Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

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The Triumph of Memoir

October 30, 2018

Congratulations to Darrel McLeod whose memoir, Mamaskatch, has won the Governor General's Literary Award for Non-Fiction.

I cannot help noting that each of the five finalists for this year's award is a memoir. I am not sure what that says about non-fiction writing in the country, if anything. Several years ago I was a member of a jury deciding on Canada Council grants to non-fiction writers and I recall how many of the applicants were writing memoirs. Where were the historians, the biographers, the science writers, I wondered? But my fellow jurors, one of whom was a memoirist himself, did not think it was a very important question.

Not that I have anything against memoir as a genre. I read them regularly. Two of the best books I read this year belong to the genre: Susan Faludi's provocative story of her transgendered father, In the Darkroom, and Susan Crean's difficult account of her family's Chinese servant, Finding Mr. Wong.

But still, five out of five certainly suggests that for the time being at least memoir has become our favourite form of non-fiction reading. Naturally, as a writer of history, I'd prefer to see some history titles in the mix. But I accept that these things go in cycles. Maybe next year.

October 27, 2018

Here in British Columbia we are voting, again, on possibly changing the way we vote. In this context, I keep reading that London, Ontario, was recently the first Canadian municipality to use a ranked ballot system in its civic election.

This is not true. Vancouver introduced such a system, briefly, almost a century ago. And bad news for those on both sides of the current debate who argue that, for better or for worse, a ranked ballot would result in significant change: it didn't...

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 ...

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...

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