazine of urbanism, which is a terrific magazine with interesting historical content on Canadian cities and urbanism. So sorta/kinda a "history" "blog" ... I guess.

Nice also to see NiCHE, Borealia, Daniel Francis's blog, Acadiensis blog, Canadian Legal History blog  -- all on my faves list (at right) -- featured in FeedSpot's top twenty-five too.  Others worth checking out too. Odd that sites like Library and Archives Canada blog, and the DCB Online didn't make the lists.  

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Louisbourg rebuilt again

 ... This time it's in Lego.

Two hundred thousand pieces of Lego, two years labour, and the fortress city rises again, this time in scale to the iconic Lego figurine.  And I want to go to there.
"Me and my brother went to the fortress for the 250th anniversary of the second siege of the fortress [2008]," said Bédard. "It was just magical with all of the British and French soldiers and the fortress itself and the fog." [....]

 Bédard said he began the replica project in January 2020, and soon after a team was assembled.

The five people behind the project have all chipped in to cover its cost, estimated at around $20,000.

No word on whether there are teenyl ittle Lego historians behind the scenes of this reconstruction, but it's got a good review from one who could be there, John Johnston, the dean of lifesize Louisbourg specialists: 

A.J.B. Johnston, a historian who worked at the Fortress of Louisbourg for 23 years, said he's impressed by the Lego creation's accuracy and detail.

 "It's an endless pit, or an endless treasure trove," he said. "Louisbourg can fascinate you in countless ways."

Update, July 22: Mark Reynolds comments:

Sometimes you don't know what your dream is....until you see a full scale Lego replica of Louisbourg, and realize that you've wasted your life. To think I've been raising children, when I could have been doing that instead - if they ever make Canadian history Lego kits, I will be *bankrupting* this family, I swear.


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

More Tour de France: Canadians to the fore

The pride of Ste-Perpetué, Qc. Chapeau!

So last week I was noting Hugo Houle, a Canadian mostly anonymous in the pack of the Tour de France.  Yesterday, Hugo Houle became the first Canadian to win a stage of the Tour in decades.  So, not just a domestique!

Yesterday, observers -- mostly delighted for Houle -- were saying he had always been "one of the hard men," "a battler," "a journeyman." But even a journeyman can have his day. 

Houle's team Israel-Premier Tech Startup,* half owned by a Canadian, has no contender for overall winner, so Houle has not had to burn himself out as a support rider up front, providing slipstream to a contender. After saving his strength a while, he was able, first to go with a strong breakaway group (none of whom threatened the total time of the overall leaders), and then to break from the breakaway and go solo 40 km from the finish.  

Michael Woods, another Canadian of Israel-Premier Tech, was also in the original breakaway.  Woods is a team star, and had Houle have stayed with the breakaway group, he would likely have tried to pace Woods to victory. But when Houle discovered he could escape the group, Woods found himself in a chase group of just three, next behind Houle. It's a team sport; Woods saw what he had to do.  

The only chance of the three to catch Houle was to work together, maximizing their speed by sharing the work, taking turns leading their group. But Woods was not about to work. He hung back in the slipstream of the other two -- and with just two riders working, they were not powerful enough to catch Houle, whose lead actually expanded.  Victory to Houle. Victory for the whole team too, Woods not least. He came in third.

*Bike teams are permanent, but sponsors (and team names) change frequently.  At the moment there are three top-rank teams with Middle Eastern sponsors:  UAE, Bahrein-Victorious, and Israel Premier-Tech 

Democracy: it's not how many people vote but who's accountable to whom

Some analyses of British and Canadian Conservative leadership selection processes:

 Alastair Campbell, British Labour stringpuller:  

Why is the country allowing – yet again – 160,000 mostly very old and similar people to choose the country’s leader?

Simon Jenkins, British journalist:

The decision of Truss versus Rishi Sunak now goes to a bizarre “selectorate” of the Tory party members. As of 2017, their average age was 57. More than half are over 60 and more than 70% are male. They live predominantly in the south of England. That the nation’s leadership should hang on this tiny unrepresentative group is a perversion of parliamentary democracy. It has long stipulated that the government of the country should be led by the person who commands majority support of the House of Commons. That person is Sunak.

