Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Beasts of the Selkirk Settlement, 1813

Stock-raising is an important facet of subsistence farming, especially when the nearest market is hundreds of miles away.  At the Selkirk Settlement on the Red River, an early attempt at an agrarian settlement in Western Canada, the first livestock were transported by the legendary fur-trader and explorer Peter Fidler. A.S. Morton, in his classic History of Prairie Settlement (1938) notes, the bull and two cows "must have been brought in as calves in the canoes.  They would be taught to jump in and out, and would be driven over the portages." (Morton, 10)  One can only wonder of the difficulties of transporting cattle in this manner.
Selkirk Settlement. National Archives of Canada / C-008714
Getting cattle to the colony proved near impossible.  Another bull and heifer were brought in by Miles Macdonnell, who picked them up from the Hudson's Bay Company at Oxford House.  Morton describes the ill fortune of these animals once arriving at the colony. He notes that Fidler's bull,

"proved vicious and was killed, though the scarcity of food may have had as much to do with its end as its viciousness, and, calamity upon calamity, the first, now the only remaining, bull was drowned while drinking at the water-hole in the ice on the river.  Selkirk urged Miles Macdonell to send out horsemen to drive quietly into the settlement a herd of heifer buffalo (they grazed apart from the bulls except in the rutting season), and to attempt a cross with a European bull.  This surely was a counsel of despair." (Morton, 16)

150th Anniversary Stamp. Credit: Library and Archives Canada  Copyright: Canada Post Corporation (stamp)
Copyright: Isobel M. Assad (cover)
Little did Morton realize that crossing cattle with buffalo was indeed feasible, however, the successful hybrid took much experimentation in animal husbandry to perfect.  By some accounts success was not gained in the endeavour until 1957.

It was not until 1821 that a substantial herd of cattle was brought in from the United States.  Livestock numbered 3 bulls, 6 oxen, 45 cows, and 39 calves with a number of sheep, horses and pigs as well.  As Morton notes, it took eleven years and much suffering to establish a healthy herd of livestock at the Selkirk Settlement.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Conservatives attack the Siftonian cult, 1905

Clifford Sifton
Nothing compares to the blood lust of a parliamentarian when sensing an opponent's weakness.  In 1905, when Clifford Sifton resigned from the Laurier cabinet, it was thought that the time had come for the Conservative wolves to move in for the kill.  D.J. Hall's biography of Sifton, notes that his position at the helm of the Liberal machine, his penchant for cutting debate, and a questionable record of profits and patronage, meant that Sifton was natural prey for the circling pack.  Without his protection in the cabinet as Minister of the Interior and sensing some loosened bonds to the Liberal party, it was prime time to lunge at the wounded Grit.

In a debate over Sifton's clandestine immigration bureau, the North Atlantic Trading Company (NAT) (an agency which gave bonuses to immigration agents who sent settlers to Canada), the Conservative George E. Foster laid into Sifton's profits and patronage:

"The] Siftonian cult...is a kind of modern Pilgrim's Progress - not to a spiritual but to a material Paradise.  Your novice enters it a pauper - he comes out a millionaire.  He goes in a poor pilgrim, leaning on his staff and with modest garments, he comes out a pampered prince, clad in fine raiment, riding in liveried chariots.  Whiskey permits, Treadgold concessions, claim lifting in the north; land looting, timber, coal scrip, wire fence graft in the middle areas.  Immigration frauds everywhere - crowned by a million dollar contract with a headless, houseless, homeless monstrosity [the NAT Co.], a sort of fugitive maw into which the Siftonians pour Canada's hard earned taxes." (Hall, Clifford Sifton, V.2, p 184)

Ukrainian Language poster from Sifton's North Atlantic Trading Company which advertises 160 free acres of land in Canada.
Despite the best efforts of the Conservatives, Sifton would remain active in politics until 1917.  While his wealth was obvious to his contemporaries, the extent to which he profited off his political position still remains a mystery.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Prairie Nativists vs. "Galicians", 1899

Canadians often identify themselves in a negative sense as being not American.  One note often trumpeted to emphasize the difference is Canada's tolerant, multicultural society.  A close look at the reaction to immigrants in the late nineteenth century reveals, however, that "orientals", Doukhobors, and Ukrainians were the targets of vehement nativist racism. 

