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  • Originally published 05/21/2014

    Historian ridicules Canadian PM for distorting history

    Conservatives believe if they are to truly replace the Liberals as the dominant federal party, the country's history needs to be told in a way in which Conservative values and vision are emphasized.

  • Originally published 08/20/2013

    Totem pole celebrates Haida’s pact with Canada

    A new totem pole the height of a three-storey building now looms over the southern Haida Gwaii, carved with symbols to note the remote land is protected from ocean floor to mountaintop.Hundreds gathered in the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve to watch the nearly 3,000-kilogram pole raised using six ropes and sheer manpower, the first such raising in over a century. Spectators were dwarfed by the colourful and intricate pole, which took more than a year to carve and paint and represents Gwaii Haanas’ modern and ancient history....

  • Originally published 08/12/2013

    Scientists resume search for lost Franklin expedition ships

    The search for the wreckage of the ill-fated Franklin expedition in Canada’s Arctic will resume this weekend.The HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror were lost after an 1845 expedition led by Sir John Franklin disappeared while attempting to find the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean.Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq says a group of scientists will spend six weeks conducting underwater searches using high-tech equipment, including military-grade sonar and remotely operated vehicles....

  • Originally published 08/07/2013

    Archaeological dig connects Acadian descendants to tragic past

    The first thing Clara Darbonne did when her car reached the Nova Scotia border was to ask the driver to stop, so she could kiss the ground.Within hours, she was touching history, joining an archaeological dig to explore the remains of an Acadian homestead in what was known as Village Thibodeau before its inhabitants were forcibly ejected by the British two and a half centuries ago.“I wanted to put my feet on the soil that my ancestors walked on,” the 75-year-old from the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun Country says in a soft voice, her face beaming. “I was so happy.”...

  • Originally published 08/07/2013

    What’s in a name? How [Canadian] civic holidays get theirs

    The August civic holiday is a mess.Most provinces celebrate the first Monday in August as a holiday, whether mandatory or optional for employers, but the names are all over the map. It’s Natal Day in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, British Columbia Day in British Columbia and Heritage Day in Alberta....But let’s not be naive. Getting a statutory holiday named after you is not easy, and keeping it is even harder.Queen Elizabeth II was born on April 21, but Canada’s official recognition of her birthday falls in late May on a day named after her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. Victoria Day retained that name in Canada after the queen’s death in 1901, even as the rest of the Commonwealth went with Empire Day. Similarly, Beatrix of the Netherlands, who abdicated earlier this year, was born on Jan. 31, but her holiday was held on April 30, the birth date of former queen Juliana....

  • Originally published 08/03/2013

    Margaret Thatcher warned of Pierre Trudeau’s ‘unsound personal views’ ahead of 1983 visit, secret files reveal

    British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was advised that Canadians’ sensitivity “is a fact of life” spurred on by the country’s “ham-fisted neighbour to the south,” in a set of confidential briefing notes prior to her Canadian visit in 1983.Government files from 30 years ago, released this week by the British National Archives, included two telegrams dated Sept. 1 and Sept. 19, 1983 to No. 10 Downing Street to prepare Thatcher for her visit to Ottawa, Toronto and Edmonton. In them, Canada is described as a country that is “dominated commercially and culturally by the United States, but is inclined to resent this.”...

  • Originally published 07/31/2013

    Critics accuse Canada's Conservative Party of ‘politicizing history’

    The release of the Canadian Museum of Civilization’s first research strategy — following a two-year process of reflection that was nearly derailed by the federal government’s decision last year to rename it the Museum of History and rewrite its mandate — has revived the age-old debate over the politicization of Canadian history.With Canada’s 150th birthday approaching in 2017, and the bicentennial of the War of 1812 just passed with unusual fanfare, the public’s appreciation of Canadian history is ripe for revision, and not just because some of the flagship national museum’s exhibits date to the 1990s, not long after it was renamed from the National Museum of Man. From the rewritten citizenship guide that undid years of Liberal ideological dominance, to the renaming of Canadian military units to honour the monarchy, history is increasingly the lens through which the country sees itself, and a ripe target for those who wish to change it.Now that the words “critical understanding” have been struck from the museum’s mandate, however, critics fear that history without criticism becomes propaganda....

