Sir John A. Macdonald’s First Home Faces Demolition

11 10 2009

The Glasgow house commonly believed to be the birthplace of Sir John A. Macdonald is slated for demolition. The house, which was most recently a brothel, will be torn down as part of an urban renewal project led by British department store Selfridges. Selfridges, by the way, is owned by Canadian Galen Weston. The redevelopment plans call for a small memorial to Macdonald.





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.





Christopher Moore Live Blogs Confederation

8 10 2009

From Christopher Moore’s Canadian History blog: “Given the response to the live-blogging of the siege of Quebec, I think we will liveblog the Quebec conference of 1864 next. Starting tomorrow, we will remove to Monday, October 10, 1864 and see how we get along. ” See here.





My Teaching This Week

8 10 2009

I teach a Canadian history survey course that is designed for first-year students. The course is designed to teach them about both Canada’s past before 1867 and about the study of history at the university level. Normally, there are two lectures per week. This week, however, I held tutorials during one of the normal lecture slots.

On Monday, I delivered a lecture on the impact of the American Revolution on British North America.United Empire Loyalists, Final Resting Place Our tutorial on Wednesday looked at the history of slavery in Canada. We discussed slaveholding by First Nations, the enslavement of First Nations individuals by whites, and the smaller number of Black slaves brought into New France and the British colonies. The student will be completing an assignment about a Portuguese-born Black slave named Angélique who was executed for arson in Montreal in 1734.

In my fourth-year seminar, our theme this week was economic change in the 1840s and 1850s. We began the seminar by discussing Adam Shortt, “General Economic History, 1841-67” in vol. 5 of Canada and Its Provinces. This reading gave the students a sense of the overall developments of the period. We then moved on to some more modern interpretations of the period.   Lawrence H. Officer and Lawrence B. Smith, “The Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty of 1855 to 1866The Journal of Economic History 28 (1968): 598-623 and Peter Baskerville, “Americans in Britain’s Backyard: The Railway Era in Upper Canada, 1850-1880Business History Review 55  (1981): 314-336. We then took our customary coffee break, after which we listened to excellent student presentations on the lives and times of two important individuals, Isaac Buchanan, a Canadian merchant, and Sir Samuel Cunard, the founder of the great steamship line.

Montreal Wharf

Montreal Wharf, 1874. Note railway boxcars near ship in foreground. Image Source: Library and Archives Canada.

Our discussion was wide-ranging and touched on important themes in the history of technology, international trade (hence the picture of a Montreal wharf), and Canadian-American relations. We also talked about how the rich get rich. Do they do it entirely through hard work and their own unassisted efforts? Or do they sometimes use subsidies and other help from the government to grow their firms? Next week’s seminar is entitled “Ideology”.  We shall look at how people in an age dominated by classical liberalism justified an increasing number of interventions by government in the economy.





Passchendaele: The Movie

7 10 2009

Norman Leach, the historical consultant for the 2008 Canadian film Passchendaele, was recently interviewed for the Canadian Forces YouTube channel. Leach discusses the film, the actual battle, and the battle’s wider historical context.

Here is the trailer for the movie.





McCord Museum Video on Confederation

6 10 2009

McGill University historian Brian Young was the historical consultant for this video. The video does a good job of explaining the causes and results of Confederation.





New Canadian History Book

6 10 2009

Another book to add to my to-read pile….

R. Douglas Francis, The Technological Imperative in Canada: An Intellectual History (University of British Columbia Press, 2009).





Stephen Harper on Colonialism in 2006

5 10 2009

Harper changed his mind on colonialism.

I recently posted about the controversy surrounded Stephen Harper’s  declaration in Pittsburgh that Canada had no history of colonialism. Harper’s remarks clearly imply that colonialism is a bad thing, which is the mainstream view, at least among most small-l liberals.

In the 2006 speech quoted below, Stephen Harper praised the British Empire and associated himself with the “unfashionable” view that colonialism could be a good thing. Comparing this speech with Mr Harper’s more recent remarks shows the extent to which he and his party have moved to the political centre since 2006. Harper regarded colonialism as essentially good in 2006, but as a bad thing in 2009.

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Address by the Prime Minister at the Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce

14 July 2006
London, UK

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is actually my first speech to a business audience outside Canada since becoming Prime Minister. And it is only fitting that it’s to your distinguished organization. Because the Canada-UK Chamber has been promoting commerce between our nations for almost 90 years. And because the business relationship between our countries dates back to the very founding of Canada.
In fact, for two centuries prior to our confederation in 1867, much of Canada was effectively owned, operated and governed under the red ensign of a London-based corporation, the mighty Hudson’s Bay Company. Our co-sponsor tonight, the Canada Club, owes its founding in 1810 to the fur traders of the North-West Company, the main rival and eventual partner of the HBC.

