Canada 1867-2017

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This week we celebrate the sesquicentennial of Canadian Confederation the only way we know how… heraldically! This post will trace the history of the identifying emblem of Canada from the seal of the United Provinces of Canada (1841-67), through the confederated coat of arms (1867-1921), to the royal arms we’re familiar with today.

Prior to 1867, “Canada” referred to a polity that had been created in 1841, out of the union of two previous entities, Upper Canada and Lower Canada. These two British colonies had had their own seals, and the seal of the United Province of Canada displayed these seals side-by-side. Here is an example of this United Province seal reproduced on a pin dish manufactured by Doulton & Co. in 1967. The seal of Lower Canada is on the left, and the seal of Upper Canada is on the right.

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A. & P. Vachon Collection, Canadian Museum of History. Reproduced by kind permission of Mr. Vachon.

This seal is also carved above a door to the East Block of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. Of course, the two seals of Upper Canada and Lower Canada were not nearly as important as the Royal Arms hanging over the whole thing, which represented the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland… and by extension everywhere else that the British had conquered.

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Photo: JG

The seal of Lower Canada (“Can. Inf.”) features an oak tree, a river and ships at anchor, and, in the distance, a town and church on a hill. The motto, “Ab ipso ducit opes animumque ferro,” can be rendered as “it derives power and courage from the steel itself” (from the Odes of Horace). (Earlier versions of this seal had a pruning knife on the ground. The idea is that the knife had been used to prune the oak tree, thus the tree’s sawed-off branch. This likely refers to the creation of Upper Canada, which was carved out of Quebec in 1791, leaving a rump state designated Lower Canada.) 

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Photo: JG

The seal of Upper Canada (“Can. Sup.”) features a calumet or peace pipe, with an anchor and a sword of state, all bound together by a crown of olives. Above this device is representation of the royal crown, and in the upper right hand corner is the Union Jack. Below it are two cornucopias. The text around the circle, “Imperi porrecta majestas custode rerum caesare,” can be translated as “The greatness of the empire is extended under the guardianship of the sovereign” (this is also from Horace). 

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Photo: JG

Both of these seals may be seen inside the Parliament buildings (near the entrance to the House of Commons if I remember correctly).

But throughout the Empire, the Royal Arms are what mattered the most. Since 1837, when Queen Victoria ascended the throne, they have existed in the form shown below. On the shield, the three gold lions on red represent England, the single red lion on gold represents Scotland, and the gold harp on blue represents Ireland. (England and Scotland are also represented, respectively, by the lion and unicorn supporters.) “Dieu et Mon Droit” (“God and my right”) is the motto of the British sovereign; “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense” (“Shame be to him who thinks ill of it”) is the motto of the Order of the Garter, England’s premier order of chivalry. (The deer, fish, water, and boats are all decorative. This rendition was done by Alexander Scott Carter and was part of a larger painting celebrating the silver jubilee of George V in 1935. It adorned the ceiling of the lobby of the head office of the Imperial Bank of Canada in Toronto until the 1960s, when the building was pulled down.) These arms were used extensively in colonial- and dominion-era Canada, and you can still see them here and there, especially in courthouses.

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Photo: Ted Hunt

On July 1, 1867 the first British North America Act went into effect. The Province of Canada was redivided and the new entities named Ontario and Quebec. But they were confederated, along with the colonies of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, in a new polity designated the Dominion of Canada.* This polity had its capital at Ottawa and enjoyed a sort of home rule status within the British Empire. Each of its constituent provinces was granted its own coat of arms, and the arms of the Dominion were simply these four coats of arms all combined on the same shield. Here it is in full colour; Ontario is in the top left, Quebec in the top right, Nova Scotia in the bottom left, and New Brunswick in the bottom right.

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Wikipedia.

You can see it on the Canada Gate at Buckingham Palace in London.

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Photo: Ron Good

On a monument to the Northwest Rebellion at Queen’s Park in Toronto.

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Photo: Bruce Patterson

And on the nineteenth-century letterhead of the Auditor General.

