My Talk in Banff

28 07 2015
"Banff, Alberta, Canada (230089894)" by Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, United States - Banff, Alberta, Canada. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“Banff, Alberta, Canada (230089894)” by Tony Webster from Portland, Oregon, United States – Banff, Alberta, Canada. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Are you interested in state formation, constitutional change, and sovereignty in North America in the 1860s? If so, check out the programme of the Rethinking North American Sovereignty Conference in Banff Alberta.

Masonic Lodge, Banff, Alberta

I will be speaking at the Masons Hall, 103 Caribou Street, in Banff, Alberta on Thursday, 30 July at 6:30pm. The event is free and open to the public.

Andrew Smith, University of Liverpool, “Confederation as a Hemispheric Anomaly: Why Canada Choose to Remain a Colony -draft July 2015

Steven Hahn, University of Pennsylvania, “The United States from the Inside Out and the Southside North”

Comment: Thomas Bender, New York University

This conference is sponsored by the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center at Penn State University and supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech University and the following academic units at the University of Calgary: the Department of History; the Centre for Military, Security, and Strategic Studies; the Faculty of Arts; the Latin America Research Centre; and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

When Do Canadians Think Canada Was Founded?

25 06 2013

That was the subject of a recent poll by the Association of Canadian Studies which asked Canadians when their country was founded.

“As Canada approaches the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, a bare majority of citizens considers the 1867 deal struck by Sir John A. Macdonald and his fellow architects of the BNA Act the “founding” event in the country’s history, according to a new national survey.”  Other Canadians mentioned 1812 and 1608 as Canada’s founding dates.

You can read press coverage of the survey results here.

For some reason, detailed information about this survey is not available on the Association of Canadian Studies website. We do not, therefore, know much about the survey methodology used here. The lack of transparency here is surprising, given that the Association of Canadian Studies a) run by academics, who are supposed to “show their work” b) funded by the taxpayer c) has put detailed information about past surveys online in the past. (For instance, they recently put information about their soccer/turban ban poll online).

My Teaching Last Week

30 03 2010

HIST 1407 (Canadian History Survey Course)

My lecture on Monday was about Canadian history from 1984 to 1993. I spoke about the following issues: the pre-1983 career of Brian Mulroney; the 1984 election; the nature of the “Mulroney Coalition”; the 1988 Free Trade election (I showed a clip from the 1998 leaders’ debate); the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords; Elijah Harper; the Oka Crisis; the emergence of the BQ; the Somalia Affair (there are some great images and video clips available online!); the judicial politics of abortion; Canada’s policies towards the apartheid regime in South Africa; Kim Campbell. I also devoted a fair bit of time to the environmental policies of Brian Mulroney because environmental history is one of the themes of this course.

Brian Mulroney in 1984

My lecture on Wednesday was on an even more recent period of history, 1993-2003. My major focus was on the 1995 Referendum and the subsequent Clarity Act and sponsorship programs. I showed video clips from the night of the referendum. The video clips really captivated the attention of the class. Most of students were born in roughly 1991. I also spoke about Jean Chrétien’s life before 1993, Paul Martin’s career as Finance Minister, and NAFTA.

HIST 4165

4th Year Seminar on BNA in the Age of Confederation

Fenian Raid Medal

We listened to five student research presentation this week. A number of students have selected topics related to what one student has called the War on Fenianism in the 1860s.

Fenian Raids Monument, Toronto, 1890

We heard two presentations on the assassination of McGee and a presentation on the Fenian Raids.

Committee of Safety Minutes, 1866, Page 1, Welland, Canada West

We also heard a student present on the impact of railway construction on the town of Stratford Ontario.

Grand Trunk System Map

Perhaps the most entertaining presentation related to the abolition of public capital punishment in Canada in the late 1860s. That student has discovered some great primary sources related to her topic!

A Canadian Hanging

My Teaching This Week

26 11 2009

On Monday, I spoke to the students in my pre-Confederation Canadian history survey course about the impact of the Civil War on British North America. I spoke about the Underground Railroad, Abolitionism, anti-Americanism, Canadians who fought on both sides in the Civil War, the Trent Crisis, Confederate raiders who operated from Canada, Reciprocity, Jefferson Davis, and the Fenian Raids. I tried to explain why so many decent people in British North America were sympathetic to the southern cause in the Civil War. I made it clear that they did not approve of slavery, but merely felt that British North America’s interests would be advanced by the division of the United States into two or more sovereign entities. Canadians in the 1860s were anti-Yankee rather than pro-Southern. I stressed to the students that the paramount goal of President Lincoln and most Republicans was the preservation of the union, not the extinction of slavery. I also noted that anti-Black racism was very common in the northern states and that some Northerners wanted to free the slaves and then deport all Blacks! These are important facts for the students to know if they are to evaluate the actions of Canadians during and after the Civil War. The lecture also discussed Anglo-American relations from 1860 to the Treaty of Washington. The Civil War lecture allowed me to show some real cool photographs to my students. Thank god for PowerPoint!

Confederate Dead, Chancellorsville, Virginia 1863

On Wednesday, I spoke about Canadian Confederation, providing students with a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the conferences, elections, and personalities of the period between 1864 and 1867. I spoke about the Charlottetown Conference, the Quebec Conference, and the London Conference, as well as Macdonald, Brown, Cartier, Tilley, Tupper and, of course, Joseph Howe.