D.J. Hall's biography of Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton, describes anglo-saxon protestant  resistance to increasing numbers of Ukrainian immigrants.  In 1899, Winnipegers were dismayed that while less than 6000 British and Americans passed through the city 6,914 Ukrainians (or "Galicians" as they were called) and 7,400 Doukhobors were counted.  Hall notes that Sifton's national dream involved peopling the west with hardy farmers, and that racism on the prairies, especially towards "Galicians", would prove to be an obstacle. (Hall, Clifford Sifton: The Young Napoleon, 1861-1900, 1981, p.262-4)

Hall notes a particularly "bitter hatred" towards the Galicians, who came with little more than the clothes on their backs.  The general sentiment was that they were "illiterate peasants, Catholics (it hardly mattered that few were Roman Catholics), drinkers, diseased, wife-beaters, criminally inclined, with no sense of democratic institutions." (Hall, 264)  One Brandon newspaper derided "Hon. Mr Sifton's grand 'round up' of European freaks and hoboes."  The press variably called the Ukrainians "a menagerie" and "ignorant and vicious foreign scum".  So much for the cultural mosaic!
Letters from Nebraska

Racist sentiment was not restricted to the prairie region.  In 1898 a group of Galicians was held in quarantine in Halifax in the wind and rain, forced to stand in mud from 4 to 18 inches deep.  As Hall wrote of the horrid conditions, "they were bathed and disinfected in batches of one hundred in water ditches along the railway track while their clothes were disinfected in steam chests." (Hall, 265) Such harsh treatment of central European immigrants should serve to qualify Canadian self-identification as anti-racist.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Mountie (tm) and Disney Corp.

The image of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in his scarlet uniform and broad-brimmed brown stetson hat, is a classic image of Canadiana.  Many Canadians would be surprised to discover, however, that from 1995-2000 the trade-mark to this image was owned by the Disney corporation.

The RCMP licensed its quintessential Canadian emblem to a major corporation in hopes that the Mountie icon would cease to be used for unsavoury products.  The Mountie image has been used for various and sundry purposes, ranging from the usual tourist trinkets, to pornography, and even a World Wrestling Federation character whose special move was called "The Mountie Mash".  In shades of a later RCMP taser controversy, the offending perpetrator, dubbed simply "The Mountie", used a cattle prod against his opponents.
Labatt's corporation was also chastised for commercials which featured "Malcolm the Mountie" singing to a moose puppet.  A British Labatt's ad featuring Malcolm the Mountie, who purportedly always got his can, can be found here. In the 1995 license agreements, no liquor or tobacco products could feature the brand.

The original decision was made due to Disney's international clout in pursuing copyright infringement violations.  In 2000, the RCMP refused to renew the contract with Disney, as they felt they were savvy enough to defend their own brand.  Canadians can rest assured that when they buy their Mountie mugs, keychains, and t-shirts, they no longer send a share to Mickey Mouse.  The "Made in China" emblem found on the bottom of these "Canadian" products, however, will presumably remain for some time.

Video from CBC archives on the announcement of the Disney copyright deal. 
Christopher Gittings article on the Mountie image
Review of  Michael Dawson's The Mountie From Dime Novel to Disney

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Riel the Statuesque Strange Attractor

Riel 1870. UofManitoba Libraries
What is it that attracts Canadians to Louis Riel? The impetuous wag might quip, Riel's rebellion was a brief but bloody outbreak in Canada's otherwise pallid past.  Jennifer Reid has opted for a more cerebral explanation in Louis Riel and the Creation of Modern Canada : Mythic Discourse and the Postcolonial State (2008).  Reid suggests that for Canadians, Riel functions like the "strange attractors" used in chaos theory which make patterns discernible within complex systems.  The struggle for a Canadian national identity must work across the complex variations in region, language and ethnicity, and Riel may offer a way to understand these nuances.

As Reid writes, "Straddling the dichotomies of the Canadian social body, the man and the myths that have attached themselves to him (as well as to the resistance of 1869-70 and the Rebellion of 1885) might also present themselves to us a 'repeating' elements, signalling a different kind of order to be discerned within a history of disjunction.  From this vantage point, it is Riel as the emblem of 'in-between-ness' who expresses a most basic fact of the Canadian experience: that of cultural hybridity or...metissage." (Reid, 81)

Mackenzie Art Gallery
Riel has served as a bedrock of controversy in his numerous incarnations in Canadian culture, and no less so when his most intimate features are chiselled in stone.  The first of the Riel statue controversies occurred shortly after the 1968 unveiling of John Nugent's sculpture at the Saskatchewan legislature.  As Reid writes, "the virtually naked representation of Riel, right arm raised, genitals clearly visible, and neck angled upward as in prayer was presented to a public that was relatively unanimous in its displeasure for the piece." (Reid, 3)  It took until 1991 to have the statue removed and donated to Regina's Mackenzie Art Gallery.

Another statue, created by Marcien Lemay and Etienne Gaboury, and displayed to the public in 1971 at the Manitoba legislature, was also "naked and tormented", and drew the ire of politicians and the Manitoba Metis Federation, whose former president dubbed it an "undignified...incongruous monstrosity." (Reid, 4) In 1994, the statue was removed from the grounds to the College universitaire de Saint-Boniface.

