Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hal Wake 'incites' writers to read their work

Picture: Boyko, Lambert and Somer sign books

Last night in the Alma van Dusen Room at the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public library, Hal Wake, Artistic Director of the Vancouver Writers Fest and longtime friend of books and writers, hosted another Incite event.

The reading featured three authors. C.P. Boyko of Victoria, whose thumbnail bio on the back of his book cover was laugh-out-loud funny, read from Psychology and other stories.

Boyko introduced Mr. Custard, "who doesn't fit the mould." While sitting in a booth in Rosie's Roadhouse, chatting up two teenage girls, he "humbly" implies that he has won every boxing match he fought.

Although Mr. Custard is seen in a restaurant, our author tells us that he "Doesn't get hungry, but only eats to make it with waitresses." Teen companions notwithstanding, he who "welcomes complications for their entertainment value" speaks to a waitress with "tentative zeal," then begins to masticate the white bread she brings. Instead of swallowing it, he takes it out of his mouth and uses it as raw material for a bizarre sculpture.

Mr. Boyko played his cards close to the chest when questioned by Hal, but he did talk a little about his process. He deliberately avoids too much setting detail, actively trying to "expunge place" and let readers imagine themselves into his scenes. "No book," he reminded us, "is ever read the same way twice, even by the same reader."

Barbara Lambert, mother of novelist Shaena Lambert (is novel writing genetic?), travelled from her current home in the Okanagan to read from The Whirling Girl, her novel about a woman who becomes interested in the ancient Etruscans when she most unexpectedly inherits a property in Tuscany.

Barbara talked about her writing process, describing the moment the idea struck, and how the story "lodged" in her. Her characters "develop of their own accord," she reported, and she never thinks about theme. I enjoyed hearing about her protagonist, the untruthful Clare, who, finding that she gets rid of one worry only to have another replace it, thinks "there is always something to fear...creeping up from inside."

Bradley Somer of Calgary, who still has a day job as a real estate agent, appeared, as Hal remarked, "in civvies," to read from his novel Imperfections. This story of the male model Richard Trench is a send-up of our preoccupation with beauty and perfection.

Chatting with him at the signing table, I learned that he'd had laser surgery. This was to enable him to see without glasses, and not to perfect his appearance.

Lines I especially enjoyed from Bradley's reading included "the sensuous absence of her touch," and "the horrible pleasure I knew I was about to endure." After reading, Bradley spoke not of his process as much as his theme -- the Western obsession with perfection in the form of youth and beauty.

It was a pleasant evening. The turnout was good, interesting questions were asked and lots of books were sold and signed.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Metaphors we live by, by Lakoff and Johnson

Picture from Google Books

Recently, I've been thinking about what underlying logic or pattern determines how we use prepositions in English. For people who are otherwise fluent, these pesky little words still give a lot of trouble.

I've just discovered an amazing book by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, called Metaphors we live By, (University of Chicago Press 1980).

Everyday language, the authors explain, is laden with metaphorical concepts. The built-in metaphors of our native tongue are systematic, coherent and unconscious. To a large degree, they determine how we view the world, and thus have important consequences for our actions. No doubt the same is true for other languages.

"Argument is war," these authors tell us, and demonstrate the truth of this idea by listing the expressions we use to talk about it. To cite some examples, we speak of attacking weak points in arguments, winning and losing arguments, and getting our arguments shot down.

The idea that "Time is money," is also amplified by the further related metaphors that "Time is a limited resource," and "Time is a valuable commodity." Thus we have or spend or lose time. We give it to other people and live on borrowed time. When others give us time, we say politely, "Thanks for your time." All of this talk, of course, is metaphor, so deeply ingrained in our linguistic patterns that we barely notice it.

Moving into metaphors of spatial orientation, the writers inform us that "Happy is up; sad is down," and speculate that this might have originally arisen through the posture we adopt when we feel "down" or when we are "in high spirits," or our spirits "rise." 

There are many other examples, including: "Conscious is up; unconscious is down," "More is up; less is down," and "Rational is up; emotional is down."

We also see and quantify the world in terms of entities and substances, even when these are strictly metaphorical.
     "My fear of insects is driving my wife crazy."
     "It will take a lot of patience to finish this book."
     "The pressure of his responsibilities caused his breakdown."

The mind is often seen as a machine or a brittle object, and thus can operate, its wheels can be seen turning or it can be be rusty. The mind, when pictured as brittle, can be easily crushed, break under examination, go to pieces, or even be shattered.

The book illuminates many of these fascinating concepts, of which I'll mention just a few more: "Theories are buildings" and can thus be constructed and supported, can explode or collapse.

"Ideas are food" means that they might be fishy, we may stew over them, digest them or fail to swallow them. They can leave a bad taste, or be half baked or warmed over.

