On Exhibit: The HMS General Hunter

The Welland Historical Museum has a new, interactive shipwreck exhibit about the HMS General Hunter. The British Royal Navy 10-gun brig (built in 1806) played an active role in the War of 1812, including in the capture of Detroit and the pivotal Battle of Lake Erie, where it was captured by the Americans. The General Hunter was used as a US Army transport ship until it was washed ashore in 1816 by a fierce Lake Huron gale. Later, the ex-warship was ransacked and burned. 185 years later, the General Hunter was rediscovered as a shipwreck on the Southampton Beach in Ontario.

Ken Cassavoy was the marine archaeologist who led the excavation and identification process. In addition, he was also heavily involved in designing the museum exhibit that brings the story of the General Hunter to life. I spoke with Cassavoy about the ship’s fighting days, how he went about identifying the shipwreck, and why the exhibit may remind you of an episode of CSI. Continue reading

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Return to Vimy: Resource for Teachers

Return to Vimy, Denis McCready, provided by the National Film Board of Canada. “This is the first time the NFB has colourized its own archives for a film project, shedding unprecedented light on the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) film collection.”

Sick of hearing about Vimy Ridge? Too bad! I found this great nine minute film that can help teachers who want to bring World War I to life for their students.

The story follows a Canadian woman who visits the Vimy Memorial to make a charcoal imprint of the engraved name of her great-grandfather who died during the battle. She has his notebook which is full of sketches and diary entries that he made during months of preparation for Vimy Ridge. These sketches turn into colourized archive footage and enables us to witness the daily lives of the soldiers of the Canadian Corps and watch the detailed preparations that went to this battle. WW1 battle footage is shown, maps are used to support explanations, you see Sir Arthur Currie walking around/making plans, the Nursing Sisters pop up—seriously this short film has everything.

Looking for more Vimy Ridge resources? Check out my whole page dedicated to the battle.

Three Takes on the Ends of War

Torontoians read about Germany’s surrender on VE-Day. Old City Hall is in the background.

For Remembrance Day this year, I thought I would change things up and take a look at a couple of primary sources to see how three newspapers from Toronto described the end of World War I and II. For those interested in more traditional posts, please check out Armistice Day, The End of World War II in Canada, and Veterans’ Stories: Morkin and Strachan. Continue reading

Ortona: Was It Worth It?

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

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

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

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

Was the Acadian Expulsion Justified?


Expulsion of the Acadians by Lewis Parker (c. 2011)

The Acadian Expulsion (1755–1764) was the forced deportation of the citizens of Acadia (an area that was spread out across modern day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island) by British soldiers. Although it was part of the British military campaign against France during the Seven Years’ War, the expulsion was the result of long-term hostility between the two sides. Approximately 10,000-11,500 Acadian refugees fled to Louisiana, New France, the English colonies, and some went as far as Europe or the Caribbean. Thousands died of starvation, disease, or from drowning and those who survived weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms.

So how exactly did British colonial government justify their actions? This post looks at the different positions on the Expulsion from both the British and Acadian points of view. 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

The Seven Years War: Causes and Perspectives

This post is the first installment of my seven-part series on the Seven Years’ War.
Interested in more? The second installment looks at the Acadian Expulsion.Map of the Belligerents and Areas of Conflict During the Seven Years’ War [Source]

When the Seven Years’ War  (1754-1763) broke out in the Ohio River Valley, guess how many people were surprised? Somewhere in the range of…zero. Also known as the French and Indian War, the conflict was the culmination of over a century’s worth of fighting between Britain and France over North American supremacy. Two years later, the conflict made its way across the Atlantic. As a result, the Seven Years’ War was essentially two simultaneous conflicts, that extended across five continents, with the British and French Empires at the center. This has led some to label it as the first “real” world war, but that is debatable. Ultimately, the Seven Years’ War was a watershed event in history but before we get to all that, we have to start at the beginning. This post will look at the major and immediate causes of the Seven Years’ War in North America. Continue reading