Canada

Friday at noon, Profs. Judith Irvine, Peter Bromstad, Graham Johnson, and Jonathan Good, the four Canadians by birth on the Reinhardt faculty, talked about their homeland at the International Coffee Hour. My own contribution went something like this:

When you go to Canada, you’ll find that it’s just like the United States, but different enough to be disconcerting – like the characters in the Simpsons having only four digits. Someone once said that Canada sits in the uncanny valley. It looks and feels the same as the US, but there will be a bunch of little differences. For example, in Ontario at any rate, you’ll notice a plethora of British place-names, and the Union Jack on the provincial flag. But you’ll also see French everywhere. There will be no billboards along the freeway, or those corporate logos atop tall poles at highway interchanges. You’ll be excited to see that the speed limit is 100, and gas only 1.53, before you realize that the first number designates kilometres per hour, and the second the cost per litre. When you go in to pay for your gas you’ll be curious about the coloured, polymer notes, the dollar and two dollar coins, and the lack of pennies. You also might want to try some of the exotic candy bars or, if you smoke, a pack of “Players” or “DuMaurier.” The locals will have a slightly different accent and use the occasional Canadianism, like “hydro,” “chesterfield,” or “grade two.” And so on.

But really, you’d experience much the same thing if you went to Texas. The money and units of measurement might be the same, but you’d hear a different accent, see Spanish all over the place, and see regional brands that you might not find in your own state. In other words, if Texas is just a state, then how does Canada presume to be its own country? Why did this place, which is by rights just another American region, escape being annexed?

To answer that question you have to look to history, of course. And when you do you realize there are a couple of pretty big differences between Canada and the United States that are not immediately apparent. In the eighteenth century, as you are probably aware, there were two rival European colonial empires in North America: the British and the French. As a result of the Seven Years’ War, the British annexed French Canada, and for a brief while pretty much all of eastern North America was under British suzerainty. But that war sowed the seeds of the American revolution, as the British colonists did not want to help pay for it, and were offended by how solicitous the British government was of the French colonists, who were allowed to keep their religion and their civil law, and of the Indians, who were protected from settlement by the Proclamation line of 1763.

Anger at these things, plus some inept moves by the British government, eventually led to the American Revolution, which the colonists won by 1783. But not everyone in the colonies supported the Revolution, as Canadians are fond of pointing out – some people even refer to the Revolution as America’s First Civil War. Certainly the French Canadians, invited to join the American Revolution, refused, preferring instead to take their chances with British rule. And up to a third of the English colonists actively opposed the Revolution, on the principle that independence was not the only solution to any colonial grievances (and suspecting that it was all a project of the cool kids, who stood to benefit the most from it). What to do with these types? Well, you expel them, of course, and the period immediately after 1783 saw a great exodus of Loyalists from the American colonies. Some went to the Caribbean, others back to Great Britain, but the vast majority of them went to the other British colony in North America, i.e. Quebec! The British kindly split Quebec in two, giving “Upper Canada” to the Loyalists, and reserving “Lower Canada” for the French. These two colonies were reunited in 1841, and then granted independence in 1867.

This is the fundamental fact of Canadian history. English Canada was founded by refugees from the American revolution who were happy to remain part of the British Empire. They ended up dominating Canada, which means that they reduced the French to a second-class status. This has given us Canada’s National Obsession: the issue of Language, and the Constitutional place of Quebec in Canadian confederation. (In America, the national obsession is race, but in Canada it is language.) The Loyalism of the early Anglophone settlers has had another long-term political effect. English Canada might not be as oriented to Britain as it once was, but those settlers simply trusted the government in a way that the American revolutionaries did not. As a consequence Canada has always been more “statist” than the United States. This has given us our prized national health care system… and an economy that is not as dynamic as America’s and a docile population that tends to do what it’s told. (Q: How do you get 42 Canadians out of a swimming pool? A: “OK, 42 Canadians, out of the swimming pool”)

Cannabis in Canada (and the Confederacy)

Wikipedia

Earlier on this blog I suggested that a slight change in the lyrics to “O Canada” might end up being Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s most lasting legacy. I had forgotten about the legalization of cannabis use, which is likely to be of much greater importance. As of October of last year, the recreational consumption of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, has been legalized – not just decriminalized, but legalized. Thus an entire above-board industry has sprung up, which includes trade journals like TheGrowthOp.com (get it?). This journal, run by Postmedia, recently published a story of local historical significance, which I excerpt:

Did the South lose the Civil War because they were too high?

Union general Ulysses S. Grant famously fought the civil war in an alcoholic haze.

The North is believed to have won battles for the singular reason that, unlike the blockaded South, they could get their troops absolutely blasted on coffee.

The war also left an estimated 400,000 injured soldiers addicted to morphine. One of them, John Pemberton, would later try to kick smack by inventing a cocaine-laced tonic named Coca-Cola.

But amid the drifting musket smoke of the War Between the States, there is evidence that at least a few of the blue and the gray may have been high on cannabis.

The evidence is a series of 1860s American newspaper advertisements for “Hasheesh Candy.” “A pleasurable and harmless stimulant,” read one 1862 ad in Vanity Fair.