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Gift of Ron Good. Photo: JG

The Dominion of Canada, like the United States to its south, was expandable, and it wasn’t very long before other provinces joined Confederation. The first to do so, in 1871, was Manitoba, to the west of Ontario. And just as the US added a star to its flag with every new state, so also did Canada add a new coat of arms to its shield with every new province (although these arms could themselves change over time). A five-provinces shield may be seen on this Royal Canadian Insurance Company stock certificate, dated 1874. The arms of Manitoba, featuring a galloping buffalo, are in the bottom right. (The supporters, taken from the British Royal Arms, are unofficial, but I like the nineteenth-century custom of showing them leaping out from behind the shield.)

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Gift of Ron Good. Photo: JG

For some reason, this coat of arms appeared recently on the label of an Alsatian wine. My friend Rafal Heydel-Mankoo posted this to Facebook.

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Photo courtesy Rafal Heydel-Mankoo

In 1873, two more provinces – British Columbia and Prince Edward Island – joined Confederation, giving rise to a seven-quartered coat of arms. The lion, crown and leaves on the bottom left represented British Columbia until 1895; the trees on the bottom right are an early form of the arms of PEI.

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Gift of Ron Good. Photo: JG

Here is another rendition of the above, from a nineteenth-century butter keeper. The colours are a tad eccentric but we do see PEI’s motto, “Parva sub ingenti,” that is, “the small under the protection of the great,” from the Georgics of Virgil.

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Gift of Ron Good. Photo: JG

In 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan were added as provinces, bringing the total number to nine. But the plate below, although featuring nine sections, actually predates 1905. It shows, in the seventh and eighth spots, E.M. Chadwick‘s designs for the Northwest and Yukon Territories (this is before Alberta and Saskatchewan were carved out of the Northwest Territories). In the sixth spot, it also shows his design for the arms of Prince Edward Island, which had not yet received a proper grant of arms. The arms in the center, with the Union Jack and sun, represent British Columbia.

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Gift of Ron Good. Photo: JG

Below is a proper nine-provinces coat of arms, in use from 1907 to 1921, on display on the Dominion Express building on St. James’s Street in Montreal. You can notice certain changes: in the center, British Columbia’s arms now have the Union Jack above the sun, and on the bottom left, Prince Edward Island has reverted to its trees (now also with a lion). Alberta’s mountains are in the lower center, and Saskatchewan’s wheat sheaves are in the lower right. The supporters are decorative.

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Photo: JG

Here is a coloured version of the shield above, on the fly of the Canadian red ensign. (It seems as though there was no standard ordering of the quarters; in fact, the original four-provinces shield remained in common use throughout this period.)

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Wikipedia.

The trouble with a nine-quartered shield, of course, is that it is rather unwieldy. There were those who wanted to simplify it, and in the wake of the First World War that simplification took a certain British-patriotic form, emphasizing the ties that bound Canada to its metropole. Here is the full coat of arms as it was assigned in 1921.

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Gift of Ron Good. Photo: JG

I understand that the College of Arms was under orders from the Colonial Office to give the Canadians whatever they wanted – and what they wanted, at the time, was something that proclaimed a close association with the United Kingdom. So Canada’s Royal Arms ended up looking like a variant of the British Royal Arms, with identical quarters for England, Scotland, and Ireland. France (three gold fleurs de lys on blue) and Canada (three maple leaves on white) flesh out the design. The idea is that the top four quarters represent Canada’s “four founding races.” But Canada has always had more ethnic groups than the English, Scots, Irish and French – more importantly, the quarters displayed represent the royal arms of those particular places. Although Canada and the UK share a monarch, even in 1921 they were separate countries, and ideally we should not find lions and harps on Canada’s coat of arms, any more than we should find maple leaves (or kangaroos, or fern leaves, or proteas, or what not) on the royal arms of the UK.

