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

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

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

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

How Did Napoleon Affect Canada?

Note: This is a two-part look at Pre-Confederation Canada and Napoleon Bonaparte. Part 1 will explore how public opinion regarding the French leader changed overtime. Part 2 will look at Napoleon’s impact on British North America.

From The Adventures of Napoléon Bonaparte. [Source] His many wars had a lot of unforeseen consequences.

Last week we explored how English and French colonists living in Pre-Confederation Canada felt about Napoleon Bonaparte during his reign (1799-1815) as well as how opinions shifted overtime, particularly in Quebec. This week we will be looking at how his impact was not restricted to Europe. Aside from keeping international newspaper journalists and cartoonists busy, the actions of the controversial French dictator had far-reaching, unintentional consequences. How did Napoleon affect British North America during and after his time on the world stage? Are these impacts still felt today? Continue reading

The First North Americans

Note: This post details the theory of Bering Strait/early North American migration. This theory is hotly disputed (particularly in light of recent research) however, so please do additional research if you happen to be researching this topic.

North America during the last glacial period. [Source]

For today’s post we’re going back, waaaaaaay back, to one of the times when the stereotype of Canada being nothing but a frozen wasteland was actually spot-on. When we think about the Ice Age today, we are usually referring to the last glacial period, (from around 120,000 years ago to 11,500 years ago). There have been five known ice ages during Earth’s history. Canada was underneath solid ice throughout most of the last glacial period. When the country was beneath the Laurentide and Cordilleran sheets, human life was non-existent for the longest time. However, archaeologists have discovered that humans were in North America just before the glacial retreat or the Holocene epoch (shown in the picture above) happened. What was life like for humans just before and after the retreat? Continue reading

Leif Erikson and Vikings in Canada

Leif Eriksson Discovers America by Hans Dahl (1849-1937)

Last Thursday, a new exhibition on Vikings opened at the Canadian Museum of History. On a ten month international tour, aside from showing off over 500 artifacts rarely seen outside Sweden, those behind the traveling exhibition hope to change some of the stereotypes modern audiences have about viking culture. However, the perception that Vikings were sea-faring explorers is definitely true and that brings us to their connection to Canada.

Almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus made his appearance in North America, Leif Erikson (also spelled Ericsson, Erickson, or Eiriksson) “discovered” the continent. As such is considered to be the first European to set foot on North American soil. Erikson was an Norse explorer who established a settlement called Vinland, located on the northern tip of Newfoundland. But why didn’t the Vikings stay? What happened to the settlement? Also, why is Canada’s history of vikings so seldom discussed, especially in comparison to later European explorers? Continue reading

The History of Canadian Thanksgiving

I’m thankful for Google Image Search. You never disappoint me.

To those who are celebrating this long weekend, Happy Thanksgiving!

Ever wonder how this holiday even got started in this country given that the Mayflower, Pilgrims, and whatnot have pretty much nothing to do with Canada? Why do we celebrate in October and not later on in November? Also, if our celebration isn’t based off the American one, why does our holiday meal similar to theirs? Well, good news! I have some answers for you. Continue reading

Canada and the French Revolution

Execution of Louis XVI by Georg Heinrich Sieveking (1793)

Historical events don’t happen in isolation. Events on one side of the globe can have far-reaching and long-lasting impacts on the other and the French Revolution (1789-1799) is a perfect example of this. Widely considered one of the most influential events in human history, the effects of the decade-long political and social upheaval were definitely felt in British North America. How did Pre-Confederation Canadians react to the revolution? Was there any difference in opinion between the English and French populations? Finally, how exactly did the French Revolution change British North America? Continue reading

The Great Lakes Originally Had Some Weird Names

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

Nicolas Sanson’s Le Canada ou Nouvelle France (1656).
Click here for an easier to view, redrawn map.

Before Nicolas Sanson became the “Father of French Geography,” he was a history student who grew up in Abbeville, France. Despite his fascination with ancient history, it is said that Sanson turned to cartography “only as a means of illustrating his historical work.” Regardless, Sanson was skilled as a cartographer and his 1627 map of Gaul caught the attention of Cardinal Richelieu. He began to tutor Louis XIII in geography and was later appointed Geographe Ordinaire du Roi by the French King. (Sanson would later tutor Louis XIV as well).

During his life, Sanson founded the French School of Cartography and produced about 300 maps. Interestingly, his two most influential were of North America. The first, Amerique Septentrionale (1650), gave viewers the most extensive map of the continent to date. You will notice though that California is depicted as an island. The second, Le Canada ou Nouvelle France (1656), was the first map to show all the Great Lakes. Moreover, the portions and positions of the Great Lakes are more or less accurate. Sanson improved upon Champlain’s map (and dismantled the “Grand Lac” belief—aka the idea that Lake Michagan and Superior were cojoined and formed a massive lake) by using Jesuit accounts of the area, in addition to observations made by Aboriginals, Étienne Brûlé, and Jean Nicollet. What I found interesting though are the names attributed to the lakes:

Ontario ou Lac du St. Louis
Erie ou Du Chat
Lac du Puans
Lac Superieur

Karegnondi was a Huron word for “big lake.” When translated from french, Puans means bad odor or stink. I saw a website refer to it as the Lake of Stinking Water. What a name! However, others argue the name Puans came from a mistranslation during a conversation between the French and the Algonquins who lived in the area. Lake Michigan went through a number of name changes before it got its final one. My favorite though is Lac Du Chat. Lake Cat? What?! Apparently the “Erielhonan” or “Long-Tails” Nation used to reside by the lake. They themselves were named after the mountain lions who used to live in the region.


“Sanson, Nicolas,” MapHist: An Open Project for Map History, (Mar 2011) Accessed from: http://www.maphist.com/artman/publish/article_180.shtml

“Sanson map, 1656,” Historical Atlas of Canada: Online Learning Project. Accessed from: http://www.historicalatlas.ca/website/hacolp/national_perspectives/exploration/UNIT_06/U06_staticmap_sanson_1656.htm