One particularly long-winded advertisement in the Good Samaritan and Daily Physician touted hasheesh candy as a cure-all beloved by both sides of the bloody conflict.

The company claimed they had received a letter from Ulysses Grant praising hasheesh candy as “of great value for the wounded and feeble.”

Grant’s Confederate rival, Robert E. Lee, even praised hash as a strategic advantage. “I wish it was in my power to place a Dollar Box of the HASHEESH CANDY in the pocket of every Confederate Soldier, because I am convinced that it speedily relieves Debility, Fatigue and Suffering,” he allegedly wrote.

There were no advertising standards councils in the 1860s, so these quotes should be accepted with a hefty dose of skepticism. For one thing, they appear in no official biographies of either Lee or Grant.

And, with a civil war to fight, it seems unlikely that either general had time to be sending fan mail to an obscure candy drug company.

But hasheesh candy was just one of a handful of patent medicines from the era boasting about the benefits of “extract of cannabis indica.” A product called James’ Extract of Cannabis Indica claimed to purify “all the fluids of the human system.”

Meanwhile, it’s entirely likely that some raw cannabis was getting into military ranks, particularly in the Confederacy. The South was the only side of the warring states that shared a border with Mexico, where “marihuana” was already being rolled into cigarettes.

A century later, cannabis would emerge as a much more influential factor in the Vietnam War. According to a 1971 U.S. Department of Defense report, more than half of the Vietnam-era U.S. military had used marijuana.

A major difference in the 1860s is that nobody would have seen cannabis as a bad thing. The United States of 1860s at the time had some incredibly suffocating social strictures by the standards of today. But when it came to drugs and privately owned weapons almost everything was fair game.

There’s a bit more at the link, although the headline is as stupidly sensational as the “Native Genocide caused the Little Ice Age!” story noted below. I doubt that some drugstore elixir had much effect on the outcome of the Civil War one way or the other. Still, it’s interesting to note just how far back the use of these drugs goes.

My Canadian contacts inform me that not much has changed in the country, which I suppose is understandable. A lot of people smoked pot when it wasn’t legal; now that it is they are simply continuing their habits. But since smoking anything in public is pretty much banned, non-users do not have to endure the smell of pot smoke as they walk down the street. And I should think that the vast majority of people who did not smoke pot before did so for other reasons than the drug’s lack of legality, and there has been no great stampede of people anxious to try it out. 

I feel compelled to state that I am much more chary of marijuana than its fans are. No, it doesn’t make you violent like booze can, but it seems to me that smoking pot messes with your brain in a way that alcohol doesn’t. There’s the whole connection to schizophrenia thing, and the fact that the daily smokers I’ve known generally appear humorless and not very bright – like they’ve lost the spark of life. Don’t do it – or if you simply must, “please smoke responsibly.”

The Hockey Sweater

If Hugh McLennan’s Two Solitudes is the Great Canadian Novel, then Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater is the Great Canadian Children’s Story. Both works deal with Canada’s national obsessions: the cultural divide between English and French Canada, and the great sport of ice hockey. The Hockey Sweater is regularly shown as an animated short around Christmas time on the CBC, and the opening lines appeared on the back of the “Canadian Journey” series $5 bill.

In case you don’t know about it, here’s the Coles Notes version, with some photographed illustrations from the book:

In the winter of 1946, all of us boys in the small town of Ste-Justine, Québec, were obsessed with Maurice “Rocket” Richard, number 9 for the Montréal Canadiens. We all wore his sweater when we played, taped our sticks like him, knew all his stats, and even combed our hair like him, which we held in place with a kind of glue.

One day my mother decided that my sweater was too small for me, and wrote away to “Monsieur Eaton” for a new one. A hockey sweater did indeed arrive two weeks later, but it was not a Canadiens’ sweater – it was a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater.

My mother refused to insult M. Eaton by sending it back, so I had to wear it when I played hockey.

I was picked last, no one would pass me the puck, and in frustration I broke my stick, and was sent to the church to pray for forgiveness by the priest-cum-referee. There, I prayed that a million moths would come and devour my Maple Leafs sweater.

Whether the mix-up with the sweater was accidental or deliberate is an issue in Canadian literary criticism. The narrator’s mother eschewed the order forms for the T. Eaton Co. catalogue because “they were written in English and she did not understand a single word of it.” Instead, she wrote a letter “as she always did” in French, in her “fine schoolteacher’s hand,” making a polite request, and including some chit-chat about how her son is growing up so quickly. Was the reply thus an insult to someone was wasn’t following the rules, and who had expected that this Anglophone company operate in French? Or was it a case whereby someone tried to read the letter, saw that it was asking for something to do with hockey, and sent what he thought they were asking for – or was it some other situation not attributable to malice but to stupidity? (Although note that she did ask specifically for a Canadiens’ sweater – it wasn’t just a misunderstanding about what “hockey sweater” she was asking for – and she had written letters before, and presumably had had goods delivered satisfactorily.)

But whatever the cause, the company certainly screwed up, and in a culturally insensitive way. The boy’s mother refused to send it back because, as she explained:

If you don’t keep this sweater which fits you perfectly I’ll have to write to Monsieur Eaton and explain that you don’t want to wear the Toronto sweater. Monsieur Eaton understands French perfectly, but he’s English and he’s going to be insulted because he likes the Maple Leafs. If he’s insulted, do you think he’ll be in a hurry to answer us? Spring will come before you play a single game, just because you don’t want to wear that nice blue sweater.

