Devolutionary Empire: A Review of James Kennedy’s Liberal Nationalisms: Empire, State, and Civil Society in Scotland and Quebec

By Gordon E. Bannerman

McGill Queens University Press, 2013. 322pp. Soft Cover, $32.95

McGill Queens University Press, 2013. 322pp. Soft Cover, $32.95

In the twenty-first century, the notion of colonial empires has a distinctly antiquarian feel. Yet the British Empire, one of the most successful, exists to this day albeit in a composite rump-like form. At its height, the global reach of the British Empire was equalled by the wide range of political culture within it, and this variation, alongside the complex colonial relationship between ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ informs James Kennedy’s Liberal Nationalisms: Empire, State, and Civil Society in Scotland and Quebec. Kennedy provides a comparative history of nationalism and nationalist movements, through the respective histories of the Young Scots Society (YSS) and the Ligue nationaliste canadienne (LNC) between 1899 and 1914 relative to the multi-faceted ideological dynamics of the British Empire and Canadian Confederation.

The book examines the divergent historical and political context within which the YSS and the LNC operated. Their different methods of political organisation and activity are related in an interesting, thought-provoking way. By embracing a more interventionist form of liberalism, both groups were fundamentally informed by ‘state-reforming’ nationalism rather than separation and independence. The YSS was associated with Liberal politics, and propagated a progressive ideology of improvement based on education and knowledge. It aimed to build a mass movement, and was aided by an ideological shift from traditional liberal concerns to a more radical social policy agenda, alongside Scottish Home Rule. By contrast, the LNC, pursuing greater autonomy relative to Canada’s provincial and federal powers, was independent of existing political parties and viewed its primary mission as educational. Avoiding grass-roots organisation, the LNC relied on persuading ‘men of influence’ through the press, publications, and speeches. Continue reading

Is Pre-Confederation History actually Declining? A Response to Thomas Peace and Robert Englebert

By David Zylberberg

In June, ran a series of posts focused on the topics discussed at the then upcoming Canadian Historical Association Annual Conference. As usual, Thomas Peace posted an informative analysis of the topics, regions, time periods and languages covered while Robert Englebert discussed possible reasons for the limited number of papers on pre-Confederation topics. Drs. Peace and Englebert are both skilled historians of pre-Confederation Canada who rightly perceive dangers for Canadian History as a field if it becomes overly focused on the second-half of the twentieth century. They use quantitative analysis of the CHA annual conference programs since 2004 to argue for a decline in pre-Confederation history. However, the CHA program is not the only metric to understand the interest of Canadian historians. Below, I will propose and briefly explore a few others, which suggest that the field of Canadian History generally places greater emphasis on early time periods than is evident at the annual conference. Continue reading

Raising ‘Human Ammunition’: Motherhood, Propaganda, and the Great War

By Suzanne Evans

motherhood WWI posterIt’s no coincidence the monolithic “Mother Canada” statue proposed for the controversial war memorial on Cape Breton (and discussed in previous ActiveHistory posts herehere, and here) is the figure of a woman. Although women make only rare appearances in public memorials to the Great War, the “Mother Canada” statue evokes a long and potent tradition of both state and civilians mobilizing motherhood as the symbol of sacrifice in wartime. In her design, cowled and garbed in a flowing gown, “Mother Canada” is modeled after the monumental mother at the front of the Vimy memorial in France; she in turn bears a distinct likeness to images of Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as other prominent bereaved mothers associated with religious traditions such as the Jewish Maccabean mother of seven martyred sons, or al-Khansa the Muslim mother of four sons who died fighting for their faith. Each of these mourning mothers is portrayed in art and literature as grief-stricken but steadfast, holding true to her faith and ideals, and demanding that we remember and value the sacrifices they and their sons have made.

A woman whose body once gave life to the dead child she now mourns, enjoining – sometimes demanding – that the population honour her loss: this is the stuff of a propagandist’s wildest dreams. No surprise, then, that during the Great War “mother stories” were among the techniques used to spur military enlistment and civilian self-sacrifice. Continue reading

Podcast: Commemorations in the National Capital Region: Evolution and Findings

During the Canadian Historical Association Annual Meeting, a roundtable was held discussing commemorations in and around Ottawa, including the planned memorial to the victims of communism.

The roundtable was chaired by Yves Frenette (Université de Saint-Boniface) and featured Alain Roy (Library and Archives Canada), Nadine Blumer (Concordia), Alan Gordon (Guelph), David Akin (Post Media). is pleased to present a bilingual recording of this roundtable.

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A Review of Daniel Macfarlane’s Negotiating a River: Canada, the U.S. and the Creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway

By Natalie Zacharewski

In his work Negotiating a River: Canada, the US, and the Creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway, Daniel Macfarlane recounts the policy, negotiations and later impacts of the creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The comprehensive detail of his research and depth of analysis sheds important light on Canada and its technological advancements in the twentieth century.

