Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

The Memory Train

August 20, 2014

It is a readily-acknowledged side effect of getting old(er) that the memory begins to lose its grip so I suppose I should not have been surprised when a friend arrived for dinner the other night with the news that he had just seen me on television and I had no idea what he was talking about. Turns out he'd seen a documentary on Vancouver during the Depression and there I was, one of those talking heads who fill in the spaces between the images.

As he described the program I began to recall a trio of young people (another symptom of senescence is that you start calling everyone younger than forty "young people") who had come to the house last year and recorded an interview for a program about the hobo jungles in the '30s. I guess I qualify as an "expert" because of my biography of Louis Taylor, who was mayor at the time.

Anyway I tracked down the program online -- it aired on the Knowledge Network here in BC and is called "Catch the Westbound Train" -- and it turns out to be a very nice half-hour discussion of the plight of the unemployed in Vancouver at the time.

According to the KN website, you can view it here only until September 16. Then you'll have to watch for reruns.

August 19, 2014


When I worked as a clerk in a book shop back in the day, the best part of the job was opening the boxes of new books when they arrived at the store. The smell, the feel, the pleasure of piling them onto the shelves; it was the most satisfaction I've ever had from a "real" job.

This morning I got to experience a bit of the same frisson when I opened the envelope from...

August 10, 2014

There has been some comment about the relatively modest way that our federal government commemorated the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One last week, especially given the prime minister's penchant for the militarization of our history.

Let me recommend a commentary by my friend Christopher Moore at his website. Chris speculates that the feds are planning to...

July 30, 2014


A memento of a recent visit to the beaches of Vancouver Island, this portrait of yours truly on abalone shell was drawn by the grandkids. A remarkable likeness.

July 28, 2014

Next Monday, August 4, will mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War One. On that day in 1914 Britain's ultimatum to Germany to get its troops out of Belgium expired and the British Empire, including Canada, went to war.

The clergyman Charles Gordon (who was better known under his pen name as the popular novelist Ralph Connor) left an evocative account of the last days of peace in his memoir Postscript to Adventure. At the end of July Gordon was camping with...

July 12, 2014

My new book, Closing Time, is safely in the hands of the printer and is due to appear from Douglas & McIntyre this fall. Here is the cover.


It is an illustrated history of prohibition in Canada, from the temperance movements of the nineteenth century to the...