Canada’s Constitution

30 09 2009
British North America Act

British North America Act

Does Canada have a written constitution? According to a recent article in the American Political Science Review by James Fink, Canada’s constitution is entirely customary or unwritten. As political scientist Janet Ajzenstat points out, Canada has a written constitution.

I would add, however, that the unwritten parts of the Canadian constitution are more important than the written documents. This is probably what Fink meant to say.

My Teaching This Week

30 09 2009

Undergraduate Teaching:

This week, I gave two lectures to students my first-year survey course on pre-Confederation history. Monday’s lecture was on the social and economic institutions of New France. Wednesday’s lecture was on the Seven Years’ War and the Conquest of New France by the British. Next week, I shall be speaking about the American Revolution and its impact on present-day Canada.

In my fourth-year seminar on mid-19th century British North America, our focus this week was on Newfoundland in the 1840s and 1850s. The readings for the seminar included Getrude E. Gunn, The Political History of Newfoundland, 1832-1864 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966), (selected pages); Sean T. Cadigan “The Moral Economy of the Commons: Ecology and Equity in the Newfoundland Cod Fishery, 1815-1855,” Labour/Le Travail 43 (1999): 9-42; and the entry for Philip Francis Little in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. (Little was the first Premier of Newfoundland after Responsible Government came in).

These readings generated a lively discussion of Newfoundland’s place in the North Atlantic world,  the achievement of Responsible Government in Newfoundland and environmental history. We also had a very good discussion of the concept of the tragedy of the commons and how it can be applied to the study of history. I also distributed copies of a primary source (a 1854 letter from London to Newfoundland’s Governor) in the seminar and asked students to analyze and discuss it. Next week, the seminar shall be discussing economic change in the Province of Canada in the 1840s and 1850s.

I don’t know if I will assign the article by Cadigan again. It’s a very good article, but maybe not appropriate for students lacking the right background knowledge.

Graduate Teaching:

I also met with one of our graduate students to discuss her project on the fur trade. (Her master’s project involves looking at the records of a particular HBC trading post in northern Ontario). We discussed two secondary sources related to her research project, Harold A. Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada: an Introduction to Canadian Economic History (3rd edition, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999) and E.E. Rich, Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1870 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1960). We had a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the changing nature of economic history, the influence of Innis, historians’ depictions of Natives, and the impact of cultural differences on culture. At our next meeting, we shall discuss the more modern secondary literature on the fur trade. I’m enjoying working this very dedicated and intelligent student.

“Globalization and the Making of Canada” Workshop

29 09 2009

I have updated the program of the “Globalization and the Making of Canada” workshop.

Canadian History Image of the Day

27 09 2009
Battle of Queenston Heights

Battle of Queenston Heights

This painting depicts the Battle of Queenston Heights. The battle took place in October 1812 and was a victory for the British. The American invasion force, which has crossed the Niagara River from the American territory (right) was dealt a major blow. The painting itself dates from 1866 when the Niagara peninsula region was again invaded from the United States, this time by the Fenians, an Irish republican organization.

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

Interview with Historian Greg Robinson

23 09 2009

robinson book

In this interview, Prof. Greg Robinson talks about his new book, which examines the internment of Japanese North Americans in the United States, Canada, and Mexico after Pearl Harbor. All three countries interned people of Japanese ancestry living on the west coast.

I like the fact that this book takes a pan-North American perspective, looking at all three North American countries.  Call it NAFTA history. All too often, historians based in the United States conflate the “United States” and “North America”. Historians in Anglophone Canada are a little better– they make cross-border comparisons with the US but rarely think about Mexico.

Robinson‘s biography is as interesting as this book. He is a native of New York City who now teaches, in French, at l’Université du Québec à Montréal .  For a link to Robinson’s personal website, click here.

Image of book cover used with permission of the author.

Wolfe, Montcalm, Remembrance Day 2009 Part II

22 09 2009

Christopher Moore has commented on my proposal that the Government of Canada invite the descendants of Wolfe and Montcalm to the 2009 Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa.

He had this to say : “Andrew’s well worth a read. But the dead of 1759 who continue to resonate for me are the townspeople killed as their houses crumbled under shellfire during the siege of Quebec, the civilians shot down in skirmishes with the British, the militia who died in their thousands during the whole of the war, even the elderly and the children who died of malnutrition and fevers during the grim winters of that struggle. And that’s not to mention the Acadians, the people of Louisbourg…  It would be too bad if our understanding of that became caught up in honouring a French and a British general — or wrangling whether to honour them. Could we not honour an unknown soldier of the Canadian War of the Conquest?”

