Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative


Red River Rebellion Retold

September 28, 2018

My initiation into political campaigning came in the 1969 BC election when I canvassed door-to-door on behalf of Tom Berger, then the new leader of the provincial NDP. He lost, his party lost, and I left town (for unrelated reasons). But politics' loss was the legal world's gain and Berger went on to have a distinguished career as a lawyer and judge. I still own a well-thumbed copy of his landmark report of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland (1977). I am not going to run through his many accomplishments; you can find them here.

I mention all this because earlier in the week I had the opportunity to hear Justice Berger, still going strong in his mid-80s, deliver a very impressive after-dinner speech. His topic was the Red River Rebellion of 1869/70, Manitoba's entry into Confederation and the swindling (his word) of the Metis out of their land. The relevance was that just a few days earlier the Manitoba Metis had reached an agreement with the federal government that built on a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court in 2013 that Ottawa had failed to live up to the agreement it signed with the Metis back in 1870. The Manitoba Metis had been promised land; the federal government failed in its responsibility to see that they got it.

Justice Berger, who was involved in much of the litigation leading up to the recent agreement, walked us through the 19th-century events, then movingly connected them to modern attempts to right an historical wrong. I've seldom been in a room full of people so attentive to a story from Canadian history. It was the best after dinner speech I've ever heard.

September 13, 2018

large_OppenheimerwarehouseCVA-AM54-S4- Bu P683_1.jpg

When out-of-towners arrive to stay I usually extract their room & board in kind by subjecting them to forced marches through some of the city's historic districts. Which is what brought us to Gastown earlier this week to view the Oppenheimer warehouse. The photo above was taken in 1898 (City of...

August 15, 2018

Now that Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has added her voice to the debate about the statue of Sir John A. I guess it's time for me to add mine.

Let's look at some of the language Minister McKenna, and lots of other people, use to frame the issue. First of all she says that the statue is being "torn down." No it isn't. It is being removed from its original site outside Victoria City Hall and...

August 11, 2018

I spent a morning recently clambering around the top of Mount Seymour in the company of Alex Douglas, the "mountain man." Alex curates a small museum on the mountain and leads walking tours of some of the historic cabin sites.

According to Alex's website, "If you lived in Vancouver, Mount Seymour is where you learnt to ski." This was certainly true in my own case. Back in the mid-1950s my parents drove myself and my siblings up the...

July 22, 2018


One of the joys of noodling around in the history of one’s hometown – in my case Vancouver – is the threads of personal connection that, tugged upon, unravel something new about one’s own relationship with the place.

A case in point is Maude Sherman (1900-1976). Sherman was a founding member of the BC Art League, a group of Vancouver art lovers who banded together in the...

July 8, 2018


As mentioned below, I gave an illustrated talk on the history of squatting in Burrard Inlet recently. (If you are interested, Vancouver Sun reporter Kevin Griffin wrote a nice piece about it.)

One of the most organized of the...