An Ode to Mechanical Pencils (... and a Lament for a Pen)

I enjoyed reading Steven Poole's "I Can Never Have Too Many Mechanical Pencils" over at The Atlantic because, like the author, I too am a mechanical pencil devotee. Unlike Poole, I only own one, a Pentel Energize, .7 mm lead. (If you're using a mechanical pencil and it's not .7 mm, do yourself a favour and try it. It's like night and day.)

A post about favoured writing tools is as good a time as any to include this classic pen-based sketch from the Kids in the Hall.

Dixon Road magazine profile

I've written a few times about my ongoing research (with Alan MacEachern) on Prince Edward Island's back-to-the-land movement. Here's a great article from Saltscapes that profiles one of the major back-to-the-land settlements on the Island, the Dixon Road. (And yes, the article came out in 2012, but it's still new to me.)

Back in 2010 the CBC commissioned Two Hours Traffic to write and record a song about the Dixon Road as part of their Great Canadian Song Quest 2010: Road Songs series. You can hear the song that they created, "Great Migration," in the above video.

Today in Canadian History: Jean Drapeau, the Bluenose, and a Steppenwolf Birthday

Today in 1960, Jean Drapeau was elected to his second term as mayor of Montreal. First elected in 1954, he lost his bid for reelection in 1957, before reeling off an impressive series of victories, serving uninterrupted as the city's mayor from 1960-1986. A key figure in the city's history, he was largely responsible for the construction of the Montreal subway system and the holding of Expo 67. Drapeau passed away in 1999 at the age of 83.

In 1921, the pride of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, the Bluenose racing schooner, claimed its first International Fisherman's Cup. While the Bluenose established itself as a remarkable vessel, losing only once in competition, it was in many ways a relic of the since-past Age of Sail. It was eventually sold off to serve as a freighter in the West Indies. It sank off of Haiti in 1946, in the process of transporting a load of bananas. Today the vessel appears on the Canadian dime, and its replica, the Bluenose II, is a major Nova Scotia tourist attraction. Below is footage of the original vessel's final race, in 1938, against the Gertrude L. Thebaud. (The GLT was the American schooner that handed the Bluenose its sole defeat some years earlier.)

Today also marks the 68th anniversary of musician Jerry Edmonton's birth. Born Gerald McCrohan, the Oshawa native went on to play drums for Steppenwolf. His brother, who went by the name Mars Bonfire, penned the group's iconic hit, "Born to Be Wild." Edmonton played with Steppenwolf until 1976, and would pass away in 1993. Mars Bonfire lives on, as does the song he wrote, which pops up in film on occasion, usually when the director wants to establish that a character just doesn't give a hoot what other people think ...

(Apologies for the quality of the video above.)

Today in Canadian History: Shirley Temple Sells War Bonds, and Labatt's Passes a Taste Test (Seriously!)

On this date in 1944, international icon Shirley Temple appeared alongside Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in Ottawa, lending her celebrity to kickstart the 7th Victory Loan campaign. Funds from this campaign were used to help Canada's efforts during the Second World War. There's no word on sixteen year old Temple's impression of King, but you can hear part of her appearance here, thanks to CBC's Digital Archives.

In 1878, John Labatt's India Pale Ale won a gold medal at the International Exposition in Paris, France ... proving once and for all that people didn't necessarily have good taste back in the day. (Okay, I admit I've never tried this product.) Despite its storied past, the London, Ontario-based Labatt's discontinued the brew as the market's tastes shifted away from pale ales towards lighter fare, such as pilsners. As the undated print ad below indicates, Labatt's India Pale Ale was marketed for its "honest, masculine directness."

Undated Labatt's advertisement.

Undated Labatt's advertisement.

