Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

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Careful What You Wish For

October 9, 2019

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer believes that the purpose of history is to "celebrate" the past. To this end he has announced that if elected his government will remove admission fees from Canada's national museums.

I'm all in favour of free museums, but Mr. Scheer is dead wrong. His views would lead to the destruction, not the strengthening, of our museums. He wants to turn them into cheerleaders for what he calls "the giants of our history," otherwise known as our prime ministers and governors general. In other words, politicians like himself.

History is not about celebration. It cannot be said too often or too loudly. Politicians wish it were so because they are in the business of manipulating the past to suit their own purposes. But history is an argument, not a story. It is a kaleidoscope of many different points of view and every time you turn the glass you get another perspective.

The job of history museums is to present the complexity, not "celebrate the giants."

One more reason -- if you really needed one -- not to vote for Mr. Scheer.

August 28, 2019

The Blue Cabin project launched last weekend in False Creek so I went along to have a look.

I've written before about the project but now it is up and running, welcoming its first artist-in-residence this autumn. In the photo above, the rebuilt squatter's cabin is on the right, the modern living quarters on the left.

The...

August 24, 2019

Last weekend I joined a walking tour of historic Mount Pleasant led by Christine Hagemoen of the Mount Pleasant Heritage Group.

Basically the tour followed part of the route of historic Brewery Creek as it used to wind its way from the old Tea Swamp at 16th and Main down to False Creek. The creek is gone now, or at least buried, but there is lots to see in the area, which was the...

August 11, 2019

Someone asked as we motored through the Fraser Canyon: "Where did the Cariboo Road start?"

At Yale, sez I, authoritatively. The steamships could only come up the river from the coast as far as Yale before the canyon got too nasty. From there on, everyone and everything had to continue by land. So they built the wagon road all the way to Barkerville.

Sounded logical, but in that case...

June 30, 2019

A sad start to the summer. Another BC writer passes on.

Rolf Knight, who died on June 22 at the age of 83, wrote a couple of essential books about the province and the city. I am thinking of Indians at Work, his 1978 history of Indigenous peoples' contribution to the BC economy, and Along the No. 20 Line, his entirely original 1980 memoir/history of the Vancouver waterfront. The fact that both books have been reissued over the years speaks to their continued...

June 26, 2019

I am very sorry to learn of the death of Bob McDonald on June 19 at the age of 76. Vancouver has lost one of its preeminent historians.

Bob's book on the city's early years, Making Vancouver, 1863-1913 (UBC Press, 1996), is a subtle and groundbreaking study which I return to again and again for my own work. A longtime professor of history at UBC, he was past president of the Vancouver Historical Society and a fixture at its monthly meetings, which is where I used to run into...

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