Love, say these authors, is seen metaphorically as an electromagnetic or gravitational force, as a patient, as magic, as insanity, or as war. "The eyes are containers for emotion."

Wealth is a hidden object which we seek and lose. And on that note, I'd like to say how much value I found in this book. After all, as the authors say "ideas are money," and this book is a treasure trove of them.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Ian Rankin's Rebus is back

Book cover picture from Ian Rankin website

Edinburgh ex-CID inspector John Rebus is now retired -- or is he? A few years older and working cold cases, he's just a tad less ornery, a bit more communicative and self-aware. 

Feeling his age, Rebus continues to enjoy his music; he mishears the lyrics to a song and that gives rise to the title, Standing in Another Man's Grave, which proves strangely appropriate.

In Ian Rankin's other Rebus novels, beneath the dark crime stories, an undertow of humour bubbles up now and again, and this book is no exception. One priceless moment comes when Rebus glances in a shop window and shakes his head on seeing a pair of men's strawberry-coloured corduroys.

Readers of Rankin's fellow Edinburgh writer Alexander McCall Smith will recognize this reference to little Bertie of the 44 Scotland Street series, whose mad mother Irene makes him wear cords of just that colour, even though the other kids laugh.

In this book, Malcolm Fox (The Complaints, 2009) appears to be the nemesis of Rebus, who considers reapplying to CID when he realizes that a MisPer on the A9 is related to his cold case files. Annette McKie is just the latest in a series of young women who have disappeared on the same road over the past few years.

While Rebus extracts information by having a pint with a known gangster, Fox gets busy with the paperwork. When the cold case unit is closed, Fox warns warns Rebus off applying again, as he searches the files for something to pin on him.

Malcolm Fox thinks Rebus is too old-school, too much of a rule-bender, no longer relevant. The natural antipathy between the two policemen is exacerbated by the fact that Fox is a dry alcoholic, while Rebus is an inveterate boozer who sees no need to leave whiskey behind.

In this story, John Rebus works once more with DI Siobhan Clarke, his former partner, with whom he has developed respect and rapport. The case involves reporting to another policewoman called Dempsey, whose office controls the case because of the location of  the last sighting of the most recent missing woman.

As a character, John Rebus is mellowing as he ages; he doesn't get Dempsey's back up as much as those of us who know him from other books might have expected. As for his problems with his daughter, and with anyone in authority -- well, as I said, at least he's more self-aware.

We'll probably be hearing more from John Rebus. And that is all to the good, as, along with his fellow characters and his relationships with them, good and bad, he continues to develop in interesting ways. As Siobhan gets a bit more experienced, and in all likelihood, rises in the ranks, I'd love to know a bit more about her too.

At a reading in Vancouver a couple of years ago, Rankin as good as promised there'd be one. Unless my fondness for the two of them is deluding me, the end of this book suggests that John Rebus and Siobhan Clarke, played in the Rebus films by Claire Price, may end up working some more cases together.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Music and Silence, by Rose Tremain

Picture from Goodreads

This novel, published in 1999 by Chatto and Windus, reveals the astonishing versatility of this writer, whose other novels include the vastly different contemporary story, The Way I Found Her.

Music and Silence takes place in Denmark in the 1600s, and carries with it a social atmosphere vastly different from the one we live in today.

Tremain's plot is complex and even the antagonist Kirsten Munk, the Danish King Christian's consort, evokes an ever more willing sympathy in the reader as she confides her own awareness of her dark side to her diary. Kirsten's personal missive, sprinkled with unnecessary Capital Letters, is where Kirsten  Plots and Plans how to use others for her Own ends.

In this ancient setting of feudal Copenhagen, the dramatic portrayal of a flawed Danish king, his consort, an English lutanist, and the 'Almost Queen's' women stops just short of the grotesque. There is a certain soupcon of comedy here too.

The imagery is lush and unforgettable. Reading this book on my commute, I had to shake myself out of the heavy atmosphere of its strange scenes. Among the most bizarre for me were those portrarying the weird alterations in the personality of the Irish count after his wife wakes him in the midst of a dream of celestial music, and schoolteacher punishing the young King's dyslexic friend, Bror Brorson.

A hauntingly evocative image is that of a shivering orchestra confined to the basement of the castle so that at a signal from the king, they can play delightful music that comes up through a trapdoor into the Winter Room. King Christian veers between using this ethereal music to astonish his guests and consoling himself with the music of the his "Angel," the English lutanist, as the King's consort rejects and cuckolds him and his wealth and health deteriorate.

The voices in this novel are many and varied: the philosophical speeches and thoughts of the king and the diffident attempts of the lute player to answer his questions appropriately contrast sharply with the conversations between the crude outspokenness of Kirsten and the sympathetic and consoling voice of Emilia, her Woman.

