50 years since Canadian flag design approved by Parliament

The Stanley Flag, following its adoption by parliament.

The Stanley Flag, following its adoption by parliament.

Fifty years ago today, George Stanley's design was approved by Parliament for use as Canada's national flag. Stanley, an historian, based his design in part on the flag of his employer, the Royal Military College of Canada. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia,

"Stanley's inspiration had actually come from the Royal Military College flag — two red vertical stripes bookending a white centre on which an armoured fist holds three maple leaves beneath a royal crown. Stanley simply replaced the centre elements with a stylized maple leaf.

A more professional drawing of Stanley's crude sketch was eventually made, to be included among the many designs being considered by the committee, which had become deadlocked on the matter. As pressure mounted, Stanley's design won out, partly thanks to [Liberal MP John] Matheson's backing, but also because of its simplicity; it afforded a compromise between those who wanted the Pearson Pennant and those who favoured either more complicated designs, or the Red Ensign."

The Flag of the Royal Military College of Canada.

The Flag of the Royal Military College of Canada.

Despite its approval by Parliament, the flag was not officially flown until February 15, 1965.

To learn more about "the Stanley Flag," check out this link.

Time capsules in the news: Boston, Mass. edition

boston time capsule screencapture.png

I wrote about time capsules in Toronto a few weeks back. This week, a Boston, Massachusetts time capsule gained news headlines when it was unearthed. As far as time capsules go, this one sounds pretty interesting. (If it was a Rocky movie, it'd be somewhere around Rocky II territory.) It was placed in the cornerstone of the State House in 1795 by Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and William Scollay, all three of whom were figures of renown. (All three also have popular things named after them: one has a brewery named after him, one has a namesake '60s band, and the other a square.) The time capsule was taken to the Museum of Fine Arts, and will be opened next week. For more coverage of this story, check out this article from the Boston Globe.

A provincial museum for Prince Edward Island?

When Robert Ghiz was elected premier of Prince Edward Island back in 2007, one of his promises was the creation of a provincial museum. Prince Edward Island already had a provincial museum system, featuring seven sites that range in theme from the Green Park Shipbuilding Museum to the Acadian Museum and the Basin Head Fisheries Museum. What you won't find in the province, however, is a museum that will tell you an overarching history of the province and its people. Ghiz, who recently announced that he will be leaving politics in 2015, now says that the museum might come in the form of a gift from the federal government in 2017. You know, as a thank you for the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Which we trace back to the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, so the province deserves it. But he also notes it isn't a priority. So I suggest you don't hold your breath on this one.

Prince Edward Island is a perfect example of how stratified history can become. In addition to the seven government-funded sites referred to above, there are many more museums that tell the story of a renowned figure, a town, or an important commodity. (And really, who doesn't want to visit the Canadian Potato Museum in O'Leary?) These stories are all worth sharing, and I'm happy these museums exist. They acknowledge that there is more than one experience or perspective worth remembering. At the same time, I would love to see a single site museum that provides an overarching story of Prince Edward Island that could serve as the central piece of the existing provincial museum system.

The fact that Ghiz is leaving the premier's office might provide some hope for this cause. The frontrunner to replace him is Wade MacLauchlan, who earlier this year released a political biography of Alex Campbell, Prince Edward Island's 23rd premier. MacLauchlan is a known supporter of Island culture and heritage ... perhaps he'll prioritize the issue?

As it turns out, the absence of a central museum isn't a problem unique to Prince Edward Island. The lack of a Museum of Toronto is an issue that Christopher Moore addressed at the end of a recent blog entry. Is this a unifying factor for Prince Edward Islanders and Torontonians? In the name of history, I'll take it.

Mystery of the unidentified (Don River) mourner solved!

A version of this photograph, taken at Pollution Probe's celebrated Don River funeral (November 16, 1969) is featured on page 54 of The First Green Wave. I've long known that the woman in the photo is Meredith Ware, and I even had the opportunity to interview her about the event. The male in the photograph was not identified in any of the media coverage I read, and none of the people I spoke with could recall his name. (It had been over forty years, after all.) As such, when the book went to press, I identified Meredith in the accompanying caption, but left the mysterious male unidentified.

I had the opportunity to meet Meredith at last month's book launch, and it turns out that she found some old press clippings from the event. One of them, in fact, identified the male. The name: Pierre Keevil. Mystery solved.

My appreciation to Meredith for passing this information along.


The Band covers Bruce Springsteen and En Vogue

A lot of people love The Band, and rightfully so. What many casual fans don't realize is that The Band's supposed hiatus after The Last Waltz lasted only five years. In 1983 the group, minus Robbie Robertson, began performing live again.

