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Random Historical, Social and Cultural Moments



Culture of the History Celebrity or Valorizing the Study of History…


I received this announcement in my email recently, and it started me thinking about how in Canada we valorize – or don’t – our history and our historians.  In the UK it appears that history is valued.  Its television channels, commercial and public, produce historical documentaries.  It has a number of historical publications for the general public, and its historians are given a large role in disseminating their history. I think this announcement shows this.

In Canada we are rarely treated to our history on television.  There have been “Big Projects” like “Canada – A People’s History” and “Canada – A Story of Us” which have been produced, but the smaller stories are missing.  These large national narratives are interesting, but I think that Canadian history documentaries miss the more regional, more compact stories.  Canada has a large and varied history, there is much that can be found and produced.  They don’t have to be these mega projects, trying to encapsulate the entire history of the country, costing large amounts of money to get an audience.  You would think that the smaller story (and likely the smaller budget) would be considered a good way to fill the market?

And our historians – we have some brilliant historians in Canada.  I know that not many of them are known to the general public, but they should be.  Why aren’t they being asked to present our history on television?  Why aren’t we having weekends celebrating our histories?

I look at the “History Channel” and see it as a lost opportunity.  Right now it doesn’t show a hell of a lot of history, (no Ancient Aliens is not history – nor is Big Rig Warriors, etc).  When it began many a year ago, it did try to show some Canadian history in between the re-runs of JAG, but that has stopped.  CBC only does the ‘big’ shows.

We have “Canada’s History” a really good magazine, but I don’t see it on the news stands very often. It tends to be found in larger book sellers or specialized magazine stores. Try and find it at the local drugstore or grocery store – no.  In Britain their history magazines enjoy a larger circulation.

Many will argue that there is no market for Canadian history, and I beg to disagree.  Canadians and their Pasts demonstrated that Canadians are interested in their history, personal and regional.  Canadians are open to hearing about their pasts, and we have a pool of talent who can provide the information, we just don’t have the intermediaries in the media who want to bring the two together.

I have no answers, sadly, just these questions.  As a historian myself, and a consumer of a lot of “public history” I am constantly amazed at what other countries produce on their histories.  From the small story to the larger narrative, they seem to be able to get their history on the air, on the internet, and in the public space.  Why not here?



Women in the Senate, Montreal, 1930

Montreal Daily Star, 19 Feb 1930, page 4

Another goal reached

It is the women themselves that have gained this victory for their sex.4ds19feb1930-cartoon

Two Canadian Soldiers Escaped from German Camp – 1917

Montreal Gazette, 4 July 1917, page 2

Two Canadian Soldiers Escaped from German Camp

Were in right spirit to appreciate Dominion Day when they reached London

Were taken in June last

Wretched treatment, bad food and unhealthy surroundings caused determination to escape

Special cable from the Gazette’s Resident Staff Correspondent

London – July 3 – Two Canadian soldiers who were in the right spirit to appreciate Dominion Day were Privates FC Macdonald 106416 of Fox Warren, Man, and J O’Brien 73194 of Moose Jaw, Sask who had just arrived in London in time for the Dominion Day festivities after escaping from a German prison camp where they had spent the past year.

Private Macdonald, who enlisted in the 1st Mounted Rifles of Winnipeg, was captured in June of last year, after having been wounded in the knee and in the eyes with shrapnel, but he is now recovered from both injuries.  Private O’Brien who belonged to the 28th Battalion was buried for two hours in a crater, but was taken out unhurt by the Germans.

Both men were sent in the internment camp at Dulmen.  The wretched treatment they received from the officers, the bad food they were given and the unhealthy surroundings made them determine at the outset of their imprisonment to get away if possible.  Macdonald made four attempts at escape, and O’Brien made two attempts, all of which were unsuccessful.  Each failure was punished by period of bread and water diet and confinement to underground cells, where their beds consisted of bare boards. Finally, they managed to slip away while engaged in working with a party.  Just how they escaped cannot now be explained.  They still retained their identity discs attached to the wrists, which proved their story to the Dutch authorities, and they were shown every kindness.