Still, business is but one aspect of our combined history.That history is built by layer upon layer of common experiences, shared values and ancient family ties. In my own case, the Harper family traces its known forefathers back to the northern England and southern Scotland of the 1600s. But a far greater orator than I – or any Harper of the past 400 years – once described Canada-U.K. relations this way:
The ties which join [Canada] to the mother country are more flexible than elastic, stronger than steel and tenser than any material known to science. Canada bridges the gap between the old world and the new, and reunites the world with a new bond of comradeship.

The speaker, as you might have guessed, was the incomparable Winston Churchill. The occasion was a speech in Ottawa in 1929, part of a cross-country tour of what he called “the Great Dominion.” He gave 16 speeches in 9 cities.  Every one of them was delivered to sold-out rooms and repeated standing ovations. On that same tour, Mr. Churchill reminded Canadians of what they owed to Britain. At the heart of our relationship, he said: “is the golden circle of the Crown which links us all together with the majestic past that takes us back to the Tudors, the Plantagenets, the Magna Carta, habeas corpus, petition of rights, and English common law…all those massive stepping stones which the people of the British race shaped and forged to the joy, and peace, and glory of mankind.”

How right he was.

Britain gave Canada all that – and much more.
Including: Parliamentary democracy; A commitment to basic freedoms; The industrial revolution; and
The entrepreneurial spirit and free market economy. Not to mention Shakespeare, Dickens, Kipling, Lewis, and Chesterton.

Of course, we haven’t accepted all of our inheritance from Britain.  The take-up rates on rugby and association football are certainly not as high as ice hockey. And Canadians remain utterly baffled by cricket.

But seriously and truthfully, much of what Canada is today we can trace to our origins as a colony of the British Empire. Now I know it’s unfashionable to refer to colonialism in anything other than negative terms. And certainly, no part of the world is unscarred by the excesses of empires. But in the Canadian context, the actions of the British Empire were largely benign and occasionally brilliant. The magnanimous provisions of the Quebec Act of 1774 ensured the survival of the French language and culture in Canada – to the everlasting benefit of our country. And the treaties negotiated with the Aboriginal inhabitants of our country, while far from perfect, were some of the fairest and most generous of the period. This genius for governance shown by the mother country at the time no doubt explains in part why Canada’s path to independence was so long, patient and peaceful. And it explains why your Queen is still our Queen, and why our “bond of comradeship” remains as sturdy today as it was in Mr. Churchill’s time.

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Here are some links to new media items regarding the colonialism controversy.

Aaron Wherry, Maclean’s.

Colleen Simard, Winnipeg Free Press.

Le Monde, Paris.

Vancouver Sun.

Update:

The Western Standard, a far-right publication based in Alberta, has published some thoughts on the Harper-colonialism controversy.






Madokoro on _Contradictory Impulses: Canada and Japan in the Twentieth Century_

5 10 2009
Canadian Post Office Notice Regarding Parcel Post to Japan

Canadian Post Office Notice Regarding Parcel Post to Japan, 1890

I would like to draw people’s attention to a review of Patricia E. Roy, Greg Donaghy, eds. Contradictory Impulses: Canada and Japan in the Twentieth Century (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2008). Laura Madokoro, the author of the review, is profiled here on the Trudeau Foundation website.

The image above is in the public domain and is from Library and Archives Canada.





Canada’s History of Colonialism

2 10 2009
First Nations, 1870

First Nations, 1870

Native Groups have called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to apologize for saying that Canada has “no history of colonialism”.  (Also see here, here, and here). Harper made these remarks at the G20 in Pittsburgh, a recent gathering of the leaders of developed (G7) and emerging economies (including China, India, and Brazil). You can watch Mr Harper’s statement in Pittsburgh here.

First Nations groups say that Harper’s statement overlooks Canada’s long history of domestic colonialism. They have also said that Harper’s “colonialism denial” is incompatible with his recent apology for the residential schools and efforts to engage with aboriginals.

I can certainly see the point that Mr Harper was trying to make. Unlike Britain, the United States, France, and some of the other industrialized countries, Canada never had overseas colonies. The fact that Canada never had a colonial empire does colour the way in which former European colonies, such as India and Singapore, see us. We don’t have the baggage that the other major western countries do.  However, in equating “colonialism” with having overseas colonies in the tropics, Mr Harper may have been making a common mistake, the “saltwater fallacy” that says that if you colonize a territory that is connected to you by land, you aren’t a colonialist. By this definition, Russia and China would not be considered “colonialist” powers, since they colonized contiguous territories, Siberia and Tibet respectively.

Colonialism involved seizing overseas territories in what is commonly called the Third World. But colonialism can also be about the Fourth World, the indigenous communities that live within the borders of industrialized countries such as Canada, Australia, Sweden, and the United States.

Both sides in the debate generated by Mr Harper’s colonialism remark have made excellent points. One hopes that this debate will help to increase the public’s interest in Canadian history.

The image above is from Library and Archives Canada and is the public domain.