But this is what we have got. At least a shield with five sections is simpler than a shield with nine. And it certainly looks classy! The motto, “A Mari Usque Ad Mare” (“From sea to sea,” from Psalm 72), is especially appropriate to Canada’s history and geography. Here it is carved above the doors of the Centre Block of the parliament buildings in Ottawa:

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Photo: JG

And here is the whole thing carved into the facade of Postal Station B in Ottawa:

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Photo: JG

Here is a numismatic rendition from the 1940s that I posted last year. I like how artist Kruger Gray has depicted a real compartment (actual ground for the supporters to stand on), and has omitted the motto, helmet, mantling and crest. This is an allowable artistic decision and nicely simplifies the composition.

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Photo: JG

For much of the twentieth century, Allan Beddoe’s rendition was standard, and appeared on the currency notes (shown is a detail of the one dollar bill that was in circulation between 1974 and 1989). The colour of the maple leaves at the bottom of the shield was undefined in 1921 – they were usually depicted as green, but in 1957 Prime Minister John Diefenbaker decreed they should be red, and thus they have remained.

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Photo: JG

In 1987, Canada Post released a stamp celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, featuring a handsome stylized version of the arms of Canada on a pinstriped background. I have in my possession a clipping of a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail (Toronto), taking issue with the torse – the red and white striped ribbon between the helmet and the lion above the shield. The correspondent points out that the white, not the red, stripe is supposed to be on the left. (This is true, but of all the things that can go wrong in heraldic art, not that big a deal, in my opinion.)

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Scan: JG

Since 1995, the standard rendition of the arms of Canada has been by Cathy Bursey-Sabourin, who serves as Fraser Herald at the Canadian Heraldic Authority. The main substantive difference is the addition of the motto-circlet of the Order of Canada around the shield, bearing the legend “Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam” (that is, “desiring a better country”). I like how she has rendered the mantling on either side of the helmet as ten maple leaves, one for each province (Newfoundland joined confederation in 1949).

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Wikipedia

Here is a rendition of these arms on the Government Conference Centre in Ottawa. The famed Chateau Laurier hotel can be seen in the reflection.

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Photo: JG

What does the future hold for Canada’s coat of arms? My friend D’Arcy Boulton argued in the 1970s that it ought to be the three maple leaves alone, and I agree with him. (I would also substitute a proper compartment for the rose-thistle-shamrock-lily “bouquet” one normally sees beneath the shield, which is insubstantial and repeats the notion that Canada had four founding races.) A coat of arms blazoned Argent three maple leaves conjoined in one stem Gules would, like the current flag of Canada, be simple, accurate, and inclusive of all Canadians.

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“The Lesser Armorial Achievement of the Dominion of Canada… with motto and plant-badge.” From D’Arcy Jonathan Dacre Boulton, “The ‘Arms of Canada’: An Analysis,” Heraldry in Canada 8, no. 2 (June, 1974): 5-14. Drawing (by Boulton) at 12.

But as with anything symbolic, it would take a huge amount of political will to get it changed.

In the meantime, let us celebrate 150 years of confederation! Yay Canada!

(For further reading, see web pages by Hubert de Vries and Auguste Vachon. Conrad Swan’s Canada: Symbols of Sovereignty [U. of Toronto Press, 1977] is also very good.)

* Regarding the word “Dominion”: Canada is a monarchy, but officially it is not the Kingdom of Canada but the Dominion of Canada. The reason for this moniker, apparently, is that when the British North America Act went into effect in 1867, the British and Canadians were worried about annoying the United States with any forthright assertions of monarchy and so chose “dominion” as a euphemism, from Psalm 72:8: “He shall have dominion from sea to sea.” (The sentiment also appears in Zachariah 9:10, “His dominion shall be from sea even unto sea”). This verse also provided Canada with its motto, and “dominion” turned out to be a useful title, denoting home-rule status in the British Empire, later granted to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland, even if Australia was known officially as the Commonwealth of Australia, South Africa the Union of South Africa, and Ireland the Irish Free State.