In a tour de force of economic characterization, Tremain describes choir master Lionel Neve as "a man entirely content at each day's modest curve."

This is a suspenseful tale of human passions and the suffering they bring; it is an epic exploration of the many meanings of enslavement; it is an exotic tale in which "enchantment very often triumphs over scruple."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Watching a squirrel dine


Photo CT 2013

I could see the squirrel so clearly through the pane of glass. He was a chubby fellow, and he was stuffing himself.  His restaurant was the maple tree outside my window.

As he ate, he exercised, getting into amazing contortions to reach for for the maple keys in nearby branches.

He wasn't tidy, either. After greedily devouring the desirable seeds, he dropped the rest, heedless of whoever might be passing below.

Watching the squirrel dine cleared up a little mystery. Now I know where the maple keys go when they disappear from the bare branches. I used to think they just fell on the ground.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tiny harbinger of spring

Photo: CT 2013

The rest of the country may not envy the grey days on the "Wet Coast," but we have other compensations.

This is the only corner of Canada where one can see a cherry tree bursting into flower just three weeks into the New Year.

I was walking along East Broadway yesterday when I caught a glimpse of these tiny pink blossoms, early harbingers of spring.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Charles Tupper

Picture: Canadian Encyclopedia

Charles Tupper was born in Nova Scotia in 1821 and died in England in 1915, the last survivor of the Fathers of Confederation.

After his medical education in Edinburgh, Dr.Tupper returned to established a practice. He was first president of the Canadian Medical Association.

Tupper first ran for the Nova Scotia Assembly in 1855, and after serving as Provincial Secretary, he became Premier in 1864. A delegate to the Charlottetown, Quebec and London conferences, he won a federal seat in the new Dominion in 1867.

Like D'Arcy Magee, he stood aside from taking a cabinet post in the interest of bringing in other Nova Scotians and promoting national unity. After 1869, when the "better terms" agreement brought Joseph Howe into the cabinet, Tupper held various portfolios. During the building of the CPR, he was the Minister of Railways and Canals.

Sir Charles Tupper became High Commissioner to the United Kingdom in 1864, but returned to Canada a few years later to serve once more in the Macdonald's Conservative cabinet as Minister of Finance.

In 1896, he returned to Canada from his duties in England once again, to serve as Minister of State in the government of Mackenzie Bowell. After being passed over as party leader in favour of Bowell and Thompson, he finally became Prime Minister, but he served in this role for only ten weeks. The Conservative Party suffered a dramatic defeat in the election of 1896 and the Liberals came to power under Laurier.

The Conservative party had lost credibility in Quebec after many years in power and some serious scandals, and Laurier's Liberals swept to victory on a platform of moderate policies, setting the stage for the future domination of Liberal governments.

Tupper served as opposition leader until the following election in 1900, when he was defeated and retired from politics. He lived for awhile in Vancouver, where his name is commemorated in Sir Charles Tupper Secondary School. Later he moved to Bexleyheath in England, where he died in 1915.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thomas D'Arcy Magee

D'Arcy Magee statue on Parliament Hill CT

Irish-born Thomas D'Arcy Magee (1825-1868), was  a journalist, poet, orator and statesman and one of the Fathers of Confederation.

Educated in in Wexford, he left for America to write for and edited the Boston Pilot, an Irish-American journal. After three years he returned to Dublin to continue his journalistic career. A young radical, he left the more moderate Freeman's Journal to write for The Nation, the press organ of the "Young Ireland" party.

Implicated in the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848, he escaped his native country to return to America. He lived in New York, Boston and Buffalo, writing for and publishing newspapers. On arriving in Montreal in 1857, he founded a newspaper called the New Era, and in 1858 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Canada as the Irish Catholic representative for Montreal West. In 1864, he was a delegate at the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences that paved the way for Confederation in 1867 -- the birth of the new nation.

According to W. Stewart Wallace, D'Arcy Magee's eloquent orations in favour of the new civic nationality were a great help in creating the psychological grounding for the coming union of the first four provinces.

D'Arcy Magee changed parties from the Reformers to the Conservatives, but kept his Montreal seat until Confederation in 1867, and was re-elected to the same constituency in the first House of Commons in the new Dominion of Canada. He was not in the cabinet, however; he stood aside to allow Edward Kenny to take the post, and represent Nova Scotians as well as Irish Catholics. Wallace also calls him "the chief apostle of Canadian national unity" (ibid).

In the interests of that unity, this brilliant orator spoke strongly against the Fenians in 1866, These were Irish nationalists in America who invaded Canada in a series of raids between 1866 and 1871, with the purpose of securing Irish independence from Britain. Speaking against their attacks earned D'Arcy Magee the enmity of the American organization of Fenians. When he was shot in Ottawa 1868, it was a Fenian who was tried and found guilty of his murder.

