Thursday, 28 November 2013

A Sneak Peak at the New Museum of Civilization

The renaming and rejigging of the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa has managed to offend many  in Canadian history circles over the last year. Many are sceptical about the reasons it is being changed to the Canadian Museum of History.

Even former director Victor Rabinovitch spoke out publicly about the change. He linked it to what he called "'the Harper-Kenney vision of Canada as a land of victorious armed forces, brawny resource extractors and compliant monarchists.”

Today the Ottawa Citizen has a story from Don Butler giving us a first sneak peak into the main hall of Canadian history. See the story here for all of the details.

According to David Morrison, head of the museum's team putting together the hall, the main themes to be addressed are aboriginals and their relations with European settlers, French-English relations, and immigration. He talks of how “There is a sort of a backbone to the hall of political history, but most of the real content is the consequences of political history...What did this mean to ordinary people?”

The story says that '[t]he history hall exhibit will include events that make most Canadians squirm today, such as residential schools, the imprisonment of Ukrainian Canadians during the First World War, anti-potlatch laws and the forced relocation of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.' 

We won't know what it will actually look like for a while. I'm sure some will be critical no matter what. But honestly the framework, on the surface, seems ho-hum, as expected. No conspiracy. No massive exclusion. Just the kind of Canadian history you would teach in a general survey.  

We'll see.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Patriotism for the Wealthy

Source: Library and Archives Canada

Arthur Meighen's descendants are in the news today, and probably not happily so. CBC is reporting about a lawsuit that pitted different family members against each other from 2008 to 2011. It all had to do with the money in the Arthur Meighen Trust.

After Meighen left the Senate and was defeated in a comeback bid to reenter the House of Commons as prime minister in 1942 (much to the relief of Mackenzie King who feared having a decent opposition leader, capable of tearing him apart in debate just as the conscription debated threatened to tear the country apart), Meighen went back to Toronto and became rather wealthy as the head of an investment business. He later set up the trust under his name to provide money for his descendants after he died.

Families don't always get along.

The CBC came onto this story as part of its own investigation into offshore tax havens - the far-sighted and generous way so many wealthy Canadians ensure that they don't have to support our country and our government any more than they absolutely have to. Patriotism for the wealthy - diluted because otherwise they would just be so overcome with devotion - financially verklempt.

Documents submitted to the courts as part of the lawsuit allege that some in the family funnelled money through complex offshore investments so as to avoid paying taxes. In the midst of all of this, some in the family felt that they were being left out. The case was settled out of court and none of this was ever settled in court.

Perhaps most strikingly, the documents allege that the scheme to get the funds out of the country was put together by a man named Jim Love. Alas, if the documents are true, Mr Love would seem to have been struck by a particularly hard case of patriotism for the wealthy. You see Mr Love is also the chair of the board of governors at the Canadian Mint. That's right: the man in charge of making Canadian money. He's also allegedly a strong Conservative and good friends with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

I don't know what to say. I'm overcome. I'm… verklempt.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Tim Cook Wins Governor General's Award for History

The Ottawa Citizen is reporting that Tim Cook has been honoured with the Governor General's History Award for Popular Media, the Pierre Berton Award.

It is well deserved. Cook is a historian curator at the War Museum as well as the author of several well-known and nicely written and researched books on military history in Canada. He's a good writer, a great speaker, and the award couldn't have gone to a more decent, well-deserving historian.

If you haven't already, go and pick up one of his books.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Parliamentary Debates - Update

Great news for political historians and political junkies. A few months ago I wrote about how the reconstructed parliamentary debates from the 19th century were now available online.

Now I see from the Canadian Historical Association's voxhistorica that all of Canada's parliamentary debates are now - finally - online. What a great resource. You can find them at the Library of Parliament's website here.

I'm in the midst of sorting out the King-Byng fiasco of 1926 so I immediately went to look up the place in 1927 when King was obliged to hand over the letter he had written submitting his resignation to Byng in 1926.

King went all across the country in 1926 campaigning against 'Downing Street' interference - that is interference from the British Government in Canadian affairs. He won the election and King-Byng became yet another gem in the glorious Liberal story of Canada's rise from colony to nation.

Only problem? In his letter of resignation, King wrote that he had urged Byng, and continued to urge him, to consult the British government before he made a decision. The letter only emerged after King won the election. It did little good. But it's a marvellous instance of a politician having to face his own dishonesty.

Of course, King was well used to this and to read him adroitly squirming out of any wrongdoing is both amazing and disgusting.

