Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative


February 2, 2014

I travelled to Ottawa last week to conduct Her Majesty's business (and to shiver through the Polar Vortex) and I needed something to read on the plane. My choice, Clearing the Plains by James Daschuk, turned out to be both impressive and depressing.

The book has received quite a bit of attention, rightly so. Subtitled "Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life," it is a bleak history of the impact of disease on the First Nations of the Canadian Plains....

January 20, 2014

In the latest issue of Geist magazine (#91) my regular column looks at two new books about the fetishization of the canoe in our national mythology.

The books are Inheriting a Canoe Paddle: the Canoe in Discourses of English-Canadian Nationalism by Misao Dean and Bruce Erickson's Canoe Nation: Nature, Race and the Making of a Canadian Icon.

"The virtue of these two new books is that...

January 14, 2014

Back in November the history department at Simon Fraser University sponsored an interesting panel discussion about Trudeaumania, past and present. You can watch it here.

It brought to mind my own brush with Pierre Trudeau back in the federal election of 1968. (I recently recalled this incident in a talk at Carleton University as one of the events which awoke in my younger self a dormant interest in Canada as a subject of...

January 6, 2014

Here we are, just a few days into the centennial year of World War One and already shots are being fired in the History Wars.

In Britain, the education secretary, Michael Gove, got off the first round, urging the commemoration of the war and dissing those "left-wing" historians who, he claimed, are misrepresenting the real meaning of the conflict, which...

December 24, 2013


Santa Claus (aka Canada Post) brought a wonderful Christmas present to my door this morning: a copy of Arvik! In Pursuit of the Bowhead Whale, hot off the presses.

Arvik! is a new book from the Avataq Cultural Institute, a Montreal-based organization devoted to promoting the culture of the Inuit...