The reunited Band never quite hit the same highs that they hit during their original run, but that doesn't mean they weren't, on occasion, really, really good. Take this 1993 appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. (Historical context: Letterman debuted on CBS less than four months earlier, having left NBC after the network brass gave the Tonight Show to Jay Leno.) In this video they perform a fantastic cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City." Levon still sings like Levon, Rick nails the harmonies, and Garth completely owns that accordion. 

During the 1990s The Band released three albums of new material. Without Robertson's songwriting prowess, they turned to a variety of sources for their songs. "Atlantic City" appears on 1993's Jericho. The second album, High on the Hog, followed in 1996. While it is generally considered the most inconsistent of their later releases, it does feature a fascinating (and I mean that in a good way) cover of En Vogue's "Free Your Mind." If you think I'm being facetious, check out this live performance of the tune. In 1998 The Band released its final studio album, Jubilation. The group called it a career one year later, following the death of Rick Danko.


'Startling Nonchalance' and the 1995 Quebec Referendum

I recently finished reading The Morning After: The 1995 Quebec Referendum and the Day That Almost Was, by Chantal Hébert (with Jean Lapierre). The book profiles seventeen Canadian political leaders from the 1995 referendum. Federalists and sovereignists are represented, as are the perspectives of four premiers beyond Quebec.

The book has received plenty of acclaim, and addresses a very interesting question: what would would have happened had the sovereignists emerged from the polls victorious in 1995? I was in high school at the time of the events covered in The Morning After, and these were the days when I first began to pay attention to Canadian politics. I remember having a sense that although I may not have known what would ensue, surely somebody did. I'm pretty sure I wasn't alone in thinking that.

It's probably for the best that we couldn't see what was happening behind the scenes. Sure, some people had plans for what happened next, but no two people seemed to agree on what that entailed. Most worrisome to me is the chapter on Jean Chrétien. Check out the following excerpt from The Morning After:

In the lead-up to the 1980 referendum, Pierre Trudeau had taken little for granted. On his government’s orders, federal bureaucrats had sketched out contingency plans to deal with a federalist defeat. Not in 1995. Complacency was a factor. The No camp was long convinced a win was in the bag and the polling numbers had backed up its confident forecast. But another element was also at play. In 1980, Jean Chrétien — then Trudeau’s lead minister on the referendum trail in Quebec — had resented the energy that the civil service had expended on worst-case scenarios, fearing their work would backfire in Quebec by suggesting a lack of confidence within the federalist camp. So anxious had the planning made him, he’d wanted briefing notes on the matter shredded to prevent any chance of a leak. Chrétien was not so politically naive as to take a victory for granted. But if worse came to worst, he reasoned, there would be time enough to regroup after the vote.

Need I remind you, the federal side eked out a bare majority - 50.6% to 49.4%. While Chrétien intended to reflect a sense of bravado and confidence, his strategy now reeks, with the benefit of hindsight, of startling nonchalance. Teenaged me would not have been comforted knowing that this was how the prime minister was handling the Quebec referendum. No siree.

Paperback copies of The First Green Wave for sale

I have a limited supply of paperback copies of The First Green Wave: Pollution Probe and the Origins of Environmental Activism available for sale for $22.00 (taxes and shipping and handling included). If you're interested, you can find more ordering information here.

On the fence about ordering? Here's what some people have already said about the book:

"Canada’s environmental movement has a rich and significant history but has very few historians who have taken the time to chronicle and preserve that history. In this lively account, Ryan O’Connor has contributed enormously toward remedying that gap. Pollution Probe was one of the very first of Canada's environmental groups. Those early activists charted a course that many still follow -- and more should."
-Elizabeth May, OC, Leader of the Green Party of Canada

"Before there was Greenpeace or the Suzuki Foundation there was Pollution Probe, a group of intelligent, dedicated environmentalists with a knack for engaging both industry and politicians to bring about real change. This book shows how today’s practices such as recycling, waste management, and pesticide control were all introduced by this group before they were household terms. Hundreds of environmental organizations today were either spawned or inspired by this one organization, which showed how it’s done."
-Bob McDonald, OC, science journalist and host of CBC Radio’s Quirks & Quarks

"O’Connor’s work provides crucial insights into the origins of one of the key organizations in the modern environmental movement. It is a must read for any student of environmental policy and politics in Canada."
-Mark S. Winfield is a professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University and the author of Blue-Green Province: The Environment and the Political Economy of Ontario

(You can read more about the book here.)