UBC Press, 2014 Casebound, 356 pages, $34.95

UBC Press, 2014 Casebound, 356 pages, $34.95

In the forward of the book, Graeme Wynn sets the stage for Macfarlane’s message “The realization of powerful, brute-force technology deployed when high modernist confidence in the value of transforming nature for human purposes met few challenges” (xiv). This is overwhelmingly evident through the duration of the book as Macfarlane weaves through the mounds of negotiating politics that brought central Canada the St. Lawrence Seaway. However, despite his detailed examination of the evolution of this project, at times the human element and impact of the seaway feels missed in the chronology of politics, policy and presumptions from the major players. This seems though, to be somewhat fitting as the St. Lawrence was also at times, lost in a myriad of complications. Continue reading

A Fish Box and a Folk Festival

By David Frank

The fish box in 2015. Author's photo.

The fish box in 2015. Author’s photo.

I keep my camping gear in an old wooden box that sits neatly in the back of my car. Nothing unusual about that. But when I packed up to go Canso for the Stan Rogers Folk Festival this summer, I realized this would be a kind of homecoming — for the box.

Let me explain. The box is about thirty-two inches long, twenty inches wide and maybe ten inches deep. Just a few boards nailed together, and an opening for your hands at each end so you can get a good grip. It’s what they call a fish box, standard equipment on fishing boats a generation or two ago. You needed them to load and carry fish.

I’ve had that box ever since I was a student in Halifax in the 1970s. There were at least a dozen of them in the old garage behind the house where I lived, and the reason they were there is the story that takes us all the way back to Canso. Continue reading

When writing the First World War comes home: Remembering Pvt. Harold Carter

By Dimitry Anastakis

Private Harold Carter

Private Harold Carter

I am not, by any stretch, a specialist in the First World War, but I did have an experience in lecturing and writing about the war that really brought home to me the importance of how we treat history. Though as historians we often think, write, and teach about history at a distance – it is the past, after all – history can reach through the expanse of time to teach us an important lesson in taking care of history. Continue reading

Remembering and Forgetting Canada in Cape Breton

By Tina Loo

“The bigger-is-better approach to art is best left to Stalinist tyrants, theme-park entrepreneurs and insecure municipalities hoping to waylay bored drive-by tourists…. A brutal megalith doesn’t prompt individual introspection – it mocks it. And by defiling a quiet beauty spot with its grandiose bulk, Mother Canada will only diminish the heritage it claims to honour.”

Globe and Mail editorial, 23 June 2015

“It’s great. It’s good. We need it. Maybe we can get the frigging highway fixed.”

Glenn Warren, Ingonish, 7 March 2014

In the last few months, the media has been filled with reports and opinions about “Mother Canada,” the twenty-four metre high statue proposed by the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation (NFNMF) to commemorate the country’s war dead. Part of the reaction has focused on the site of the statue, at Green Cove, in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, an area whose natural beauty and ecological integrity some feel would be severely compromised by the memorial. To them, Mother Canada is “hubristic, ugly, and just plain wrong.”

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Heritage vs. History in the Commemoration of War in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

By David Campbell, Jonathan Roberts, Corey Slumkoski, and Martha Walls

This is an expanded version of an op-ed piece originally published in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. See David Campbell, Jonathan Roberts, Corey Slumkoski and Martha Walls, “‘Mother Canada’ elevates bombastic heritage over subtlety of history,” Halifax Chronicle-Herald, 5 June 2015.

The proposed statue. Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

The proposed statue. Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

We are well into the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Having observed the centenary of the war’s outbreak last year, we have now begun to mark the anniversaries of Canada’s first major battles in Belgium and France. Over the next few years, we will be inundated with laments for the blood spilled and the lives lost during this “War to End All Wars.”

This is to be expected; new military technologies meant that the First World War saw death and destruction on a scale like never before. Canada was not immune from the horrors of the conflict; approximately 60,000 Canadian lives were lost during the war, or roughly one percent of our population. Shockingly, Canadian sacrifices paled in comparison to those made by some of our European allies. France, for example, saw over four percent of its citizens killed. Clearly, the story of the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform is something that we mustn’t forget.

Recently, a proposal has come forth calling on Parks Canada to allow a private foundation, led by businessman Tony Trigiani, to build a memorial in Cape Breton Highland National Park Continue reading

A Monument to the Past? The Never Forgotten National War Memorial Project

By Jill Campbell-Miller

The proposed statue. Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

The proposed statue. Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

Over this past winter and spring, the controversy around the proposed Never Forgotten National War Memorial Project has become increasingly intense, even reaching the pages of the Guardian. The project, sponsored by the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation, and specifically, Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani, intends to honour fallen soldiers who served abroad. Positioned overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Green Cove in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park (CBHNP), the idea has drawn support from those who see the attraction as having potential economic benefits for the area. Local supporters even held a rally to show their enthusiasm. However, it has also caused a furor among others, who worry that the magnitude of the monument, which currently includes a 25-metre statue of “Mother Canada,” a parking lot, two interpretive centres, and other amenities, will have serious environmental and cultural consequences for the scenic area. Twenty-eight former Parks Canada managers wrote an open letter to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq to oppose it.

I should start by saying that I am not neutral on this issue. I grew up in Cape North, a village situated in the middle of the CBHNP. As a kid, Green Cove was one of the many spectacular views that I passed on the way to dentist appointments and Christmas shopping trips. The Never Forgotten project has no appeal to me. As much as I appreciate the sentiment of those who wish to honour Canadian soldiers who died overseas – including my uncle, Donald Campbell, whose plane went missing during WWII – the oversized scale of the project strikes me as inappropriate both to particular area of Green Cove and the Park in general. Continue reading