I certainly agree with Christopher  that we should remember all those who died in that battle—my proposal to invite the descendants of the two best-known casualties is intended to raise awareness of all those of who perished, white and Native, general and privates, civilians and military.

New Nature’s Past Podcast

21 09 2009
Logo of the Nature's Past Podcast

Logo of the Nature's Past Podcast

The ninth episode of  Nature’s Past, the podcast produced by NiCHE, the Network in Canadian History & Environment is now available here. This episode that looks at environmental history graduate studies in Canada.  Previous episodes can be downloaded from the NiCHE website.

The podcaster, Sean Kheraj, is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of History at the University of British Columbia. He has previously written about the environmental history of Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Currently, he is researching a new project on the history of urban animals in Canada.

The monthly Nature’s Past podcasts are a way of keeping abreast of the rapidly growing field of Canadian environmental history.  The podcasts are similar in format to a CBC Radio One documentary and feature interviews with scholars in the field talking about their research. They are designed to appeal to both academic historians and ordinary Canadians who are interested in the environmental history of their country.

Review of Buckner, Canada and the British Empire

17 09 2009

My (favourable) review of  Philip Buckner, Canada and the British Empire (Oxford University Press, 2008) has been published in the Canadian Historical Review vol. 90, issue 3 (September 2009): 539-40. See here.

Program of “Globalization and the Making of Canada: Canada’s International Economic Linkages from the Fur Trade to the 21st Century”

17 09 2009
Unknown Artist, Port of Halifax, 1830s

Unknown Artist, Port of Halifax, 1830s

Workshop Theme:

Globalization is transforming Canada and the world. Moreover, it is a process whose roots go back a long time. For many people, the term globalization refers only to developments in the last few decades. The reality is that there have been successive waves of globalization going back centuries.  The papers presented at this workshop will show that globalization has been transforming Canada since the time of the fur trade. The picture above of a ship leaving Halifax harbour in the 1830s is, in a sense, documentary evidence of early globalization. By some measures, the world was more globalized in July 1914 than it is today. The fact that there have been successive waves of globalization and de-globalization helps to falsify the widespread notion that the process of globalization is inevitable or irreversible. The research presented at this workshop will also remind us that globalization is historically contingent and shaped by the decisions by policymakers and other actors. Another aim of the workshop is to connect Canadian historiography with the burgeoning body of literature on the history of globalization and international trade.

Workshop Venue: Woerner House. Woerner House is the conference facility owned by the Centre for International Governance Innovation, which is located in Waterloo, Ontario. It is located in a wooded area roughly thirty minutes from the University of Waterloo campus.

Please note that the papers are protected by passwords. To obtain the passwords, please contact Andrew Smith.

Friday, 29 January 2010

1:00-1:30 Registration

1:30-1:50 Opening Remarks by Andrew Smith, Laurentian University.

2:00-3:00 Session 1: Early Globalization

Professor Mike Dove, Department of History, University of Western Ontario. “Pelts and Profits as Precursors: Antecedents of Globalization in the Canadian Fur Trade”

Professor George Colpitts, Department of History, University of Calgary.  “Early Globalization and the Pricing of Plains Provisions for the Canadian Fur Trade, 1811-1882

3:00-3:15 COFFEE BREAK

3:15-4:35 Session 2: Globalization and the British Empire

Professor Andrew Smith, Department of History, Laurentian University.  “Globalization in British North America in the 1860s: the Economic Foundations of Confederation?

Dr. Andrew Dilley, Department of History, University of Aberdeen, Scotland. “Development Politics and Power in the British World: The City of London and the early years of Ontario-Hydro paper

Commentator: Professor William Coleman, Canada Research Chair on Global Governance and Public Policy, McMaster University.