You would never know that Canada was a dominion from anything official, however. Two alleged problems exist with the title: “Dominion” does not exist as a French word (the two Biblical verses are “il dominera de la mer à la mer” and “sa domination ira de la mer à la mer”), and it reeks of a colonial junior partnership. But neither complaint is valid. Yes, “dominion” didn’t exist in French in 1867, but surely there has been enough time for it to become domesticated in that language – I have found it in several French dictionaries in its precise sense of “self-governing country in the British Empire following the Canadian model.” Under the influence of French, “surveil” is now an English verb, and “imaginary” an English noun – surely we can allow some influence in the opposite direction?! “Dominion” need not connote an undesirable political situation either. It is true that, on account of the Statute of Westminster (1931) and the Constitution Act (1982), Canada now enjoys a lot more than “home rule,” but there is no reason why Canada cannot still be a “Dominion” – it was the original Dominion, after all, and as long as it is ruled by the Queen (or King) of Canada, the title is surely appropriate.

Addendum: there is a story behind the sesquicentennial logo at the top of this post. In 2013 the government announced a short list of five potential sesquicentennial logos, none of which was very inspired. In response, a group of Canadian designers announced their own list, which included some real gems (click and see). The government then announced a contest and selected the winning entry, by a nineteen-year-old digital art student, in 2015. This did not go over well with the professionals. (I think they’re right on some level, but the winner was better than the original five, for sure.)

Juneteenth

In 2013, PBS aired a six-part documentary entitled The African-Americans: Many Rivers to Crossnarrated by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. I have not seen any of the episodes but I did just discover the blog for the series, 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro (taken from the title of a book published in 1934 by one J.A. Rodgers). The posts are all most interesting (even amazing!); of immediate relevance is yesterday’s entry on “Juneteenth.”

The First Juneteenth

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865

When Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued the above order, he had no idea that, in establishing the Union Army’s authority over the people of Texas, he was also establishing the basis for a holiday, “Juneteenth” (“June” plus “nineteenth”), today the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States. After all, by the time Granger assumed command of the Department of Texas, the Confederate capital in Richmond had fallen; the “Executive” to whom he referred, President Lincoln, was dead; and the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was well on its way to ratification.

But Granger wasn’t just a few months late. The Emancipation Proclamation itself, ending slavery in the Confederacy (at least on paper), had taken effect two-and-a-half years before, and in the interim, close to 200,000 black men had enlisted in the fight. So, formalities aside, wasn’t it all over, literally, but the shouting?

It would be easy to think so in our world of immediate communication, but as Granger and the 1,800 bluecoats under him soon found out, news traveled slowly in Texas. Whatever Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered in Virginia, the Army of the Trans-Mississippi had held out until late May, and even with its formal surrender on June 2, a number of ex-rebels in the region took to bushwhacking and plunder.

That’s not all that plagued the extreme western edge of the former Confederate states. Since the capture of New Orleans in 1862, slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana and other points east had been migrating to Texas to escape the Union Army’s reach. In a hurried re-enactment of the original Middle Passage, more than 150,000 slaves had made the trek west, according to historian Leon Litwack in his book Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of SlaveryAs one former slave he quotes recalled, “It looked like everybody in the world was going to Texas.”

When Texas fell and Granger dispatched his now famous order No. 3, it wasn’t exactly instant magic for most of the Lone Star State’s 250,000 slaves. On plantations, masters had to decide when and how to announce the news — or wait for a government agent to arrive — and it was not uncommon for them to delay until after the harvest. Even in Galveston city, the ex-Confederate mayor flouted the Army by forcing the freed people back to work, as historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner details in her comprehensive essay, “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory,” in Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas.

Those who acted on the news did so at their peril. As quoted in Litwack’s book, former slave Susan Merritt recalled, “‘You could see lots of niggers hangin’ to trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom, ’cause they cotch ’em swimmin’ ’cross Sabine River and shoot ’em.’ ” In one extreme case, according to Hayes Turner, a former slave named Katie Darling continued working for her mistress another six years (She “whip me after the war jist like she did ’fore,” Darling said).

