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.)

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.

British North America

Courtesy Ron Good, an article from the New Yorker sure to gin up controversy:

WE COULD HAVE BEEN CANADA

Was the American Revolution such a good idea?

And what if it was a mistake from the start? The Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, the creation of the United States of America—what if all this was a terrible idea, and what if the injustices and madness of American life since then have occurred not in spite of the virtues of the Founding Fathers but because of them? The Revolution, this argument might run, was a needless and brutal bit of slaveholders’ panic mixed with Enlightenment argle-bargle, producing a country that was always marked for violence and disruption and demagogy. Look north to Canada, or south to Australia, and you will see different possibilities of peaceful evolution away from Britain, toward sane and whole, more equitable and less sanguinary countries. No revolution, and slavery might have ended, as it did elsewhere in the British Empire, more peacefully and sooner. No “peculiar institution,” no hideous Civil War and appalling aftermath. Instead, an orderly development of the interior—less violent, and less inclined to celebrate the desperado over the peaceful peasant. We could have ended with a social-democratic commonwealth that stretched from north to south, a near-continent-wide Canada….

Justin du Rivage’s “Revolution Against Empire” (Yale) re-situates the Revolution not as a colonial rebellion against the mother country but as one episode in a much larger political quarrel that swept the British Empire in the second half of the eighteenth century. Basically, du Rivage thinks that the American Revolution wasn’t American. The quarrels that took place in New York and Philadelphia went on with equal ferocity, and on much the same terms, in India and England, and though they got settled by force of arms and minds differently in each place, it was the same struggle everywhere. “Radicalism flourished in Boston, Bristol, and Bengal, while fears of disorder and licentiousness provoked rural elites in both the Hudson Valley and the English shires,” du Rivage writes. “As radical Whigs gained strength in North America, the political culture of the British Empire became increasingly Janus-faced.”

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: The author asks:

Why is it that, until now, the Civil War cast such a long, bitter shadow, while the Revolution was mostly reimagined as a tale of glory? One reason, too easily overlooked, is that, while many of those who made the Civil War were killed during it, including the Union Commander-in-Chief, none of the makers of the Revolution died fighting in it. The Founding Fathers had rolled the dice and put their heads on the line, but theirs was the experience of eluding the bullet, and, as Churchill said, there is nothing so exhilarating as being shot at without result. Of how many revolutions can it be said that nearly all its makers died in their beds? In the American Revolution, the people who suffered most were not the people who benefitted most, and the lucky ones wrote most of the story. Like everything in history, amnesia has its own causality.

I would go further and suggest that the postwar settlements had a lot to do with it. Former Loyalists were expelled from the new American republic; a lot of them moved to Canada, leaving behind a more ideologically uniform country. The Civil War saw the attempted secession of eleven American states. This attempt failed, but there were simply too many former Confederates to expel them all – reintegrating them into the Union became a priority, at the price of allowing them to wax nostalgic about their Lost Cause for all time.

Fenian Raids!

An article in the National Post today revisits a somewhat-forgotten chapter in Canadian history: the Fenian raids of the 1860s and 70s. These were conducted by the Fenian Brotherhood, a group of American-based Irish republicans who attacked Canada (at the time either a British colony or a dominion of the British empire) in the hopes that they could exchange it for Irish independence. (The title, as many commenters point out, is silly. Just because Osama bin Laden was a Saudi citizen does not mean that Saudi Arabia attacked the United States on 9/11.)

Ireland likes to brag that they’ve never invaded anyone. Too bad they invaded Canada

In 2015, Ireland’s justice minister Frances Fitzgerald attended a Dublin citizenship ceremony and proudly told 73 people that they were now citizens of a country that didn’t invade things.

“Ireland has never invaded any other land, never sought to enslave or occupy,” she told the crowd of newly-minted Irish.

It’s a uniquely Irish boast. On a continent jam-packed with invaders, the Emerald Isle is known to count itself as one of the few that has resisted the urge to charge onto foreign soil and plant a flag or two.

Too bad it’s not true.

Go back 150 years to the frontiers of Canada, and you’ll find no shortage of armed, rowdy, top-hatted militants who would beg to differ that they weren’t an invading army of Irishmen.

“Canada … would serve as an excellent base of operations against the enemy; and its acquisition did not seem too great an undertaking,” wrote Irish nationalist John O’Neill, an architect of what are now known as the Fenian Raids.

The plan was simple: Take a bunch of Irish veterans of the American Civil War, take over Canada and then tell Queen Victoria she could have it back in exchange for an independent Ireland.