She is an interesting figure. She doesn’t want her neighbours thinking that her family is poor and can’t afford new clothes, and believes that the English-Canadian T. Eaton Co. is the only place good enough to acquire them. Yet she has an attitude toward this commercial enterprise of deference and personal connection – she actually writes to the president of the company, and refuses to return the wrong sweater lest it offend him! (I assume that she is not just spinning a yarn to her boy because she can’t be bothered to return it – she wrote to “M. Eaton” in the first place, and clearly thinks of him as a patron of sorts.) It seems an odd combination of snobbery and naïveté.

Thus, one can see how Roch Carrier is criticizing this strain of French Canadian culture, the “respectable” people who convey their respectability through the consumption of Anglophone goods or the admiration of powerful Anglophone figures. (Or, at the very least, he is criticizing parents who refuse to take their kids’ social lives seriously – it might seem trivial to you, but it is a big deal to your kid, and for good reason.) At the same time, Carrier seemingly criticizes the cultural uniformity and religiously-sanctioned xenophobia that pervaded French Canada, given how everyone dressed the same, and how the main character really did lose caste for wearing the sweater of the rival team, both in the eyes of his peers and in the eyes of his priest. (This was also an element in Two Solitudes, if I’m not misremembering.)

Now, if this story is autobiographical, it would be interesting to know what actually transpired in Ste-Justine in the winter of 1946. A photograph on Wikipedia shows Carrier as a boy, wearing his Maple Leafs sweater and not looking particularly embarrassed. Was it really that gauche? I would also be curious to know about the T. Eaton Co. in the 1940s. According to Wikipedia, they printed their catalogues in French, customers could order in French, and they had a policy of “goods satisfactory or money refunded.” What was the reaction of the company when The Hockey Sweater was first published in 1979, I wonder? (Unfortunately, it is no longer with us, and so has no one to defend it.)*

For all its delightfulness, The Hockey Sweater is a rather pessimistic book.

This is why I was happy to discover recently another children’s book, entitled My Leafs Sweaterby Mike Leonetti, first published in 1998. It is billed as an “homage à” Roch Carrier, but it is perhaps a riposte to him also. The hero of this one is not Maurice Richard, but Darryl Sittler, the 1970s-era Toronto Maple Leaf captain and hockey great.

Note the reproduction of Lawren Harris‘s The Old Stump, Lake Superior on the wall to the right, for that extra dollop of Canadian Content.

Coles Notes summary:

I loved cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs while watching Hockey Night in Canada, in particular for Daryl Sittler, my favourite player. I had some Leafs memorabilia, but I didn’t have a sweater, so I asked for one for my birthday. My parents demurred, given how expensive they are, but told me that if I behaved myself they’d get me one. Come my birthday, my dad and I went to a sporting goods store, which was sold out of Leaf sweaters, then to a store in the mall, which was also sold out, then to Maple Leaf Gardens itself, which did have them, but they were all too big. Fortunately, there were tickets available for that night’s game, and my dad and I got to see the Leafs and Sittler in person! As it happens, the game was the historic 11-4 Maple Leaf victory over the Boston Bruins on February 7, 1976, in which Sittler tallied 10 points, a record that still stands. So I never got my sweater, but I did have a great story that I could tell my friends, and a memory to last forever.

A friend of mine in college couldn’t understand why you would name a team the “Leafs” – at least they should be the “Leaves,” she thought. But our boy is wise beyond his years:

The Maple Leafs sweater was special. It wasn’t like the others. It didn’t have a lot of strange colours, just blue and white. It didn’t have an animal on it like a seal or a penguin. I just couldn’t picture those animals playing hockey. And I didn’t understand how a flame or a king or a sabre had anything to do with hockey.

But I’d seen maple leaves with my own eyes, frozen in the ice below my skates, trapped there until spring. They had something to do with skating and seeing your breath on a cold day. Maple leaves turning colour meant the start of the hockey season, a sign that winter was coming.

The maple leaf on the sweater stood out because it was simple and true, just like the leaves on the tree in front of our house. I could also see a bid red maple leaf in the middle of the Canadian flag out in front of my school. It meant something to everybody, even to the people who were new to this country.

The section that most clearly references Carrier’s book:

I had a poster of Darryl Sittler and an autographed photo of him on my bedroom wall. I knew how many goals he had scored and how many points and assists he had.** I had a collection of all his hockey cards since he began playing for the Leafs. I had a hockey stick like his, and I even taped it the way he did.

He doesn’t hold his hair in place like Sittler’s with a kind of glue, but it was the 1970s and that sort of thing was out of fashion. “Taping the stick” in a certain way is the clearest reference. (How can you possibly tell how someone tapes his stick, anyway? I can’t think of more than one way myself….)

Dig the Atlanta Flames and antique Los Angeles Kings sweaters.

But the clearest reference to team (and inter-Canadian) rivalry is this exchange in the mall sports store:

“Sold out,” the storekeeper said. He held up a Canadiens sweater. “What about this one?”

