Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative


February 25, 2014

In the past weeks I’ve noticed attention being paid in the media to the issue of mental illness in the prison system. In the New York Times, regular columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote this article arguing that prisons are the new mental hospitals. “Psychiatric disorders are the only kind of sickness that we as a society regularly respond to not with sympathy but with handcuffs and...

February 24, 2014


Vancouver history buffs are aware that mega rock star Jimi Hendrix had an historic connection to the city. His grandmother, Nora Hendrix, lived here for many years, from her arrival in 1912 until her death at age 100 in 1984. Jimi was raised in Seattle but came north to visit his grandparents regularly and there is now a small shrine to the singer in the city’s East...

February 21, 2014


If there is one thing Canadians know about their own history it is that we do not know, or care, much about it.

With depressing regularity, poll after poll reveals that we do not know the name of our first prime minister, or when BC joined Confederation, or yadda yadda yadda. We extrapolate from these dismal surveys to conclude that Canadians consider their past to be one giant yawn and the more excitable among us warn that there is a national crisis of ignorance.


February 8, 2014


Reading a review of a couple of new books about the assassination of Leon Trotksy brought back memories of a visit I made a few years ago to the scene of the murder, Trotsky's house in Coyoacan, a neighbourhood of Mexico City.

Now part of a museum, it is maintained much as it was on August 20, 1940, when an agent of the Soviet secret police, Ramon Mercader, gained access to the house and struck Trotsky a fatal blow to the head with an ice axe he had concealed in his raincoat...

February 2, 2014

I travelled to Ottawa last week to conduct Her Majesty's business (and to shiver through the Polar Vortex) and I needed something to read on the plane. My choice, Clearing the Plains by James Daschuk, turned out to be both impressive and depressing.

The book has received quite a bit of attention, rightly so. Subtitled "Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life," it is a bleak history of the impact of disease on the First Nations of the Canadian Plains....