Context and the Ethics of Memory: Re-asserting the Importance of John A Macdonald

By Andrew Nurse

In November 2020, Darlene Fitzgerald, Principal of John A. Macdonald High School in Upper Tantallon announced that the school would change its name. School principal, Darlene Fitzgerald called the decision a “no-brainer,” at least for her. According to Fitzgerald, “In recent years we have all become more aware of his legacy as the architect of Canada’s Indian Residential School System and the passage of the Indian Act in [1876]. These historic events have caused irreparable harm and trauma to generations of Indigenous People in Canada.” Inclusivity, she continued is part of her responsibility as an educator. “Every student that walks through the door should feel that they belong, like this is my school, and this is the spirit of going to school.”[1]

Severed head of John A. Macdonald. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Not everyone agrees. In Charlottetown, the fate of its statue of John A. Macdonald remains under consideration after Indigenous leaders asked the city to reconsider its decision to keep the statue with interpretive modifications after it failed to “meaningfully” consult First Peoples.[2] And, there are those who argue that there is something deeply wrong with campaigns to remove statues, thereby altering the character and nature of Canada’s commemorative public space. Who argue, in various ways, that those people seeking to rename schools and remove statues are fundamentally misguided.

History is inextricably linked to ethics. If this were not so, no one would be exercised about John A. Macdonald and the place his commemoration occupies in Canada’s historical landscape. No one would be trying to change school names and no one would be trying to defend his legacy or ensure some kind of popular perception of him as a “great” leader. The incidents in the Maritimes are part of on-going controversy over a variety of public commemorations, most notably John A. Macdonald who are architects of, or implicated in, the development, growth, and consolidation of colonialism in Canada.

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Judge Des Barres on Trial

By Keith Mercer

Beginning in the late eighteenth century, the St. John’s police were tasked with preventing congestion, garbage, and unregulated animals in the streets. This was one of their first active and preventative duties, along with regulating taverns and the Sabbath. They walked the beat and reported infractions to the magistracy. Not surprisingly, one of the House of Assembly’s first bills in 1833 was “An Act for the more speedy abatement of nuisances,” making official what the police had been doing on the ground for decades. This statute was sent to magistrates across the island, but nuisances were most pressing in St. John’s. Constables, under threat of fines, submitted lists of offenders to the courts. The high constable played the lead role in enforcing the act, occasionally with a little extra pay. This could mean shooting homeless dogs, or rounding up loose swine and selling them at auction.[1]

A.W. Des Barres, c. 1861, in D.W. Prowse, A History of Newfoundland: From the English, Colonial, and Foreign Records (London: Macmillan, 1895), 423. This image, and that of Cochrane, was taken 25 years after these events.

The Nuisance Act enjoyed wide political and public support but also led to one of the most disturbing attacks on the police in Newfoundland’s early history. In December 1833, Constable John Toor reported several instances of citizens carting uncovered putrid substances through the streets, contrary to the new law. The magistracy issued summonses for these parties to appear before the Sessions. A.W. Des Barres, assistant judge of the Supreme Court, caught wind of this and personally intervened in the streets, seizing the summonses from the constables and defendants. He publicly called the magistrates “blackguards” – dishonourable men or scoundrels – and dismissed the Court of Sessions as a farce. He had never heard of the Nuisance Act, he claimed, and was simply acting to protect the poor. Des Barres burst into the Sessions, with Magistrate James Blaikie presiding over a case, and shouted for him to come outside at once.

Magistrate Peter Weston Carter thought there might be trouble and ordered the constables, all in attendance at the Sessions, to ready themselves. In a heated discussion at the police office, located in an adjoining room to the Sessions, Blaikie defended the constables’ and court’s honour under hurls of insults from the angry judge. He found it hard to believe that Des Barres did not know about the Nuisance Act, giving him a copy of it on the spot just to refresh his memory. Early in 1834, Des Barres was indicted for assaulting Constable David Rogers and obstructing him in the line of duty. He was acquitted of both charges in a jury trial before the Supreme Court – his court, much to the surprise of the judges, governor, senior law officers, and most observers in the room. A boisterous crowd surrounded the courthouse to cheer the verdict.[2]

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By Janet Guildford

Mike Earle pursued an unconventional career as a historian, starting late and never having a standard academic appointment. Nonetheless he made important contributions to regional history through his research and writing on Cape Breton labour history, his pioneering televised courses on Atlantic Canadian history at Mount Saint Vincent University,  and as  one of the principal organizers of  a union for part-time teachers  at Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s and the Mount.  I am one of many who benefited from Michael’s work for our union, CUPE 3912—it provided job security through the precedence system and slowly increased wages. Although he majored in history as an undergraduate at Mount Allison University from 1958-1961, Michael was a late-comer to professional history, and had many adventures before enrolling in graduate school in the late-1980s.

