Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Discovering Lost Stories

October 5, 2015

Several years ago, in Geist magazine, I wrote a column about a pair of books on Acadian history, one of them by the Montreal historian Ronald Rudin. Just recently I've become aware of another project directed by Rudin, a website called Lost Stories. The project seeks out little-known stories from Canadian history and then commemorates them with "inexpensive, site-specific works of public art."

The first "lost story" recalls Thomas Widd, who founded a school for the deaf in Montreal in the late 19th century. If you go to the website you can watch a delightful video showing how the artist Lalie Douglas translated Widd's experience into a mural which was installed at the school.

October 1, 2015

There is a very disturbing and depressing article about the federal election on The Guardian website today. Is this really the way we want the world to see us, as a country consumed by intolerance and paranoia?

Historians like to draw parallels. I see a lot of similarities between our present political discourse and the Red Scare of 1919 (about which, of course...

September 30, 2015

There seems to be a bit of a bun fight going on about whether or not to raise a statue on Parliament Hill of Canada's 11th prime minister, the odious R.B. Bennett (I might as well lay my cards on the table). 

Apparently the statue is already in storage, waiting to be installed. Voices have been raised...

September 24, 2015

There has been a bit of a discussion lately in academic circles about whether Canadian historians have been ignoring early, or pre-Confederation, history.

True or not, a group of Canadianists have set out to prove that "early Canadian history is vibrant" by starting a blog devoted to the subject (which is admittedly very broad). It is called Borealia and can be found here.

"The goal of Borealia is to provide an energetic,...

September 11, 2015


Yesterday found me strolling around the Maplewood Conservation Area in North Vancouver. The waterfront wetland is a mecca for bird watchers -- and we did see a pair of great blue herons and some ospreys along with dozens of smaller birds I was unable to identify -- but it was more the human history I was there for.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the mudflats...

September 3, 2015

Personally, I have never understood the "beach book." Every summer the media are full of stories about the perfect book to take to the seashore -- usually the Proust you've never had time for or this week's James Patterson. But I don't go to the beach, at least not often. In the summer I do my reading in the same places as in the winter -- in the bath, at my desk, at the kitchen table while dinner cooks, basically just about everywhere.

That said, there was one memorable summer that...