4:35-4:45 COFFEE BREAK

4:45-5:55 Session 3: Globalization and Canadian Natural Resources

Dr. Daryl White, Grande Prairie Regional College, Alberta. “ Managing a War Metal: the International Nickel Company’s First World War

Professor Mark Kuhlberg, Department of History, Laurentian University. “The Myth of Provincial Protectionism in Ontario’s Forest Industry, 1894-1963

Professor Herb Emery, Department of Economics, University of Calgary. “Natural Resources Exports, Wealth, and Accumulation and Development in Settler Economies: North-western Ontario and South Australia, 1905-1915

6:05-6:35 Keynote Address,”Canada’s Place in Global Business: Past, Present, Future”, Professor Matthias Kipping, Chair in Business History, Schulich School of Business, York University.

6:35-7:15 RECEPTION

7:15-7:45 Travel to Conference Dinner location (Blackshop Restaurant)


Saturday 30 January 2010


9:00-10:20 Session 4: The Political Economy of International Trade 1867-1914

Professor Eugene Beaulieu, Department of Economics, University of Calgary. “The Political Economy of Canadian Trade Policy from 1881 to 1925

Mr. Jevan Cherniwchan, Department of Economics, University of Calgary. “The Restrictiveness of Canada’s Trade Policy: 1880-1910

Michael Huberman, Département d’Histoire, Université de Montréal, “ Riding the Wave of Trade: Explaining the Rise of Labour Regulation in the Golden Age of Globalization

10:20-10:30 COFFEE BREAK

10:30-11:50 Session 5: Multinational Enterprise and Canada

Dr. Greig Mordue, Toyota Canada. “Public Policy Meets Industrial Strategy: Building Paradigmatic Change in the Canadian Auto Industry, 1945-1960”

Professor Graham Taylor, Department of History, Trent University. “The The Whisky Kings: The International Expansion of Seagram, 1934-2001

Professor Robin Gendron, Department of History, Nipissing University. “Seeds of Decline: Inco and Globalisation in the Nickel Industry 1960s and 1970s

Commentator: Professor Joe Martin, Director of Canadian Business History, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.

12:00-1:00 LUNCH

1:00-2:30 Session 6: The Political Economy of International Trade Since 1945

Dr. Michael Stevenson, Schulich School of Business, York University. ” The Limits of Alliance: Cold War Solidarity and Canadian Wheat Exports to China, 1950-1963

Professor Bruce Muirhead, Department of History, University of Waterloo. “Canadian Participation in the International Monetary Fund, 1944 – 1973”

Commentator:  TBA.

2:30-2:45 COFFEE BREAK

2:45-3:15 Roundtable Discussion


Any questions about this workshop should be sent to . If you wish to attend the workshop, please let us know by 10 January 2010.

Organizing Committee:

Dimitry Anastakis, Trent University
Eugene Beaulieu, University of Calgary
Herb Emery, University of Calgary
Mark Kuhlberg, Laurentian University
Andrew Smith, Laurentian University (Contact Person)

We would like to thank CIGI for its generous support of this workshop.

The image above is in the public domain and is available from the Wikimedia Commons (click here).

Driving Directions:
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Workshop on Writing History for a Mass Audience

14 09 2009

On 19 October 2009, the Network in Canadian History and Environment will be hosting a workshop at the University of Western Ontario for Canadian history graduate students on writing for a popular audience. Graduate students are invited to sign up for this workshop in order enhance their writing skills and develop a proposal for an article to pitch to a newspaper or magazine editor.  There will be a public lecture that evening by MIT’s Harriet Ritvo, president of the American Society of Environmental Historians. Ritvo will be discussing her new book, The Dawn of Green: Manchester, Thirlmere, and Modern Environmentalism (Chicago University Press, 2009).
If you are interested in participating, please contact Adam Crymble.

I think that this is a wonderful initiative! I was recently looking that the history shelves in my local big-box bookstore and was struck by the paucity of books on Canadian history. There were plenty of books on US, British, and other histories, however. I think that fact so few books on Canadian history are consumed by the public has something to do with fact so many Canadian historians don’t know how to write for a mass audience. Historians such as Sean Wilentz, Simon Schama, Sir Martin Gilbert, Alan Taylor, Linda Colley, and Sir David Cannadine have shown that it is possible to write for a mass audience while still maintaining scholarly rigour. Sadly, few Canadian academic historians have been able to bridge the gap between scholarly and popular historical writing. (One of the few honourable exceptions to this generalization in Western’s Jonathan Vance, whose books do indeed grace the shelves of mainstream bookstores).

Hat tip to Sean Kheraj.