Monday, April 24, 2017

T - Toronto's Ill-Fated First Hanging

After the bleak and controversial topics of last week (treasonous nationalism, indigenous rights, and TWO separate cases of genocide), let's keep this week lighter. Monday's topic is... public execution.

Actually, it's still not as bad as last week's posts.

Back in 1798 Toronto was a small frontier town only five years old. It wasn't even called Toronto yet, it was still called York back then. They had a brand-new jail and hanging yard on King Street, a couple of blocks east from Yonge Street, and the local authorities were itching to use it.

This is not the York jailhouse from the story. This is the old Don Jail, which has it's own history of controversy and horror.

In October of that year, a couple of Irish immigrants named John Sullivan and Michael Flannery went on a drinking binge in Toronto's only tavern. Sullivan was illiterate, but Flannery was known as "Latin Mike" for his penchant of reciting Bible verses, and by all accounts was a pretty smart guy. This becomes important later.

When the money ran out, Flannery had the sparkling idea to forge a bank note for three shillings and nine pence (worth a little less than dollar, or twenty bucks in today's money). The bank accepted it and the boys continued their bender. They were soon found out, however, and when word came of their impending arrest Flannery immediately skipped town. Sullivan was not so lucky. He was arrested, tried and convicted of forgery, and sentenced to death.

For forging the equivalent of a twenty-dollar bill.

Is this colourful old lady worth your life?

The judge's ruling was scathing:
Sullivan, may all who behold you, and who shall hear of your crime, and of your unhappy fate, take warning from your example… [I] recommend to you to employ the few days that shall be allowed, of a life spent in wickedness, in humble and fervent prayer to almighty God…
Again, the dude was sentenced to death because his friend forged a twenty dollar bill. Sullivan was illiterate and couldn't write his own name. Obviously the town really, really wanted to try out their new hanging yard.

Again this is not from the York hanging (not many cameras back then). This is from Hull, Quebec, in 1902, not far from where I now work.

The problem was the hanging yard was so new, no one actually knew how to hang a person, and nobody was willing to try. They ultimately had to give $100 and a pardon to another criminal in the same jail, a man by the name of McKnight, to give it a whirl.

(I have been unable to determine what McKnight was arrested for, or how it compares to forging a f*cking $20 bill. Would it be worse if he did something really minor like jaywalking, or had murdered an entire churchful of nuns?)

Yeah, I dunno either, Pierre.

A crowd gathered in their Sunday best to watch the hanging (this was about 210 years before Netflix), and McKnight proved he also had no clue how to hang somebody. The first time the noose slipped off Sullivan's head. The second time the knot came undone. At this point even Sullivan himself was getting annoyed and impatient. It was reported that his last words were something along the lines of: 

"McKnight, I hope to God you got the rope right this time."

Turns out he did, and the third time was the charm.


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.

Read More »

Saturday, April 22, 2017

S - Shanawdithit, Last of the Beothuk

A few days ago I talked about the Mi'kmaq, an Indigenous group in Newfoundland that were actually "native" to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The Beothuk, however, were the true natives of the Island province, able to trace their arrival to Newfoundland about 2000 years ago. They encountered the vikings when they arrived in 1000 AD (in the Norse sagas they referred to them as "skraelings"). They hunted and fished, lived and died on the Island for nearly twenty centuries. Their numbers were never large, peaking at around 2000 individuals in the 1500s.

And then the Europeans showed up and ruined everything.

It's the same story from everywhere else in the Americas. The Europeans brought new diseases which the Beothuk had no defence against. They cut off their traditional hunting and fishing lands. In some cases they actively warred and fought against the natives, and the Beothuk could not compete with the numbers and the superior technology of the Colonials.

The unusual detail with the Beothuk however, is that it is one of the rare instances where we can pinpoint the exact moment of the extinction of an entire race.

Beothuk iron tools. The Beothuk did not trade much with European settlers, but instead scavenged and recycled discarded objects.

Shanawdithit was born in Newfoundland in 1801, and by that time her people's traditional way of life was already dying, and their numbers dwindling rapidly. Most of her family members died of illness and starvation while she was young, and in 1819 her aunt, Demasduit, was captured by the English and brought to "civilization" in hopes that she could become a bridge between the Beothuk and the English. She refused, claiming that her people would sacrifice her if she returned, which may have been true; by this time the Beothuk knew that contact with the English would bring them disease, and they could not take any more chances.

Desmaduit died of tuberculosis in 1820. At that time it is believed there were only 31 Beothuk left.

Beothuk birch bark canoe. The high sides may have been for stability in rough water.