Aaron Wherry, Canadian journalist:

The UK Conservative leadership race began five months after the Canadian Conservative leadership race began and the UK race will end five days before the Canadian race does. Canadian leadership races are way too long.

Geoff Norquay, Canadian Conservative stringpuller

The reason for the party’s long leadership contests is that they are based on a one-member-one-vote system accompanied by open recruitment. [...]  The party opens itself up to the possibility of under-the-table fundraising practices, bulk purchases of memberships on others’ behalf and faked memberships.
The process for the replacement of Boris Johnson as leader of the British Conservative Party provides some useful ideas.

The British analysts are already aware that the process recently adopted there is a travesty of parliamentary democracy, that it produced Boris Johnson and will now likely produce Liz Truss, his wannabe. Meanwhile the Canadians are saying, "Oooh, shiny things over there!" 

Jenkins gets to the nub of what's necessary in less than a sentence. "The government of the country should be led by the person who commands majority support of the House of Commons." Norquay goes on for paragraphs about how leaving the decision to whoever buys the most votes is (I'm not making this up) "more democratic." Wherry thinks that would be okay if it went a little faster.


Friday, July 15, 2022

This Month at Canada's History: new stories

In Canada's History for August-September, a bunch of stories that might not have featured so much in the old Beaver. 

  • The cover story features Deke Richards's account of the Patriotes of 1837-38 who were exiled from 1839 to 1844 in New South Wales, Australia. I might quibble about Richard's claim that the rebels of 1837 "helped build responsible government." One might say that's not quite what they were fighting for. (Having returned to Lower Canada, many of the exiles stood with Louis-Joseph Papineau in opposing the new responsible government of 1848.)  But their exile to convict labour in Australia is well described here and surely an under-appreciated story.
  • There's a close analysis by Shezan Muhammedi of the 1972 migration of tens of thousands of Ugandan Asians driven out of Uganda under the rule of Idi Amin -- and accepted as refugees in Canada. 
  • Laura Jones examines the neglected work of women photographers in nineteenth century Canada, illustrating her account with many startling and unfamiliar images.  
  • Nancy Payne, a Canada's History contributing editor, explores how Lang Pioneer Village in Ontario's Kawartha Lakes district, once a traditional ancestor-saluting tribute to the pioneer white settlers of the region, is working with Curve Lake First Nation to integrate Anishinaabe stories and subjects, including the particularly oppressive Williams "Treaty" by which most of the land was transferred to the Crown.  
All too woke? Too few fur traders and explorers?  I hope not! But there is also attention to the history of public gardens across Canada, and coverage of the fiftieth anniversary of the Canada-USSR hockey series of September 1972 (Spoiler alert: we win!), ps a slew of CanHist reviews, and other features.  Nothing of me this month, but coming, it's coming. 

The subscription button is right here.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

It's past time for some Tour de France

For Bastille Day, a little update on the Tour de France, since coverage is promised in the masthead of this blog and I've been remiss lately.

Tadej on a good day
See, there is a guy called Tadej Pogacar ("Taddy Po-GATCH -ah," more or less, if the commentators have any grasp of Slovenian pronunciation.) He's 23 and people wonder if he's the new Bernard Hinault -- Hinault being the greatest of French cyclists (Eddy Merckx being Belgian). As a rookie with some promise a couple of years ago, Pogacar snuck in on the last race day and took the yellow jacket from his countryman Primos Roglic, who was supposed to win. The next year Pogacar won the Tour again going away, and suddenly he was the god of cycling.

So this year he's very much the favorite, and there is a list of could-just-possibly-beat-him contenders:  past winner Geraint Thomas of Britain, young Dane Jonas Vingegaard (second place last year), Primos Roglic still striving, Roman Bardet a faint hope for the French (who never win any more), aging Colombian super-climber Nairo Quintana, and the young Belgian star Wout van Aart. Doesn't cycling always have the best names? 

There were some flat stages in Denmark and northern France at the start of the Tour and sprint finishers did well, but once the race got serious (that is, hilly), Pogacar took charge as expected. His UAE team is not as strong as some, and its numbers keep getting thinned by withdrawals over Covid results. But Pogacar is constantly fast in all conditions and able to accelerate like a Porsche when he has to. He responds to every challenge, holds the lead, and wears the yellow jacket (holds in reserve the white for best young rider too).