Hardly the recipe for a celebration — which is what makes the story of Juneteenth all the more remarkable. Defying confusion and delay, terror and violence, the newly “freed” black men and women of Texas, with the aid of the Freedmen’s Bureau (itself delayed from arriving until September 1865), now had a date to rally around. In one of the most inspiring grassroots efforts of the post-Civil War period, they transformed June 19 from a day of unheeded military orders into their own annual rite, “Juneteenth,” beginning one year later in 1866.

“The way it was explained to me,” one heir to the tradition is quoted in Hayes Turner’s essay, “the 19th of June wasn’t the exact day the Negro was freed. But that’s the day they told them that they was free… And my daddy told me that they whooped and hollered and bored holes in trees with augers and stopped it up with [gun] powder and light and that would be their blast for the celebration.”

Other Contenders

There were other available anniversaries for celebrating emancipation, to be sure, including the following:

* Sept. 22: the day Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation Order in 1862

* Jan. 1: the day it took effect in 1863

* Jan. 31: the date the 13th Amendment passed Congress in 1865, officially abolishing the institution of slavery

* Dec. 6: the day the 13th Amendment was ratified that year

* April 3: the day Richmond, Va., fell

* April 9: the day Lee surrendered to Ulysses Grant at Appomattox, Va.

* April 16: the day slavery was abolished in the nation’s capital in 1862

* May 1: Decoration Day, which, as David Blight movingly recounts in Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memorythe former slaves of Charleston, S.C., founded by giving the Union war dead a proper burial at the site of the fallen planter elite’s Race Course

* July 4: America’s first Independence Day, some “four score and seven years” before President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation

Each of these anniversaries has its celebrants today. Each has also had its share of conflicts and confusion. July 4 is compelling, of course, but it was also problematic for many African Americans, since the country’s founders had given in on slavery and their descendants had expanded it through a series of failed “compromises,” at the nadir of which Frederick Douglass had made his own famous declaration to the people of Rochester, N.Y., on July 5, 1852: “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity.”

Read the whole thing, and the other entries.

Loonie

The National Post takes a stroll down memory lane. I’ve added some boldface for the parts that I found amusing and/or personally remember:

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Canadian one dollar coin now known as the “loonie.” In a celebratory statement, the Royal Canadian Mint boasted that their loonie had “found its way into our hearts” and was “welcomed” by 1987 Canadians.

That “into our hearts” part may be true, but over three decades we have forgotten just how hated the coin was at its birth. After all, the word “loonie” isn’t something that people typically append to something they love. Below, some of the darker secrets of our iconic 11-sided coin.

We had no choice
Many aspects of modern Canadian life were adopted grudgingly simply because the government told us to. We didn’t like learning the metric system, we weren’t too happy about official bilingualism and we certainly didn’t want a dollar coin. More than a year after the loonie’s introduction, polls were showing support for the coin as low as 39 per cent. “Nobody wants to carry coin. Do you know how heavy that would be on a tray? All the waitresses will have to start lifting weights,” Ontario waitress Lisa Vorkapich told the Windsor Star in 1987. Similarly, the U.S. had featured some version of a dollar coin since 1971 — but the American public has consistently refused to abandon their convenient and beloved $1 notes. In Canada, authorities decided that the best solution was to refuse to give Canadians a choice to hold onto their bills. As soon as loonies were in circulation, $1 notes were phased out and shredded as quickly as possible.

Using the loonie has secretly cost Canadians a hidden tax of about $200 million
The whole reason Canada replaced its $1 bill with a coin was as a cost saving measure. Coins last longer, went the reasoning, so it would save Canada the expense of having to reprint its $1 bills every few years. But this ignores a curious phenomenon with coins. Banknotes get spent almost immediately, whereas coins get stashed into jars and piggy banks, where they can remain out of circulation for months on end. To compensate for all these sock drawer loonies and keep enough dollars in circulation, Canada had to strike roughly two coins for every dollar bill it phased out. This worked out to about 300 million more loonies than there were dollar bills — which meant a revenue windfall for the Canadian government. A loonie is just a 30 cent metal disk after all, and since 1987 it has added up to about $200 million in extra revenue for the federal government.