Shanawdithit, her mother and her sister were taken by the British in 1823 after the death of her father. Her mother and sister died of tuberculosis shortly thereafter, but Shanawditit held on for several more years. She came to St. John's, the capital of the Island, and worked as a maid and even learned to speak English. The government continued to hold out hope that she could be used as a connection to the native people, a people who quietly died out while Shanawditit lived in captivity. After she finally passed away of tuberculosis on June 6, 1829, no other Beothuk were ever seen on the island again. She was, very literally, the last of her people.

In recent years genetic tests on the remains of Shanawdithit and Demasduit have indicated that while they have distant relationships to the Mi'kmaq, the Beothuk DNA is indeed unique and does not appear anywhere else. They are a separate and distinct line of the human race that we watched and documented - not to mention helped - driven to extinction in the 1800s.


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.

Read More »

Friday, April 21, 2017

R - J.R. Robertson, Toronto's First Literary Pirate

John Ross Robertson was born in Toronto in 1841. As a child he collected pictures and historical memorabilia (so he was a nerd, basically), and in high school he started his own newspaper, which may have been the first school newspaper of its kind in Canada. He got into trouble with the school administration for printing negative pieces about them, and had to close and rename his paper several times. To be fair to Robertson, he was actually only chastising the school for their movie-villain-style schemes, like trying to tear down the school playground (which Robertson stopped).

After leaving school Robertson started his own print and publishing businesses as well as founded several papers and magazines. By 1865 he was city editor for the Globe, one of Toronto's (and the country's) top papers, which continues to this day as the Globe and Mail. He won numerous awards for journalism and was credited for "introducing to the paper the practice of writing crisp, short paragraphs about a multiplicity of local happenings, rather than sermon-like and wordy essays about outstanding events."

You know, basically the opposite of the way I write.

Preferring to be in charge, Robertson jumped ship just a year later to start his own paper, the Evening Telegraph (later the Evening Telegram). The Telegraph was characterized as news as entertainment, with colourful words, flashy ads, low price and catering to the "average, lower class family" with lowbrow, trashy stories. It was basically a tabloid, and also continues today in its spiritual successor, the Toronto Sun.

Which is also not much better than a tabloid.

The paper was hugely successful, and Robertson became one of Canada's first press barons. Just like today, the people who control the media control the masses, and so JR Robertson was a powerful, influential figure. He used this power to dabble in new enterprises, like rampant literary piracy.

With the rise of popular fiction, and since JRR owned his own printing presses, it was only natural that he would try his hand at book publishing. But instead of finding his own authors and new manuscripts, he just stole works that were already popular in the U.S. or Britain and sold them in Canada without the author or publisher's permission. Due to the lack of international copyright laws, Robertson made a fortune shamelessly reprinting these works. His "Robertson Cheap Editions" (seriously, that was the name) sold for 3 to 50 cents a copy, a fraction of the price of the legitimate volumes. Between 1877 and the early 1890s, it is estimated that Robertson sold up to 2 million copies of as many as 350 titles. He even serialized the works in the Telegram.

The 19th-century equivalent of Torrenting an ePub file.

Of course, what he was doing wasn't technically illegal, but it made him unpopular in certain circles, especially among British copyright lawyers. They argued that as a dominion of Great Britain, Canada should follow their copyright laws, which of course Canadians balked against. Prime Minister John Sparrow Thompson (no relation to Captain Jack Sparrow) appointed Robertson as lead to sort out the copyright laws and actually sent him to London to negotiate with the British, which spelled an end to the Robertson Cheap Editions. I imagine it would have been hard for Robertson to strike any kind of deal with the British while he was ripping them off at the same time.


Like many rich industrialist of his era, JR Robertson was a fascinating and controversial figure. I only touched on a fraction of his life today. If you want to know more, check out:


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.
Read More »

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Q - Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nations Band

This one is still ongoing and is a very contentious issue back home in Newfoundland, so I'll try to stay as objective as possible.

The Mi'kmaq (sometimes spelled Mi'kmaw or Micmac) are an indigenous people of Eastern Canada, today numbering around 40,000 in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. In the early 2000s the Federal Government of Canada started a process to officially recognize the Qalipu Mi'kmaq people of Newfoundland, since they had never been officially documented and had no reserve lands. They started accepting applications for anyone who had indigenous blood and wanted to be considered for membership to the band.

They received over 100,000 applications, fully one-fifth the population of the entire province.

The Mi'kmaq had been coming to the island of Newfoundland for hunting and fishing for hundreds of years, and had commonly intermingled with the French settlers. In 1949, Newfoundland joined Confederation with Canada as the 10th Province. Part of the agreement to join the country was the province's agreement that there were no Mi'kmaq living on the Island. This was a blatant falsehood, for while their numbers had dwindled they were certainly not extinct. The reason for this decision is complicated. Indigenous people in Canada are governed by a law called the Indian Act, a contentious piece of legislature that decides how they are defined, their land rights, ability to govern themselves and so on. It is both a necessary and a massively racist system of laws, which the country has been amending, apologizing for and paying reparations against for decades.