General Turner has assured both men that they would not be sent to the front again, as theoretically they are still prisoners of war.  Both Macdonald and O’Brien are Canadian born.

The Campbells are Going, 1911

Montreal Daily Star 20 May 1911 pg. 1

campbells are going

[Cartoon] The Campbells Are Going

(All roads lead out of Scotland)

Distant voices (singing) “My Heart’s in the Heilans

Caledonia – “Ay, but the rest of ye is awa”

(Official returns, showing a large decrease in the population of Scotland, are causing alarm in Caledonia circles)

International Cricket Match, New York, 1854

Coventry Herald, 1 September 1854 page 3


International Cricket Match – The return match between Canada and New York came off on the 19th and 20th ult. The Canadians came into New York in August last, and played the match on the St George’s-ground, which terminated after two days beautiful play in favour of the New Yorkers by 24 runs. The score on that occasion was United States first innings, 62; second ditto, 71; total 133.  Canadians, first innings, 45; second ditte, 54, total 99. This present match has terminated in favour of the Canadians with ten wickets to spare.  The conquering game will probably not be played till next year.  The Cricketers of Canada treated their New York brethren with most hearty hospitality.  A pleasing incident occurred at the close of the game, as then the British colours floated at one end of the stand, and the stars and stripes at the other.  The moment the game was ended, some American gentlemen ordered the stars and stripes to be lowered, which was done accordingly; but as soon as the Canadian concourse of visitors observed it, they, by acclamation, immediately demanded theirs to be hoisted again, which after some little difficulty was done.  As a mark of the delicate feelings of the Canadians on the occasion, they ordered the British flag to be hauled down and the halyards unrove, and not until the American flag was re-hoisted under the direction of Captain Denne, was the British flag allowed to float again.  Three cheers were given for the Queen, and three for the President of the United States.  The Canadians and the New Yorkers then sat down to a sumptuous feast.  The splendid Band of the Canadian Rifles was present.  Amongst the toasts were those of the health of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and the President of the United States, all of which were received with rapturous applause.

St Andrew’s Day in Canada, St John, NB, 1920

Aberdeen Press and Journal, 23 December 1920, page 6

St Andrew’s Day in Canada

The “Daily Telegraph” of St John, New Brunswick, for December 1, contains a four-column report of the celebration of St Andrew’s Day by the St John Society.  No fewer than 400 members and friends were present, and Judge Grimmer, in a short speech, humourously alluded to the “dry” state of the Province prohibiting some of the old time Scots customs.

The orator of the evening was the Rev W Bruce Muir, and following his address the “Passin’ ‘o the Mull” took place to the accompaniment of pipe music.  The proceedings ended with a dance, in the programme of which the reel and Strathspey, the Highland schottische, and the reel of Tulloch, were included.

During the evening about twenty poetical greetings were exchanged with Societies as distant as New York, Vancouver, and Edinburgh.

Attitude of Irish-Canadians, Lt-Col Trihey, New York, 1917

Montreal Gazette, 3 July 1917, page 2

Lieut-Col Trihey on attitude of Irish-Canadians

Deeply concerned on situation in Ireland but will their duty as Canadians

Gives view to NY Paper

Former commanding officer of Irish Rangers confesses his chagrin over disbanding of the battalion

(Special to the Gazette)

New York – July 2 – Lt-Col Henry J Trihey of Montreal, who commanded the now disbanded regiment of Irish Canadian Rangers, makes the following statement over his signature to the New York Post:

“Irish-Canadians always deeply interested in the welfare of Ireland, have never yet allowed that interest to interfere with their duty to Canada.  They are Canadians.

“On the outbreak of war and at the first call for volunteers, Irish-Canadians came forward and continued voluntarily to respond as Canada made further calls, until scores of thousands of Irish-Canadians had gone overseas, diffused among the various Canadian units.

