Canadian History in the News: The past is always a part of the present. This blog series looks at current events and stories that have a Canadian history element to them and I offer my opinion on the subject.
Canada: The story of how to alienate viewers before the series became decent halfway through.
Sometimes I come across news articles or stories that I think would be great to talk about on this blog—–except for the fact that they are pretty short and therefore wouldn’t make for much of a blog post by themselves. Solution? Every now and then I pull a few together. This late spring edition will cover the debacle that was CBC’s The Story of US, controversy in the archival world, and different Canada 150-related articles.
The Controversy Over Canada: The Story of Us
Samuel de Champlain and two French colonists looking worse-for-wear.
When I first tuned in to watch The Story of Us, I was excited to see Canadian history presented in a docudrama format and the trailer and images from the show looked promising. However, when the first episode began like this, I knew there was going to be trouble…
Narrator: Indigenous Peoples lived across Canada for over 12,000 years.
Me: Oh cool, they’re actually going to talk about Indigenous history—
*Immediately a European ship appears and sails towards the shoreline*
Me: Uh oh.
The Story of Us managed to piss off a lot of people. Historians, journalists, and activists (especially online), tore apart the CBC’s take on Canadian history. Most of the criticism seems to be around the first episode. It was Anglocentric, overlooked Port Royal’s founding in 1605, did not cover Acadians or the Mi’kmaq, made Champlain and company look like hot messes in comparison to the British, and it neglected Indigenous history. Also, the episode went from the founding of the HBC in 1670 to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759. That’s quite the jump! Other people felt the show on the whole was too politically correct and simply government propaganda. An ongoing problem was that the producers chose to use mostly “celebrities” instead of experts to talk about the historical events. This isn’t inherently bad, but sometimes they didn’t add much to the story or context. [Sources: 1, 2]
Note: Not everyone felt it was a failure, some felt it was successful because it got people talking about Canadian history.
At the heart of the problem is that the series was framed as the story of Canada, but it’s impossible to do so in 10 hours given the multitude of narratives that make up that story. I ended up watching the whole series and it actually did get better….halfway through. The episodes on WW1, WW2, and the post-war years were good. Perhaps if the CBC had narrowed their scope from the beginning either in years or content, maybe it would have been better received.
Another New $10 Bank Note
The Bank of Canada unveils their tribute to Canada’s 150th. Look at that gorgeous bill. Can we petition somewhere to make that our permanent $20 bill? [Source]
Before the new $10 bill featuring Viola Desmond comes out next year, the Bank of Canada is releasing a $10 commemorative bank note that celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation:
“Four Canadians who played significant roles in the country’s parliamentary history are portrayed on the front of the note: Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister; Sir George-Étienne Cartier, a principal architect of Canadian federalism; Agnes Macphail, the first woman elected to the Canadian House of Commons; and James Gladstone, or Akay-na-muka (his Blackfoot name), Canada’s first senator of First Nations origin.”
Tributes to Canada’s land, art, architecture, various cultures are all over the note as well. Personally, I think it’s the best banknote I’ve ever seen. Even the website that explains the significance behind every part of the bill is fantastic.
Trudeau Meets with Pope Francis; Seeks Residential School Apology
Pope Francis and Prime Minister Trudeau hold a meeting on May 29, 2017.
On May 29, Prime Minister Trudeau visited Vatican City during his trip to Europe for the NATO and G7 summits. He met with Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, for a one-on-one meeting and the two discussed issues ranging from climate change to mass migration. Also, one of Trudeau’s tasks was to fulfill one of the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. Given the Catholic Church’s instrumental role in the residential school system, the TRC wants the Pope to give a formal apology on Canadian soil. Trudeau noted that he discussed the issue with the Pope and reportedly he expressed an interest in working with the prime minister on finding a way forward with the papal apology. [Sources 1, 2, 3]
Government Hoarding Canadian History?
Dennis Molinaro, a historian from Trent University, recently uncovered that millions of pages of decades-old historical documents are currently being held by various government departments. He has dubbed this Canada’s “secret archives” and has launched a petition demanding that the government makes these documents public and turn them all over to Library and Archives Canada (LAC). The Canadian Historical Association supports Molinaro’s campaign. He discovered the unreleased historical material through his research into domestic spy and surveillance programs run by the RCMP during the Cold War era. According to access-to-information officials, the Privy Council Office alone holds at least 1.6 million pages from the era.
“Think of how many events from the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, RCMP counter-intelligence operations, foreign intelligence operations. What else is there on other topics? […] We don’t know.” [Source]
On the other side, some archivists (especially on Twitter) have stated that claims about the government running a secret archives are unnecessarily sensationalist. Some have pointed out chronic under-funding and lack of staff is the real reason why so much historical material in Canada has yet to be made public. Regardless of who was in power, Liberal and Conservative governments have devalued LAC and not given our national archives the support it needs to work through the sheer level of historical documents. As such, the departments have held onto their documents and are not hoarding them. Former public servants have stated that LAC often cannot take in new records due to lack of funding and space and that the only thing that has been uncovered is that poor funding has repercussions. [Sources: 1, 2]
A Slew of #Canada150 News
- Lucky, the world’s largest rubber ducky is coming to Toronto to celebrate and it comes with a $120,000 price tag for Ontarians.
- Canadian Museum of History’s largest exhibition on Canadian history opens July 1.*
- Erasing the legacy of genocide and other problems with Canada 150.
- Canada 150 tulips are blooming in Edmonton.
- With Canada 150 celebrations looming, Ottawa vigilant in wake of London terror attack, mayor says. (Ack…)
- Royals to kick off Canada 150 visit in Nunavut.
* I’m actually going to Ottawa for Canada’s 150th so assuming the Canadian Museum of History will let me take pictures, I will report back on new exhibit and give a rundown on the festivities in the capital.
Note: Today is the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, when Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy, France. It was the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany.