Books I’ve Read This Week: Extraordinary Canadians

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 29: Extraordinary Canadians: Before 2018, I had read and enjoyed two of the biographies in the eighteen volume Extraordinary Canadians series, Nellie McClung by Charlotte Gray and Lucy Maud Montgomery,by Jane Urquhart. In recent weeks, I have read seven more books in the series, gaining new perspectives on Canadian history and learning more about important historical figures. Here are this week’s reviews:

#197 of 365 Emily Carr by Lewis DeSoto

Genre: Biography

Format: Hardcover, 185 pages

Acquired: Borrowed from Toronto Public Library

Date Read: July 19, 2018

Review: A short biography of Canadian artist Emily Carr, structured as a series of essays about her life and times, including the influence of post-Impressionism on her work, the conflict between marriage and creative expression for women of her time, her engagement with the First Nations communities who inspired her work and the recognition that she received as an artist and writer later in life. While Emily Carr led a very interesting life, some of the chapters in the book were repetitive instead of exploring these themes in detail and the further reading section was too short. The author is an artist who did not initially like Carr’s work but came to appreciate her art after seeing the landscapes depicted in her paintings.

#198 of 365 Stephen Leacock by Margaret MacMillan

Genre: Biography

Date Read: July 20, 2018

Acquired: Purchased from ABC Books, Toronto

Format: Paperback, 174 pages

Review: I have read and admire a number of Margaret Macmillan’s historical works including Women of the Raj, Paris 1919 and The War That Ended Peace and I enjoyed Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town so I loved reading a blend of MacMillan’s scholarship and Leacock’s humour. Macmillan not only captures the essence of Leacock’s personality with its blend of intellect, humour and melancholy but also gives a good overview of his times and Canada’s gradual emergence from the British Empire. The narrative includes quotations from Leacock’s famous and lesser known works, showing the range of his opinions and work as “a public intellectual in a country that was not yet used to having them.” Highly recommended.

#199 of 365 Lord Beaverbrook by David Adams Richards

Genre: Biography

Date Read: July 21, 2018

Acquired: Found at Home

Format: Hardcover, 200 pages

Review: Lord Beaverbrook is the only Canadian to be mentioned in Season 2 of The Crown on Netflix (in a scene where the former King Edward VIII lists his friends in Britain) and author David Adams Richards observes that he was one of the most important and influential Canadians in a global context over the course of the 20th century. This short biography provides an interesting and enthusiastic overview of his life, achievements and shortcomings. The author’s opinions, however, sometimes overwhelm the narrative. Both Richards and Beaverbrook grew up in the same town in New Brunswick and Richards often attributes opinions to Beaverbrook based entirely on his own experiences of the culture of small town New Brunswick. A good read but the author’s asides about how things are done in Miramichi are sometimes distracting from the overall biography.

#200 of 365 Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin by John Ralston Saul

Genre: Biography

Date Read: July 22, 2018

Acquired: Found at Home

Format: Hardcover, 272 pages

Review: An excellent dual biography of two Canadian political figures who deserve to be better known for their development of the reform movement for Responsible Government and other contributions to modern Canadian politics, education and society. John Ralston Saul presents the closely intertwined personal and political lives of Baldwin and LaFontaine. They were both surrounded by strong women. Baldwin’s daughter Maria became his unofficial private secretary, declaring confidently “Do you think I have lived all my life among politicians for nothing? No indeed! Politics are with me as though they were a second nature.” LaFontaine’s wife Adele worked on behalf of political prisoners during the 1837 Rebellions. Both men were haunted by circumstances in their personal lives: Baldwin became a widower at a young age and LaFontaine’s first marriage was childless. They both poured their energies into politics.

19th century Canadian history has a reputation for being calm and uneventful but John Ralston Saul provides a vivid account of the conflicts of times. As a child, Baldwin fled the burning of what is now Toronto by American troops during the war of 1812. The Rebellions of 1837 cost lives in both Upper and Lower Canada and a few of the rocks thrown at Governor General Lord Elgin at the time of the burning of parliament in Montreal in 1849 are still in the collection of Library and Archives Canada. Ralston Saul also places events in Canada in a wider trans-Atlantic context, examining the impact of the European political upheavals of 1848 and the emigration following the Irish Potato Famine on Canadian politics and society. Highly recommended.