  • Originally published 07/24/2013

    Stephen R. Kelly: How French Canadian Immigration Helped Build America

    Stephen R. Kelly is a retired American diplomat and the associate director of the Center for Canadian Studies at Duke University.DURHAM, N.C. — WATCHING the free-for-all in Washington over immigration reform, it’s easy to conclude that an airtight border has always been our national goal.The trouble with this narrative, as I discovered when serving as the American consul general in Quebec City in the late 1990s, is that it flies in the face of our own history.

  • Originally published 07/21/2013

    Storm knocks down tree tied to Canada's first unofficial national anthem

    A crowd gathered in front of a tree felled during Friday night’s thunderstorm to take pictures and collect a leaf or two as a memento and even mourn, for this was no ordinary tree.Perhaps 150 years old or more, the silver maple tucked away on Laing St. in Leslieville, is famous for being the inspiration of what used to be Canada’s unofficial anthem. Historians are dubious, but as the story goes, a persistent leaf from the tree stuck itself to poet Alexander Muir’s sleeve in the fall of 1867, serving as the inspiration for “The Maple Leaf Forever,” a poem-turned-song-turned-unofficial-anthem.But, “it’s not forever anymore,” said Julie Ritchie, watching the tree lying sprawled across the road from her front porch. “There was something really special about the tree, even though it was quite old and in bad shape.”...

  • Originally published 07/21/2013

    Queen's University history prof. victim of hate letters

    A woman who received two threatening letters on Wednesday for being in a same-sex relationship is revealed to be Queen’s University history professor Karen Dubinsky.Dubinsky and her partner Susan Belyea say they received two letters that claimed affiliation with a Christian group based in the “Deep South,” which told the couple to move from Kingston or be subject to “deadly serious consequences.”...

  • Originally published 07/09/2013

    Paul Pirie: The American Revolution Was a Flop

    Paul Pirie, a former historian, is a freelance writer in Ontario.The easiest way of assessing whether the United States would have been better off without its revolution is to look at those English-speaking countries that rejected the American Revolution and retained the monarchy, particularly Canada, which experienced an influx of American refugees after the British defeat. The U.S. performance should also be assessed against the ideals the new country set for itself — namely, advancing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

  • Originally published 07/03/2013

    Devil's Brigade granted top U.S. honours

    They came with kilts and bagpipes, among other Canadian military accoutrements. And now the members of the top-secret World War II unit the Devil's Brigade are leaving with something altogether astonishing -- a Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest honours the United States can bestow.Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer hailed the news in Washington today after both houses of Congress, in a rare show of bipartisanship, found two-thirds majorities required to grant the medal."We are grateful that the U.S. Congress has recognized the brave accomplishments of the First Special Service Force in World War II," Doer said in a statement."The Devil's Brigade were the first of their kind, and the legacy of bilateral defense cooperation that they inspired continues between our two countries to this day."...

  • Originally published 07/01/2013

    Mohawk history towers over New York

    MONTREAL—Generations of toil at dizzying heights have culminated in this towering achievement.Ironworkers from a Mohawk community were part of the team that installed the final section of spire at the top of the new One World Trade Center in New York last month.John McGowan was one of those involved as he and colleagues wrote a special page in a history filled with high-level triumph, and also with tragedy.“It was a clear nice day. It couldn’t have been a nicer day,” said the 48-year-old resident of Kahnawake, Que., near Montreal....

  • Originally published 06/17/2013

    Niall Ferguson on the hot seat

    The often controversial Niall Ferguson, 49, is one of the world’s most prominent historians. A specialist in international and economic history, a professor at Harvard and a senior research fellow at Oxford, Ferguson is the author of The Ascent of Money and Civilization: The West and the Rest, among other works. Married to feminist and atheist activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the British-American scholar is also a vocal critic of U.S. President Barack Obama. Ferguson’s latest book, The Great Degeneration, which originated in 2012 as the BBC’s prestigious Reith Lectures, condemns what he sees as an era of decline in the West, pinning the blame on our deteriorating institutions.Q: You have a reputation, rightly or wrongly, as a Western triumphalist, and now you’re writing about Western decline. Is this an about-turn?