'Til yesterday. Yesterday, in the Alps and very hot weather, they left Albertville and went up the mighty Galibier, an endless ladder of steep switchbacks topping out over 2000 metres. Lots of attacks and attempts on the Galibier, and Pogacar dismisses them all. There's a group up front, but they are all nobodies -- all the contenders are clustered with Pogacar and his team. They all scream down the other side, and then up again to the top of the Col Grandin, less famous but no less steep and almost as high. 

But the Galibier attacks leave wounds. They have mostly come from support riders of Jumbo-Visma, the team of both Roglic and Vingegaard, so far overshadowed but still contending. Pogacar survives the challenges, but they keep forcing him and his support riders to respond when they want to conserve their strength. Then the Grandin. The breakaway riders up front in today's lead are winnowed down to one survivor, the Frenchman Warren Barguil. With a few steep kilometres still to go, Pogacar and the handful of contenders hanging on behind him are coming up fast.  

Then bam bam bam: what the commentator calls "the most dramatic day in the Tour de France in a decade." Well, they always say things like that. But for those of us paying attention -- and the thing about the Tour is you pretty much have to watch every single damn day to have a clue what is really going on -- it was pretty special.  

Nairo Quintana, never happy unless it is above 1500 metres and the roads are horribly steep, attacks, goes away from the peleton, and starts hunting down Barguil up front. But Quintana is way down the overall standings -- not too big a threat.  

Then suddenly young Vingegaard goes too, speeding away from Pogacar's little group. Consternation and excitement! Vingegaard is a contender -- and this time, first and only time, Pogacar cannot find the energy to respond. He starts "going backwards"  -- not really, he's still roaring up these endless slopes at maybe 18 km/hr -- but compared to Vingegaard at 20+, he's vanishing. Then Roman Bardet sweeps past Pogacar and away. Then Geraint Thomas, who was well behind and largely written off, also comes up to Pogacar and roars past him. Up front, Barguil finally "cracks" -- breakaway guys almost always do after fifty or seventy k of solo effort --and they all sweep past him.

Vingegaard finishing - you'd be crying too
At the top Vingegaard comes in along, winning by what looks like a kilometre. Quintana, Bardet, and Thomas roll in, David Gaudu and Aussie [sorry, he's a Brit] Adam Yates as well, while poor Tadej is "pedalling squares," leaning over his handlebars looking like death as he takes the final slopes. At the end Pogacar, seventh on the day, has lost the yellow jacket to Vingegaard, and sits third overall behind him and Bardet, 2 minutes and 22 seconds behind the new leader. Huge. HUGE.

So there -- all you need to impress your friends even if you don't have the expensive Flobikes streaming subscription that provides Tour coverage. Today, Bastille Day, they take on Alpe d'Huez, an even more legendary and terrifying array of switchbacks into the sky than the Galibier.  Like as not, Pogacar will have recovered and will crush all his rivals once more. Paris is still a long way away, and they have not seen the Pyrenees yet.

Happy to say there are four Canadians in the Tour again this year. Mike Woods can be a contending climber on a good day but he's much bashed up from a nasty crash a couple of days ago. And three Quebeckers:  Hugo Houle, Antoine Duchesne, and Guillaume Boivin, all Tour regulars now, but what cycling calls domestiques, support riders, none expected to sit high in the standings. I do miss Ryder Hesjedal, "the big Canadian boy," as ur-commentator Phil Liggett labelled him every time he loomed up into contention. The scenery, the France-from-above travelogue, is still a marvel.  

Update, same day.  So Tadej Pogacar did bounce back, did very well up the Alpe (actually first they went up and down the Galibier again today). But the thing is, Vingegaarde no longer needs to strike out and beat Pogacar, he just has to keep pace with him. That way, his overall lead, earned yesterday, endures. That's what he did today -- matched Pogacar pedalstroke for pedalstroke all the way to the finish, and held on to his Yellow.

Update, July 18:  from Alan McCullough:

There is an interesting review of a book on the business side of the tour [may be paywalled] in the TLS of 1 July 2022, p.7. "Le Fric: Family, Power, and Money; the business of the Tour de France" by Alex Duff.

Thanks, Alan.  Plus: Fair play to Hugo Houle: more than a domestique. The day after my report above, he went out with the breakaway, contended for the stage win until the very last seconds, and ended up third, maybe a bike length behind the day's winner. 


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