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Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Party Boat, 2011, from Sarah Anne Johnson's "Arctic Wonderland" series.

Party Boat, 2011, from Sarah Anne Johnson’s “Arctic Wonderland” series.

(For the introduction to this series on national narratives click here.)

Last year an archaeological discovery was announced from the northernmost region of the world, one that could change the way we think about history – and it all started with a yarn. (more…)

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Henry Sandham's "The Coming of the Loyalists" (1910) reveals a romanticized conception of Canadian history common in his day.

Henry Sandham’s “The Coming of the Loyalists” (1910) reveals a romanticized conception of Canadian history that was common in his day.

(For the introduction to this series on national narratives click here.)

It’s the 4th of July. The skies of America are lit up by a bouquet of colours as fireworks announce another year of that country’s independence from Britain. With the Stars & Stripes on full display, crowds waft between watermelon picnics and baseball games, stopping now and then to listen to a marching band play “Yankee Doodle.” Magically, amidst all its political gaffs and global blunders, the sentimental face of the “Home of the Brave” reveals itself with an unabashed blend of pride and kitsch. It gets to you.

Just a little ways North of the border in a dingy but well-loved campus bar in Halifax, Nova Scotia an altogether different sort of celebration is taking place. Instead of the Stars & Stripes, you find the old “loyalist” flag of Britain tacked to the wall, while in some place of prominence – in front of an old speaker, perhaps – an image of Canada’s reigning monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, smiles down upon the revelries as undergraduates hoist their drinks in the air and stumble their way the lyrics to “God Save the Queen.” (more…)

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"The Impending Nisga'a' Deal. Last Stand. Chump Change" (1996). Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun.

“The Impending Nisga’a’ Deal. Last Stand. Chump Change” (1996). Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun.

(For the introduction to this series on national narratives click here.)

It is a breezy July morning, and a group of weary men are trudging their way up a sloping hill. In their midst they carry a 10-metre long plank of wood. A smaller beam has been nailed perpendicularly to the plank’s upper third to form a cross, the symbol of their God.

The men are nearing the end of what had been a long and difficult voyage along the shores of this strange, new continent. Their captain, Jacques Cartier, led them here in search of a waterway that would lead to the riches of the Orient. That discovery, however, would have to wait. Finding only false starts and dead ends, Cartier and his crew have at last decided to turn return home, and all preparations are in order for the perilous journey back across the Atlantic. No doubt looking forward to their return, it is easy to imagine the minds of Cartier’s men on the sights and smells of their home ports as they work through this final task: the raising of a cross on the banks of a great bay. (more…)

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The Hon. James Moore, talking about... something.

The Hon. James Moore, talking about… something.

As plans for the Canadian Museum of History continue to ramp up, I find myself wondering exactly whose Canada will be presented behind the glass displays of our new national museum. Our current government has taken a peculiar interest in Canadian history and national narratives – most notably, in the 1812 Bicentennial celebrations, and, now, in their unfolding plans for Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

If you have been following this blog for a while, you will know that one of my motivations in writing it is my belief that talking about our history is important. The way we perceive the past influences the decisions we make in the present. That old adage rings true, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

There is no doubt that the Harper government’s policies have gotten Canadians talking about the past. Who beforehand had even heard of the War of 1812? The question that lingers in my mind is what histories are we still not talking about, and how do they inform our present actions? (more…)

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Royal Proclamation of 1763

“God Save the King”: Royal Proclamation of 1763

Think of the great dates in Canadian history and what comes to mind? Probably 1867, or possibly 1982. I’d even allow 1812 (begrudgingly).

What probably doesn’t come to mind is Oct. 7, 1763, the day King George III issued the proclamation that enshrined aboriginal rights in British North America. In doing so, he helped to spark a revolution and layed the foundations for a distinct political and legal tradition in what would become Canada. It’s kind of a big deal. (more…)

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The Canadian government’s decision to spend some $28 million on War of 1812 commemorations in a time of apparent fiscal crisis elicited all manner of responses.  For some it represents a baffling use of resources. Others question the prudence of commemorating a forgotten war given the concurrent milestone anniversaries of institutions like Parks Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, CBC Radio and Medicare. There are also those who herald the 1812 commemorations as a long overdue investment into our country’s history.

There is some truth in each of those responses, but what strikes me above all is a sense that we have lost an opportunity here. (more…)

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Candy wrappers litter the floor. Pumpkins are splayed out across the road. The costumes have been hung up until next year. Another Halloween has come and gone.

But every Halloween has it’s monster, and they rarely retreat so readily. Last Tuesday, on a stormy Hallow’s Eve Eve, the Parti Québecois – that most Canadian of bogeymen – opened the National Assembly of Quebec’s fall session. Despite the dire warnings, the effect was hardly befitting the seasonal timing.

As with other bogeymen, we’ve been taught to fear separatists as constitutional home wreckers, hell bent on splitting up the country and eradicating the English language. Such parables tainted rumours of an opposition coalition in 2008, and helped to keep Charest’s Liberals in power for nine years. After Wednesday’s Inaugural Speech, however, those warnings are looking rather lackluster. Owe it to the state of the sovereignty movement, or the realities of minority governance, but the Marois under the bed is no monster. (more…)

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