That, or the whole thing would just be a good chance to shoot up some relatively undefended British land.

The wildly optimistic planners of the scheme figured they would only need about two weeks to take over Kingston, Toronto and the other major centers of what is now Southern Ontario.

From there, they would commandeer some ships, slap together a navy, sail up the St. Lawrence and demand the surrender of Quebec. Then, once the Atlantic Coast was swarming with Irish privateers, the English would have to deal.

The invasion’s organizers, the Fenian Brotherhood, even began funding the effort by selling bonds that would be promptly repaid by a future Irish Republic.

But like most rebellions throughout Irish history, the “invade Canada” scheme was big on romance but very deficient in strategic planning.

Although the Fenian Brotherhood had envisioned vast columns of battle-hardened Irish-Americans streaming into Canada, their peak showing was only about 1000. Of those, many forgot to bring guns, and many more deserted as soon as they hit Canadian soil.

All told, Fenian conquests added up little more than brief occupations of a customs house, some hills, a few villages and Fort Erie.

More at the link, and at Wikipedia.

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.

Disasters

• What caused the Bronze Age Collapse? Eric Cline, author of 1177, gives an interview about it:

The urge to find a single explanation as the cause for such calamitous events seems to come from a modern human need for an easy explanation as often as possible. Certainly some of the members of the general public who have left reviews of my book on Amazon seem to want that still, and are miffed that I even-handedly go through the evidence and then conclude that there isn’t a simple solution. I actually think that it is far more interesting to delve into a multi-causal explanation, because in this case Occam’s Razor (that the simplest solution is the most likely) just won’t cut it. Although I think it seemed very logical to early scholars like Gaston Maspero and others to blame the Sea Peoples, they originally formulated that hypothesis based on Ramses III’s inscription at Medinet Habu and not much else. But, it has long been clear that it took much more than a single cause to bring down the Bronze Age civilizations. As you point out, the mere fact that the inland empires like Kassite Babylonia, Elam, and Assyria also declined shows that we can’t just blame the Sea Peoples for everything, much as one might want to do so.

Thus, my main thesis is that there must have been a ‘perfect storm’ of calamitous events at that turning point in order to cause the Late Bronze Age civilizations to collapse shortly after 1200 BC. There is both direct and circumstantial evidence that there was climate change, drought and famine, earthquakes, invasions and internal rebellions, all at that approximate time. Of these, I would rank them in that specific order of importance: climate change; drought and famine; earthquakes; invaders; and internal rebellions. Although human beings have survived such catastrophes time and again when they come individually, such as rebuilding after an earthquake or living through a drought, what if they all occurred at once, or in quick succession?

• From the National Post:

Everyone was dead: When Europeans first came to British Columbia, they stepped into the aftermath of a holocaust

Everywhere they looked, there were corpses. Abandoned, overgrown villages were littered with skulls; whole sections of coastline strewn with bleached, decayed bodies.

“The skull, limbs, ribs and backbones, or some other vestiges of the human body, were found in many places, promiscuously scattered about the beach in great numbers,” wrote explorer George Vancouver in what is now Port Discovery, Wash.

It was May 1792. The lush environs of the Georgia Strait had once been among the most densely populated corners of the land that is now Canada, with humming villages, harbours swarming with canoes and valleys so packed with cookfires that they had smog.

But the Vancouver Expedition experienced only eerie quiet….

“News reached them from the east that a great sickness was travelling over the land, a sickness that no medicine could cure, and no person escape,” said a man identified as Old Pierre, a member of what is now the Katzie First Nation in Pitt Meadows, B.C.

After an emergency meeting, the doomed forebears of the Katzie decided to face the coming catastrophe with as much grace as they could muster: Every adult returned to the home of their parents to wait for the end.

“Then the wind carried the smallpox sickness among them. Some crawled away into the woods to die; many died in their homes,” Old Pierre told the anthropologist Diamond Jenness in 1936.

• Just over one hundred years ago, the steamer Eastland overturned in the Chicago River, killing some 800 people. From the History Channel website:

The disaster was caused by serious problems with the boat’s design, which were known but never remedied.

The Eastland was owned by the St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company and made money ferrying people from Chicago to picnic sites on the shores of Lake Michigan. When the Eastland was launched in 1903, it was designed to carry 650 passengers, but major construction and retrofitting in 1913 supposedly allowed the boat to carry 2,500 people. That same year, a naval architect presciently told officials that the boat needed work, stating unless structural defects are remedied to prevent listing, there may be a serious accident.