I could see there was going to be a problem. Either you loved the Leafs or you didn’t understand.

I folded my arms and looked away. “No,” I said. “It’s not the same.”

I appreciate how the possibility of wearing the rival team’s sweater is not cast as an existential crisis, like it is in Carrier’s book. Even though the Canadiens were a powerhouse in the 1970s, and the Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, I love the self-assurance on display here – his sentiments are pro-Leaf, not anti-Canadien. For the sake of the story, indeed, it could have been any other team’s sweater – and, indeed, all the kid’s friends have different team sweaters on when they play, including a Montréal Canadiens one! It seems that English Canada had a little more tolerance for individuality – a privilege of being the dominant culture, I guess.

* My dad informs me that, in the mid-twentieth century, Eaton’s had a great reputation in most parts of Canada, that their policy of unconditional returns was abused quite frequently – e.g. people would wear their boots all winter, and then return them in the spring claiming they didn’t quite fit. (A friend of mine called this move a “Sears rental” for another department store, also sadly no longer with us.) At the same time, I seem to remember that the apostrophe-s in the company’s name was offensive to Francophones, and I do remember that the bricks-and-mortar store in Montréal was simply labeled “Eaton.”

** “I knew how many goals he had scored and how many points and assists he had.” I assume the author is trying to reproduce a child’s view of things. A player’s points are his goals plus his assists.

Symbolism

Two recent news items.

Wikipedia.

1. From Huffpost Canada:

Canada’s Coat Of Arms Needs Redesign To Include Indigenous Peoples: Petition

Randolph Shrofel, a retired educator from Manitoba, says it’s “just one more piece of the puzzle.”

TORONTO — Randolph Shrofel isn’t exactly sure where he was when he first took a good look at the front of his passport, only be struck by what was missing.

The retired high school guidance counsellor from Sandy Hook, Man. travels a lot these days with his wife Ruth, a former elementary school principal. Like many Canadians, Shrofel suspects, he never paid much mind to the golden coat of arms on the front of those ubiquitous leather booklets.

The emblem is one of nine official symbols adopted by the government of Canada to spark national pride. It can be found everywhere from official government documents and buildings to the prime minister’s plane and the rank badges of some Canadian Forces members.

“Over a period of time, I noticed there is no Indigenous content in the coat of arms at all,” he told HuffPost Canada. “And that started to make me think.”

In early December, Shrofel launched an electronic petition calling on the federal government to revise the coat of arms to “include representation of the Indigenous peoples of Canada (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) as co-founders of Canada.”

The e-petition is being sponsored by Manitoba Liberal MP Robert Falcon-Ouellette, who hails from the Red Pheasant Cree First Nation and was a leading voice pushing for Indigenous languages to be translated in the House of Commons.

Ouellette suggested going the route of a grassroots petition, Shrofel says, where 500 valid signatures over a period of 120 days will trigger an official government response.

I agree with this, although I did not include this critique in my short history of Canada’s coat of arms. The shield should be reduced to the maple leaves alone, but I’m in favor of retaining the banners of the Union Jack and the arms of France on each side, since they represent past sovereignty. But that means that we really should acknowledge Native sovereignty too. What to do? Would one pan-Indian symbol suffice? (Does such a thing even exist?) Or do we need to acknowledge every tribe in Canada? (This would get pretty aesthetically unwieldy.)

I would not be against changing the supporters to being native fauna – say, a moose and a polar bear, and I would not be against these creatures wearing collars and pendant badges referring to Indians and Inuit, in as inclusive a manner as possible. I would not be in favor of a stampede whereby every discrete group in Canada demands the right to specific acknowledgement in the coat of arms.

2. From the Washington Post:

A new Mississippi flag has a surprising champion: A segregationist’s grandchild

 Things are slow to change in this Old South bastion. The brass bird cage of an elevator in the Mississippi State Capitol that Laurin Stennis used to ride as a 6-year-old coming to see her daddy was still operated by hand when she stepped into it one day in early January, a 46-year-old coming to shake things up. Or at least nudge things along.

“Ground floor, please, sir,” she said to the operator.

But some things have changed. The lawmaker who greeted Stennis in the grand marbled lobby below was an African American woman, something unheard of when Stennis’s father, John H. Stennis, was a member of the nearly all-white, all-male state legislature and her grandfather, John C. Stennis, was a legendary champion of segregation in the U.S. Senate.

“I’ve already filed your bill,” state Rep. Kathy Sykes said after hugs. “I’m just waiting on the number.”

It was the start of a new legislative session, and Sykes, a Democrat from Jackson, had once again introduced legislation to replace the Mississippi state flag — the last in the country that still incorporates the Confederate battle flag — with a design widely known as the “Stennis Flag.” It features a big blue star on a white field, encircled by 19 smaller stars and flanked by red bands.

It’s graphically pleasing and increasingly popular. If the Stennis Flag eventually replaces the old banner — its supporters aren’t expecting much to happen this year, with state elections looming — the banner might help alter the view the world has of Mississippi, a state with a brutal history of Klan murders and racial oppression. It could alter the reputation of one of the state’s most famous political names, as well.

