The Rise and Fall of Prohibition in Canada (Part One)


Tree of Intemperance by Archibald Macbrair (c. 1855) – This is an American cartoon, but I think it best sums up the temperance movement. To supporters, alcohol was the root of social and moral evils.

Continuing our look into ridiculous events in Canadian history: Prohibition. The banning of alcohol has a bit of a convoluted history in Canada. Unlike in the United States were the Volstead Act was a federal bill that banned alcohol nationwide from 1920-1933, prohibition was a matter largely left up to the Canadian provinces and therefore happened stages and at different times. By-and-large, the provinces instituted the ban during World War One and repealed it during the 1920s (minus a few exceptions) because not only was prohibition a major failure, it was vastly unpopular. It wasn’t always that way though. Before we get to the “fall” aka speakeasies, rum-running, and all that fun stuff, we have to cover the “rise.” This post will look at how prohibition came to be in Canada. Continue reading

Vimy Ridge Resource Post

Canadian soldiers returning from Vimy Ridge (c. April 1917). [Source] – This is a colourized version of arguably the most famous photo from the battle. Click here for the original.

100 years ago today, for the first time the Canadian Corps’ four divisions came together on the battlefield. The Battle of Vimy Ridge (April 9-12, 1917) was fought over what historian Tim Cook describes as an “open graveyard,” as it was the sight of over 100,000 previous French casualties. Over the course of four days, the Canadians Corps succeeded where where earlier Allied assaults had failed. They overtook the heavily-fortified, seven-kilometre ridge and pushed the Germans back to the Oppy–Méricourt line. In the process, 3,598 Canadians were killed and another 7,004 were wounded. Years later, Vimy Ridge would be seen as Canada’s most important battle of World War One.

I have mostly avoided talking about Vimy Ridge because it is the most heavily discussed, analyzed, and mythologized battle in Canadian history. After all, what is there to add when when even the debate over whether Vimy was “the birth of a nation” appears to have come full circle? Nevertheless, to honour the occasion, I created a massive resource post full of information, resources, pictures, videos, art, for all those interested in the battle and the legacy of Vimy Ridge.
Continue reading

Canadian POWs: First World War Edition

Group of Canadian officers at a prisoner-of-war camp near Krefeld, Germany. 1917. [Source]

During the First World War, 132 Canadian officers and 3,715 individuals from the Canadian Expeditionary Force were taken prisoner. The largest number of these, over 1,400, were taken in a single day in 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres, when the 1st Canadian Division was first introduced to chlorine gas by the Germans. The 3rd Canadian Division also suffered a large number of prisoners at Mount Sorrel in June 1916. Over 500 men were captured in one day. In addition, an unknown number of Canadian civilians (largely students studying abroad, businessmen, and sailors) were captured as well. By the end of the war, 300 Canadian soldiers had died in captivity along the western front.

After they were captured, what was the general experience of Canadian prisoners of war during World War One? Continue reading

Did the Cold War Start in Canada?


Igor Gouzenko during a television promotion of his book, The Fall of the Titan (1954)

Given the unfortunate global state of affairs we find ourselves in, a quote like, “It’s war. It’s Russia,” wouldn’t be entirely out of place today. However, these words were uttered by a young Russian man named Igor Gouzenko back in 1945. Less than a month after the end of World War II, Gouzenko defected to Canada and came forward with proof that the USSR was spying on its former wartime allies via a spy network operating in Canada. When the news became public it sparked an international affair which some argue marks the beginning of the Cold War. Continue reading

Veterans’ Stories: Morkin and Strachan


Lt. Harcus Strachan, Fort Garry Horse, Dec 1917. Photo digitally colourized by Canadian Colour. Would you be able to charge towards machine gun fire on a horse with a sword as your only weapon like Strachan did?

On November 11th every year, we honour the millions of Canadians who have fought, served, and died in for their country over the past century. However, most stories don’t get told. Many acts of bravery and sacrifice are forgotten. That’s why for Remembrance Day this year I thought I would changes things up and share two veterans’ stories: Martha Morkin, a Nursing Sister from World War I and Harcus Strachan, a veteran of both world wars and a Victoria Cross recipient. Although (spoiler alert) both survived, their experiences exemplify the horrors of war and why working towards maintaining peace is never a fool’s cause. 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

The Great Eh-scape

I know, I know. I’ll show myself out after starting off a blog post with a title like that.

But #MakeAFilmMoreCanadian was trending not too long ago on Twitter. A lot of the tweets were along the lines of The Eh Team, The Great Gretzky, and Pacific Roll Up the Rim. My personal favorite came from the twitter for This Hour Has 22 Minutes. When they posted this tweet…

…I remembered another Hollywood action film that cut out the significant role that Canadians played in the historical event.

A poster of the The Great Escape (1963). Starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough

I love this movie and won’t be bashing it in this post. However I will be separating fact from fiction and therefore there will be spoilers. If you haven’t seen The Great Escape, stop reading this article and go watch it right now. I will also be discussing the debate over whether historical accuracy in films is even that big of a deal. Continue reading

The 60s Scoop: How Did It Happen?

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.

60sscoop

The sign above pretty much sums up what the “60s Scoop” was. First coined by Patrick Johnston in his 1983 report, Native Children and the Child Welfare System, the term refers to the period in which thousands of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children across Canada were taken from their homes by provincial welfare workers. These children were then fostered or adopted by non-Indigenous families both in Canada and abroad. The 1960s is when the majority of the adoptions happened, but this practice went on until the mid-1980s. How on earth did something like this happen? What is going on today in regards to the 60s Scoop? And what happened to all of those children? Continue reading

Spotlight: Dr. Norman Bethune

Dr. Norman Bethune (c. 1938) was a tireless Canadian doctor and activist who remains a controversial humanitarian to this day. [Source]

Born in Gravenhurst, Ontario, Henry Norman Bethune (1890-1939) was a physician, surgeon, inventor, army officer, and during the last years of his life a strong supporter of communism. Difficult to get along with, impatient, and risk-taker in surgery, he alienated himself from the Canadian medical community. Ultimately though, it was these characteristics that led to his important medical work on the battlefield. He was the first to introduce mobile blood banks and his efforts during both the Spanish Civil War and the Second Sino-Japanese War are a part of his lasting legacy. Following his untimely (and slightly ironic) death, Dr. Bethune was elevated to icon status in China, making it fair to say he might just be better known there than in his home country. Continue reading

Canada’s Olympic History: Summer 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.

Penny Oleksiak holds up the four medals that she has won over the course of the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Canadian Olympic Committee have not announced it yet, but Oleksiak is widely expected to be Canada’s flag-bearer for the closing ceremony on Sunday. [Source]

If you have been following the Rio 2016 Olympics, you will know that sixteen year old Penny Oleksiak now holds a unique spot in Canadian Olympic history as she is the first Canadian to win four medals in a single Summer Games. Also, the gold medal she is holding makes her Canada’s youngest Olympic champion. So far Canadian athletes have won 13 medals* in total during the 2016 Olympics. Yesterday marked the end of our nine-day medal streak, the longest of any Summer or Winter Games. Hearing about the achievements of our athletes in Rio got me thinking about our past performances in the Olympics. Here is a look back at some of the best (and worst) moments from Canada’s history at the Summer Games.

* Update – Canada finished the Rio Olympics with 22 medals in total; 4 golds, 3 silvers, and 15 bronze medals. Continue reading