On July 24, employees of Western Electric Company were heading to an annual picnic. About 7,300 people arrived at 6 a.m. at the dock between LaSalle and Clark streets to be carried out to the site by five steamers. While bands played, much of the crowd—perhaps even more than the 2,500 people allowed—boarded the Eastland. Some reports indicate that the crowd may also have all gathered on one side of the boat to pose for a photographer, thus creating an imbalance on the boat. In any case, engineer Joseph Erikson opened one of the ballast tanks, which holds water within the boat and stabilizes the ship, and the Eastland began tipping precariously.

Some claim that the crew of the boat jumped back to the dock when they realized what was happening. What is known for sure is that the Eastlandcapsized right next to the dock, trapping hundreds of people on or underneath the large ship. Rescuers quickly attempted to cut through the hull with torches, allowing them to pull out 40 people alive. More than 800 others perished. Police divers pulled up body after body, causing one diver to break down in a rage. The city sent workers out with a large net to prevent bodies from washing out into the lake. Twenty-two entire families died in the tragedy.

John Diefenbaker

From the National Post, re: John Diefenbaker, Prime Minister of Canada 1957-63:

The bizarre reason John Diefenbaker is entombed in concrete: He was afraid enemies would steal his corpse

There’s only one definite way to figure out if John Diefenbaker really did father illegitimate children; dig him up, extract a DNA sample and perform a paternity test.

It’s unlikely that any judge would allow the exhumation of an official National Historic Person. But there’s another, more technical, barrier at play: John Diefenbaker cannot be exhumed.

After the 13th Prime Minister was consigned to the earth on August 22, 1979, the coffins of he and his wife Olive were then covered over with a healthy layer of wet cement — at least according to one account of his life and well-choreographed funeral.

In the 1995 book Trumpets and Drums, Diefenbaker associate Dick Spencer wrote that “the final service rendered Dief by Saskatoon funeral attendants was the pouring of wet cement into his grave, around and onto the casket below.”

Spencer’s description remains one of the only surviving accounts of the unusual measure.

The reason, according to the book, was that Diefenbaker was worried about having his body stolen. Specifically, he had been spooked by an 1876 criminal plot to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body that was foiled at the last minute by an undercover Secret Service agent.

After that, Honest Abe was interred in a steel cage encased by concrete.

“What many weren’t aware of was the Chief’s fascination with Abraham Lincoln’s rites,” wrote Spencer.

“Lincoln had been so protected in his final resting place. Dief requested, and was given, the same precaution.”

More at the link.

Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion

My friend Bruce Patterson sends me a blog post about the Canadian Cyclist Corps in the First World War.

The Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion was formed from the Canadian Divisional Cyclist Companies and existed from May 1916 until the battalion was disbanded on 15 November 1920.  Ironically, the “gas-pipe cavalry” was done-in by peace and not war.  As has been outlined in other historical texts, the Cyclists were an instrumental unit of Brigadier-General Raymond Brutinel’s “Independent Force” (also known as the Canadian Automobile Machine Gun Brigade or simply “Brutinel’s Brigade”) in the 100-Day offensive which brought about the conclusion of the First World War, and the Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion distinguished themselves in the offensive.  Today, the Intelligence Branch of the Canadian Armed Forces perpetuates the Canadian Cyclists as they were originally formed from the Corps of Guides troops massed at Valcartier Camp, outside Quebec City, and were intended to fill what we would recognize today as a tactical field intelligence/reconnaissance role on the battlefield.

Of particular interest is their recruiting poster. Bruce writes: “In terms of sugar-coating the reality of the Western Front, this can’t be beat.”

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Desiring a Better Motto

The Order of Canada was established in 1967 as part of Canada’s centennial celebration. It was to be a native equivalent of the various British orders of merit, in particular the Order of the British Empire. If you’re interested, see my friend Chris McCreery’s book for more.

The motto of the Order of Canada is “Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam,” that is, “They desire a better country.” If you’re in the Order at any level, and you’ve got a coat of arms, you can insert a circlet bearing this motto around your shield. This is a British tradition: motto-circlets were invented so that members of other orders (e.g. the Order of the Bath, the Order of St. Michael and St. George, the Royal Victorian Order, etc.) could have something to put around their shields parallel to the Garter, the device of the oldest and most prestigious order of all; Canada continued this tradition, especially after the establishment of the Canadian Heraldic Authority in 1988. From Wikipedia, two illustrations of this phenomenon:

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Coat of arms of HM the Queen in right of the United Kingdom. As the Queen is sovereign of the Order of the Garter, the Garter, bearing the motto “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense,” encircles her shield.