A great design, both aesthetically and symbolically (the big star represents Mississippi, the nineteen smaller ones represent previously admitted states to the Union). I confess that I still prefer the Magnolia flag, though.

UPDATE: I am in favor of getting rid of the current Mississippi flag, but I feel compelled to state that I object to such sentences as this, which come so easily to journalists at the Washington Post:

the banner might help alter the view the world has of Mississippi, a state with a brutal history of Klan murders and racial oppression.

I can think of a few “views” that Group A might have of Group B, which to the mainstream media cannot possibly be the fault of Group B, but can only be the result of stereotypes held by Group A and are thus streng verboten. I’d also like to point out that, for example, Illinois, the Land of Lincoln himself, also has a brutal history of Klan murders and racial oppression.

Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain (1567-1635) was a French navigator, cartographer, and explorer, who is commonly designated “The Father of New France” for his role in founding that particular colony in 1608. He died and was buried in Quebec City – but the exact location of his grave is currently unknown, and has become a holy grail of sorts for archaeologists. A recent article in the Globe and Mail (hat tip: Robert Black) rejoices in the discovery of a seventeenth-century palisade at Quebec, but laments that Champlain’s grave is still unfound. From the article:

Records suggest Champlain died on Christmas Day in 1635, and his remains were moved to a chapel that was later burned to the ground. A Jesuit text from 1642 refers to a priest who was buried alongside the founder and another friend, but there is no record of where that burial took place.

“It is likely the remains were moved, but nobody knows when or where,” Mr. Lavoie said.

Serious efforts to find the tomb began in the mid-1800s. Scientists began “digging left and right” to find Champlain, he said, but without success. More recently, an archaeologist who shared the name of former Quebec premier Rene Levesque led a series of digs in the 1980s and 1990s that proved equally fruitless.

Mr. Lavoie believes the location of the original “Champlain chapel” to which his remains were moved has been found in the old city. Mr. Lavoie believes there’s a good chance Champlain could be lying somewhere beneath Quebec City’s basilica, either on his own or in a common grave.

But the search for the founder’s remains are at a standstill, and even if found, they would not be easy to identify. Champlain fathered no children and left no descendants, which eliminates the possibility of DNA matching. To confirm the identity, researchers would have to match up remains with what little that is known about Champlain physically — for example traces of the arrow wounds he suffered during a 1613 conflict with the Iroquois.

Robert comments:

Champlain was a Protestant, was he not? And the prevailing theory for many decades has been that he and other Protestants were buried apart from later cemeteries (and therefore, not under the Basilica). If anything his remains have for a very long time thought to be buried under the Anglican cathedral, either the car park or the outbuildings.

I did not know this. Wikipedia claims that:

He belonged to either a Protestant family, or a tolerant Roman Catholic one, since [Champlain’s birthplace of] Brouage was most of the time a Catholic city in a Protestant region, and his Old Testament first name (Samuel) was not usually given to Catholic children.

A note elaborates:

According to many modern historians… Champlain could have been born a Protestant. Professor [Alain] Laberge [of Laval University] suggested that Champlain’s Protestantism would have been downplayed or omitted from educational materials in Quebec by the Roman Catholic Church, which controlled Quebec‘s education system until 1962.

I discover that the Champlain monument in Orillia, Ontario, which I remember seeing as a kid, has been removed for restoration – perhaps indefinitely, given concerns expressed “over the monument’s representations of Indigenous peoples raised by members of the public and by Indigenous communities.”

The Centennial of the Armistice

Lapel poppy as sold by the Royal Canadian Legion.

For the past four years we have been observing the centennials of the various events that comprised the Great War, including the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916) and the Battle of Vimy Ridge (April 9, 1917). Today we mark the end of it: on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918, an armistice went into effect, ending hostilities on the Western Front, which had thus far killed over three million people and wounded over eight million, all started by some damned fool thing in the Balkans. And, as everyone knows, the settlement that ended the war simply set the stage for the next one: the Treaty of Versailles was not as fair as Wilson had promised in his Fourteen Points, nor as punitive as it needed to be to ensure that Germany did not rise again. So just as the Great Famine of 1315-22 weakened the immune systems of a whole generation of Europeans, and made the Black Death of 1346-51 more virulent than it otherwise would have been, so also did the First World War lead directly to the Second, which then overshadowed it in cultural memory.

Garden of Remembrance, St. Paul’s Cathedral churchyard, City of London, November 11, 2010.

This is especially true in the United States, which only joined the First World War in 1917, and only as a result of a potential threat as revealed by the Zimmerman Telegram. The United States also joined the Second World War “late,” i.e. over two years after Germany invaded Poland, but it did so as the result of a direct attack on its naval base at Pearl Harbor. The Americans played a significant role in defeating Nazi Germany; they played an even bigger role in the defeat of Imperial Japan, including through the use of the atomic bomb, which they had developed at great expense. So it’s only natural that, to an American, the Second World War means more than the First.

The Cenotaph, Whitehall, 2018.

