Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

History Wars

February 7, 2016

For several years the North Vancouver Museum has been involved in planning a relocation from its present decrepit digs to a repurposed heritage building in the historic Shipbuilders' Square on the city's waterfront. New interactive exhibits have been designed and a successful fund-raising campaign has been going on. Until two weeks ago, that is, when City Council pulled the rug out and decided in a vote of 4-3 to kill the project.

Councillors gave different reasons for nixing the new museum but the actual reason seems to be that they want the revitalized Shipyards to feature revenue-generating activities -- like the ghastly ferris wheel the mayor favoured until it was abandoned as too costly -- rather than a public amenity such as a museum.

There has been a lot of criticism of council's decision (for example) all of which, as a member of the Friends of the Museum and a former member of the commission which administers the facility, I agree with. Some councillors apparently think a local museum is not important enough to rate a prominent location in an historic district, a view which is incredibly short-sighted and unimaginative.

What especially puzzles me is that the main opponent of the relocation, Councillor Craig Keating, is himself an historian -- he is an instructor in the history department at Langara College -- as well as the president of the provincial NDP. I would have thought that a social progressive, and an historian to boot, would support local history. But it turns out that it is Keating and his left-leaning colleagues on council who sabotaged the new museum, while the more centrist and right-wing councillors fought for the new building.

It is possible that public pressure will cause City Council to revisit their decision. I hope so. 


February 2, 2016

By a strange coincidence, two members of the acid rock band Jefferson Airplane died on the same day last week. Signe Toly Anderson was the group's co-lead singer for a brief period before being replaced by the more notorious Gracie Slick. And Paul Kantner was one of its founders.

To me it has always seemed that the Sixties came to Vancouver on the wings of the Airplane. In January 1966 I was attending my first year at UBC, innocent of LSD, bell bottoms or even the meaning of the word...

January 30, 2016

Last week marked the hundredth anniversary of women beginning to get the vote in Canada. At least at the provincial and federal level. I think they had the vote at different times and different places at the municipal and school board level but it is pretty complicated. For that matter, the whole issue is pretty complicated, as Chris Moore makes clear in his thorough blog posts on the...

January 18, 2016


When I first began studying Canadian history back in the 1970s, Donald Creighton, the old curmudgeon of Canadian historiography, was past his prime. He was already being criticized for being anti-Quebec, deaf to Aboriginal issues, blind to the social history that had moved to centre stage.

All of which was true. Yet when I first...

January 6, 2016

One of the best reasons I know of to get out of bed every morning is the expectation that Sadie Stein might have posted one of her delightful reports at The Paris Review blog.

Yesterday Ms Stein revealed herself to be the only other person besides myself (OK, I'm exaggerating) to use the term quasquicentennial in a sentence. Next time you are at a dinner party, tell everyone to turn their cellphones off and ask if anyone knows...

January 6, 2016

The generosity of family allows me to spend time regularly on Savary Island, a small piece of paradise adrift in the Salish Sea. 

For Christmas this year I acquired a camera, the first I have owned since I toured Europe in 1966 with a little Kodak Instamatic. I have recently been conducting forays on foot into the history of Vancouver and I've felt the urge to record what I see.

Here are some results of the convergence of these two enthusiasms -- Savary Island and photography...