In the lecture, I adopted an anti-Confederation posture as a way of being the devil’s advocate. In arguing against Confederation and expressing support for the position of Joseph Howe, I was trying to get the students to think critically the celebratory narratives of Confederation developed by historians based in Ontario universities. I showed that many people in French Canada, the West, and the Maritimes were opposed to Macdonald’s centralizing vision for British North America. I also hammered home the point that Confederation in 1867 did not make Canada independent of Great Britain. I went on a little digression about the 1931 statute of Westminster. I think that I made it clear that any student who wrote that “Canada became an independent country in 1867” on the final exam would be summarily executed!

At the end of the class, I returned marked essays to the students. These essays were on the journals of Pehr Kalm, a Swedish-Finnish scientist who visited Montreal as part of an extensive tour of North America. Kalm kept a diary or journal during this tour. This diary was published in Stockholm in the 1750s and read by Swedes curious about conditions in North America. An English translation of Kalm’s journals was published in London in 1770. In 2002, the 1770 edition of Kalm’s journal was digitized by the staff of the Wisconsin Historical Society. My students read the sections of the journal related to his visit to Montreal. I asked the students to assess whether Kalm’s journal is an unbiased source of information on life in 18th century North America. Most of the students were able to detect that Kalm had an anti-English bias and that his comments on New France thus have to be taken with a pinch big scoop of salt. My students appear to have enjoyed the challenge of reading an 18th century primary source.

In my fourth-year seminar on Confederation, the focus was on aboriginal history. Our readings were on Duncan Campbell Scott, “Indian Affairs, 1840-1867” in vol. 5 of Canada and Its Provinces; Barry M. Gough, Gunboat Frontier : British Maritime Authority and Northwest Coast Indians, 1846-90 (Vancouver : University of British Columbia Press, 1984), 1-24; Sidney L. Haring, “The Common Law is Not Part Savage and Part Civilized: Chief Justice John Beverley Robinson and Native Rights” in White Man’s Law : native people in nineteenth-century Canadian jurisprudence (Toronto : Published for the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History by University of Toronto Press, 1998), pp.62-90. The students liked the reading by Gough, but I think that the one by Haring was a bit too complex, even for students in an honours seminar. We also listened to student presentation on the lives of Joseph Brant Clench, a 19th century Indian Agent, and Jean-Baptiste Assiginack, a First Nations leader.

On Thursday, I met my graduate student to discuss her research on the fur trading post at La Cloche. She has found excellent material in the microfilmed records of the post.

The 150!Canada Conference

19 10 2009

Older readers will remember the 1967 celebrations of the centennial of Confederation. Indeed, some of you may have gone to Expo 67 in Montreal. The planning for the 150th anniversary of Confederation is already underway.

“On March 11-12, 2010, IPAC and MASS LBP will convene a major conference at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa that will bring together senior public servants from all levels of government, business leaders and representatives of leading NGOs to discuss preparations for Canada’s sesquicentennial year.

The conference will review the success and lessons of the 1967 and 1992 celebrations, learn from recent national celebrations in other countries. Presentations by Canadian luminaries and leaders will help spark our imagination as the delegates work to establish a national framework for sesquicentennial preparations and design.

The program will combine keynotes, presentations and panels with a second full day of creative and planning workshops.”

More details here. I hope that the organizers include professional historians and historical societies such as the Canadian Historical Association and the Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française, in the planning process. In particulary, I hope that they invite historian Christopher Moore, who has recently been blogging about the Quebec Conference, to take a leading role.

Ajzenstat on the BNA Act

11 10 2009

Janet Ajzenstat has replied to a recent post in which I said that Canada’s constitution was partly written and partly unwritten. A written constitution is one in which the political system is blueprinted in one or more written documents. In an unwritten constitution, important offices and practices are defined by custom and tradition, not a written document.  The United States has a written constitution that, among other things, describes the powers and mode of selecting the President and the Congress. Britain has a largely unwritten constitution: the office of Prime Minister evolved gradually and there is no constitutional document defining that office or its occupant’s powers or mode of selection.  “Responsible Government”, the cornerstone principle of Canada’s system of government, is not described or mandated in any of Canada’s constitutional documents. Indeed, the office of Prime Minister went unmentioned in the British North America Act of 1867. Professor Ajzenstat has said that I was wrong to assert that Canada’s constitution is partly unwritten because there are sections of the British North America Act that allude to Responsible Government and which suggest that the drafters of the statute had Responsible Government in mind. The BNA Act certainly referred to the Ministers of Agriculture and Finance, but it made no reference to the office of Prime Minister. It is true that the written part of Canada’s constitution was created with the unwritten conventions in mind, but this does not mean that Canada’s constitution is entirely or even mainly written. Canada’s constitution is a hybrid, combining bits of the British and American constitutions. Perhaps the most important part of Canada’s written constitution is the preamble, which states that the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick have expressed their Desire [for]… a Constitution similar in Principle to that of the United Kingdom.” These words entrenched parts of Britain’s unwritten constitution in the Canadian constitution.

It seems to me that it is an indisputable fact that Canada’s constitution is partly unwritten. That’s why the constitutionality of things like last December’s proposed coalition is a matter of passionate debate. (Indeed, the identity of Canada’s head of state is also a constitutional grey area). Whether or not Canada’s half-written, half-unwritten constitution represents an ideal arrangement is, of course, a matter open for discussion.

Senator Hugh Segal on George Brown and Confederation

10 10 2009

In this video, Tory Senator Hugh Segal speaks about George Brown’s role in Confederation. The video was shot near the Château Laurier on Canada Day. I thought that I would post this video because Christopher Moore is currently “live blogging” the Quebec Conference of 1864.