It’s somewhat different in Britain and the Commonwealth. Once the United Kingdom declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, all the Empire, even the Dominions, immediately followed, and fought, and bled quite profusely, for the sake of Britain’s allies on the continent. For well-known reasons, the war bogged down into a bloody stalemate where the advantage was always to the defense, and it soon became obvious that this was going to be a war of attrition – the first side to run out of men and materiel was going to be the one to lose, and this is more or less what ended up happening. Four years of mass industrial slaughter on the Western Front was deeply traumatizing, and gave birth to rituals of remembrance that Americans generally don’t share: the sanctification of November 11 (at first designated Armistice Day, and now as Remembrance Day), the wearing of a lapel poppy* in the run-up to this, the ceremonial placement of wreaths of poppies at war memorials on the day itself, and the two-minute silence at 11:00 AM. (November 11 may be Veterans’ Day in the United States, but memorializing the war dead is the function of Memorial Day in May, which derives from the Civil War. The VFW occasionally sells poppies, but the practice is nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is in Canada or the United Kingdom.) Of course, as with the United States, the UK and its Commonwealth also remember the Second World War, and probably to a greater extent, given Churchill’s refusal to make a deal with Hitler, his inspirational speeches, the evacuation of Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, D-Day, and an unconditional surrender forced on a monstrously evil regime.

Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Westminster Abbey. Wikipedia.

All the same, the First World War does loom larger in the Commonwealth than in the United States. And it deserves to be remembered, in both places. As pointless as all the killing was, the Great War turned out to be the Great Divide, and represented the real end of the nineteenth century and the birth of the twentieth. When the dust settled, four empires – the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman – had fallen, and many smaller nations won their independence. Communists took over Russia, and the stage was set for what Henry Luce called the American Century. Women were granted the right to vote in both Britain and the United States. Perhaps most importantly, the Great War shattered European self-confidence, and caused the mainstreaming of skepticism, pessimism, and “uncertainty” (one of the reasons, unfortunately, why Britain and France did not stand up to Hitler until it was too late).

Diamond War Memorial, Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

So I was pleased to learn that a World War I memorial is being planned for Washington DC. From a BBC article about it published last year:

“The Great War” was overtaken in the national consciousness by the Great Depression and World War II, says Edwin Fountain, vice-chairman of the WWI Centennial Commission. The commission has been authorised by Congress to build the new memorial in Washington, DC, as well as increase awareness of the war.

“The Centennial is the last best opportunity to teach Americans that World War I was in fact the most consequential event of the 20th Century,” he says. “It had effects that we live and struggle with today, overseas and at home.”

“The debate about the role of America in the world, the balance between national security and civil liberties, the place of women, African Americans and immigrants in our society – all those issues were vigorously discussed during WWI.

“You cannot contribute to those discussions today without understanding our historical roots.”

Gable end mural, Northland St. (arbitrarily renamed “Thiepval St.”), Belfast, Northern Ireland.

At the same time, how the war was fought, and not just its aftermath, deserves closer attention too. If anyone knows anything about the Great War, it is an image largely created by Remarque’s great autobiographical novel All Quiet on the Western Front. Historian Dan Snow recently countered several myths about it, including that most soldiers died, that it was the bloodiest conflict in history to that point, that the upper classes got off lightly, and that soldiers lived in the trenches for years on end (in truth, they were cycled out regularly).

Mural, Glenwood St., Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Still, it was no picnic, as a recent article in the Economist reminds us:

The first world war was not just a grand tragedy. For the 67 million who fought, it was a sordid hellscape. Few of the ten million killed in combat died from a “bullet, straight to the heart”, as pro forma telegrams to relatives put it. Many more bled to death in no-man’s land, their wails lingering for days like “moist fingers being dragged down an enormous windowpane”, as a British lieutenant wrote of the Battle of the Somme. Traumatised survivors sometimes slept in open sewers, and begged for their mothers as superiors ordered them over the top.

They guarded what slivers of humanity and dignity they could. At Compiègne today visitors can view silver rings from the trenches bearing initials (LV, MJ, SH or G) or four-leaf clovers; pipes with marks worn where teeth once clenched; a tube of insect-bite cream; letter-openers fashioned from shell casings, the names of yearned-for correspondents etched into their blades (“Marguerite”, “Mlle Rose-Marie”). A certain stoic humour also played its part. “I was hit. I looked round and saw that my leg had shot out and hit the fellow behind me (who got rather annoyed about [it])” wrote Charlemagne’s great-grandfather in his diary in 1915, just outside Ypres.

The article goes on to note that (emphasis added):

The first world war happened because a generation of Victorian leaders took for granted the stable order that had prevailed in most of Europe for decades. They should have read their history books. Yet the war was also a tale of forces beyond the power of any leader, however well-read; of nations and continents not as trains on history’s railway lines, run by drivers and switchmen, but as rafts tossed about on history’s ocean, dipping at most an occasional oar into the waves. Fate was the real grand homme of the “Great War”. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 would not have happened had his driver not taken a wrong turning in Sarajevo. The German army’s initial advance was halted at Nieuwpoort by a Belgian lock-keeper who flooded the surrounding marshlands. Political twists in Berlin, not crushing defeat on the battlefield, pushed Germany to sue for peace in 1918.

I am chary of drawing “lessons” from history, but it seems in this case that history really does provide us with an instructive example.

Memorial to Lt. Col. John McCrae, Guelph, Ontario, 2015.