Michael Earle at two. Image courtesy of Mary Bourgeois.

Born in Charlottetown on 3 November 1939 to parents Jean Ross and C.N. (“Clarrie) Earle, he was the second of six children who formed a large, happy household. His childhood was the subject of many of Mike’s stories. The family moved with their father’s career as a bank manager, from Pictou, Sydney and Amherst.  Mike’s sister Mary Bourgeois described the family as “matriarchal’ and this was reflected in Mike’s special affection and respect for his mother Jean and sisters Mary and Christine. Mike often spoke very fondly of his mother, and his sister Mary expanded on this theme. Even when he was a teenager his mother was his regular movie and chess partner. Mary told me that there were days the house was filled with teenage boys playing chess with Jean! It has long been my contention that intellectual life is very often formed and shaped by family life and Mike’s family seems to provide an excellent example of this process.

As a young adult Mike moved from job to job. He tried following his father into banking and found it did not suit him. He worked as a child protection worker in Lunenburg County but that too was not to his taste. He then headed down the road to Toronto where he earned good wages doing what he regarded as boring work. It was there he met his wife, Sharon Anderson, and it was from Toronto that the two set off for London, England.

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2021 David Alexander Prize CFP

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Peter Waite: An Appreciation

By Andrew Nurse and Ed Stoddard

Peter Waite died on August 24th.  For three and a half decades he taught history at Dalhousie University. Waite is well and fondly remembered and should be. Christopher Moore, in his brief note on Waite’s passing called him a “historian, professor, war veteran, and bon vivant.” Allison Lawlor, in her obituary referred to him as “a compelling storyteller and writer.” A former colleague remembered him like this: Waite “was a joyful presence, quick to laugh, a spectacular raconteur addicted to punning and bon mots, especially in French or Latin […].” Peter Waite left his mark, both on Canadian historical scholarship and the students who moved through his classroom. We encountered him in the mid 1980s as undergraduate students at Dalhousie and, like others, we have fond memories.

Peter Waite. Image Credit: Rino Gropuzzo

Waite was born in Toronto in 1922, served in the Canadian Navy during World War II, and completed an undergraduate and MA at UBC before finishing a Ph. D. at the University of Toronto. He began teaching at Dalhousie in 1951 and became an enthusiastic and determined proponent of Nova Scotia wilderness and heritage conservation. He was made a Companion of the Order of Canada and a “Dalhousie Original” for her service to historical scholarship and the University community. Waite also served on the Historic Sites and Monuments Board and, in the course of his life, was the author of a number of “big books” that addressed new subjects or re-interpreted already studied subjects. Moore has called him a “master historian.” Waite would be both honoured and amused by that characterization.

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Chemists, Canoes, and New Brunswick’s History of Science

By Richard Yeomans

Science and innovation have a long history in New Brunswick, and in many ways this history has profoundly impacted the province as we know it today. The scuba tank (1839), the steam-powered foghorn (1854), the snow blower (1870), and many other novel inventions of their age are just some of the innovative firsts developed in this province that have had considerable effect on the lives of people here and across the globe. Science and innovation in this province were most often the result of environmental necessity, and motivators were easily found in the extraordinary tides of the Bay of Fundy, the thick fog that covers Saint John, and the sheer amounts of snow to which we have grown accustomed, albeit reluctantly.

Schell and Hogan, Poling and paddling in New Brunswick River [Engraver: W. Miller], Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, P50 Picturesque Canada Series Illustrations, MC80-1063, no. 7.

Other times, science played a critically important role in New Brunswick politics, especially before Canadian Confederation. The province’s western border with the state of Maine was one of the most contested terrains in North America until the line was finally agreed upon in 1842. Issues still arose of course, and jurisdiction was challenged well into the 1850s until the first astronomical observatory in Canada was built on Fredericton’s college hill and could scientifically locate the boundary line.[1] Though this province is not often considered to be among Canada’s historic centres of scientific research, New Brunswick was unmistakably shaped, and reshaped, by a constant atmosphere of science and a spirit of innovation.

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« Pierre Maisonnat Baptiste, un corsaire français à la rivière Saint-Jean durant la Guerre de la Ligue d’Augsbourg, 1688-1697 »

Nicolas Landry

Introduction [1].

Pour faire suite à notre blog précédent, rappelons qu’en vertu de la rationnelle commerciale de la course / privateering, les corsaires visent avant tout la capture plutôt que la destruction, contrairement à l’activité guerrière de l’État[2]. Précisons qu’en novembre 1669, le roi Louis XIV rétablit la charge d’Amiral de France, responsable d’administrer et d’appliquer les règles gérant la guerre de course. Ce dernier délègue ces responsabilités dans les sièges d’amirauté le long des côtes françaises et aux colonies[3]. D’ailleurs, en 1697, un jugement de l’Amiral de France décrète que la procédure entourant les activités corsaires dans la métropole et dans les colonies doit se faire dès l’arrivée d’une prise dans un port. Le procès-verbal de chaque jugement doit ensuite être envoyé au secrétaire général de la Marine, par les officiers des amirautés[4].

