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

Canadian History in the News: Spring 2017 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.

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. Continue reading

How to Not Kill Samuel de Champlain

Champlain’s Statue, Nepean Point, Ottawa, Canada.

Barely a month after July 3, 1608, the day Samuel de Champlain and his fellow French colonists founded Quebec, what they hoped would be a permanent trading post and settlement, the Father of New France found himself at the center of an assassination plot. Using Champlain’s own words, this post looks at what led to the plot, how Champlain found out about it, and what was his response was. Continue reading

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

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

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 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.
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

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

How to Draw a Map of New France Without Ever Visiting

Cartography Series: Because who doesn’t love looking at old maps? This blog series looks at the cartographic development of Canada.

Carte du Canada ou de la Nouvelle France et des Decouvertes qui y ont été faites (Map of Canada or New France and the Discoveries Made There) by Guillaume Delisle (c. post-1703)

Guillaume Delisle’s 1703 map of New France is an example of how the colony contributed to making Paris the center of cartography in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Also, it is considered a landmark in map-making for three reasons:

  1. It is the first map of New France to depict the lines of latitude and longitude pretty accurately.
  2. It became an evolving map as it was updated up until 1790, despite the fact that Delisle died in 1726.
  3. Delisle drew it without ever setting foot on the North American continent.

So who was Delisle and how exactly did he go about drawing his map? 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