* The poppy as a symbol of remembrance derives from the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Lt. Col. John McCrae of Guelph, Ontario, who was serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and who died of pneumonia in January, 1918. He was by no means the only English-language war poet: the First World War produced a remarkable amount of poetry from the viewpoint of its participants, a product of the war taking place after the advent of mass literacy but before other forms of entertainment relegated poetry to a niche interest (see Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory for more on this). I was pleased to see the memorial to sixteen representative war poets in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey this summer, including the greats Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen.

Sadly, the poppy is “political” in some parts of the world, and not just because people believe that it justifies war. Among the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, the poppy represents “Britain’s War,” and thus represents British imperialism and British oppression. Nationalists, as noted, wear lilies in memory of the Easter Rising, and will generally refuse to wear poppies, even going so far as to taunt those who do.

O Canada

Watching the opening ceremonies of a Toronto Maple Leafs game last night reminded me of something that might end up being Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s most lasting legacy: a slight change in the lyrics of the Canadian national anthem to make it less sexist. The second line used to be “True patriot love in all thy sons command”; as of February of this year it is “True patriot love in all of us command.” I don’t have anything against this change on principle, although the new version is less poetic and will take some getting used to.

But I’m sure I will get used to it, because this is not the first time that such change has occurred. The English lyrics to “O Canada” were only officially standardized in 1980, when I was in grade four. Prior to that time there were a number of versions sung throughout the land. The one we sang went like this:

O Canada! Our home and native land
True patriot love in all thy sons command
With glowing hearts we see thee rise
The true north strong and free
And stand on guard, O Canada
We stand on guard for thee
O Canada, glorious and free
We stand on guard, we stand on guard for thee
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee

The version sung by Roger Doucet prior to Montreal Canadiens’ games featured “We stand on guard for rights and liberty” as the penultimate line. We would sometimes sing this at school to show what great hockey fans we were.

The version unveiled in 1980 goes like this. Changes are boldfaced.

O Canada! Our home and native land
True patriot love in all thy sons command
With glowing hearts we see thee rise
The true north strong and free
From far and wide, O Canada
We stand on guard for thee
God keep our land glorious and free
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee

This version is better insofar as it has fewer redundancies, but by introducing a reference to “God,” it guaranteed resentment in certain quarters. And although they’ve dropped “all thy sons,” we still have the word “native,” which is now claimed as exclusive property by Canada’s First Nations people – and is alienating to immigrants anyway. So the national anthem is still slightly dodgy.

Still, though – “True patriot love“! “With glowing hearts“! “True north strong and free“! “Stand on guard for thee“! These expressions have entered the Canadian vernacular and echo down the years. I wipe away a tear just contemplating them.

But there is a further detail that needs to be mentioned. As you may be aware, Canada is officially bilingual, with a full quarter of its population speaking French as its native tongue. This is the Fundamental Divide in Canadian politics and society. The original lyrics to “O Canada” were composed in French, for a Francophone holiday – la fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste – in 1880. English lyrics were published in 1906, and the song eventually became the de facto Canadian national anthem (I guess the centennial of the song in 1980 prompted the government to make it official). So it turns out that, like the beaver and the maple leaf, the national anthem was a Francophone thing that the Anglos simply appropriated, forcing the Québécois to find substitutes (the fleur de lys and “Gens du pays” come to mind).

The fact that the original French lyrics of “O Canada” were not translated directly into English is supposedly symbolic of how divided the country is. Here is what the French lyrics mean:

O Canada! Land of our ancestors
Your head is crowned with glorious jewels
Because your arm knows how to carry the sword
It knows how to carry the cross
Your history is an epic
Of the most brilliant exploits
And your valor, steeped in faith
Will protect our hearths and our rights
Will protect our hearths and our rights

These lyrics really illustrate the song’s Francophone origin. You can see the Catholic (cross, faith) and ethnic-nationalist (ancestors, hearths) content in it – whereas the English is a little more deist and geographical.

But I do think that national symbols (anthems, flags, etc.) should actually be saved for when national teams play other national teams, and shouldn’t appear before mere professional games.

Cowboys and Mounties

CineMasterpieces.

One enduring embodiment of the American male is the cowboy. He is a rugged individual on the western frontier, living by skill of his hand and the sweat of his brow, voluntarily submitting to a cowboy code of honor and unafraid of defending his property with armed force if need be. Innumerable Western-themed movies and television shows have ensured that we all admire cowboys, or at least that we know one when we see one, dressed in some combination of the cowboy hat, bandana, leather vest, jeans, chaps, and boots, carrying a six-shooter or lasso, and riding his trusty horse. 

Wikipedia.

A Canadian male, by contrast, will find himself well reflected by the Mountie, that is, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A Mountie’s distinctive uniform of red tunic, Sam Browne belt, beige stetson hat, and dark blue breeches with a gold stripe down each leg make him instantly recognizable. Like the cowboy, the Mountie operates in the west of his country, and often acts independently, with a reputation of great competence and integrity, but there the similarity stops, for the Mountie represents state authority, not private enterprise. To this day the RCMP acts as Canada’s FBI, and in most provinces as the provincial police as well. That we are familiar with Mounties can also be attributed to cinema – “Northerns,” that is, Westerns set in the Yukon and featuring Mounties as the main protagonists, were popular between the wars.