At the last public hanging in Canada, Fenian sympathizer Patrick J. Whelan died for the crime in front of 5000 people. Yet doubt was later raised about his guilt. This question has been dealt with in a play by Pierre Brault, called Blood on the Moon.

D'Arcy Magee also makes a cameo appearance in the novel Away, by Jane Urquhart, when she gives a fictional account of what led up to his assassination near the Parliament Buildings in 1868.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lord Elgin

Picture from Toronto Dreams Project 

Lord Elgin was Governor-in-Chief of the Province of Canada from 1847 to 1853. During this time, he promoted development in Canada's agricultural, commercial and industrial sectors.

He also negotiated the 1854 Reciprocity Treaty, an agreement between the United States and the British provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Canada.

Indeed, on paper he was expected to govern all four provinces. Although his budget and staff provided only for Canada, he consulted with his fellow governors to ensure cooperation among the colonies. He worked to integrate postal and telegraph services, railroads and navigational aids (LAC).

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Baldwin-LaFontaine alliance

Canadian Encyclopedia editor James H. Marsh calls it "the friendship that brought responsible government," Without doubt, the political cooperation between the two statesmen Robert Baldwin and Louis LaFontaine was critical for the development of Canadian democracy.

In 1848 when the reformers came to power, the partnership between these two politicians prepared the ground for an inclusive democracy that would serve both English and French Canadians. When the new parliament assembled in Montreal, it was Baldwin who nominated the fluently bilingual A.N. Morin as speaker of the House, insisting that bilingualism was central to this role. LaFontaine seconded the motion, the House cheered, and history was made (James H. Marsh).

Another remarkable moment of cooperation had come years earlier, when French Canadians failed to elect LaFontaine out of suspicion that his cooperation with English reformers was a sellout. Subsequently, Baldwin introduced him as a candidate in the English riding of York, and he was elected, proving to suspicious French Canadians that the cooperation between the French and English reformers was real, with democracy as the goal.

The collaboration between these two early Canadian statesmen is now commemorated annually by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship. The first LaFontaine-Baldwin lecture was given in 2000 by the self-described  "public intellectual" John Ralston Saul, who has also written a book about the two men's political accomplishments.

A sampling of other lecturers includes native leader Georges Erasmus (2002), The Honorable Louise Arbour (2005), Inuit climate change spokeswoman Sheila Watt-Cloutier (2009) and the Aga Khan (2010).

Monday, January 14, 2013

Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine

Picture: Britannica.com

Louis LaFontaine was born in Quebec in 1807. Elected to the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, he supported Papineau until the latter was obliged to flee to the U.S. after the Rebellions of 1837-8.

Like his friend and Upper Canadian political colleague Robert Baldwin, LaFontaine supported the adoption in Canada of the British constitution. As explained by James T. Marsh, he understood how the power and flexibility of Britian's constitution would ensure the cultural survival of French Canadians.

The "Great Ministry" of 1848 that he shared with Robert Baldwin, saw the establishment of a public school system and a system of municipal government, as well as the creation of the University of Toronto. The following year, in spite of Tory opposition, the Rebellion Losses Bill of 1849 was passed to compensate Lower Canadians who had suffered property damage during the rebellions.

From 1853 to his death just three years before Confederation, LaFontaine was Chief Justice of Canada East (formerly Lower Canada and now Quebec.)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Robert Baldwin

Picture from Upper Canada History

Born in 1804, Robert Baldwin was called to the bar in Toronto and became a member of the Upper Canada Legislature in 1830.

After the short-lived and unsuccessful Rebellions of 1837 in Upper and Lower Canada, Lord Durham was sent from England to settle the situation. He governed briefly, then returned to file his report in 1839. Meanwhile, Canadians were growing more determined to have representation.

When the new province of Canada was formed in 1841 Act of Union, the governor, Lord Sydenham, recruited Baldwin for the Executive Council in the government. When, like its predecessors, this new governor refused the idea of responsible government for Canada, Baldwin resigned from his party and joined the opposition.

As discussed in John Ralston Saul's recent book about them, Robert Baldwin and his friend Sir Louis Hippolyte La Fontaine were at the centre of a group of reformers who took over the elected government in 1842-3.

Representing the interests of both Upper and Lower Canadians, these two men altered the Upper Canada school system and transferred the capital from Kingston to Montreal. They also established the non-denominational University of Toronto.

Library and Archives Canada states that when the governor refused to consult cabinet about partisan appointments in 1843, the reformers resigned en masse and served with the opposition till 1848, at which time they were re-elected.

During this three-year mandate, called the 'Great Ministry,' Baldwin, La Fontaine and their colleagues in government reformed the Upper Canada judiciary, granted amnesty to participants in the Rebellions of 1837-8, altered the system of municipal government and implemented responsible government in the Province of Canada.