Mi'kmaq Camp in Nova Scotia, c. 1857

In 1949, Canada didn't want to recognize a large influx of new "Status Indians" because it would cost them a fortune to provide social benefits to members in remote communities. Newfoundland didn't want anyone recognized as Status Indians because under the Act Indians weren't allowed to vote. There are no good records of exactly how many Mi'kmaq existed on the island in 1949 (since officially they didn't exist), but there were certainly some, though they were maligned and marginalized just like native people in the rest of North America.

For many years you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who admitted to be of Mi'kmaq heritage. And then, all of a sudden their numbers exploded when the government decided to allow them back into the fold. Why you may ask? An person optimistic about the nature of humanity would say it's because all those people were looking to reclaim their heritage. A more cynical person would say it's because of all the government social funding and tax benefits being a Status Indian provides.

Joe Jeddore, a Newfoundland Mi'kmaq guide, pre-1907
I guarantee everyone just called him "Indian Joe."

In 2011, after going through about 25,000 applications the Feds put the brakes on the program and told the Newfoundland Federation of Indians to change the eligibility requirements to be a member of the Qalipu band, because there was no way they were going to recognize so many members. The outstanding applications were summarily rejected, and previously reviewed applications were reevaluated. Eligibility was changed so that now not only did you have to have indigenous ancestors, but you had to live in certain areas and be an active member of the band. Even then, the criteria is not being vetted transparently or consistently. Some people who had already been granted Status are having it revoked. It also created the stunning situation where one sibling is an "Indian," but their brother or sister is not. Or even where a parent is not an "Indian," but their children are.

Full disclosure: This applies to my own family. My maternal grandfather was of Mi'kmaq descent. My sister and her children are recognized members of the band and are Status Indians. I'm probably going to have my status revoked.

This needless to say has caused a lot of controversy and bad blood. It's important to recognize that being a Status Indian is a legal recognition and does not define your heritage. You can still consider yourself Mi'kmaq and be a member of the band and take part in all their cultural activities. But no, you don't get the financial benefits that come along with it.

Whether that's right or wrong is up to the individual to decide.

(Photo credits today are from:


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.

Read More »

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

GUEST POST: Interview with Author Jocelynn Babcock


Today I continue my monthly interview series with another up-and-coming author, Jocelynn Babcock. Jocelynn is the author of the newly released MANTIC Volume 1: The Eyes of March. Let's get down to business!


A psychic with amnesia? 

Two women murdered, both with identical tattoos. A third tattooed woman survives an attempted drowning. Valena is the only link to stop the serial killer pursuing her, but she is afraid of her dark truth and surrenders to amnesia. 

Haunted by visions, she meets the Wyrd Sisters and enters a life of psychics, tarot readings, prophecies, and possible death. 

When those from her past find her, how can she accept police help and hide from the killer if she refuses to remember?


Your first book, The Eyes of March, is listed as a paranormal thriller on Amazon. What drew you to write in this genre?
I never meant to write dark murder mysteries. I wanted something light and funny. When I sat down, I had to plot this character carefully. I had to know why she had amnesia. That changed the tone and the theme for the book. It turns out, I have a darkness that needs an outlet and I now write in a genre I’ve never read much in.

So it seems like your characters had a story to tell. When you develop characters do you already know who they are before you begin writing or do you let them develop as you go? 
I develop my characters. They do talk to me. Kim, for example, told me her wife died of breast cancer. That was not planned. For the most part, their archetype, employment, and physical appearance is already pre-determined.

The Eyes of March was fittingly just released in March. Did you do a press release, Goodreads book launch or anything else to promote your work and did it work?
I did a Goodreads giveaway. The purpose of those is to generate awareness and have your book on some people’s to be read list. I participate in author take overs and meet new readers. I think it is always beneficial to build your platform. 

Speaking of platform: what’s your views on social media for marketing, and which of them have worked best for you?
I tracked my advertising and found that Twitter is like screaming into vast nothingness. It produced squat. Facebook generated the most clicks. Social media is a great resource for reaching readers.

Being a writer is a complicated and stressful business. Do you think being a writer is a gift or a curse?
Neither. A “gift” suggests that only a certain group can do it. Though it takes a certain temperament, anybody can be a writer. A “curse” suggests that writing comes from without and we have no choice or control.

Interesting. What about for you, personally: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing as far as content?
Sex is difficult for me to write. I can’t shut off that voice in my brain that says “My mother’s going to read this,” or “I don’t want my family thinking I’m into this.”

Jocelynn Babcock hates talking about herself in third person, but loves reading and writing third person narratives. A typical writer, she’ll tell you she created books with her grandma’s yarn as a child and grew up to marry an engineer (as all writers do). She lives in the Channeled Scablands where the fine line between sanity and not is an outlet for idle hands. 