Finally, an acceptable statue created by Miguel Joyal was unveiled at the Manitoba legislature in 1996, which, after a full generation of controversy on the grounds was met with general approval of the public.  Unanimity is impossible to achieve, however, in historical interpretation as well as aesthetic taste.   Reid notes that one pundit claimed Joyal's work was, "just as boring and constipated as the other statues that dot the grounds." (Reid, 4)

Further Reading

Shannon Bower, "Practical Results": The Riel Statue Controversy at the Manitoba Legislature Building", Manitoba History
Sean Kheraj, "Representing and Remembering Louis Riel" Blogpost

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sympathizing with Enemy "Hares": Chris Vokes at Agira, 1943

Chris Vokes DND. LAC #
Chris Vokes' memoirs entitled simply "My Story", are an anecdotal history of one of the most colourful Canadian generals of the Second World War.  Vokes was the forthright and blustery type, with little time for polished buttons and pressed uniforms and a love of booze, brothels, and vulgarity.  The combination makes for an entertaining read.

Vokes' military career has yet to be the subject of a full length academic study.  While he is known as possessing a certain rough charm, his memoirs reveal a more sensitive self-image.  In addresses to the men in the ranks, Vokes would write of killing "Jerries" in a matter of fact manner, yet he did possess a more humane side. An incident in Sicily, as Vokes' 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade pushed towards the town of Agira, shows that his sympathy for the plight of the enemy could emerge.  As Vokes writes:

"Two of our tanks on the hill were firing at a stalled enemy tank on flat ground about 500 yards ahead.  Two machine guns of the Saskatoon Light Infantry from the Brigade Support Company were also ready to open fire.
     On the hill were a number of war correspondents and other swanners crowding around to watch us as though looking on at Aldershot tattoo.
        Of course the enemy tank was soon hit.  Two Krauts suddenly bailed out and ran like hares for the cover of a small knoll, pursued by the fire of the machine guns.
        They made it ---to loud cheers from me and the rest of the spectators.  Cheering them seemed the sporting thing to do at the time.  Why I don't know to this day.  Inexplicable.  They were the enemy." (Vokes, 115-116)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Military Propaganda and New Year's Expectations

All soft-caps and no steel-helmets
 in this British Recruitment Poster, 1915.
Credit: Library and Archives Canada,
Acc. No. 1983-28-1325
New Year's is a time for considering the past and projecting high hopes for the coming year.  In times of war, military powers have hoped to channel these sentiments of personal improvement to rally citizens to their militant duties.  A British Great War poster features an army of soldiers marching to victory in 1915.  Historical hindsight offers a grim reality-check to these optimistic hopes for the glowing rays of victory in the first year of the Great War.

With the coming of 1942, Canada's Department of Munitions and Supply opted for a more emotional appeal in hopes to channel New Year's resolutions.  Canada's broad mobilization for war in the previous year and a half is evident, as a limited liability strategy turned into a full-scale war effort.  The text-heavy poster is clearly aimed at increasing efforts on the home front to back the attack, yet includes a phrase imploring those best fit for military service to serve in the armed forces.

"I will resolve that if I am fitted to serve my country in the armed forces. I will take my place proudly beside my comrades."

Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. R1300-262
German propagandists were not immune to tapping the celebratory expectations of the bombastic New Year's eve party.  Directed at American soldiers in Italy, one leaflet depicts decadent New York capitalists partying in luxury.  Targeting soldiers in the frigid conditions of January 1945, the leaflet attempts to raise memories of better times and evoke suspicions of war profiteering, while lowering morale on the front.  The broad expectations of New Year's parties and resolutions, it seems, have proven to be common themes in attempts to influence the public's militant resolve.

Hoping to drive a wedge between the homefront and the battlefield, the German pamphlet depicted a raucous orgy of heartless capitalism "THEY know what you are fighting for when they pocket their huge profits and big paychecks." Tapping in to the seasonal urge to ponder the future, the ultimate  anxieties of the soldier were exploited.

"What has the new year in store for you?
Will you die on the battlefield?
Will you be maimed or blinded?
Who knows?"    

New year's celebrations date back to the Romans.  Perhaps they too used military propagandaTheir large arena displays were one way they could use display to seek allegiance from the masses.  It seems, however, the expansion of print media made attempts to spread the a militant message easier. Glossy posters and the ability to bombard the enemy with paper messages spread material quickly throughout the target population.  The effectiveness of propaganda in any era is a contentious topic, but the concentrated resources forwarded to the efforts of those such as Joseph Goebbels, or on a smaller scale, John Grierson, of Canada's Department of Wartime Information, point to the Second World War as the high watermark of global propaganda.  Arguably, the introduction of the film reel changed the nature of propaganda, as the experiential effect of movies and newsreels drew participants to the medium's message.