Today in Canadian History: The United Farmers of Ontario, Nellie McClung, and the "Greatest Canadian"

On this date in 1919, the United Farmers of Ontario (UFO) came out on top in the province on Ontario's 15th general election. Having won 44 seats - a minority in the 111 seat legislature - the party would forge a coalition government with Labour. While the UFO set about doing politics differently - including an aversion to party whips and leaders - they would ask co-founder E.C. Drury to serve as premier. He accepted, but first he had to win a seat in the legislature, as he did not run in the general election. He won his seat, and would serve as premier until 1923, when the Conservatives swept to power. While Drury's time in office was brief - he lost his own seat in 1923 - his government is credited with establishing Ontario's first Department of Welfare, promoting rural electrification, and the creation of the Province of Ontario Savings Office, which ran until 2003, when its assets were sold to the Desjardins Credit Union.

This date also marks the birthday, in 1873, of Nellie McClung, the author-suffragette-Alberta MLA (1921-26), who is perhaps best known for her role in the Persons Case, and Tommy Douglas, the Baptist minister-CCF/NDP member of parliament (1935-44)-Premier of Saskatchewan (1944-61), who is best known as "The Father of Medicare." Douglas would win The Greatest Canadian competition in 2004, having had his case argued by "Canada's boyfriend," George Stroumboulopoulos.

Today in Canadian History: birthdays and bum shields!

Today is an important day in the history of the Liberal Party of Canada. It marks the birthday of two prominent figures: the 15th Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliott Trudeau (in 1919), and Iona Campagnolo (in 1932), who served as a Member of Parliament (1974-79) and party president (1982-86). Campagnolo was also unwittingly involved in a minor political controversy in 1984 when cameras caught her old colleague - and Liberal party leader - John Turner patting her backside. As historian Paul Litt wrote in Elusive Destiny: The Political Vocation of John Napier Turner,

Turner had been warned about patting bums during the leadership race. The warnings didn’t register, because he thought he needed no advice on gender relations. There were a number of strong women in his life, and he treated them with respect. He encouraged women to enter politics and strongly endorsed women’s causes. When asked about the CTV clip, he remained unrepentant. ‘I’m a hugger ... I’m a tactile politician. I’m slapping people all over the place. That’s my style,’ he explained. ‘People are reaching out to me and I’m reaching out to them.’ And so he let the issue live on .... The media continued to broadcast the clips, generating editorials, cartoons, opinion pieces, and sly allusions in headlines. Feminists created a cardboard ‘Turner Bum Shield’ that got more media coverage than anything Turner said or did over the next few days.

Campagnolo would later serve as Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia (2001-2007). Following his life in politics, Trudeau spent his time working as a lawyer, being a father, writing some books, and canoeing. He passed away in 2000.


Playing Political Football with Canada's Sesquicentennial

A Canadian Press story published yesterday notes that the federal government "has launched a $4-million national ad campaign celebrating the fathers of Confederation and a country that has become 'strong, proud and free' more than two years in advance of Canada's 150th birthday in 2017." The problem with this, according to critics, is that the Harper government has blurred the lines between national activities, federal spending, and the prime minister's personal brand. As Mathieu Ravignat, the NDP Member of Parliament for Pontiac (Quebec) explained: "Given the past borderline partisan nature of their ads, we have to be careful about the messaging in these ads, as well as the costs." This is particularly concerning, Ravignat noted, because a federal election is scheduled to occur on October 19, 2015.

It's a sad situation when this country's history - and the celebration thereof - becomes politicized. Unfortunately, it's not surprising that it happens, given the cynical state of politics today in Canada.

The good news? Today I  picked up a copy of Elizabeth May's recently released Who We Are: Reflections on My Life and Canada and I'm looking forward to diving into it. Ms. May has been vocal in denouncing the toxic political climate in Ottawa, and has made numerous recommendations on how we can restore the public's faith in our elected officials and institutions. This is a topic addressed in her book, and I look forward to reading more of her creative ideas for fixing parliament.

2015 Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association -- deadline tomorrow

If you're thinking of submitting a paper for the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association -- but haven't quite gotten around to it --tomorrow is your deadline. The event will occur June 1-3, 2015, and will be held at the University of Ottawa. If you'd like more information, click here.