Read More »

P - Pussy Black-Face and Margaret Marshall Saunders

Earlier this month I wrote about May Agnes Fleming, Canada's first big name author. While Fleming certainly had great (and longer-term) success, she didn't come close to the explosive impact of Margaret Marshall Saunders.

The daughter of a baptist minister, Margaret was born in 1861 in the village of Milton, Nova Scotia. She traveled widely, attending boarding school in Edinburgh and studying French at Orléans.

In 1889 she submitted her first novel, Beautiful Joe, to the American Humane Education Society Prize Competition "Kind and Cruel Treatment of Domestic Animals and Birds in the Northern States" and won $200. (For reference, that would be worth over five grand today, so that's a pretty sweet writing contest payout.) It was the "true story" of a dog from Meaford, Ontario that had his ears and tail snipped by an abusive owner as a puppy, but is rescued by a family and then goes on to save the family's lives. Of course it was written from the dog's point of view.

The book was published in 1893 and came to international attention (this was on the heels of Black Beauty, and animal books were really big back then). It was the first Canadian book to sell over a million copies (the population of Canada in 1893 was under five million, so every household must have had at least one copy of this friggin' book), going on to sell over seven million copies worldwide by 1930.

As with my previous post about Winnie the Pooh, I maintain once again that the secret of literary success is writing about weird Canadian animals.

Margaret would go on to write twenty other stories and novels, mostly about animals. You can actually still get some of them on Amazon, the most stunningly-titled example being "Pussy Black-Face," which to calm your concerns is neither racist nor about some weird sexual fetish. Supposedly it's a children's story about a cat.

(Well, actually, it was written in 1913 so it may very well have racist elements. And, fair warning, if you Google "Pussy Black-Face" you do get porn hits on the first page.)

Here, I googled it for you to save the embarrassment of someone finding it in your search history.

Margaret was never married and by all accounts grew to be a weird cat/animal lady, living with her sister in an apartment in downtown Toronto with an excessive number of rescue animals. She often named the animals after the locations where she found them, including a dog named Johnny Doorstep and a pigeon named 38 Front Street.

She and her sister toured Canada and the US, giving lectures and collecting stories of domestic animals that were the inspiration for many of her writings. A charming and humourous woman, she held strong interest in humanitarian concerns for animals and children. In addition to her lectures she wrote articles for several newspapers on social concerns such as the abolition of child labour and the improvement of playground facilities. She belonged to many organizations, including founding the Canadian Women's Press Club with Lucy Maud Montgomery. (Montgomery of course went on to be even more successful than Margaret, but Saunders paved the way).

Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables has no less than 22 film and TV adaptations, including TWO Japanese anime series and a new "gritty reboot" airing right now on CBC. So where's the Pussy Black-Face movie?

At age 73 she was awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Canada's highest civilian honour. She passed away in 1974 at the age of 85.


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.

Read More »

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

O - The October Crisis

Okay, I find this particular story unusual because despite it being a huge deal for our country and the fact that it took place only a few years before I was born, I knew next to nothing about the Quebec October Crisis until I started doing research for this post. Maybe it's just because Newfoundlanders didn't care about it (we have our own separatist feelings sometimes) but I really feel like this should have been covered in high school history.

Quick backstory: The English and the French don't like each other. You probably know that. You also probably know that Canada was an English colony (after they seized most of France's territories after the Seven-Year War). The province of Quebec, however, maintains a strong French identity and culture. They never appreciated being lumped in with the rest of the Dominion, and jumped on any chance they had to rebel. There are many parallels between English/French Canada and England/Ireland, as you're about to see.

Tensions were particularly high in the 1960s (it was a rebellious decade everywhere). The Front de libération de Québec - the FLQ, a Quebec nationalist group reminiscent of Ireland's IRA - detonated some 95 bombs between 1963 and 1970, especially around rich Anglophone (English-speaking) neighbourhoods, killing at least 8 people and wounding dozens more. In early 1969 they attacked the Montreal Stock Exchange and injured 27 people. As the decade closed they became more brazen, and police arrested several men who had been planning to kidnap the Israeli and American consuls.

This is one of the guys they arrested. Remember him, it becomes important later.

They managed to follow through with another plot in early October of 1970, when the FLQ kidnapped both the British Trade Commissioner, James Cross, and the Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte. Both were taken from their homes in broad daylight. Laporte was playing football on the front lawn with his nephew.

This of course made international news and sparked the nation-wide crisis. On October 12 the military was sent to patrol Montreal. On October 13, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (father of current PM Justin Trudeau) was interviewed by the CBC about the military presence and asked him exactly how far he was willing to go to end the crisis.