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Coat of arms of HM the Queen in right of Canada. Note motto-circlet bearing “Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam” around the shield.

Now, I’m all for tradition! And I’m happy for the existence of the Order of Canada, the CHA, and the heraldic motto-circlet. But the other day in church something caught my attention: a reading from Hebrews 11 (verse 16):

But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

So, I wondered as I sat there, is this where the motto of the Order of Canada comes from? (Just as the motto of the country itself, “A Mari Usque Ad Mare,” comes from Psalm 72.) Alas, no: here is verse 16 from the Vulgate:

nunc autem meliorem appetunt id est caelestem ideo non confunditur Deus vocari Deus eorum paravit enim illis civitatem

“Meliorem” picks up on “patriam” from two verses earlier, but look at the verb: appeto -ere, meaning “to make for, grasp at, seek, (of places) to make for or go to,” not desidero -are, which means “to long for what is absent or lost, to wish for; to miss, find a lack of.” I guess the word “desiderata” (things desired) also fits in this sense, because you don’t have those things yet. So members of the Order are desiring a country that doesn’t yet exist, or once existed but does not anymore? Surely this is not what the government wants to imply! Should we therefore introduce a resolution to the House of Commons changing the Order’s motto to “Appetentes meliorem patriam,” implying that members are seeking a better country, even though the one they have is still pretty good – and also making the motto congruent with a biblical source?

I have enough experience with making these sorts of suggestions to know what the answer would be… still, one can always dream….

Farley Mowat

My hometown of Port Hope, Ontario has had a number of notable residents, among them Joseph Scriven (author of the hymn “What a Friend we have in Jesus”), artist David Blackwood, impresario and explorer William Leonard Hunt (the Great Farini), and author Farley Mowat, who died in 2014. I remember seeing Mowat around town, and everyone knew the story about him mooning the guests at a banquet, by means of illustrating that no underclothes were worn under a kilt. Now Chris Robert, a high school teacher of mine, sends me images of a monument constructed to honor Mowat and moved this past weekend to its current site on the east bank of the Ganaraska River. You can see Port Hope’s town hall in the background.

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Photo: Chris Robert

Why an upside-down boat, you ask? Well, this is a reference to Mowat’s book The Farfarers (1998), which impressed the Port Hope Friends of Farley Mowat. From the plinth:

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Photo: Chris Robert

I had never heard of this before, and I confess that the passive-voice construction “are believed” in the first paragraph made me suspicious (Wikipedians will automatically insert a superscripted [by whom?] whenever they find stuff like this). Moreover, there is a long tradition of imagining the arrival of pre-Columbian explorers to the Americas for various reasons – is this just the latest example? Who were these people, and what exactly did Thomas Lee discover on the Ungava Peninsula?

I do not have a copy of The Farfarers to hand, although you can look inside the book at Amazon. According to the summary at Wikipedia, Mowat claims that even before the Vikings, settlers from the island of Orkney, chasing walrus ivory, reached Iceland, then Greenland, and then arctic Canada. Mowat calls these settlers Albans, after “Alba,” a Gaelic name for Scotland, and believes they were the descendants of the prehistoric inhabitants of the British Isles, pushed to the fringes by Celts and then Romans. Thomas Lee was an archaeologist at Laval University; his excavations on the Ungava Peninsula uncovered stone building foundations that Lee thought were temporary shelters built by Vikings around the year 1000, the same time as their settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Lee also found a stone landmark that he dubbed the Hammer of Thor on the assumption that it too was Viking, although it could simply have been an Inuit inukshuk. So it seems that Mowat was reinterpreting Lee’s data – Lee did not originate the theory of the Albans.

Thus, it probably comes as no surprise that the editors of Canadian Geographic designated The Farfarers as “highly speculative” and noted that “no professional archeologists are known to share Mowat’s theories.” Stuart Brown of Memorial University noted the “small problem” of a complete lack of “reasonably compelling evidence,” with the book being “entertaining as fiction, [but] far from convincing as fact.” As much as I hate to run down a hometown hero, these assessments are probably accurate. Mowat did indeed have a reputation of never letting the facts ruin a good story. I recall a 1996 cover story in (the now sadly defunct) Saturday Night magazine, with Farley Mowat as Pinocchio.

farleymowatsatniteReporter John Goddard investigated the research and composition of Mowat’s bestselling book Never Cry Wolf, and discovered quite a few things that he simply made up.

As a historian, I confess that I cannot approve of this schtick….