Articles

Vimy Ridge

“What I want,” Byng declared to his officers, “is the discipline of a well-trained pack of hounds… When I was a boy and my father’s trauma from his service in Holland was raw in his shattered leg, our family mythology was still dominated by his father’s warrior pride. An argumentative man, my grandfather Marsh ended every dispute with a display of his scarred leg and the expletive “Vimy Fucking Ridge!”

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Maisonneuve and the Founding of Montreal

"The story of the founding of Montreal is perhaps unique in history..." Radiant sunshine bathed the Island of Montreal on the morning of May 18th, 1642. The hawthorns and wild cherry trees were in blossom and the meadow, where a group of French colonists had set up an altar, was dotted with trilliums and violets.

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Sir John A. Macdonald

An indispensable “scalawag” is pretty much how many Canadians saw John A. Macdonald, but then Machiavelli said that a good man cannot be great. When in 1887 a Canadian delegation went to Washington to negotiate a treaty with the United States, their hosts treated them to a boat ride on the Potomac. One Canadian delegate arrived early and while waiting for the others struck up a conversation with a lady, the wife of a US senator.

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Tom Longboat

For a fleeting moment in Canadian history Tom Longboat was Canada’s most famous athlete—the most honoured and feted since the great oarsman Ned Hanlan. After a surprise victory at a race at Calendon in 1906, another Six Nations runner, Bill Davis, began to prepare him for the Hamilton Round-the-Bay race in 1906. Tom took some ribbing before the race for his cheap sneakers and awkward running style.

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Laurier: “The First Canadian”

In truth, Laurier’s famous ability to compromise sometimes left everyone dissatisfied. Wilfrid Laurier took leadership of the Liberal party of Canada on 18th of June 1887. Frail and intellectual, preferring the privacy of his library to the battlefield of politics, he was uncertain. “I know I have not the aptitude for it,” he admitted, “and I have a sad apprehension that it must end in disaster.”

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The Origins of Labour Day

The fight of the Toronto printers had a second, lasting legacy. The parades held in support of the Nine-Hour Movement and the printers’ strike led to an annual celebration. In a time when the news of labour “strife” is dominated by unemployment and complaints about the disruptive power of unions, history provides a useful perspective on a time when working people had to fight to work less than 12 hours a day.

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La Salle: “Wilderness martyr or deceitful lunatic?”

The conspirators stripped his corpse and left it for the wolves. On March 19, 1786, somewhere in the trackless wilderness of southern Texas, the French explorer Cavalier de La Salle approached the camp of a party he had sent ahead to find food. La Salle sensed that something was wrong and shouted “Where is my nephew?” “Gone to the dogs,” was the reply.

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Insulin: The Holy Grail of Medicine

The most dramatic story in Canadian medicine had an inauspicious beginning. A shy part-time instructor at the University of Western’s medical school, Frederick Banting, came to visit the august professor of physiology J.J.R. Macleod in his office at the University of Toronto. A skeptical Macleod listened to the shy and hesitant Banting describe how an idea had come to him, one sleepless night, of how isolating a secretion in the pancreas might hold the key to curing diabetes.

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Joseph Howe: Tribune of Nova Scotia

January 1, 1835 turned out to be memorable both for Joseph Howe and for Nova Scotia. On that day Howe’s newspaper the Novascotian, published a letter accusing the magistrates and police of taking £30,000 in illegal payments “from the pockets of the poor and distressed.”

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One More River to Cross: The Canadians in Holland

Along one of the myriad canals that crisscross the Dutch Lowlands, the enemy was fighting with a last-ditch determination and suicidal fury. In a typical engagement a German sniper killed a member of a Canadian tank crew. The Canadians went after him, hurling grenades. Just as quickly he tossed them back until he in turn was killed.

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