Halloween is around the corner so that can only mean one thing for this blog: time for me to smash Canadian history and ghost stories together yet again! For round three, some of the stories we’re going to explore include a haunted military fortress, a love-struck New France governor, and even a flaming ghost ship that people have reported seeing for over two centuries! Continue reading
A Canadian soldier at the Battle of Ortona. December 1943. [Source: Canada at War]
The Canadian Forces faced one of their toughest battles during World War II during December 1943. Their goal? Capture the small coastal town of Ortona, Italy. The Canadians fought their way through rubble-covered narrow streets, booby-trapped houses, machine-gun fire, and concealed landmines throughout the town. As the CBC described it, Ortona was a battle in the “courtyard of hell.” The Canadians were successful in the end, but at a cost of 2,200 casualties. Was it worth it? (Shout out to GP Cox for inspiring me to research this battle!) Continue reading
Happy Canada Day!
Today marks our sesquicentennial aka the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
I’m currently in Ottawa taking in the festivities. As such, here is a mini post dedicated 100 years ago today–Canada’s golden year.
Dominion Day / 50th Anniversary of Confederation (1917)
The 50th anniversary of Confederation was low-key. At the time the country was consumed by the devastating Great War and was being torn apart by the Conscription Crisis. According to the Ottawa Citizen, an official ceremony took place at noon on Monday, July 2 on Parliament Hill. Prime Minister Robert Borden, Opposition Leader Wilfrid Laurier, and Governor General Victor Cavendish each gave a speech in front of the under-construction Parliament Buildings. The Centre Block had burned down the year prior. After a choir sang O Canada, the Centre Block was officially dedicated to the Fathers of Confederation and those fighting in the Great War. The final part of the ceremony involved a parade of 7 military units, 250 veterans, Dominion police, city police, fire brigade, boy scouts, and girl guides.
While it annoys me to no end that I could not find any pictures of the ceremony in Ottawa, here are some photos of Canadians celebrating on July 1-2, 1917:
Fun Fact: Dominion Day was renamed Canada Day in 1982.
A Toronto man doesn’t give a damn as he carries a keg of beer down a street in broad daylight during the Prohibition era (Sept 16, 1916). [Source: LAC]
Whereas part one looked at the rise of the temperance movement in Canada, part two will cover the prohibition era and its downfall. Prohibition barely lasted a decade in most provinces and its existence was plagued by problems. Why? The ban on booze created a situation where organized crime thrived and access to alcohol was relatively easy. Moreover, the violence, rum-running, and smuggling continued even after the provincial bans on alcohol were repealed because prohibition was still going on south of the border. Why was prohibition such a massive failure in Canada and what were the wider, long-lasting consequences? Continue reading
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
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 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 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.
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
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
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
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