“During the first eighteen months of war no Canadian unit particularly represented the Irish-Canadian population, although the Scotch, English and French populations had each from the beginning its special regiment.

“At the end of 1915 the Canadian Government having given evidence of its desire to feature battalions representing different shades of national sentiment in Canada, with a view to encouraging voluntary enlistment, was asked by me for authority to raise an Irish-Canadian  regiment for overseas service.  This authority having been granted, patriotic Irish-Canadian citizens provided a fund of $40 000 to defray the cost of recruiting and of organizing.

“In February 1916, the organizing of the Irish-Canadian Rangers was begun.  The first poster issued bore the legend ‘Small Nations must be free’.  The particular appeal was to those who desired to share in the honor of representing in this unit, Irish-Canadian loyalty to Canada, at the front, fighting for the principle proclaimed on the poster.

Assurances given

“Two members of Sir Robert Borden’s cabinet – one of them Minister of Militia – from platforms, in the city of Montreal, stated that the government of Canada pledged itself that the Irish-Canadian Rangers would go to France as a unit representing Irish-Canadians. This statement was made at recruiting meetings as a special inducement to Irish-Canadians to enlist in this regiment. Relying on this pledge and animated by loyalty to Canada, Irish-Canadians volunteered despite the aftermath of the Irish rebellion of Easter, 1916.  The Irish-Canadian Rangers fully organized arrived in England on December 26, 1916.  On January 3, 1917, I learned that the disbandment of the regiment had been officially decreed in England, but that it was the intention of the English government first to  send the Irish-Canadian Rangers to parade through Ireland.  On confirming this I tendered my resignation as officer commanding and returned to Canada.  All efforts from Canada were unavailing: the parade through Ireland occurred and the regiment was disbanded May 23, 1917.

“The disbanded men were scattered among English-Canadian regiments.

“Not one of the Irish-Canadian officers, not even our Catholic chaplain was sent with the men.  The officers were not used: they were simply ignored.

Reasons for Discontent

“Today the Irish-Canadian knows of the Irish-Canadian regiment, that Irish-Canadian loyalty organised to symbolize itself in Canada’s effort for the freedom of small nations.  He realizes what he formerly heard, but did not appreciate that Ireland is under martial law, and is occupied by an English army.  He reads in the press that English soldiers in Dublin and Cork with rifle and with machine gun fight those of his kinsmen who believe Ireland to be a small nation worthy of freedom.  He wonders if the conscripting of 100 000 more Canadians would be necessary if the 150 000 men comprising the English army in Ireland were sent to fight in France.  He also wonders where Canadians now may best maintain the war purpose vital to Canada small – small nations must be free.

“If conscription becomes law of course Irish-Canadians will loyally observe the law, for they are Canadians.

In Appreciation of the Suffragettes, 2018

I was approached in late 2017 about my grandfather’s cousin, Maude Smith, who was a suffragette, for information about her, her family, and the location of photographs for a series of specials planned in Britain about the suffragettes in honour of the centenary of the women’s vote.  While talking with the researcher she asked me if was planning on somehow commemorating the anniversary, and I said no.  Truthfully, I was really oblivious to the fact that it was coming on a century.  But that has got me thinking about women’s suffrage, and the various legislation which have allowed our democracy to expand.

Of course the lady from the BBC was referring to the anniversary of the Representation of the People Act which received royal ascent on the 6th of February 1918.  This law allowed women in Britain over the age of 30 with some property qualifications able to vote in elections.  For Maude Smith and her fellow suffragettes, this legislation was the culmination of years of serious work, sacrifice and pain.  They had fought to have a voice in their government, in their country, in their lives.  The rest of the women over 21 had to wait a further 10 years in Britain for the Representation of the People [Equal Franchise Act] to get royal ascent on the 2nd of July 1928.