#201 of 365 Lester B Pearson by Andrew Cohen

Genre: Biography

Date Read: July 23, 2018

Acquired: Found at Home, Purchased from Amazon.ca

Format: Hardcover, 224 pages

Review:  I enjoyed this short biography of Lester B. Pearson, who was Prime Minister of Canada at the time of the centennial of Confederation in 1967. Cohen observes that in contrast to other famous Canadian Prime Ministers such as John Diefenbaker, Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney, Lester Pearson did not have a vision of himself as a “great man” destined to become Prime Minister but instead seized the career opportunities that came to him, reflecting, “I expected to spend at least the next quarter century teaching history…with forays into related activities. I knew that I would never become a cloistered scholar,but I did not know where one of these forays was to lead me.”

In addition to discussing Pearson’s life and accomplishments, the book also provides an overview of the development of Canadian nationhood over the course of the 20th century. Pearson had a sense of a Canadian identity distinct from Great Britain and the United States from a young age and his accomplishments as Prime Minister included the introduction of the current Canadian flag and the promotion of bilingualism. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for his mediation of the Suez Crisis, the first example of Canada not joining Great Britain in war. I would have been interested to read more about Pearson’s views of the monarchy as there are references in the book to the “Royal” slowly disappearing from a number of Canadian institutions. A well written and interesting biography and work of Canadian history.

#202 of 365 Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont by Joseph Boyden

Genre: Biography

Date Read: July 28, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Toronto Public Library

Format: Hardcover, 224 pages

Review: A vivid dual biography of Gabriel Dumont and Louis Riel that centres around the North-West Rebellion of 1885 from the perspective of Dumont then the trial of Louis Riel. I have visited Duck Lake and Batoche in Saskatchewan and could picture the setting. While Boyden focuses closely on the experiences and worldview of these two Metis leaders, the book also discusses the wider impact of the Red River and North-West Rebellions on the development of Canada and the history of warfare. While Dumont comes to life on the pages of the book, the various facets of Riel’s character do not always come to the surface as Boyden focuses closely on his religious views and quotes extensively from his discussions on this subject. I was curious to know more about his early life, upbringing and time in exile between rebellions. A fascinating read.

#203 of 365 Big Bear by Rudy Wiebe

Genre: Biography

Date Read: July 29, 2018

Acquired: Borrowed from Toronto Public Library

Format: Hardcover, 240 pages

Review:  A beautifully written literary biography that captures the eloquence and statesmanship of the Cree Chief Big Bear and the challenges faced by First Nations people in the late 19th century. Wiebe draws upon a variety of sources, including interviews by Big Bear’s descendants, to describe his efforts to reach a peaceful agreement with the Canadian authorities and provide for his people. The final chapters of the book are tragic. Big Bear and his family experienced starvation and poverty, and the Chief was blamed for attacks on settlers that he in fact attempted to prevent. Wiebe concludes that Big Bear still has a lasting impact on Canadian culture, stating, “His insistence on talking to resolve conflict would become the Canadian way. They had, after all, named the whole country Canada, which sounded very much like the Cree word kanata, meaning ‘the place that is clean.'” Well worth reading.

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New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Meghan (HRH The Duchess of Sussex)

Meghan (HRH The Duchess of Sussex)

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is about Meghan (HRH The Duchess of Sussex)

Her Royal Highness (HRH) The Duchess of Sussex, née Rachel Meghan Markle (born 4 August 1981 in Los Angeles, California), is a philanthropist, a former actress and the wife of HRH The Duke of Sussex (Prince Harry). Meghan has a strong connection with Canada and has described herself as an “honorary Canadian.” She lived in Toronto, Ontario, while filming the television legal drama Suits and, in 2016, she became a Global Ambassador for World Vision.

Click here to read Meghan (HRH The Duchess of Sussex) in the Canadian Encyclopedia

 

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New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall

The Duchess of Cornwall

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is about Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (born 17 July 1947 in London, United Kingdom), the second wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, heir to the thrones of Canada, the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth Realms. She has undertaken four official tours of Canada with the Prince of Wales, including celebrations for the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017.

My article focuses on Camilla’s Canadian tours and her Canadian ancestor, Sir Allan Napier McNabb, Premier of the Province of Canada from 1854 to 1856.

Click here to read my article about Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall in the Canadian Encyclopedia 

 

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Royal Studies Journal Article: Canadian Women’s Responses to Royal Tours from the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day

Princess Louise in Canada, dressed for an Ottawa winter during her time as vice regal consort of Canada from 1878 to 1883.

My new article in the Royal Studies Journal discusses how Canadian women responded to royal tours from the late eighteenth century to the present day.