The famous Marlboro Man. From The Lyrical Elitist.

This difference between the cowboy and the Mountie is one of the alleged fundamental differences between the United States and Canada. The difference is also reflected in the founding documents of each country. America’s 1776 Declaration of Independence values “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” while the British North America Act of 1867 was passed to ensure “Peace, Order, and Good Government.” It does seem to me, as someone who has lived in both countries, that Americans are more comfortable with private initiative, and Canadians with government intervention, than the opposites.

A depiction of the RCMP’s Musical Ride on the reverse of the Canadian $50 note, in circulation 1975-89. From the website of the Bank of Canada Museum.

As mentioned, Mounties enjoy a pretty good reputation. The idea is that they really do “maintain the right” (their motto), and they “always get their man.” The cartoon character Dudley Do-Right, from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1959-64), offers a lighthearted satire on this image, but his surname is fully in accord with it. That this idea was largely promulgated by Hollywood, and not by any Canadian organization, is even more remarkable. Canadians like to believe that Americans are only interested in themselves, and constantly rewrite history to make themselves the heroes of it. In this instance, though, they voluntarily burnished the image of the state police force of a foreign country, somewhat uncharacteristically.

This whole topic came to mind again recently, when I found our copy of Looking North: Royal Canadian Mounted Police Illustrations – The Potlatch Collection (2003) by Karal Ann Marling, an art history professor at the University of Minnesota. The Northwest Paper Company of Cloquet, Minnesota (i.e., nowhere in Canada!), sponsored an advertising campaign featuring the Mountie doing Mountie things, all in his bright red tunic to show off the superior quality of their product. The Mountie’s alleged qualities of integrity and courage also polished the company’s image.

The campaign, the brainchild of Chicago ad man Frank Cash, started in 1931, at a time when advertising agencies employed highly talented artists who could produce beautiful and realistic paintings on demand, and when the weekly newsmagazine (e.g. Life or The Saturday Evening Post) served as a far-reaching vehicle for them. Arnold Friburg, Hal Foster, and Paul Proehl were responsible for the three reproduced here.

As a born Canadian, I am proud that the Mounties enjoy such an upright reputation. Unfortunately, they haven’t always lived up to it, or so I discover from Wikipedia’s “List of controversies involving the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.” Some choice ones:

• On the night of May 6, 1972, the RCMP Security Service burned down a barn owned by Paul Rose‘s and Jacques Rose‘s mother in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Rochelle, Quebec. They suspected that separatists were planning to meet with members of the Black Panthers from the United States. The arson came after they failed to convince a judge to allow them to wiretap the alleged meeting place.

• There have been many Inuit accounts related to the alleged killings of sled dogs during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as well as the impact of the federal government’s efforts during that time to relocate Inuit into modern settlements.

• The RCMP bombed an oilsite in Alberta October 14, 1999, on the instructions of the Alberta Energy Co. No injuries were caused or intended. The Crown lawyers, representing the government, accepted that the allegations were true. An Alberta farmer was blamed for the bombing.

• The Robert Dziekański Taser incident occurred when a Polish immigrant who arrived at the Vancouver International Airport on October 14, 2007, and waited 10 hours at the airport before being taken into police custody. He died after being tasered a total of five times by a group of four RCMP officers and then placed face down with several officers sitting on top of him.

• In October 2016, RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson apologized for what he referred to as “shameful conduct” by the organization. An internal investigation determined that up to 20,000 female officers and civilian employees since 1974 may have been the victims of harassment, discrimination, and/or sexual abuse.

On a more general level, “American historian Andrew Graybill has argued that the Mounted Police closely resemble the Texas Rangers in many ways. He argues that each protected the established order by confining and removing Indians, by tightly controlling the mixed blood peoples (the African Americans in Texas and the Métis in Canada), assisted the large-scale ranchers against the small-scale ranchers and farmers who fenced the land, and broke the power of labour unions that tried to organize the workers of industrial corporations.”

So, as ever, one must take care to examine both sides of an issue…

Addendum: A group of musically-inclined policemen from Windsor, Ontario calling themselves The Brothers-in-Law recorded a satirical song on the RCMP for their album Oh! Oh! Canada in 1965.

Addendum: How could I have forgotten RCMP Constable Benton Fraser, the main character of the television series Due South (1994-99)? This was a Canadian show, although set in Chicago. True to form, “Fraser is a strait-laced Canadian, and his faith in the honour and goodness of others tends to lead to interesting and humorous moments.”

News from Canada

• A statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald has been removed from the front of the Victoria (BC) City Hall, on account of him being a “key architect of the Indian residential school system.”

• Canada might be getting a new statutory holiday “to mark Canada’s ‘tragic and painful’ residential school legacy.”

• One alumnus of the residential school system was Tom Longboat (1887-1949), a Mohawk from Brantford, Ontario, and the premier long-distance runner of his day. The National Post‘s Joe O’Connor remembers Edgar Laplante, a con artist who traveled around the United States pretending to be Longboat while Longboat was actually fighting in France, and then, when the jig was up, “Chief White Elk.” (Reminds me of Grey Owl, a.k.a. Englishman Archibald Belaney.)