  • Originally published 06/17/2013

    400-year-old skeleton of aboriginal woman found

    A Sarnia couple who set out to build a fence dug up more than they bargained for recently when they unearthed a 400-year-old skeleton and got stuck with a $5,000 bill from the province.The archeological misadventure began two weeks ago when Ken Campbell came across some bones while digging post holes in their backyard.He put them aside, thinking they must have belonged to an animal. The following week, his wife, Nicole Sauve, asked about the bones, which sat unceremoniously atop a bucket of earth“I said, ‘They’re not animal bones, Ken. Let’s dig some more and see what we can find,’ ”she said....

  • Originally published 06/11/2013

    Canadian Historians: Come Clean About Your Relationship with Big Tobacco

    Image via Shutterstock.Later this month, Acadia University historian and former Dean of Arts Robert Perrins will testify in a Montreal courtroom on behalf of the tobacco industry. There he will discuss his 400+-page expert witness report on the Canadian government’s handling of tobacco issues since the 1950s.  The year-long trial involves two class-action suits seeking to compensate Quebec smokers for nicotine addiction and disease caused by smoking. The combined claim at $27 billion is the largest in Canadian history.

  • Originally published 06/10/2013

    Ex-museum CEO calls proposed mandate 'narrow and parochial'

    A government plan to rename the Canadian Museum of Civilization as the Museum of History abandons a successful brand and gives it a "deeply worrying" new mandate, says the man who led the museum from 2000 to 2011.Former CEO Victor Rabinovitch addressed the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage Wednesday evening, making his first public remarks since the government announced the proposed changes in the fall of 2012.He pointed to reviews in tourism guides about the country's largest national museum, which sees about 1.2 million visitors per year."If the Museum of Civilization stands out as such a good product, why would anyone want to change its brand?" he asked....

  • Originally published 05/28/2013

    Canadian history on the block, cheap

    A huge cache of Canadian history, stored for 200 years in three wooden chests held at a British estate, is set to be auctioned next month in London — a possible test of whether the controversy-plagued, funding-challenged Library and Archives Canada is still in the business of acquiring newly available treasures of documentary heritage. An extensive and important collection of letters, maps and other original artifacts left to posterity by Sir John Coape Sherbrooke — the Nova Scotia governor who conquered Maine during the War of 1812 and later served as Canada’s governor general — is to be sold on June 19 as the showcase lot in a major Bonhams auction of rare books and manuscripts.A large, coloured and “exceptionally fine” map of the village of York and the Lake Ontario shoreline that was created for Sherbrooke in 1817 — showing the future Toronto in such minute detail that individual homes are depicted — is a highlight of the sale, appearing on the cover of the auction catalogue.

  • Originally published 05/14/2013

    Clive Doucet: Canadian History is Not Just About Wars and Battles

    Clive Doucet is a writer and former Ottawa city councillor. His book Notes From Exile was chosen by McClelland and Stewart to be among their top 100 to celebrate their 100th anniversary of Canadian publishing.Parliament’s http://www.parl.gc.ca/committeebusiness/CommitteeHome.aspx?Cmte=CHPC&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=1 has voted to undertake a “comprehensive review of significant aspects of Canadian history. That history would include, but not be limited to, pre-Confederation, Confederation, suffrage, WWI, with an emphasis on battles such as Vimy Ridge, WWII, including the liberation of Holland, the Battle of Ortona. The Battle of the Atlantic, the Korean conflict, peacekeeping missions, constitutional development, the Afghanistan conflict, early 20th century Canada, post-war Canada and the late 20th century.”

  • Originally published 05/11/2013

    New Canadian Museum of History remains apolitical

    In contracting tender documents, the Canadian Museum of Civilization has provided more details about the kind of history it will focus on once it is transformed, at the edict of the Conservative government, to the new Canadian Museum of History.The lengthy request for tender (see below) posted on the MERX contracting site this week sketched out a storyline of “broad topics and more focused communication intentions” that are grouped into themes and time periods in the Canadian History Hall.There is little evidence in the more detailed descriptions to support concerns that the mandated refocusing of the museum would effectively rewrite Canadian history to emphasize certain values — the military, for example — or, perhaps, embellish the fathers of Canadian conservativism....