And now I can read this from my own house. Great resource.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

And the GG goes to … huh?

I've been reading my way, very pleasurably, through Eleanor Catton's new book The Luminaries and now I see that she has just won the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction. (see the details on all winners here). The book is wonderful so far, and Catton's interview on The Sunday Edition on the weekend, showed her to be thoughtful, with a graceful, inventive speaking style. But to call her Canadian is…well… a stretch. She was Canadian born and then moved to New Zealand at a very young age. Her accent is Kiwi, the book itself draws on Kiwi history. This is a trend in the literary awards if late - going off in search of make-believe Canadians.

It's also, of course, happening in Canadian academia as I wrote about earlier: who needs anything Canadian when we have The World??

There were a couple of historical links to the GGs:

The non-fiction award went to Sandra Djwa for her biography of the poet P K Page. I haven't yet read this book, but Djwa's biography of the lawyer, poet and intellectual F R Scott is fantastic.

And then the children's illustration award Matt James for his book Northwest Passage which illustrates the Stan Rogers song of the same name.

UPDATE 14 November

Writing the above spurred me on to write even more and the good folks at the Ottawa Citizen published  the extended version of my critique of the GG Awards Committee's decision to give the fiction prize to Eleanor Catton this year. As I hinted at above, I think this about more than just this prize and this author.

You can see the full op-ed on the Citizen's page here.  (and buy a paper if you are in Ottawa!)

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Findings… Canadian Letters (not a typo)

I don't know how I've missed this for so many years, but I've just discovered the Canadian Letters website and project. As the creators themselves describe it, the project is 'an online archive of the Canadian war experience, from any war, as told through the letters and images of Canadians themselves.'

There's plenty of excellent material here - well worth a look, whether just to troll through, perhaps for your own research/reading, or for teaching.

I came across it via another interesting project from the Champlain Society. That organization has started an interesting project called 'Findings/Trouvailles' that will each month present a snippet of a particular archival document/ source with a historian explaining its significance. The series is edited by Douglas Hunter and this month had Jack Granatstein talking about some of the documents left behind by Ivan Clark Maharg who fought in the final push of the last 100 days, about which Granatstein is currently writing.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Jesuit Relations

A couple of nice posts today on the history of some of the most fascinating documents in Canadian history - the Jesuit Relations. These are the collection of letters and reports from Jesuit missionaries in North America that have become so essential to the telling Canada's early history. 

Kathryn Magee Labelle reminds us at Active History that this year is the 100th anniversary of the death of the man who organized and published the collection, Reuben Gold Thwaites. (And, after all, we don't seem to do any history any more in this country without marking an anniversary of some kind!). Then Charlevoix gives us some more reflections on the documents and the man.

I remember trawling through some of the books years ago for a course in Quebec history. Now, for some reason, I can't think of them without the word 'relations' sticking in my head - as in Bill Clinton's 'I did not have sexual relations ….' Go figure.

Monday, 4 November 2013

History of scandal - again!

Last Friday I wrote a short op-ed about the Senate scandal, essentially saying that all of the parties can learn something important from the history of political scandal. The short version of what I said was this: 'scandals don't last'.

The Ottawa Citizen published the op-ed today (Monday).

Over the weekend, the Conservative convention showed me that, in at least one respect, politics doesn't change.

In the op-ed, I talk a bit about the King-Byng controversy of 1926. (see note below) Most people forget that King's government actually fell because of a political scandal - the Liberals were 'on the take' in Montreal, skimming money off of bootleggers who were themselves feeding prohibition-era thirsty Americans. But all of this was forgotten in the election of 1926. King essentially found a wedge-issue in the constitutional issue that became the King-Byng controversy.

I can't help but think, as John Ibbitson also writes today, that the Conservatives on the weekend were trying to do essentially the same thing with public sector unions and pensions. If the opposition parties are smart, they won't take the bait. This would have to be, for them, a 'shield issue' not a 'sword issue'. These are the terms that Paul Wells shows, in his new book on Harper, that the Conservatives use - that is, shield issues are those that they can't win on, they can only defend.  Bashing unions is a classic sword issue for Conservatives. They are trying to switch from the scandal, on which they can only defend, and ineptly at that, onto something that they feel much better about.

Good to see that lessons from long ago King-Byng are still useful today. History really can teach you things.

Note: I was going to link to the Wikipedia entry for King-Byng just to give some general info but when I went to it I found that it repeats a bunch of folklore/myths about the scandal. It gets some of the details right, but leaves out a good deal of important issues.