For Robert Baldwin, the struggle for responsible government was the struggle of Canada against her "oppressors," those who would withold Canada's claim to the British constitution (Canadian Encyclopedia). He died in Toronto at the age of 54, sadly not living to see the Confederation he had done so much to prepare for.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

From fictional Victorian history to real history

On a bright winter morning, I surface from the imaginary world of Anne Perry's Victorian London and begin to ponder on real history.

In recent posts, I've been doing a few posts on important political figures of the eighteenth and nineteenth century who helped make Canada what it is today. As individuals, we are all shaped by our past, and of course the same is true of nations.

I am fascinated by the individuals -- usually visionary and often personally troubled -- who make things happen in their lifetimes that cause long-lasting change after their deaths.

Recently, we saw the film Lincoln, and I was struck by how very different were the circumstances of the passing of the Thirteenth amendment from my vague imaginings.

It was suggested in the film, and I believe the real history supports this idea, that Lincoln was the one man among his contemporaries who absolutely knew that slavery was wrong and had to end. He also felt a strong calling to take action to make this happen. To get the amendment passed before the window of opportunity closed, though, he had to use political bribery. To the disgust of some of his colleagues, pragmatism was the order of the day.

Amid the devastation of a civil war whose shadows still lie over his country, Lincoln achieved his goal of ending slavery through a constitutional amendment. By the time his purpose was accomplished, his family was alienated and his country wounded almost beyond bearing.

If we come to birth for a purpose, his was complete. Yet it seems bitter that after such enormous effort and sacrifice, he should die by an assassin's bullet shortly after his enormous achievement. It is also sad that did not live long enough to help heal the nation's wounds and reunify the country, a necessity that his successors proved incapable of understanding, let alone carrying out.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Reading Anne Perry in post Christmas quiet

Image from goodreads

In the lull and that follows the holidays, we leave the Christmas decorations up for a few extra days. On the comfy sofa, with the benison of a lighted tree, a flickering fireplace and the fragrance of winter narcissi in the room, in addition to a not-yet-disassembled jigsaw puzzle on the table beside me, I fall into the stillness of the post-Christmas season.

It was in this delicious atmosphere of quiet that I read the latest Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novel. I have known Thomas Pitt since he was available on a library cassette tape. My daughter was a teen then, attending the Langley Fine Arts School, where there was a craze for knitting. The two of us sat companionably together with our knitting, listening to a tale of how Thomas, with the assistance of his able wife Charlotte, solves a political crime resulting from Anglo-Irish tensions.

Now Anne Perry has completed twenty-five novels featuring the Pitts. From a callow and rumpled young man who falls in love with a woman "above his station" -- the setting is late-Victorian London -- Thomas has developed into a middle-aged husband and father of two teenagers. He has also been promoted to head Special Branch, where he finds that  whether or not he feels prepared, he must do his best to fill the shoes of his predecessor, Victor Narraway.

I saved last year's Treason at Lisson Grove to read lying on the "Christmas sofa," but as backup, I also got the next book, Dorchester Terrace (Ballantyne 2012), out of the library.

For many years Anne Perry has made the long journey from her home in Scotland to attend the Surrey International Writers' conference. I have heard her speak many times, and each year I notice her between sessions. We have talked a few times; one year, she told me she missed the Saje booth in the trading hall, and the next, I felt moved to give her a tiny bottle of the Saje floral essence I'd shared with her the year before.

My first introduction to her books came at SIWC too. I was browsing the tables when a woman I barely knew told me something nasty about this author's past. In a spirit of discouraging such unsought-for gossip, I immediately decided to buy an Anne Perry. I was just back from a trip to London, and because I had been on that street only days before, the title that caught my eye was Southampton Row.

In the intervening time, I have read almost all of Perry's works. I love the series that features William Monk,  a brooding policeman who must live in the present and watch his own every move, since he has lost a great swath of his past to amnesia. Other characters in these books -- Oliver Rathbone and Victorian feminist Hester Latterly -- I found equally compelling.

Her tales of World War I, each with a line of poetry as a title, are loosely based on her own family history. They are also wonderful stories, and with the dilemmas of chaplain Joseph Reavley, focus on Perry's persistent theme of making difficult moral choices. The first in this series is No Graves as Yet, and the last We Shall not Sleep.

Anne Perry is getting ever better at her craft. Treason at Lisson Grove was compelling, but Dorchester Terrace was even better.

Sadly, my Anne Perry season is over for this year. I must disassemble the jigsaw and put aside the books. Duty calls. Fortunately, there will be a new Pitt novel published in April. God willing, I can enjoy this particular pleasure again next year.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Lord Durham

Picture: City of Montreal

The Earl of Durham, John George Lambton, was a politico who had supported Whig reforms in Britain. He was sent as Governor-general to British North America following the Rebellions of 1837. Not terribly keen to go, he was urged by Queen Victoria, who ascended to the throne the year of the two rebellions in Canada.