Trudeau famously responded, "Just watch me."

Which is a way cooler answer than whatever the hell he's doing here.

On October 16, Trudeau implemented the War Measures Act, granting the police far-reaching powers to apprehend, question and detain individuals without warrants, probable cause or even explanation. It was the first time such an edict had been put into place during peace time, and was a HUGE deal as it suspended many civil rights and protections.

The crazy thing is we have similar, ongoing "anti-terrorism" laws now and people barely bat an eye.

On October 17, the FLQ announced they had executed Minister Pierre Laporte. His body was found stuffed in the trunk of a car. Now proving they meant business, they also released a list of demands, including the release of "political" prisoners (FLQ members who had been arrested for earlier bombings), a plane to fly them to Cuba and $500,000 in cash. The stand-off continued until November 6 when the police raided the FLQ cell. Though they captured several conspirators, including one who would ultimately be charged with the murder of Pierre Laporte, more escaped with James Cross. Over the course of two months the police arrested 497 people. Sixty-two of them were charged, 32 of them with crimes serious enough that they were denied bail. The public was generally supportive of these actions, with polls at the time showing some 90% approval of the War Measures Act, though in the decades since there has been plenty of debate as to whether it was the right choice.

Quebec must have been pretty bad if soldiers in the streets garnered a 90% approval rating.

But here's where the story gets really weird, and reminds me how dumb the Canadian justice system is sometimes.

Though I don't fully understand why, the government eventually negotiated with the terrorists, and Cross was finally released on December 4. The five remaining known conspirators were released and flown to Cuba with Fidel Castro's approval. After months of tension, national intrigue, murdering a cabinet minister and testing the limits of human rights in the country, they let the bad guys go.

It gets even more ridiculous. Four of them eventually returned to Canada, with the government's consent, in exchange for standing trial. They were sentenced to two years (TWO YEARS!) but two of them only served 8 months before being released on parole, and have now returned to society and done quite well for themselves. Jacques Cossette-Trudel is a filmmaker who has received arts grants from the government to fund his films. His ex-wife, Louise Lanctot, received a doctorate from the University of Montreal, worked for several government health departments, and is now a successful author.

Louise's brother, Jacques Lanctot, actually served his full two years before going on to become a writer and publisher. Guess what?

Remember him?

Lanctot was the guy they arrested for attempting to kidnap the Israeli consul and then let him go. Of course. No big deal. It wasn't like he was a danger to anyone.

The only one of them who got any kind of comeuppance was Yves Langlois, and that was only because he was arrested in France for gun-related charges and spent two years in prison there.

Let's compare: Langlois got 2 years in prison in France for gun charges. His conspirators got less than that in Canada for terrorism, kidnapping and accessory to murder.

I don't know either, Pierre.

Quebec nationalism still runs strong in some parts of the province, and there remains a small but vocal portion of the population that would be all too happy to see Quebec be granted independence. They've tried a couple of times to legally move in that direction through referendums and policy reforms. Hopefully we won't get to a place again where militant rebels take matters into their owns hands.


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.
Read More »

Monday, April 17, 2017

N - Canada is a Haven for Nazis

Okay, file this one under "shameful, not funny" stories.

Canada has a Nazi problem. And no, I don't mean those modern Nazis who some media outlets insist on irresponsibly calling the "alt-right" (though we have plenty of those, too). I mean, honest-to-god, World War II era German members of the Nazi party.

After the War, it is estimated that somewhere between 2000 and 5000 Nazis fled to Canada. The Canadian government did nothing about this for a full 40 years. It wasn't until 1985 that pressure from the Canadian Jewish community forced the Federal government to launch the Deschênes Commission to dig into exactly how bad the problem was. The report turned up the names of 886 possible suspects still alive and living in the country.

Guess how many of those were successfully convicted of war crimes?

If you guessed any more than zero, you were way off.

Only 26 charges were laid between 1987 and 1992. Of those, only 4 went to court, and none were successfully convicted. One prime example is Imre Finta, a Toronto restaurant owner who went on trial in 1990 as one of the key officials who rounded up some 8000 Jews in Hungary and sent them to Auschwitz. He was acquitted, and the decision was held up twice during appeals, because the courts accepted the defence that "believing Jews to be the enemy was a legitimate excuse for killing them."

I originally had a "disgusted face" animated gif here, but I can't bring myself to make light of how shockingly terrible this whole situation is.

After that gob-smackingly stupid precedent was set, there was little hope of convicting anyone, so the government changed tactics. Following cues from our American neighbours, Canada began stripping suspected Nazis of their citizenship and then deporting them back to Europe, where the criminal justice system was much better at prosecuting them.

Guess how well that worked?

