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Curious Canadian History

Wild, wacky, weird, wonderful and downright dark stories of Canadian history


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  • S9E15 - Alcohol in early North America

    48:50
    When one thinks of the pre-confederation development of North America one might think of war and empires, competing nations, economic trade, fur, colonization, resistance and so many other themes and topics that have been enshrined in our understanding of early French and British North America. What’s interesting, is that present in almost all of this is alcohol. In fact, alcohol has been at the heart of the settler-colonial experience since the first Europeans arrived on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Alcohol was already central to European personal, economic, and professional relationships, and thus became central to European colonialism including European-indigenous relations, the slave trade, the fur trade, and the relationship between the classes. In fact, alcohol came to define much of the lives of those European settlers. Of course, alcohol was not without its detractors, religious leaders, pious settler communities and First Nations all sought in different ways to limit or resist both the temptation and the spread of alcohol in North America and by the middle of the nineteenth century the tide of alcohol had subsided considerably – but analysis’ of the causes of excessive drinking, focusing as it did on the inherently disorderly conduct and defective self-control of the lower orders, as well as the inherent vulnerability of Indigenous peoples, has misled generations of historians.  In many ways alcohol became wrapped up in the struggle for survival between those who had lived here for generations and those who were newly arriving, between nations and empires, and people, and played a role in shaping the future of the new world. To help us dive into this complex subject we’ve brought on an expert in the field, Allan Greer. Allan Greer is a historian and professor at McGill University Originally trained as a historian of early Canada, over time he expanded the scope of his research and teaching to include colonial North America, the history of native peoples of the Americas and the history of the Atlantic World. He is centrally involved in Montreal's French Atlantic History Group. Allan Greer has published extensively on, among other topics, the social history of early French Canada, the Canadian Rebellion of 1837-38, state formation, the early modern Jesuits, religious change and colonization, colonial saints, property and the history and historiography of New France. His books have won a number of national and international awards.The book recommendation is by Allan Greer and is titled Property and Dispossession: Natives, Empires and Land in Early Modern North America published by Cambridge University Press in 2017.

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  • S9E14 Hockey: The Game as We Know it Today

    45:15
    Hockey has had both an enduring but also a complicated relationship with ideas about what it means to be ‘Canadian’. While not every Canadian skates, or plays the game, or even cares about the game, the sport itself occupies a serous place in the Canadian cultural psyche. While the game has often been seen as something to unify Canadians, or to express ‘Canadianness’, it has also been exposed for very serious flaws in its culture, its infrastructure, and its dubious place as a game of character and inspiration for Canadian youth. The game of hockey, as we understand it now, has undergone dramatic challenges and changes since its first official appearance on ice in Montreal in the 1870s.  This episode seeks to understand some of the key developments in the game that we now recognize today. From the rules to the rink size, to professionalization, commercialization, internationalization, to the broadening of the hockey cultural mosaic. From its amateur roots to a game that is international in its appeal, incorporating men and women from different socioeconomic classes and ethnic groups, and one that continues to evolve alongside modern value systems while evoking serious discussion on its relevance to modern Canadians. Book recommendation: Canada’s Game: Hockey and Identity by Andrew C. Holman published McGill-Queen’s Press in 2009. 
  • S9E13 - Of Fugitives and Orators: The Characters Behind the RCMP’s Complicated History - a special Canadian Time Machine episode

    32:14
    In May 2023, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) commemorated its 150th anniversary. The federal police force – which originally started out as the North-West Mounted Police – is almost as old as the Dominion of Canada itself. This episode examines the complex and painful history of an institution that has historically mistreated Indigenous peoples and women. It also takes us back to the scene of one of the RCMP’s largest manhunts – the search for fugitive Albert Johnson, also known as “The Mad Trapper.” Guests on this episode are Sam Karikas, CEO of the RCMP Heritage Centre, and Jean Teillet, a recently retired Métis lawyer, author, and lecturer, who is also the great-grand niece of Louis Riel.More episodes are available at: https://lnkfi.re/ctms2e2cch. To read the episode transcripts in French and English, and to learn more about historic Canadian milestones, please visit thewalrus.ca/canadianheritage. 
  • S9E12 - The Canadian Masters of the Air