Durham was asked to make recommendations about how the colonial government should be arranged to ensure lasting peace and prosperity.

In 1839 he presented the Durham report, recommending unification of Upper and Lower Canada, responsible government, the establishment of municipal institutions in Canada and the assimilation of French Canadians.

His report described the problems in Quebec as being "racial," rather than political, and advised that the two Canadas be united, with the view that the French would be assimilated over time. Even though he judged the  Canadiens as being "devoid of history and literature" (Quebec History), he did hope and expect that his reforms would create greater opportunities for French Canadians.

However, in order to achieve this political, cultural and economic elevation, he believed they would have to speak English. The fact that he banished 8 patriotes to Bermuda, and forbid several others, including Louis Joseph Papineau, from returning to the country under threat of death obviously didn't help his popularity in Lower Canada, where he was denounced as a racist.

On the other hand, in Upper Canada, Durham's recommendation that the colonies be granted responsible government gained him enthusiastic recognition. 

Political opposition to Durham's "illegally" exiling Papineau and others meant he soon resigned as Governor-general and returned to England, where he made his report. Back in Britain, the Union Act was passed in 1841, but the "mother country" balked at granting responsible government, which was not achieved until 1848.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

William Lyon Mackenzie

Picture: Upper Canada History

William Lyon Mackenzie (1795-1861) was the grandfather of one of the nation's most famous Liberal PMs, William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Scotland-born, Mackenzie arrived in Upper Canada in 1820, and soon began to publish a newspaper called the Colonial Advocate in the city of York (later Toronto).

In this newspaper, and later as a politician, Mackenzie was a strong critic of the "family compact," an upper class clique that had control of the colonial government at the time.

In 1828, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada for the first time. Though he was expelled for libel a number of times, each time he was re-elected.

He became the first mayor of Toronto in 1834, and indeed the first mayor in the Province of Ontario and in that role he established the city's motto and coat of arms, and established various civic institutions. Instead of running for a second term, however, he ran for and was elected to the legislature at the end of his term.

In 1836 he founded another newspaper, The Constitution. His Reform party shared the popular discontent at the time with political patronage, land granting policies, and the routine favouring of recent immigrants from England.

The Reform party twice got control of the Legislative Assembly and in 1836 Lieutenant-governor Sir Francis Bond Head was sent out to quell the discontent in the House. However, the situation only got worse and in 1837 economic uncertainty and a resulting food shortage led to a crisis. At first, Mackenzie wanted to pressure the government by working with Lower Canada and boycotting imported goods.

But when Head sent troops to Lower Canada, Mackenzie was at the head of the Upper Canada rebels,
many of whom were Americans. The group met in a tavern and drafted a new US-style constitution for Upper Canada. However, this first rebellion lasted only four days. Afterwards, Mackenzie lived in exile in the US, where he wrote for the New York Tribune until he was pardoned. He returned to Canada in 1849 where once again he served in parliament and worked as a journalist.

Meanwhile, in 1837  in Lower Canada, Louis-Joseph Papineau had led a similar rebellion. In that province, however, much of the conflict was more between the French majority and the English minority, who did not want to be ruled by them.

After this trouble, Britain sent Lord Durham to report on the troubles, and he returned with the recommendation that the two Canadas be joined. More moderate leaders such as Baldwin and Lafountaine took the helm, the Province of Canada was created by the Act of Union in 1840, and Canada was finally on the road to responsible government.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Louis Joseph Papineau

Picture: the Canadian Encyclopedia

Louis-Joseph Papineau was born in Montreal in 1786. His father made money as a notary and in business; in 1802, he purchased a seigneury from the seminary of Quebec. In this way, the family rose to become part of what was called by Lafontaine the "family compact."

After his primary schooling, Papineau was sent to the College de Montreal, and after an altercation with the Sulpicians who ran the school, he continued his studies at Le Petit Seminaire de Quebec.

Papineau became a notary and, then a lawyer. His election to the assembly for the county of Kent in 1809 marked the beginning of a long political career.

At the time Papineau entered politics, French Canadian nationalism was rising. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, society was changing, and nationalists -- liberals, professionals, and small businessmen -- felt the need to defend traditional French Canadian institutions. English merchants and civil servants, as well as immigrant Americans, were seen as a threat.

Papineau joined the Parti Canadien and in 1815 was elected Speaker of the House of Assembly. When in 1822-3 the merchants' party wanted the Canadas unified, an idea much opposed in Lower Canada, Papineau went with John Nielsen to London to prevent this measure from being taken. Whether or not he deserved it, Papineau got the credit for quashing this bill.

In 1826 the party name was changed to the Patriote party, and it was within this party that conflict arose between more liberal and democratic reformers and Papineau's French Canadian nationalists, who defended institutions that were not particularly liberal or democratic.