  • Originally published 05/09/2013

    Conservatives' interest in Canadian history raises eyebrows

    The House of Commons heritage committee has launched a study of how history is preserved in federal, provincial and municipal programs, and how easily Canadians can access historical information.However, it backed down from a plan to examine how history is taught in schools after a barrage of complaints from the opposition, which had accused the government of intruding on provincial jurisdiction, which includes school curriculum development, and of wanting to revise history in its own image.The committee began hearing from witnesses for its history study on Monday....

  • Originally published 05/06/2013

    North America’s forgotten plague

    A LEAN FIGURE cast in bronze kneels beside a child, a tiny lancet in his hand poised to strike at the girl’s left shoulder. Another patient waits her turn, upper arm revealed. The memorial, outside the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, celebrates the global conquest of smallpox in 1980, a milestone that belongs on any list of reasons to be cheerful: Variola major gorged on our species for thousands of years, blazing a trail of hideous pustules that disfigured victims’ bodies and faces and wiped out communities. Children and the elderly were especially vulnerable, and those not felled by the disease were sometimes blinded by it.The Geneva memorial honours the physician as warrior in the eradication of smallpox. On a Pfizer campus in Pennsylvania, a twin statue tells a different story, positioning Big Pharma as the hero. Neither monument, however, recalls the many casualties of smallpox, and this says a great deal about what we choose to remember.One of the last major outbreaks in Canada began in the spring of 1862 when a ship from San Francisco arrived in Victoria and patient zero stepped ashore. Throughout the summer and autumn, smallpox raced north and east, up the coast and inland through canyons of tightly packed settlements that were perfectly suited to its appetite....

  • Originally published 04/30/2013

    French tourism campaign "ignores" Sword Beach

    D-Day veterans have criticised French tourism officials after they unveiled a new promotional campaign about the Normandy landings which ignores one of the beaches where British troops went ashore.The initiative covers only four of the five areas where Allied forces landed on 6th June 1944, omitting 'Sword' beach, where almost 700 British troops were killed or wounded.The new campaign was launched earlier this month by six tourist boards along the Normandy coast. They have joined up to create an area they are promoting with the slogan of the landings’ “secteur mythique” (mythical sector). This stretches from Utah in the west, across all the other beaches where troops came ashore but stops short of Sword, at the eastern end.It also excludes a part of the adjacent Juno beach, where Canadians soldiers invaded, as well as drop zones further inland where airborne troops landed by parachute or glider, including the area around Pegasus Bridge....

  • Originally published 04/01/2013

    Exhibit recalls Jewish refugees and Nazi prisoners held together in Canadian prisons

    VANCOUVER, Canada (JTA) -- When Austrian and German Jews escaped Nazism by fleeing to Britain during the 1930s, the last thing they expected was to find themselves prisoners in Canada, interred in camps with some of the same Nazis they had tried to escape back home.But that's what happened to some 7,000 European Jews and “Category A” prisoners -- the most dangerous prisoners of war -- who arrived on Canadian shores in 1940. Fearing a German invasion, Britain had asked its colonies to take some German prisoners and enemy spies. But the boats included many refugees, including religious Jews and university students.Though Britain alerted Canada to the mistake, it would take three years for all the refugees to be freed.“It was a period where everybody was closing their doors,” said Paula Draper, a historian who worked on an exhibit about the refugees currently on display at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. “But Canada closed its doors more tightly than almost anybody else.”...

  • Originally published 02/04/2013

    Most popular page visited after arriving at War of 1812 website? The exit

    OTTAWA - The splashy home pages for the Harper government's elaborate War of 1812 website were by far the most popular feature for visitors who crowded into the online museum last year, thanks to an ad blitz during the Olympics.The next most popular page? The exit.The government spent upwards of $28 million to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, billing it as an under-appreciated piece of Canadian history.Indeed, polls conducted in the years prior to the anniversary suggested most Canadians had little knowledge or interest in the conflict that some argue lay the groundwork for Confederation....

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