Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Sinking of Lusitania

May 7, 2015

Today is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania, torpedoed by a German submarine on May 7, 1915. The death toll was 1,198 passengers and crew, including almost one hundred children.

The sinking violated the unwritten rules of war that said that civilian ships were immune from attack. It quickly came to epitomize the perfidy of the German enemy and was exploited by propagandists in Allied countries to stir up fervid support for the war effort. For Canadians the Lusitania disaster marked a turning point in the war. The callous murder of innocents seemed so inhuman that it created an image of the "brutal Hun" that would last for the duration and convert even pacifists to the cause.

Take for example the suffragist Nellie McClung. When the war began she was against it. But then came the sinking. "It was the Lusitania that brought me to see the whole truth," she wrote. "Then I saw that we were waging war on the very Prince of Darkness... I knew that no man could die better than in defending civilization from this ghastly thing which threatened her!"

I am going to mark the centennial by cracking open Erik Larson's new book about the sinking, Dead Wake, which a generous relation recently gave to me for my birthday.

(I've mentioned before in this space that my own family has a connection to wartime torpedoing. My mother-in-law was a passenger aboard the Athenia at the outbreak of World War II when it also was sunk by a German u-boat. I told the story in this article which appeared in Canada's History in 2006.)


May 4, 2015

Spring has arrived and with it the latest issue of Geist magazine (No.96).

My regular column takes a look at John Ralston Saul's book on Aboriginal rights, The Comeback. Saul thinks that Aboriginal people in Canada have made enormous strides in reversing years of population...

April 21, 2015

It is surprising how you can live in a community for many years and still know so little about its history.

I am talking about myself here.

I've lived in North Vancouver for 28 years, not ten minutes from the famed architect Fred Hollingsworth who died ten days ago at the age of 98, yet until quite recently I was unaware of the role Hollingsworth...

April 13, 2015

If you are close to North Vancouver and looking for a good time this Wednesday, don't forget "Secrets, Booze and Rebellion," an evening of "hidden history" featuring myself, Eve Lazarus and Aaron Chapman at the Lynn Valley Library. Fun starts at 7 p.m.

And just to show that the subject of prohibition (the topic of my latest book) is forever relevant, I learn that a small distiller in Ontario is now marketing...

April 1, 2015

On Wednesday evening, April 15, I will be joining Eve Lazarus and Aaron Chapman at the Lynn Valley library in North Vancouver to talk about "Secrets, Booze and Rebellion: Vancouver's Darker History."

Eve is the author of several books about the built heritage of the Lower Mainland. Aaron has written books about Vancouver's infamous Penthouse nightclub and the Commodore Ballroom...

March 28, 2015

I've just been reading a terrific book, The Last Asylum by Barbara Taylor. By terrific I don't mean enjoyable. Quite the opposite. The book chronicles Taylor's years of psychological distress and collapse into complete mental breakdown. It is very tough to read. Still, terrific.

Taylor is an historian, born and raised in Saskatchewan, who moved to London when she was 21 years old. It is there that the events she describes take place. The book is an account of her...