In 1830, influenced by the ideas of  Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, Papineau spoke in favour of a Canadian republic, though he found it hard to reconcile this idea with his fondness for the seigneury which he had purchased from his father. A believer in the sacred right of property ownership, he was in effect a conservative, who supported the strong privileges of the church and clergy under the seigneurial system of French Canada. Ironically, the church perceived him as a dangerous liberal democrat, because of the liberal content of his political speeches.

He was hostile to commerce, no doubt in large part because the British were in control of the larger scale trading. Though in his early days he respected the British constitutional system, this admiration came to an end in later years, when he favoured the American way of doing things more. His involvement in the Rebellions of 1837 has been described as "ambiguous;" among other things, he destroyed documents and encouraged his subordinates to do the same.

After the second failed rebellion, Papineau left for France by way of New York, and stayed there until 1845, even though his wife had returned in 1843 and he himself had received amnesty the year before. Upon returning to Canada, he became involved in politics once more and fell into conflict with Lafontaine. For one thing, he absolutely opposed the union of the two Canadas, preferring the idea of annexing Lower Canada with America.

In 1871, he died in the Manor house he had earlier built for himself and his family at his seigneury at Montebello.

(Source: Fernand Ouellet)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Sir Guy Carleton

Picture: Citizenship and Immigration Canada

Sir Guy Carleton, the First Baron Dorchester, served as the Governor of Quebec between 1768 and 1778.

An Anglo-Irish soldier, he had a long military and political career. Born in County Tyrone in Ireland in 1724, he entered the military becoming a lieutenant- colonel in 1757.

A friend of James Wolfe, he served as a quartermaster in the Quebec campaign. Later he became the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec and in 1768, the Governor. During his tenure, he used his influence to conciliate the French seigneurs and the clergy as outlined in the Quebec Act of 1774.

In 1775-6, he helped to defeat the American invasion of Canada that occurred during the Revolutionary War.

During his term as the Governor General of British North America, a post he held between 1785 and 1795, he was, to a large degree, responsible for the passage of the Constitution Act (1791) which provided for the governance of Quebec by dividing it in two.

Following the American Revolution, many Loyalists had arrived in the colony, and to make governing the expanding and culturally diverse province manageable, the old Quebec was divided into the new provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. The former (eventually Ontario) would follow the British Common Law and remain under the Protestant church, and the latter (later Quebec) would live under French Civil Law and the Roman Catholic Church.

Though the Constitution Act also provided for representative assemblies in both colonies, the governor and executive council in each colony retained the real power. Although the institutions created by Carleton's administration did not allow for representative government, they did provide the early outlines that history would fill in later. Actually, it was this lack of representation that led to the rebellions of 1837 and 1838, and the dispatch of Lord Durham from England to look into the situation.

Sir Guy Carleton was married and had nine children. After governing British North America, he retired to England where he lived near Basingstoke in Hampshire and later at Maidenhead in Berkshire. He died in  1808 at the age of 84.


Carleton University in Ottawa is named after him, and so are many other educational institutions including an elementary school in Vancouver and a high school in Nepean, Ontario.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Marquis de Montcalm

Picture: Canadian Military Heritage

Louis-Joseph de Montcalm-Vozon, the Marquis de Saint- Veran is better known, at least, among English Canadians, as the Marquis de Montcalm.

He was born at Nimes, in France, and began his military life as a young boy. Montcalm later fought in the War of the Austrian Succession and was given a pension after being wounded and taken prisoner.

In 1756, he arrived in New France. His first military victory occurred when with the aid of Indian allies, he attacked Fort Oswego (New York side of Lake Ontario), taking guns and prisoners. The commander was killed and the fort destroyed. Following this battle, the Seneca and Oneida, two tribes from the Six Nations of the Iroquois confederacy, went over to the French side.

Though Montcalm expressed open disagreement with Governor-General Vaudreuil, he went on to attack and capture Fort William Henry (Champlain Valley, south of Fort Ticonderoga)*, and the following year, in 1758, he successfully defended Fort Carillon, on Lake Champlain, against the English.

Promoted to commander of all the military forces in Canada, Montcalm withdrew to Quebec, which he considered "unattackable." Wrongly, as it turned out. When Wolfe's troops arrived, Montcalm attacked late and unsuccessfully.

After giving Vaudreuil "a carte blanche to surrender" (Canada: a People's History), Montcalm died on the field at Quebec with his enemy James Wolfe. He was 47 years old.
***

*Fort Ticonderoga is featured in Outlander series, the outlandishly popular historic fiction series by bestselling author Diana Gabaldon

Saturday, January 5, 2013

General James Wolfe

Photo from Freemason's Grand Lodge of BC and Yukon

Though he was on the winning side, General James Wolfe, like his rival general,  the Marquis de Montcalm, died on the Plains of Abraham in 1759. The long struggle between British and French culminated in this decisive engagement at Quebec.

