At Montmorency, Corruption and Secret Deals

With the city of Laval currently basking in provincial tutelage and the title of most corrupt city in the province, one might ask if the mayor had been reading from the life of the man whose name his city takes. Not that François de Laval de Montmorency was himself corrupt. No, it seems that he […]

From Laurier, A Gilded Age, and Its Unravelling

With the news that in preparation for the G8 summit later this month, the small town of Fermanagh in Northern Ireland has been decked out in the image of a sadly lacking prosperity, it is worth recalling a similar event from the nineteenth century, albeit at a different stage of the economic cycle. The 1897 […]

At Lionel Groulx, the Delirium of the Nation

Reading Esther Delisle’s account against the French Canadian nationalist and anti-semite, Lionel Groulx, the case against him seems overwhelming. But Groulx was neither the first anti-semite nor the first person to create a national myth. In the hardships of the Depression, Groulx was hardly in original looking for scapegoats, and finding them. As Delisle, herself […]

At Laurier, Between the Klondike, London and Washington

In 1896, the year Wilfred Laurier became Prime Minister, Canada didn’t have a foreign policy. There was no need; most English speakers rejoiced in being imperial subjects and thought of themselves as British and while French Canadians felt no love for the empire, they were content for their imperial masters to respond to the threat […]

From Jean Talon, New France

Among the traitors to French Canada identified by Lionel Groulx were the young men, Radisson and Grosselliers among them, who in the seventeenth century did not hesitate “between the sedentary life of the pioneer and the seductive existence of the coureur de bois”. Attracted by the land’s  “vast prospect, its immensity, served by the most […]

From Lionel Groulx, The Death of a Race

The stations of the Montreal Metro system are not named after people. They are named after streets and places, which themselves may or may not be named after people. So when people call for Lionel-Groulx to be renamed after Oscar Peterson, they are actually calling for the street to be renamed. There is no Peterson […]

From Lionel Groulx, The Birth of a Race

Of all the stations in the metro system, Lionel-Groulx is the most controversial. Named after the priest and historian, he dominated a strand of French Canadian intellectual culture from the 1920s to his death in 1967. To his admirers, including former students at Université de Montréal, André Laurandeau, a future editor of Le Devoir, and […]

From Laurier, Canada

Canadian Confederation was a marriage of convenience performed under the shotgun of the U.S. Civil War. The country created by Macdonald and Cartier existed on paper but was one dominated by English imperialists often hostile to a suspicious French-speaking minority, themselves more dominated by a local Catholic clergy than their English neighbours. Ten years after […]

From Cartier, Pax Canadiana, or Confederation

“Canada,” Pierre Elliott Trudeau is supposed to have said, “is a country built against any common, geographic or historical sense”. Prime Minister from 1968 to 1979 and again from 1980 to 1984, Trudeau was a smart man: he did not to say that it made no political sense. He also had the good sense not […]

At Place d’Armes, An Election and A Massacre

Canada has just now to witness the most foul and barbarous murder of several of her citizens and MONTREAL is about to become no less famous than Manchester, in the annals of Military despotism, outrage and assassination. The Vindicator, 22 May 1832 One of the things that I enjoy most about this project (and the […]

On the Metro, With No Small Fanfare, Art and Buskers

Montreal is a city of art and music, and its metro is no exception. This is hardly surprising as the core of the system was designed to whisk the world to the spectacles of the 1967 Expo on Ile Ste-Helene and, when it was extended nine years later, to the Olympics of 1976. These first […]

From Place d’Armes, a Picture of Awful and Thrilling Beauty

On 25th April 1849, a group of Montrealers set out from Place d’Armes and burnt their country’s parliament to the ground. The army and police did little, despite warnings. Afterwards, among those arrested was the editor and owner of the Gazette. In 1849, the effects of the previous decade’s Rebellions were still vividly felt, and […]

On the Blog, Some Updates; On the Fridge, Some Magnets; On Facebook, a Page

This week I have been fortunate enough to have had a number of conversations with Marian Scott, of the Gazette. She has put me straight on a number points and the posts on Peel and Henri-Bourassa have been updated accordingly. In the case of Peel, I say that the street was opened in 1845. This, […]

Henri Bourassa – Between La Fête Nationale and Canada Day

When Mark Twain visited Montreal he famously remarked that ‘This is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn’t throw a brick without breaking a church window’. The rest of his anecdote is less well known. He was told that a new church was going to be built. Where would the […]

On Sherbrooke, A Cool Head

Some wars end in clear victory for one side and an equally clear defeat for the other. Among these are the Napoleonic Wars and on the clear defeats of Napoleon at Borodino in 1812 and Waterloo in 1815 hang the monster novels of Tolstoy (War and Peace) and Thackeray (Vanity Fair) as well as the […]

Berri-UQÁM – Where protests and history happen

You will have perhaps heard about the student protests which have been dominating Montreal this spring and summer. Each night since February students have been demonstrating against the provincial government’s proposed increase in tuition fees. You may have seen pictures of violence and confrontations with the police downtown and heard that at one point a […]