Since 1994, we successfully withdrew the citizenship of only 10 suspected Nazis. Two of those left willingly and the other eight stayed in Canada until they died of old age. Once again, we continue to bat a perfect 1.000 at not dealing with Nazi war criminals.

I actually have a personal anecdote related to this story. When I was kid I knew a guy a couple of years older than me whose father was German. In his house they had proudly displayed his father's war medals, which including an Iron Cross and other Nazi memorabilia. As a kid it didn't really click with me how disgusting and horrifying this was, nor did I contemplate how in some countries just owning this stuff would be illegal. His grandfather lived out his life in Canada, never fearing persecution for anything he may have done, and never even feeling the need to hide it.

This boggles my mind. Canadians are SO fucking polite that we even turn a blind eye when our neighbour may be a goddamn war criminal. I don't have any excuses or explanation for this particular bit of Canadian trivia, just embarrassment and disgust.


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.
Read More »

Saturday, April 15, 2017

M - You Can't Shoot Mowglis in British Columbia

Before the terms "abominable snowman," "Sasquatch" and "Bigfoot" were popularized, British Columbia had a Mowglis problem.

A mowgli is an earlier term used to describe our elusive, forest-dwelling ape-like cousins, and obviously comes from Kipling's The Jungle Book. It's actually a handy word to describe the feral wildmen who were apparently clamouring around the deepest forests of B.C. During the late 19th, early 20th century, sightings in the area were pretty common, so much so that laws had to be created for them. There is a legend (it's never been proven) that there was actually a local law preventing anyone from hunting or shooting the mysterious cryptoids, because they were apparently so numerous they were actually becoming a nuisance.

(Which, incidentally, is also the way most people in Canada view the noble Canada Goose - giant flying vermin that ravages fields and leaves truckloads of green shit in water supplies. We're not allowed to kill them, either.)

You have no idea how much green shit these birds can produce... 
Unless you've walked in a park in Canada in the Spring or the Fall.

A famous story from an Ohio newspaper in 1905 reports the following: (Why a newspaper in Ohio would be reporting on British Columbia wild people is besides the point)
Thomas Kincaid, a rancher living near French creek, while bicycling from Cumberland, also reports seeing a Mowgli, whom he describes as a powerfully built man, more than six feet in height and covered with long black hair. The wild man upon seeing Kincaid uttered a shriek and disappeared into the woods. Upon arriving home Kincaid wrote Government Agent Bray of Nanaimo, inquiring if it would be lawful to shoot the Mowgli, as he was terrorizing that vicinity.
The government agent replied that there was no law permitting such an act. 
So either there was specifically a law that said "you can't shoot Mowglis," or they assumed it was actually a person and not an animal, or the entire story is completely made up. The story did appear in the newspaper, but whether or not you trust the journalistic integrity of turn-of-the-century reports from Ohio is another matter.


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.
Read More »

Friday, April 14, 2017

L - The Deadly Lacrosse Game at Fort Michilimackinac

Fort Michilimackinac was an 18th century French fort and trading post on the northern tip of the lower peninsula of what is today the state of Michigan. It still exists as a popular tourist attraction . I'm including this in Canadian history because prior to the US war of Independence, Michilimackinac was actually located in what was called by the British "Upper Canada."

Also, because Lacrosse is the national sport of Canada.

Bet you didn't know that, right? You assumed it was hockey, right?

(Okay, fine. Hockey is Canada's official "Winter" sport, but that's a relatively new development. From 1859 to 1994, Lacrosse was the country's only recognized "official" sport. Yeah, I don't get it either.)

Pictured: Not hockey.

Pictured: Girls playing not hockey. Notice how they don't need any wussy helmets or gloves.

Michilimackinac (God I love that word) was ceded from France to Britain in 1761 following their loss in the Seven-Years War. The fall-out from this war actually had far-reaching consequences across Canada that are still felt today and are too complicated to get into in this post (basically it's the beginning for much of the English/French/Native tensions in the country). The important point for this story, however, is that while Britain controlled the fort with a handful of troops, the population of the area was still predominantly French and Métis, and they did not get along with their new British landlords.

The young English Major in charge of the fort, George Etherington, is what historians call "a bit of a twit." He patently ignored warnings from the French Canadians that the local tribes were planning an attack. When a huge contingent of Objibwe and Sauk arrived at his gates on June 2, 1763, asking the British to come watch their game of baaga'adowe (also called baggatiway, the forerunner of modern Lacrosse) in honour of the King's birthday, the Major heartily agreed. In fact, Etherington was so oblivious to the dangers that he actually left the gates open and sent his men out to watch unarmed.

Did I mention that the Objibwe and Sauk outnumbered the British troops 500 to 35?

"There's no way this is going to work."
"It will. Trust me. The British are REALLY dumb."

