Erasing History? On Problematic Representations of the Past


An Angus Reid poll found that 55% of Canadians are against renaming schools named after Sir John A. Macdonald. When it comes to statues however, 71% are open to the idea of relocating monuments to museums where they can be viewed in proper historical context. [Source]

I’m about two weeks late on all the buzz surrounding this topic, but oh well. I have been thinking a lot about representations of history throughout 2017; how we choose to commemorate the past, as well as the politics and implications that go along with this. It’s hard not to think about, what with the #Canada150 rhetoric in full swing throughout the first half of the year, along with all of the controversies around historical place names and statues both here and in the US. This post has to do with the latter. This is not an opinion piece, rather it is a collection of the many different opinions that have emerged from the debate on statues and place names honouring problematic figures from Canadian and American history. I leave it up to you to make up your own mind. Continue reading

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Why Did the Fenians Attack Canada?

Battle of Ridgeway C.W. (c. 1869) by Unknown Artist. A famous, yet inaccurate depiction of the battle, as it was fought in a modern skirmish style (fighting and hiding behind cover), not in a Napoleonic line format. [Source]

Continuing our look at ridiculous events in Canadian history: The Fenian Raids. You know, that time Irish-Americans invaded Canada to free Ireland from British rule.

People were probably just as confused back then at this turn of events as they are now. Despite the fact that the Fenian Raids (1866-1871) all ended in failure, their history is tied up with that of Canadian Confederation. This post looks at the historical context and the myths surrounding the consequences of the Fenian Raids, as well as what exactly happened. Continue reading

The Klondike Bone Rush

“Stampeders” Pose with Mammoth Tusks (Weighing 125 and 200 lbs Each) at Sulphur Creek (c. 1900). [Source: MacBride Museum/Yukon News]

The thing about gold rushes is that they all have one thing in common…

Most people go home disappointed.

Out of the 100,000 who made the trek between 1897 and 1899 up to the Klondike region of the Yukon Territory, only a couple hundred struck it rich. However, while all prospectors may have not found a lot of gold, some got quite the surprise instead. Many fortune seekers discovered fossilized remains of various ice age-era beasts. In the same way that the American gold rushes of the mid 1800s greatly benefited dinosaur paleontology, the thirst for gold in northwestern Canada jump-started ice age paleontology. These artifacts went on to help shape our conception of the last glacial period (roughly 120,000 years ago to 11,500 years ago) and continues to do so today. Continue reading

Black Canadians and the Upper Canada Rebellion

The Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern (Toronto, December 7, 1837).

Black soldiers have a long history of fighting in and for Canada; their service stretches all the way back to the days of the American Revolutionary War. After escaping from the conflict in the south, some turned right around and fought on behalf of the British. This tradition of Black loyalists as soldiers and militamen carried on through to the War of 1812 and to today’s topic, the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837. Almost 1,000 Black Canadians volunteered to fight back against the rebels who wanted to overthrow the British colonial government. What exactly led to these circumstances, namely the opposition to the rebels, and what was the ultimate outcome of their efforts? Continue reading

George Brown Vs. Sir John A. Macdonald

George Brown vs John A Macdonald

In the past for Sir John A. Macdonald’s birthday (January 11th), I have talked about the man himself and his complicated legacy as well as his friendship with Sir George Étienne Cartier. As such, it might not be much of a surprise that for this year I’m going to look at his arch-nemesis, George Brown. (I wish I could say I am being hyperbolic, but I’m not really. The two Fathers of Confederation hated one another). Despite their intense dislike of each other, the two were able to come together for Confederation purposes. How did this happen? Were they ever able to resolve their legendary feud? Continue reading

Canadian History in the News: Fall 2016 Edition

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.

Game of Furs

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. In this late fall edition we have a follow up to a Spring 2016 story, a new television show loosely based on the fur trade era, and an update on the discovery of the HMS Terror. Continue reading

Another Five Haunted Places in Canada

The Haunted House (1929)

I had a lot of fun writing about Five Haunted Places in Canada last year, so I figured why not do it again for this Halloween? Ghost stories fit really well into a history blog. After all, when you’re looking into haunted matters generally it has some historical context to sort through. Also the list of supposedly haunted places across the country is actually a lot longer than these two lists combined so there’s no shortage of stories to tell. This year we’re going to explore the spirits who haunt a famous hotel, well-known landmarks, and a breathtaking national park. (On a latter note, I’m still working at that museum and I still haven’t seen a ghost. Not cool). Continue reading

Military Uniforms During the War of 1812

Fashion Flashback: Given that fashion was instrumental in the creation of Canada, this blog series explores the development of what Canadians wore one era at a time.

Three War of 1812 uniform examples. From British Forces in North America 1793–1815 by René Chartrand. Illustrations by Gerry Embleton. [Source]

Getting back on track with the historical fashion posts, we left off in the 1810s. However before we can look at the clothes Canadians wore during the Regency Era, there is a little matter of the War of 1812. As with any war, uniforms varied greatly on the battlefield to distinguish rank, unit, whether you were part of the infantry, cavalry, or navy, etc. This post will be looking at uniforms worn by British and Canadian soldiers during the 1812-1815 conflict from a general perspective, as well as how military uniforms reflected the overall trends of men’s fashion from that period. (Interested in pictures of American uniforms? Check out these two links).

Continue reading

How Did Napoleon Affect Canada?

Note: This is a two-part look at Pre-Confederation Canada and Napoleon Bonaparte. Part 1 will explore how public opinion regarding the French leader changed overtime. Part 2 will look at Napoleon’s impact on British North America.

From The Adventures of Napoléon Bonaparte. [Source] His many wars had a lot of unforeseen consequences.

Last week we explored how English and French colonists living in Pre-Confederation Canada felt about Napoleon Bonaparte during his reign (1799-1815) as well as how opinions shifted overtime, particularly in Quebec. This week we will be looking at how his impact was not restricted to Europe. Aside from keeping international newspaper journalists and cartoonists busy, the actions of the controversial French dictator had far-reaching, unintentional consequences. How did Napoleon affect British North America during and after his time on the world stage? Are these impacts still felt today? Continue reading

Canada and Napoleon: Public Perception

Note: This is a two-part look at Pre-Confederation Canada and Napoleon Bonaparte. Part 1 will explore how public opinion regarding the French leader changed overtime. Part 2 will look at Napoleon’s impact on British North America.

Napoleon Bonaparte: Hero or Tyrant?
Left: Napoleon Crossing the Alps (c. 1801-1805) by Jacques-Louis David. Right: Napoleon I on his Imperial Throne (1806) by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.

In the same way Pre-Confederation Canadians had many opinions about the chaos created by the French Revolution, they had a lot to say about the man that put an end to it. From the time Napoleon Bonaparte seized power in France in the 1799 coup d’état to his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, his escapades were closely followed and discussed in both English and French Canada. What did early 19th century Canadians think about Napoleon? Did these opinions change overtime and if so, why? Continue reading