Canada's History : 2020-08-01

BOOKS : 53 : 53


BOOKS down-at-heel Vancouver neighbourh­oods. “But the mudflats films presented a life voluntaril­y lived on the mud as a direct refusal to have any truck with concrete of any kind.” Can anyone truly realize their dreams for life and home? In different times and locations, and with very different senses of purpose and wonder, many people in the Vancouver area have achieved their own kinds of graceful living, while others have continued to struggle. relentless attacks contribute­d to Laurier losing the 1911 election, which, ironically, put a more devoted imperialis­t in power, Sir Robert Borden. It was Borden who took Canada into and through the First World War — although he, like many, emerged from the trial as a more committed Canadian nationalis­t. While Bourassa offered tepid support of the war effort in 1914, he was soon using his newspaper to attack the government over its handling of the war. As a champion of French-language rights, he struck aggressive­ly at Regulation 17 in Ontario that limited the teaching of French. He questioned why French Canadians should serve overseas when there was “Prussian tyranny” in Ontario attempting to destroy French culture through the denial of language. Not unpredicta­bly, commentary like that — and his unconventi­onal argument to curtail Canada’s support of Britain in the war — led to much outrage in English Canada, where he was labelled an “arch traitor” by one newspaper. Another threatened that the “Skull of Rebellion must be crushed.” Keelan offers new insight into Bourassa’s dissenting view of the war, in which he was sometimes piercingly clear in highlighti­ng the danger and consequenc­es while at other times dogmatical­ly out of touch with sentiment across Canada. Bourassa’s way was not to encourage conversati­on but to offer condemnati­on. And yet the “magnetism of his words,” writes Keelan, appealed to many, even as he enraged even more. is a sympatheti­c reading of Bourassa’s messages, and yet, in his narrow reading of Bourassa, Keelan does not provide much space for the sentiments that motivated large parts of English Canada during the First World War. They included, in part, strong links to Britain, the desire of many to free the oppressed Belgians, a sense of duty to fight as Canadians, and, perhaps most importantl­y, the weight of Canada’s fallen soldiers, who made it harder and harder for the country to disengage from the war while thousands, and then tens of thousands, were blown apart or buried. Like those of another once-reviled historical figure, Louis Riel, Bourassa’s influence and actions have taken on new meaning with succeeding generation­s. For example, his warnings about war dividing Canadians are much better understood now than they were during the fervent period of nearly unlimited war. Bourassa, described rightly by Keelan as a “prominent Canadian intellectu­al,” did not have much in common with the majority of English Canadians. However, all of them would have agreed with his sentiment upon hearing of the armistice on November 11, 1918: “Let us thank God for silencing the murderous voice of the cannons.” Reviewed by Phil Koch, the associate editor of Canada’s History magazine. Reviewed by Tim Cook, the author of several books, including The Secret History of Soldiers (2018) and the forthcomin­g The Fight for History (2020) Journalist Henri Bourassa was the most hated man in Canada during the First World War — or, to clarify, the most despised public figure in English Canada. In French Canada, the editor of the relatively small French-language newspaper was a respected voice in warning against Canada’s unfettered commitment during the war. Historian Geoff Keelan has written an important book that explores the ideas and commentary of Bourassa during the war, situating his writing within his intellectu­al milieu of being a devoted Catholic and a Quebec As a Member of Parliament, Bourassa had clashed with his party leader, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, over the decision to send an expedition­ary force to South Africa late in 1899. He was even more strident in his demands that Canada not create a navy in 1910, for fear that it would drag Canada into imperial conflicts. Laurier had to walk a fine line as prime minister, yet Bourassa never stopped firing from the flanks. His Sir John Franklin’s search for the Northwest Passage is one of the most-celebrated episodes in Canadian history, and public interest has been renewed by the discovery of the wrecks of the in 2014 and the in 2016. Franklin had vanished from European sight when Baffin Bay whalers watched his ships sail westward in July 1845. The quest to find him began in 1848, and over the following years dozens of search parties set forth to track down the missing expedition, until the tragic fate of its captain and crew was definitive­ly revealed in 1859. W. Gillies Ross’s book tells the tale of one searching season. During 1850 and 1851, Le Devoir Duty to Dissent Erebus Terror nationalis­te. Hunters on the Track 53 AUGUST–SEPTEMBER 2020