Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative


March 4, 2014


We are all familiar with the "Then & Now" approach to comparing contemporary and historic landscapes and urban settings. First we see a photograph of a building (or street or whatever) as it looks today. Then we compare it to another photo of the same site 50, 75, 100 years ago. It is a compelling way to emphasize change (or permanence, I suppose, though it is seldom used that way).

Two examples are the phone apps for Canadian cities developed by Jim Marsh and his team at...

February 25, 2014

In the past weeks I’ve noticed attention being paid in the media to the issue of mental illness in the prison system. In the New York Times, regular columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote this article arguing that prisons are the new mental hospitals. “Psychiatric disorders are the only kind of sickness that we as a society regularly respond to not with sympathy but with handcuffs and...

February 24, 2014


Vancouver history buffs are aware that mega rock star Jimi Hendrix had an historic connection to the city. His grandmother, Nora Hendrix, lived here for many years, from her arrival in 1912 until her death at age 100 in 1984. Jimi was raised in Seattle but came north to visit his grandparents regularly and there is now a small shrine to the singer in the city’s East...

February 21, 2014


If there is one thing Canadians know about their own history it is that we do not know, or care, much about it.

With depressing regularity, poll after poll reveals that we do not know the name of our first prime minister, or when BC joined Confederation, or yadda yadda yadda. We extrapolate from these dismal surveys to conclude that Canadians consider their past to be one giant yawn and the more excitable among us warn that there is a national crisis of ignorance.


February 8, 2014


Reading a review of a couple of new books about the assassination of Leon Trotksy brought back memories of a visit I made a few years ago to the scene of the murder, Trotsky's house in Coyoacan, a neighbourhood of Mexico City.

Now part of a museum, it is maintained much as it was on August 20, 1940, when an agent of the Soviet secret police, Ramon Mercader, gained access to the house and struck Trotsky a fatal blow to the head with an ice axe he had concealed in his raincoat...