“Loonie” was a term of derision
Outside Canada, it is still occasionally a source of giggles when people find out that we named our dollar with a synonym for “crazy” or “folly” (for context, the experience is similar to discovering that Vietnam calls its national currency the “đồng”). And for the dollar-coin-hating 1987 public, a ridiculous name was part of the point. “‘Loonie’ wasn’t the warm fuzzy word that it’s turned into now,” Bret Evans, editor of Canadian Coin News, told the National Post in 2012. It also helped that the word “loonie” rhymed with the name of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, allowing coin-haters to focus their derision on the “Mulroney Loonie.”

The coin’s original design — a canoe — was lost under extremely suspicious circumstances
To find a design for their new coin, the Royal Canadian Mint simply grabbed the motif from an existing one-dollar coin that had been minted in small quantities ever since the 1930s. Thus, the new coin would featured the time-tested image of a French-Canadian voyageur and an Aboriginal man piloting a canoe. But here’s where it gets weird: To save $43.50 on the cost of hiring an armoured truck, the Royal Canadian Mint entrusted a regular courier company to take the coin dies to Winnipeg. In an even bigger security oversight, the two dies were packaged together and even placed in a box clearly labeled “Royal Canadian Mint.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the dies disappeared in transit. Presumably, they’re still out there somewhere.

There’s more at the link. Of course, as with all coins these days, there now is a different design every year, in honor of something or other.

Heligoland

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Heligoland coat of arms. Wikipedia.

From the National Post:

‘Blow the bloody place up’: Why, 70 years ago, Britain blew up an entire German island

In 1947, Britain had a problem. It had thousands of tonnes of explosives left over from the Second World War. And it also had a German island in the North Sea that it hated.

So, 70 years ago this week, the Royal Navy enacted an elegant solution: Use the explosives to blow the island to hell.

“Blow the bloody place up,” was reportedly the instructions given to F.T. Woosnam, the British naval engineer tasked with making the island of Heligoland disappear.

The preparation wasn’t overly technical.

For nearly a year, crews had simply stacked up more than 7,000 tonnes of old munitions and wired them together: Depth charges, old torpedoes, boxes of grenades and stacks of aerial bombs.

Photos from the era show crews nonchalantly kicking dismantled torpedoes into large heaps.

The resulting April 19 explosion, triggered with the push of a button by a sharply dressed naval commander, not only shattered every vestige of human habitation on the island — but permanently altered the topography of the place.

The United Kingdom had plenty of reasons to hate Heligoland. For starters, the island had once been part of the British Empire after it was captured during the Napoleonic Wars.

But finding no use for a windy outcrop filled with vacationers, in 1890 London handed it over to the newly formed German Empire in exchange for the African island of Zanzibar.

To the Brits’ chagrin, the Germans then proceeded to spend two world wars using Heligoland as a fortress from which to attack the U.K.

The island was the site of the first naval battle of the First World War, and the first major aerial battle of the Second World War. In both conflicts, it was a key forward base for submarines looking to starve the U.K. into submission.

After the first war in 1918, the victorious Allies had simply ordered the island to be demilitarized.

But when that clearly hadn’t worked, the victors of another war settled on a backup plan: Detonate the place so severely that it could never again be used for military purposes.

“A very reasonable way of celebrating Hitler’s birthday,” proclaimed the narrator of British newsreel documenting the destruction.

Then, just for good measure, the Royal Air Force spent the rest of the 1940s using Heligoland as a target site for their bombers.

Only in 1952 were Heligolanders allowed to move back.

Why the Brits didn’t just keep it I do not know. I seem to remember that the place played a role in the John Malkovich movie Shadow of the Vampire (2000). Click on the link to read more and to see newsreel footage of the explosion.