    54:53
    One of the most talked about shows currently available is Masters of the Air. A program detailing the lives of American bomber crews serving in the US Army Air Force during WW2. In today’s episode, I bring on a past guest of CCH, historian Alex Fitzgerald-Black, to talk about the Canadian version of Masters of the Air. While the Americans bombed during the day, at night Canadian crews also took the bomber war to Germany and Axis powers. In today’s discussion we trace the beginning of the Canadian bomber fleet, the formation of No. 6 Bomber Group (one of Canada’s largest national formations of the entire war), the various operations that Canadian bomber crews participated in and finally we talk about the legacy of the Canadian bomber contribution and spend a bit of time sharing our own thoughts on Masters of the Air.  Alex Fitzgerald-Black is the Executive Director at the Juno Beach Centre Association, the Canadian charity that owns and operates Canada’s Second World War Museum on the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy, France. He holds a Master of Arts in military history (University of New Brunswick) and a Master of Arts in public history (Western University). His first book, Eagles over Husky: The Allied Air Forces in the Sicilian Campaign, 14 May to 17 August 1943, was published in 2018. He has co-written multiple exhibitions at the Juno Beach Centre, including most recently Rising to the Challenge: The Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.The Juno Beach Centre is preparing to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy in summer 2024. Veterans Affairs Canada will be organizing the Canadian overseas ceremony on Juno Beach outside the Centre. For more information about the anniversary and to access further resources, please visit www.juno80.ca and junobeach.org. 
  • S9E11 - Canada, Maritime Power, and Africa

    58:58
    The Houthis are a non-state Shia Islamist politically and military movement, and they have controlled key parts of western Yemen since the Yemenis Civil War broke out in 2014. In response to the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza the Houthis began launching missile and drone strikes at cargo ships entering the Red Sea (shipping destined for the Suez Canal). The Houthis claim to be aiming their strikes at Israeli shipping as a show of support for the Palestinians, but as it’s turned out they seem to be targeting a variety of shipping actors. This threat to global shipping prompted a significant response form the international community, including Canada. Yet, Canada’s contribution (or lack thereof) has highlighted some serious flaws in our current naval capabilities, and frankly in our general military capabilities. Today on the show, we have brought on Christopher Roberts from the University of Calgary to talk about the history of Canada’s involvement in Africa, with a particular focus on our naval contributions in the post 9-11 era. This is a fantastic discussion where we spend quite a bit of time talking about the current state of Canada’ s military in an increasingly volatile world and exploring some of the lesser known Canadian military operations in and around the African continent. Christopher Roberts is a Fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and an instructor in Political Science at the University of Calgary. For over thirty years he's worked on African-related security, business, and development issues. He's currently the administrator of the global African Navies Research Network and has an article coming out, with Rob Huebert, on Canada and African maritime security in the next issue of Canadian Naval Review. You can follow him on Twitter/X at @cwjroberts.The CGAI is Canada’s most credible source of expertise on global affairs. Established in August 2001 and based in Calgary and Ottawa the CGAI is a registered charity which comments repeatedly in the media and publishes extensively on defence, diplomacy, trade, resources, and development. You can check out CGAI at their website CGAI.caYou can also listen to their podcasts by subscribing to the show The CGAI Podcast Network. 
  • S9E10 The Beginning of the End: The 1758 Siege of Louisbourg

    29:06
    The fortress of Louisbourg was once thought to be one of the finest fortresses of its day. It was considered a marvel of engineering, a dominating position that helped secure French control over the eastern seaboard of modern day Canada. Today, the fortress is one of the most important historical places in the country, it was at the centre of French control over what would become Canada and was the site of several key battles. The story of Louisbourg sheds light on the decades long colonial struggle for empire in North America. In fact, the siege of Louisbourg in 1758 would play a key role in determining the outcome of that conflict in North America, and ultimately the entire fate of the British-French rivalry for continental control. Book recommendation: The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America by Walter R. Borneman. HarperCollins, 2006. Patreon – https://www.patreon.com/curiouscanadianhistory
  • S9E9 - A Ballistic Decision: Canadian Intelligence Services and the Cancellation of the Avro Arrow

    36:54
    The Avro Arrow is a topic that has fascinated Canadians since its controversial cancellation in 1959. However, in the last ten years the narrative has changed dramatically from an American plot to ruin our aerospace industry to a decision made by the Canadian government based on very real calculations about the security threat to North America and the changing defence landscape of the late 1950s. In this episode we talk with Alan Barnes who has recently uncovered some incredible research that shows how important Canadian intelligent services were to the decision to cancel the Avro Arrow project. Alan has clearly uncovered that not only was the cancellation of the Arrow a highly calculated move by the Diefenbaker government but Canada’s newly established intelligence services played a key role in helping the Canadian government predict the future of defence issues which in turn spelled the end of the Arrow project. Alan Barnes was an analyst and a manager of analysts in the Canadian intelligence community for over 25 years. He served as a military intelligence officer, and as the Middle East analyst in the Political Intelligence Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Mr. Barnes moved to the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat (IAS) of the Privy Council Office when that organization was formed in 1993 and was the Director of the IAS Middle East and Africa Division from 1995 until his retirement in 2011. Mr. Barnes played a key role in the IAS's efforts to improve analytical tradecraft and in the training of new analysts. Since his retirement Mr. Barnes has continued his work on issues related to intelligence assessment. He is currently researching the history of strategic intelligence in Canada since 1945 and is Project Co-Leader of the Canadian Foreign Intelligence History Project (CFIHP). CFIHP is a collaborative effort to encourage the study of foreign intelligence in Canada and to facilitate access to archival records on this subject. By working together, researchers have a better chance of overcoming the many challenges associated with working in this field.