Abstract: In the United Kingdom and Canada, support for the monarchy is higher among women than men. From Walter Bagehot’s political theory in the nineteenth century to modern day polling data, monarchism among women is usually attributed to royal events in popular culture from nineteenth-century royal weddings to twenty-first century depictions of the royal family in television and film. Press coverage of royal tours of Canada in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries often depicted women as passive bystanders in crowds, only gradually adding depictions of women as active participants in welcoming royalty.

The history of Canadian women’s responses to royal tours and other public engagements by royalty in Canada from the eighteenth century to the present day reveals that there is a long history of women assuming active roles when royalty are present in Canada, seeking redress in legal cases in the eighteenth century, requesting patronage for organizations benefiting women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and debating the future of the monarchy in Canada in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

The impact of royalty in Canada on women’s lives has become part of Canadian culture and literature. The higher levels of support for monarchism among women compared to men should therefore not be assumed to be due to passively viewing royal weddings, fashions or popular culture alone, but should be placed within this context of women actively engaging with royalty during their public appearances in Canada, viewing royal occasions as opportunities to have their concerns addressed by prominent public figures.

Click here to read “Canadian Women’s Responses to Royal Tours from the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day” in the Royal Studies Journal

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Reader’s Digest Interview: In conversation with royal historian Carolyn Harris

I discussed a variety topics concerning the royal family including the royal wedding, popular attitudes toward the monarchy in Canada, and The Crown series on Netflix with Courtney Shea at Reader’s Digest Canada.

Click here to read “In Conversation with Royal Historian Carolyn Harris”

Illustration by Aimée Van Drimmelen

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New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Princess Margriet of the Netherlands

Princess Margriet of the Netherlands attending the Tulip Festival in Ottawa in 2002

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is about Princess Margriet of the Netherlands and the unique relationship between Canada and the Netherlands.

“Her Royal Highness Princess Margriet Francisca of the Netherlands, Princess of Orange-Nassau, Princess of Lippe-Biesterfeld (born 19 January 1943 in Ottawa, ON) spent her early childhood in Canada during the Second World War. The annual Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa emerged from gifts of thousands of tulip bulbs from the Dutch royal family. Margriet continues to make regular visits to Canada, strengthening ties between Canada and the Netherlands.”

Click here to read my article about Princess Margriet of the Netherlands in the Canadian Encyclopedia

 

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New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone

Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is about Her Royal Highness Princess Alice Mary Victoria Augusta Pauline of Albany, Countess of Athlone, viceregal consort of Canada from 1940 to 1946 (born 25 February 1883 in Berkshire, United Kingdom; died 3 January 1981 in London, United Kingdom).

Princess Alice promoted Canadian culture and women’s contributions to the Second World War. She was the last surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria and the last member of the royal family to serve as viceregal consort of Canada.

Click here to read Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone in the Canadian Encyclopedia

 

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New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Princess Patricia of Connaught

Princess Patricia

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia is a biography of Princess Patricia of Connaught.

Her Royal Highness Princess Victoria Patricia Helena Elizabeth of Connaught (born 17 March 1886 in London, United Kingdom; died 12 January 1974 in Windlesham, Surrey, United Kingdom). Patricia resided in Canada from 1911 to 1916 and acted as hostess for her father, the Duke of Connaught, during his term as governor general. She gave her name to Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and became honorary colonel-in-chief in 1918. A talented artist inspired by Canadian landscapes, she exhibited her paintings in Canadian art exhibitions, and examples of her work remain part of Canadian collections.

Click here to read my article on Princess Patricia of Connaught in the Canadian Encyclopedia

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New Canadian Encyclopedia Article: Pauline Vanier

Georges and Pauline Vanier

My latest article in the Canadian Encyclopedia discusses The Honourable Pauline Vanier, PC, CC (born 28 March 1898 in Montreal, Quebec; died 23 March 1991 in l’Arche, France), vice regal consort of Canada from 1959 to 1967 and chancellor of the University of Ottawa from 1966 to 1973. Vanier was the first woman outside party politics to be appointed to the Queen’s Privy Council. She cofounded the Vanier Institute of the Family in 1965 with her husband, Georges Vanier, and became one of the first companions of the Order of Canada in 1967 for her humanitarian work.

Click here to read my article about Pauline Vanier in the Canadian Encyclopedia

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Global News Interview: Preparing for a Royal Wedding

Windsor Castle

The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is one month away and the preparations include both centuries of royal tradition and new innovations introduced by the royal couple. I discussed the preparations for the royal wedding as well as the history of royal weddings at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle with Global News. Here is the interview:

 

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