As is the case with nearly every war, the outcome of this battle cast long shadows on the political and cultural landscape that followed. It is well-known that the fall of Quebec, once the capital of the newly evolving nation, was a dark moment for French Canadians.

What is less talked about is the divided loyalties of the troops used by Wolfe to achieve a decisive victory for the British side.

Referring to this aspect of the history, the Scottish descendant and Canlit writer extraordinaire, Alistair MacLeod OC, titled his great sweeping novel of 20th century Canada No Great Mischief (1999), a phrase used by Wolfe in which he refers to his own Scots Highland soldiers as hardy and intrepid, but untrustworthy.

These men, ironically, were the first the very British Wolfe sent to scale the cliffs from the river to the Plains of Abraham, while their general below judged that it would be "no great mischief if they fall."

At the decisive battle for North America, Wolfe's army was smaller than Montcalm's by half. As mentioned in The Seven Years' War website, shortly before he fought the French at Quebec, Wolfe wrote to his mother that while Montcalm was at the head of many bad soldiers (many members of untrained militia), he, Wolfe, led a small number of good ones.

As the campaign dragged on, Wolfe was suffering from dysentery. Possibly worse, he did not get on with his military superiors, Viscount George Townshend and James Murray. According to a letter written by his aide-de-camp Mr. Bell in the summer, Wolfe also had some trouble from Colonel Guy Carleton, even though Wolfe had a 'particular regard' for him (ibid).

In the end, the day was won when Wolfe succeeded in capturing Quebec by employing a combination of surprise and subterfuge. He chose the battle site and predicted accurately how the French general would react to his tactics. As noted earlier, when the battle came, the general died in the field,. He was 32.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Weird afternoon fog hangs over the river

As the train crossed the river beneath a sunny blue sky, I managed to get this picture of the heavy scarf of mist that blanketed the water.

Yesterday was gloriously sunny; today we're back to our typical winter rain.

This was the SkyTrain bridge; on the nearby Port Mann, there was icy chaos -- again.

On the one hand, spoiled Vancouverites refuse to believe in winter, and frequently overdrive wintry conditions. On the other, we heard of these problems only on the one bridge -- again.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Winter parsley flourishes

Photo: a thriving crop of winter parsley waits beside the door.

What food can we make with so much parsley? Tabouleh salad perhaps, or boiled white beans with onions and parsley.

Or I could use it to flavour and garnish soup.

The trouble with parsley is that there is either too much of it, or none at all. At the moment, we're in surplus mode.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Polar bear swim

Photo by Darryl Dyck (AP/CP Huffpost)

They've plunged in each New Year's day for the past 93 years. This year, says the Vancouver Sun, the Polar Bear Swim attracted over 2200 participants and 20,000 fans.

Following a long tradition, some participants came in costume, and others took part in swim races. The weather was clear and cold -- well, cold by Vancouver standards. About 3 degrees Celsius in the air, and 7 in the water. At those temperatures, few spent more than five or ten minutes in the water. Some spend only a few seconds.

I was one of those. It was a similar day many years ago -- sunny and chilly, when I decided to do my own Polar Bear swim. But I didn't want to look for parking near the packed downtown beach and rush into the water with hundreds of others.

Instead, I recruited a friend to drive me to Kits Beach, near the Planetarium. While my friend waited with towels, a warm sweatsuit and a thermos of hot tea with brandy, I took my dip. It was very cold but I was glad I'd done it.Like many who took the plunge yesterday, I never did it again.

Still have a Polar Bear swim still on your bucket list? The City of Vancouver has some info and advice for you here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Crossing Bridges

Photo: CT December 25, 2012

On a rainy Christmas Day, it was a tame ride across the new Port Mann, the bridge that just a few days before dumped icy snumps on motorists, breaking windshields and denting vehicles.

The tower shows how, unlike with the Alex Fraser, the Golden Ears or the old Lions Gate, the cables pass over the heads of those crossing.

On the right, the familiar old span is still visible; eventually, it will be dismantled. Back in the 1960's, a friend of ours, an engineer now long retired, worked on that project. When the old bridge was new, I drove across it in a snowstorm, knuckles white all the way.

The theme this year is crossing bridges. We have already crossed one bridge into the time beyond the Mayan prophecies, feared by some, and celebrated by others as heralding a new world.

In a slightly more practical vein is the Italian proverb printed on my new 2013 "Crossing Bridges" calendar: "Mistakes are the usual bridges between inexperience and wisdom."

May this be a year of useful mistakes that lead to ever-increasing wisdom, and may all of us human beings and our world enjoy a New Year filled with the joys of adventure, learning and wonder.