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

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

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

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

Spotlight: Thanadelthur

Image from the book, The Peacemaker: Thanadelthur by David Alexander Robertson

In the early 18th century,  a young Chipewyan woman named Thanadelthur not only forged a peace agreement between the Chipewyans, (one of the major Dene groups), and the Cree people, but she was also was an translator, guide, and teacher for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Although her life was cut short, Thanadelthur’s strength and determination had a long-lasting impact and cemented her importance in early Canadian history. Continue reading

Macdonald and Cartier

John A Macdonald & George Etienne Cartier
Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir George Étienne Cartier: Close friends and Fathers of Confederation

Yesterday was Sir John A. Macdonald’s 201st birthday. To mark the occasion, I thought I would explore his friendship with Sir George Étienne Cartier. The two were both Fathers of Confederation, but were once actually on opposing sides in Canadian politics for a period of time. So how did Macdonald and Cartier come together and how did their unlikely lifelong friendship impact the future of the country? Continue reading

Spotlight: Mary Henry

19th century portrait of Mary Henry
Laura Secord Homestead Museum, Queenston, (Source: Kelsie Brewer)

After a couple of somewhat negative, politically-charged posts I felt it was time for a happier one. As such, here’s the story of Mary Henry; an all-but-forgotten heroine from the War of 1812. There is not a lot of source material on her and sadly the above portrait is the only image we have of her, but Mary’s story is an example of the extraordinary things ordinary citizens do during times of war. Continue reading

Spotlight: Mathieu Da Costa

Mathieu Da Costa by Dr. Henry Bishop, Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia—can I have his sick looking hat?

If you lived back in the 17th century and wanted to undertake a successful exploration mission to discover new lands, what sort of people would you have had on your crew? Experienced sailors? Definitely. Navigators/cartographers? Sure. Traders? Possibly. How about a skilled translator? New lands meant new people who can speak all sorts of languages seldom heard by European ears before. As such, adventurous, multilingual individuals who had a gift for picking up new languages found themselves heavily desired by those who led expeditions to North America.

This is how Mathieu Da Costa, the first (recorded) free Black man in Canada, earned his living. We don’t know a whole lot about him, but what we do know is that he led a pretty interesting life. Continue reading

Spotlight: Laura Secord

Image from the 1992 commemorative Laura Secord Stamp.

Laura Secord (1775-1868) was a wartime heroine whose story became mythologized and engrained in Canadian history, yet to this day many of the details are still quite murky. Most can recall the basic premise of her story; she overheard an American plot to ambush a British outpost and made a seriously long trek through the woods to warn them of the impending surprise attack. But specific aspects about her journey have suffered from misinformation over the past two centuries. Who was Laura and how did she hear about the plot? How long was the walk? Was she alone? Did she bring a cow with her to trick American soldiers? Or did she trick them with chocolates? Did she really do it barefoot? Did her trek even matter? What happened to her after the war? Considering that June 22-24 is the anniversary of Laura’s 1813 trek and the Battle of Beaver Dams, now is the perfect time to clear things up and get some answers to those questions. Continue reading