Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative


Canada in 19 Volumes

February 18, 2020

The other day I was leafing through a copy of Arduous Destiny by P.B. Waite in search of a factoid when the pages fell apart in my hands. No surprise, I guess. My edition of Waite's book dates to 1978 and has followed me from Ottawa, where it was purchased, to Montreal and across the country to North Vancouver. Forty-two years later it doesn't owe me anything.

Arduous Destiny was published as part of The Canadian Centenary Series, an ambitious multi-volume, multi-author history of Canada cooked up by the legendary publisher Jack McClelland in the mid-1950s. The original intention was to complete the series in time for the 1967 centennial, but as things worked out the last volume did not appear until twenty years later.

My set of ten titles, pictured above, constitutes only part of the set. There were 19 in total, all written by leading academic historians. They are of varying quality. Donald Creighton's biographer, Donald Wright, calls Creighton's contribution, The Forked Road: Canada 1939-1957, "an awful book." On the other hand I return regularly to Waite's book, which covers the period 1874-1896, and also to the volumes by R.C. Brown and Ramsay Cook on the early 20th century and by John Herd Thompson (with Allen Seager) on the interwar period.

For anyone interested, the set is now available in e-book format from Penguin Random House.

February 14, 2020

Up at Squamish this morning for the grand reopening of the Sea to Sky Gondola, back in action after being vandalized six months ago.

Guess what? The view hasn't changed at all.

Congratulations to everyone involved.

February 12, 2020

Anyone looking for a new narrative for Canadian history should check out Richard Mackie's latest essay over at the Ormsby Review.

Mackie, who is editor of the Review, prowled the halls of academe before choosing the more perilous path of a freelance historian. He has written several well-regarded books, my own favourites being his two-volume, wonderfully illustrated, history of...

February 10, 2020

The local CBC has been commemorating the tenth anniversary of the Vancouver/Whistler Winter Olympics. I was invited to join a few other historians in ranking where the Games fit on a list of significant events in the city's past.

The results were tabulated and it seems we all agreed that the Olympics didn't have much of a long term impact at all. In fact, the Games came dead last, trailing other events by a large margin. Race riots, freeways debates, the world's fair of 1986, the...

January 13, 2020

Congratulations to Sylvia Hamilton, this year's winner of the Pierre Berton Award, one of the Governor General's History Awards handed out by the folks at Canada's History.

Hamilton is a public historian based in Grand Pré, Nova Scotia. The citation notes that she is "a direct descendent of the Black Refugees (survivors) of the War of 1812" and "has made an...

January 10, 2020

This blog is not concerned with international events but the terrible tragedy in Iran has me so angry this morning, probably because it has hit so close to home.

I was just over at my favourite coffee shop which is on Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver. Almost across the street is the memorial outside the bakery owned by Amir Pasavand who lost his wife and daughter when the plane went down. Next door is one of the community's largest Iranian grocery stores. The North Shore, of course...