Il y a ici lieu de préciser que le rôle des corsaires français opérant en Acadie ne se limite pas à s’emparer de navires anglais en pleine mer, mais aussi à servir de patrouilleurs, de transport de troupes, de marchandises, pour des échanges de prisonniers et d’appui à des sièges de forts anglais[5]. L’on pense ici aux expéditions menées par Pierre Lemoyne d’Iberville et le baron Jean Vincent D’Abbadie de Saint-Castin. Il apparaît donc essentiel de ne pas dissocier les attaques terrestres des opérations corsaires, puisqu’elles sont souvent conjointes, sans oublier les alliés amérindiens[6].

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“You old buggar, I’ll pump you full of lead.” The Great War in Canada and Policing the City of Saint John, NB, 1910-1920

By Ben Griffin

In his 1920 “Valedictory,” the outgoing Mayor of Saint John, New Brunswick, R.T. Hayes reflected that “The four years have been full of incidents of outstanding importance, none more so perhaps in the history of the City and of the world.”[1] Indeed, Hayes’ observations are supported by historical scholarship on the Great War; Brian Douglas Tennyson called it a clear demarcation between the “before” and “after” of our historical evolution.[2] Notwithstanding the dominant trends of the literature, the historiography is enhanced when we explore stories of how New Brunswickers navigated this era. This is especially important in contexts that lack significant attention, such as policing. As a logistical hub and ice-free port of acute military importance, Saint John should be a nexus for exploring Canadian experiences of the war. This snapshot of its police force, itself in crisis during the 1910s, highlights how street-level tensions in a Maritime city were complicated by global events.

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Odds and Addenda: Some Connections and One Mystery

By David Frank

Every writer of history has had the same experience. You write and revise and rewrite and revise again. You consult friends and colleagues, go through peer review, follow up, do more revision. Then you publish what you believe to be the last word on a subject. And then you discover it is not.

You might even find technical misteaks that escaped your attention and eluded copyeditors and proofreaders. Oops, that should be mistakes.

But this is not the place to revisit avoidable errors. We are talking about addenda here, not corrigenda.

People are reading your work! They make comments, and sometimes additional evidence comes to light as a result. That’s what led to my last contribution to this blog, a supplementary note about William Ambrose John based on information from a reader who knew things I could not have known some twenty years earlier.

C.B. Wade, research director for District 26, United Mine Workers of America (centre), with union officers and visiting artist Avrom Yanovsky (fourth from left), 1947.

In the current round-up, my first exhibit is the group photograph in my article on C.B. Wade, the pioneering union researcher and labour historian of District 26, United Mine Workers of America, which appeared in Labour/Le Travail in 2017. The caption did not give names, except to identify Mr. Wade at the centre. I described the others as union officers. One of them looks very much like his grandson Robert, whom I knew when he was director of the Miners’ Museum in Glace Bay. And one of the men on the right is almost certainly the union president Freeman Jenkins, though I’m not sure which one.

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He had “insanity in his veins”: The Execution of George Gee in New Brunswick

By Michael Boudreau

On 22 July 1904 George Gee was executed in Woodstock, New Brunswick for the murder of his cousin Millie Gee.  The question of Gee’s guilt was not necessarily in question since he confessed to the crime. During Gee’s trial and the automatic review that was conducted by the federal Department of Justice to decide if his death sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment, the question of Gee’s sanity was raised.  In particular, Gee had apparently been driven to insanity by jealousy, after Millie Gee, whom George Gee had hoped to marry, had spurned him.  Moreover, it was alleged that the social, economic, and familial milieu in which Gee had lived – notably generational insanity, incest, and a generally “primitive” lifestyle – were contributing factors to his insanity at the time of the murder.

George Gee Sentenced to Death

Nineteen-year-old George Gee and eighteen-year-old Millie Gee had been “keeping company” and George had become “much attached” to Millie, so much so that he believed that they were husband and wife.  But when Millie left George to live with her brother-in-law, Benny Gee, George Gee was “much aggrieved” by her desertion. Gee obtained a rifle and two bottles of rum and paid a visit to Benny Gee’s home.  Over the course of the evening, they drank and played cards.  In the early hours of 13 March 1904, in Homesville, Carleton County, shots were heard echoing throughout the Gee residence.  It was soon discovered that Millie Gee had been shot in the stomach and she later died after doctors had operated on her in a desperate attempt to save her life. When George Gee was taken into custody by Deputy-Sheriff Albion Foster, he expressed little remorse for his actions and announced that the only thing he regretted was not shooting Millie Gee through the heart.[1] 

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