But of course, as a Canadian I am also aware of when the women of my Canadian family were able to vote.  The provincial vote came first to the women of Manitoba the 28th of January 1916, and the federal vote came to all women over 21 on the 24th of May 1918, a few months after their British sisters.  My grandmother and great-grandmothers were not able to vote in the Quebec provincial elections until the 25th of April 1940. [For a great article on  suffrage in Canada click here] Their struggle was a part of a larger struggle for universal adult suffrage, which we now enjoy in Canada. The vote is an important part of what makes a democracy function.

I think what amazes me the most the suffragettes is that they had the gumption to do something about what they believe in.  What an enormous amount of courage they had.  I often think that faced with the same kind of problem, and the belief that women were entitled to vote, but couldn’t, I wouldn’t have had the courage to act in the way that they did.  It takes a special kind of person to involve themselves so whole-heartedly in a social movement.  And so I thank them so much for their sacrifice.  This I do every election, when I vote.

An English Convict marries an heiress, 1892

Glengarry News, 4 Feb 1892

A remarkable Career – An English convict marries an heiress

A long and interesting account of the remarkable career of Frederick George Barton, an expert criminal and a native of Tunbridge Wells, is given in a Kent paper.  The quiet little tow of Burgess Hill (says the account) has recently been startled out of the dull decorum of its existence by the fact that a gentleman living in one of its most eligible villas, and who was recently married to a young lady of fortune to whom he was introduced in Canada, is none other than a clever and dangerous convict who had failed to report himself to the police, and had been occupying his leisure by the perpetration of wholesale burglaries of a similar skilful and to those for which he has already undergone two terms of penal servitude.  Barton was born at Tunbridge in 1858 of respectable parents, and at 12 he was committed for five years to Red Hill Reformatory for embezzlement.  After staying in (and robbing) a Boy’s Refuge in London, young Barton went to Tunbridge Wells, and stole £17 000 worth of securities by a burglary in the house of a clergyman who had befriended him.  He was taken and sentenced in 1876 (aged 18) to ten years’ penal servitude.  Four years later, in the December of 1880, with six years of his sentence unexpired, Barton was again in Tunbridge Wells, much to the astonishment of the police, who found him in possession of a free pardon from the Home Secretary.  The manner in which this was obtained is perhaps one of the most audacious to be found recorded in the criminal calendar. It appears that Barton persuaded a fellow-convict, whose term had nearly expired, that he had come into large estates in India, worth £20 000 per annum, in addition to £175 000 hard cash; and this convict, on his release stimulated by the promise of a liberal reward, signed a petition to the Home Secretary praying for the release of Barton on account on this ground, and also on account his extreme youth. The petition was sent in a letter, which, although posted in India was doubtless a forgery; and although the facts have never been traced, there is little reason to doubt that Barton concocted the letter, and with the connivance of some friend, had it posted from Fort George, with the signature of a resident chaplain there, which was also forged.  The most astonishing fact remains.  The minister was Sir William Harcourt.  We next hear of him stealing various articles.  By this time the family of the unfortunate Mrs Barton had been stripped of nearly every penny by Barton, and left in an almost destitute condition plus the burden of Barton’s liabilities. It is understood that on their return to Canada Mrs Barton will seek a divorce.  Even after his marriage Barton kept up a correspondence with ladies with a view to marriage, and paid personal attention to others. He made the acquaintance of a young lady, the daughter of a well-known clergyman, residing near London who was staying on the Brighton Front, Barton invited her to accompany him in his dog cart when he drove to Burgess Hill, to see about his letters.  Arriving at Cedar Lodge, Barton and the young lady were arrested together, and both taken to the police station.  The lady was looked upon as an accomplice, and the police would not release her from detention until her explanations were verified and found to be correct. The young lady was released from her most unpleasant predicament late in the evening, and will not probably forget her drive with Barton and its sensational ending. At the recent assizes at Lewes Barton was indicted for burglary, and found guilty of receiving goods and well knowing them to have been stolen, and was sentenced to twelve years penal servitude.  But as he is even now only thirty-two or thirty-three years of age, it is quite possible that this plausible criminal will be heard of again in the future.

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