The Attack at Michilimackinac is a bitchin' band name. It was also part of Pontiac's Rebellion, the famed war in which numerous indigenous tribes banded together to oppose the new British rule. The Rebellion ultimately did not drive out the British colonists, though it did force them to renegotiate some of their policies, and led to lasting respect and goodwill between the First Nations and the Colonist governments.

That last part was a terrible joke, by the way.

The Rebellion may have ultimately failed, but Michilimackinac was a resounding, if empty victory. The tribes stormed the fort and slaughtered any Englishmen they could find, sparing the French. Etherington and his lieutenant were taken hostage, and the fort was abandoned and taken over by the French traders. Eventually those very same French traders helped negotiate Etherington's release, and by the next year a battalion of English troops had reclaimed the fort, which the Ojibwe had never really wanted anyway.

Bonus fun fact? A few years later, the British and French colonists and indigenous tribes in the area were forced to band together against a new common enemy. Need a clue who it was? The year was 1776.

Further reading:

My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.
Read More »

Thursday, April 13, 2017

K - Canada comes from the Iroquois word "Kanata" (probably)

I'll let Canada Heritage Minutes field this one:

The commonly-held belief behind the name of Canada is that early French explorers (probably Jacques Cartier) mistook the local Iroquois' description of their village - kanata - to mean the whole land. While the name Canada probably did come from kanata, it wasn't, sadly, Cartier's mistake (as hilarious as that story is). Cartier himself wrote in his journals that the locals "called their town Canada" and he named the area "le pays des Canadas" (the country of Canadas).

Another theory is that it was actually Portuguese and Spanish explorers who named the land. After coming north looking for gold and finding none, they noted things on their maps like el cabo de nada ("Cape Nothing"), or cá nada ("nothing here"), which eventually evolved to the name we know today. I kinda wish we had embraced that story - "Cape Nothing" is an awesome, metal-sounding name, like the title of a Metallica album.

Here's another one: You know the story that Columbus named the natives of North America "Indians" because he thought he had actually sailed all the way to India? Well, another (highly unlikely) theory proposes that the name comes from those same first explorers mistaking the area as the Karnataka region of India (which, coincidentally, is populated by the Kannada ethnic group). 

My favourite theory, though, is tied to another reference elsewhere in Cartier's writings. He called the province of Labrador "The Land God Gave to Cain," which, if you know anything about Labrador... is pretty accurate. You know, if you assume that God gave him the shittiest piece of real estate he could find on the planet. Somehow the "Land of Cain" became "Canada."

Little known fact: "Cain" is the biblical word for "caribou."
Actually true fact: Caribou and reindeer are the same thing. 

I think that explanation is even more metal than "Cape Nothing," honestly.


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.

Read More »

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

J - James Naismith, Father of B-Ball

This story is fairly well-known in Canada, but for the benefit of my American and European readers, I'll quickly throw this one out there. (That's a sports reference)

Basketball, the most American of sports (after what you call "football" and baseball), was actually invented by a Canadian.

Quick, how many Canadian players can you name in the NBA today?

James Naismith was born in small-town Ontario in 1861. Never much of a student, he was very outdoorsy and excelled at athletic games, especially at something called "duck on a rock." Apparently kids in Ontario in the mid-1800s (much like kids everywhere at all times) were really friggin' bored, and played a game where you chucked rocks at other rocks. While most would consider this a waste of time, Naismith parlayed the skills and strategy of "duck on a rock" into what would one-day become a sport for which Kobe Bryant is paid $25 million a year to play.

Naismith studied Physical Education at the University of McGill in Montreal, and for a pretty nerdy-looking guy was quite an athlete, representing McGill in Canadian "football," lacrosse, rugby, soccer (actual football) and gymnastics. After graduation and teaching at McGill for awhile he moved to Springfield, Massachusetts to teach at the YMCA International Training School, where he was greeted by a "rowdy" class who grew bored and disruptive after being forced to play sports indoors during the winter months.

Naismith's response to this? Make'em play duck on a rock. Except with soccer balls and a peach basket.


(Note: Canadian Heritage Minutes are awesome and I'll probably try to sneak a few into future posts. However, most of my topics are actually too obscure for these government-funded videos)

So there you have it, the humble beginnings of a sport that now boasts teams worth billions of dollars. And it was all thanks to a Canadian PhysEd teacher with a bitchin' mustache.

My one big question: Why did a Canadian, trying to find a sport for people to play in the winter, decide to make up a new sport? Especially since the first organized ice hockey games in history were played at McGill right around the time when Naismith was a student there? Do they not have sticks and ice in Massachusetts?


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.
Read More »

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

I - The Independent Republic of Manitoba(h)


In keeping with our history of the Western Canadian provinces, let's move on to the Prairies' red-headed stepchild, Manitoba.

Remember this sad little square province from yesterday's post?