Vimy Ridge

The Battle of Vimy Ridge, which took place 100 years ago this coming week, represented an allied victory over the Germans during the First World War. In particular, according to Canadian historian Pierre Berton, it marked the moment when Canada “truly emerged as a nation” – the four Canadian divisions coming together to take a fortified knoll outside Givenchy-en-Gohell and capture some 4000 prisoners. Wikipedia suggests that the nation-building story only came about during the latter part of the twentieth century (i.e. during the 1960s, when the Liberals were trying to downplay Canada’s British connection). Be that as it may, it is clear that the battle, as a rare victory in an otherwise disastrous and pointless war, has become important to Canada’s psyche. The British commanding officer, Field Marshall Julian Byng (elevated to the peerage in 1919 as Baron Byng of Vimy) was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1921, and Vimy Ridge was one of the eight sites granted to Canada for the construction of memorials; Walter Seymour Allward’s winning design was opened by King Edward VIII in 1936.

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Wikipedia.

And check out the Vimy 100 page at the National Post, whose current top story relates the news that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and 25,000 other Canadians are headed to France for ceremonies marking the centenary.

UPDATE: Dartblog covers Vimy Ridge also. Check out the photo of the current $20 bill and the link to Coach’s Corner.

UPDATE: This morning I discovered my Vimy pin. These appeared in the wake of the refurbishment of the monument in 2007.

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Gift of Ron Good.

I also noticed that Mike Babcock was wearing one last night as his team made the playoffs for the first time since 2013. (I don’t know why he wasn’t smiling more).

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Apparently the Vimy pin is now “April’s poppy,” according to the Vimy Foundation website. It proceeds to explain that:

The four coloured boxes represent the four Canadian divisions which fought together for the first time on April 9, 1917 at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The red represents the First Division, the dark blue the Second Division, the grey-blue the Third Division, and the green the Fourth Division. The order of the ribbon’s colours (left to right) reflects the positioning of the four Canadian Divisions facing the German defences on the day of the battle.

Ides of March

An amusing bit of fake news from Tom MacMaster on this day:

Despite Melania’s wish, Trump is currently en route to an emergency meeting in the Senate and has dispensed with his security detail…

Zimmerman Telegram

Notice of a significant anniversary from the BBC:

Why was the Zimmermann Telegram so important?

By Gordon Corera
Security correspondent

Tuesday marks the 100th anniversary of a remarkable success for British intelligence: but one that involved spying on the United States and then conspiring with its senior officials to manipulate public opinion in America.

On the morning of 17 January 1917, Nigel de Grey walked into his boss’s office in Room 40 of the Admiralty, home of British code-breakers.
It was obvious to Reginald “Blinker” Hall that his subordinate was excited.

“Do you want to bring America into the war?” de Grey asked.

The answer was obvious. Everyone knew that America entering World War One to fight the Germans would help break the stalemate.

“Yes, my boy. Why?” Hall answered.

“I’ve got something here which – well, it’s a rather astonishing message which might do the trick if we could use it,” de Grey said.

The previous day, the German foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann, had sent a message to the German ambassador to Washington.

The message used a code that had been largely cracked by British code-breakers, the forerunners of those who would later work at Bletchley Park.

Zimmermann had sent instructions to approach the Mexican government with what seems an extraordinary deal: if it was to join any war against America, it would be rewarded with the territories of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

“This may be a very big thing, possibly the biggest thing in the war. For the present, not a soul outside this room is to be told anything at all,” Hall said after reading it.

Part of the problem was how the message had been obtained.

German telegraph cables passing through the English Channel had been cut at the start of the War by a British ship.

So Germany often sent its messages in code via neutral countries.

Germany had convinced President Wilson in the US that keeping channels of communication open would help end the War, and so the US agreed to pass on German diplomatic messages from Berlin to its embassy in Washington.

The message – which would become known as the Zimmermann Telegram – had been handed, in code, to the American Embassy in Berlin at 15:00 on Tuesday 16 January.

The American ambassador had queried the content of such a long message and been reassured it related to peace proposals.

By that evening, it was passing through another European country and then London before being relayed to the State Department in Washington.

From there, it would eventually arrive at the German embassy on 19 January to be decoded and then recoded and sent on via a commercial Western Union telegraphic office to Mexico, arriving the same day.

Thanks to their interception capability process, Britain’s code-breakers were reading the message two days before the intended recipients (although they initially could not read all of it).

A coded message about attacking the US was actually passed along US diplomatic channels.