Manitoba officially became a province in 1870, although little is rarely mentioned of its hilariously-failed attempt at declaring itself an independent nation a few years earlier in 1867, the same year that Canada was officially recognized as a country by Great Britain.

It all started with Thomas Spence, a Scottish lawyer born in 1832 who came to Canada in 1862 to help British engineers build forts in Quebec. Why they needed a lawyer is not mentioned in the history books; perhaps workplace injuries and lawsuits were common on the frontier. In 1867 he moved to the village of Portage la Prairie in Manitoba and opened a general store.

The village was actually part of land owned by the Hudson's Bay Company, and had no official government, laws or taxation. Spence saw dollar signs all over the opportunity and wrote to Queen Victoria asking for the area's recognition as an independent state. When no response was received (surprise, surprise), Spence for some reason took that as a "Yes" and the Independent Republic of New Caledonia was born.

Those are not the eyes of a man who should be running a country, but they are definitely the eyes of a man who writes crazy-ass letters to the Queen.

Quickly changing its name to the Republic of Manitobah after a local lake, the new nation had ill-defined borders and a population of roughly four hundred. Spence and his council set out to collect taxes from the Hudson's Bay traders, but needless to say, that didn't go over well. A local shoemaker named MacPherson was arrested by the new "government" for libel when he publicly (and probably accurately) argued that the tax money was going to liquor for Spence and his council.

In the Spring of 1868, the Colonial Office in London sent Spence a letter politely informing him that his country did not exist and he did not have the power to raise taxes or arrest people. Man, I would have loved to be a part of the team that wrote that letter. I wonder how many times they had to scratch out the word "dumbass?" With public support turning against Spence in the MacPherson "trial," the dreams of a new and Independent Manitobah quickly collapsed before the end of 1868.

In a fun follow-up, Thomas Spence was briefly arrested by another crazy Canadian rebel and idealist, Louis Riel, in 1870 before ultimately serving on Riel's provisional government team when Manitoba officially became a province of Canada. I don't know what's better: that Riel chose his representatives from among criminal dissidents, or that Spence just really wanted to be in Manitoba's government in any way possible.

I guess if you can't beat'em, join'em.

And to be fair, Louis Riel was waaaaay crazier than Spence.


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.
Read More »

Monday, April 10, 2017

H - Sir Frederick Haultain and the Province of Buffalo

Today's post may not be as exciting as some of my previous this month, or even that interesting for those not super-into Canadian history, but I'm just weirded out by the fact that we nearly had a province named "Buffalo."

It just sounds odd.

So, back at the turn of the 20th century, Canada was very much still taking shape, and most of it was still just called "the North West Territories."

Look at how cute Manitoba is down there all by itself.

Frederick Haultain was a lawyer and Canadian Politician back when Canada was still young. Though he was born in England his family moved Canada when he was just 3 years old and was raised and educated in Ontario and Quebec. He was eventually voted into the legislative assembly of the Northwest Territories in 1887, and held that position unopposed until they basically handed him the title of Premier in 1897. (Who else would want to premier of the NWT, anyway?)

Just look at this smug sonofabitch.

Actually, technically Haultain was Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Legislative Assembly of the North West Territories. Haultain was the one who went around calling himself Premier, because the leaders of the other provinces got to be Premiers, and he had a bit of an obsession about being the head of a province, as we will see momentarily.

To be fair to Haultain, "Premier" was probably a hell of lot easier to put on a business card than Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Legislative Assembly.

Haultain made a big push to have a large section of the Territories carved out and declared a province proper. It was a valid goal - the population and resources were there to allow it its own say in Federal Parliament. Haultain wanted a province called "Buffalo" - which sounds weird no matter how many times I type it, since all the other provinces are named after Indigenous words or European countries/aristocracy.

Dumb name or not, Haultain succeeded in his endeavor, however as is always the case in politics, there was a catch: Haultain was a Conservative and did not get along well with Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier and the ruling federal Liberal party of the day. Laurier did not want a large, Conservative western province to threaten the influence of Ontario and Quebec (the two largest and politically most powerful provinces to this day), and so he maneuvered to split the new Province in two: Alberta and Saskatchewan, in 1905.

Okay, that looks better. We're almost there now. Manitoba still looks silly, though.

In the end we got two new provinces, flags and Premiers, Laurier got his wish to splinter the western Conservative base, and Canada moved closer to becoming the country we recognize today. Haultain ran for Premier in Saskatchewan in 1905 and lost to the Liberal Party (which is either karma or irony, I'm not sure which). Don't feel bad for Haultain though; when the Conservatives won the federal election in 1912, Prime Minister Robert Borden appointed Haultain as Chief Justice of Saskatchewan, a position he held until retirement in 1938. He was also knighted in 1916, so he did alright for himself.


My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.
Read More »
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...