And Britain was spying on the US and its diplomatic traffic (something it would continue to do for another quarter of a century).

The cable was intelligence gold-dust and could be used to persuade America to join the War.

But how could Britain use it – when to do so would reveal both that they were breaking German codes and that they had obtained the message by spying on the very country it was hoping to become its ally?

Find out at the link.

Martin Luther

From the Economist, via Tim Furnish:

How Martin Luther has shaped Germany for half a millennium

The 500th anniversary of the 95 theses finds a country as moralistic as ever

SET foot in Germany this year and you are likely to encounter the jowly, dour portrait of Martin Luther. With more than 1,000 events in 100 locations, the whole nation is celebrating the 500th anniversary of the monk issuing his 95 theses and (perhaps apocryphally) pinning them to the church door at Wittenberg. He set in motion a split in Christianity that would forever change not just Germany, but the world.

At home, Luther’s significance is no longer primarily theological. After generations of secularisation, not to mention decades of official atheism in the formerly communist east (which includes Wittenberg), Germans are not particularly religious. But the Reformation was not just about God. It shaped the German language, mentality and way of life. For centuries the country was riven by bloody confessional strife; today Protestants and Catholics are each about 30% of the population. But after German unification in the 19th century, Lutheranism won the culture wars. “Much of what used to be typically Protestant we today perceive as typically German,” says Christine Eichel, author of “Deutschland, Lutherland”, a book about Luther’s influence.

Click on the link to see if you agree.

Professor Buzzkill

In honor of the feast of St. Francis, a podcast debunking several myths about him, by my friend Bill Campbell. The teaser:

St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most popular saints in the Christian religion. He’s known as a lover of animals, the first eco-warrior, and a peace-negotiator during the crusades. How much of this is true, and how much is myth? “Make me the instrument of your buzzkilling!”

Le Sacre du Printemps

It’s over three years old now, but I missed it at the time: a significant anniversary noticed in The Verge:

100 years ago today, ‘The Rite of Spring’ incited a riot in a Paris theater

It began with a bassoon and ended in a brawl.

One hundred years ago today, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky debuted The Rite of Spring before a packed theater in Paris, with a ballet performance that would go down as one of the most important — and violent — in modern history.

Today, The Rite is widely regarded as a seminal work of modernism — a frenetic, jagged orchestral ballet that boldly rejected the ordered harmonies and comfort of traditional composition. The piece would go on to leave an indelible mark on jazz, minimalism, and other contemporary movements, but to many who saw it on that balmy evening a century ago, it was nothing short of scandalous.

Details surrounding the events of May 29th, 1913 remain hazy. Official records are scarce, and most of what is known is based on eyewitness accounts or newspaper reports. To this day, experts debate over what exactly sparked the incident — was it music or dance? publicity stunt or social warfare? — though most agree on at least one thing: Stravinsky’s grand debut ended in mayhem and chaos.

The tumult began not long after the ballet’s opening notes — a meandering and eerily high-pitched bassoon solo that elicited laughter and derision from many in the audience. The jeers became louder as the orchestra progressed into more cacophonous territory, with its pounding percussion and jarring rhythms escalating in tandem with the tensions inside the recently opened Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

Things reached a near-fever pitch by the time the dancers took the stage, under the direction of famed choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky of the Ballets Russes. Dressed in whimsical costumes, the dancers performed bizarre and violent moves, eschewing grace and fluidity for convulsive jerks that mirrored the work’s strange narrative of pagan sacrifice. Onstage in Paris, the crowd’s catcalls became so loud that the ballerinas could no longer hear the orchestra, forcing Nijinsky to shout out commands from backstage.

A scuffle eventually broke out between two factions in the audience, and the orchestra soon found itself under siege, as angry Parisians hurled vegetables and other objects toward the stage. It’s not clear whether the police were ever dispatched to the theater, though 40 people were reportedly ejected. Remarkably, the performance continued to completion, though the fallout was swift and brutal.

More at the link and, if you’re interested, in Modris Eksteins’s wonderful book Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (1989).