Author Tags: Essentials 2010, First Nations, History, Photography, War
"I became a writer so I wouldn't have to leave home." -- Daniel Francis
QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:
If one were forced or instructed to select one book, above all others, that should be found in every B.C. household, one would have a hard time not selecting The Encyclopedia of British Columbia (2000). No other book has given British Columbians a better mirror in which to see themselves.
It is important for British Columbians to know about the world champion Trail Smoke Eaters or the explosion of Ripple Rock. Or how the Quaker lawyer Irving Stowe founded the Don’t Make A Wave Committee, giving rise to Greenpeace. Or the Hope Slide. Or the soccer-playing Lenarduzzi brothers. That’s why the Encyclopedia is the most essential book for and about B.C. It is both populist and smart. It efficiently reminds us of how and why we are unique, as a psychological and historical zone, west of the Rockies, where maverick sensibilities have thrived. It is remarkably comprehensive, lively and accurate.
Accepting the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize for best book about B.C. in 2001, editor Daniel Francis said, “The whole project is based on a conversation Howie [White] and I had over a decade ago. I never had a contract with him; the project was not based on a business relationship, it was based on a friendship, one that miraculously survived some very tense moments. For most of the project Howie had no outside support. Much of the help was voluntary and it felt at times that we were flying by the seat of our pants. But we both knew that if we waited for the money and set up the committees and consulted all the experts and drew up a flow chart, we’d never get the damn thing done. So instead, we just went ahead and did it. I wouldn’t recommend this as the best way, but it seems to me to be a typically B.C. way, and it worked.”
Francis wrote approximately 80 per cent of the 4,000 entries, and Howard White, a long-time Pender Harbour resident, who also co-conceived the Raincoast Chronicles series with his wife Mary, was the driving force behind the project. He conceived it, took the financial risk, and believed it was both necessary and viable, even though Mel Hurtig’s The Canadian Encyclopedia project had met with financial ruin.
The future of books is now uncertain. Small bookstores are closing; electronic media is increasingly prevalent. The proliferation of Chapters outlets across Canada has influenced the book trade enormously. Hence the successful release of the million-word, 824-page Encyclopedia of British Columbia in 2000 marked the pinnacle of a thirty-six year progression for a provincial industry that engendered the highest per capita book reading rate in Canada.
Historian Daniel Francis edited the most essential book about the province, the Encyclopedia of British Columbia (Harbour, 2000), having previously worked as an editor for Mel Hurtig's Encyclopedia of Canada. Accepting the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize for best book about B.C. in 2001, Francis said, "The whole project is based on a conversation Howie [White] and I had over a decade ago. I never had a contract with him; the project was not based on a business relationship, it was based on a friendship, one that miraculously has survived some very tense moments. For most of the project Howie has no outside support. Much of the help was voluntary and it felt at times that we were flying by the seat of our pants. But we both knew that if we waited for the money and set up the committees and consulted all the experts and drew up a flow chart, we'd never get the damn thing done. So instead, we just went ahead and did it. I wouldn't recommend this as the best way, but it seems to me to be a typically BC way, and it worked." He later provided a truncated history of the province for young readers.
Francis has also written the definitive biography of Louis Denison Taylor, the newspaperman who served as mayor of Vancouver more times than anyone else, and who built one of the city's most enduring landmark buildings, the World Tower, now known as the Sun Tower. His biography of Taylor received the City of Vancouver Book Award in 2004. Francis' first book on the fur trade arose from a contract with the Quebec government. "I spent two years in the archive reading microfilm," he recalled in 1995. "It was sort of an apprenticeship, and probably why I have to wear glasses now." That work reflected the changing perception of Natives from abject victims of the fur trade to skilled and active participants in it. Francis' subsequent books on northern Canada and whaling have become standard resources; Copying People and The Imaginary Indian are valuable contributions to the history and analysis of aboriginal peoples of Canada; plus he has probed the national psyche in his much-praised National Dreams and a social history of Canada. "The myth of the CPR as creator of the country is, in fact, as old as the railway itself, which is not surprising given that it was the railway itself which created the myth. Once the CPR had built the line, it set about promoting its achievement in countless books, pamphlets, stories and movies. 'The construction of the Canadian Pacific consummated Confederation,' the company crowed in one of its early publications. The mundane act of constructing a railway was transformed into an heroic narrative of nation building. After a while it was almost impossible to imagine one without applauding the other."
Married, with two adult children, Francis lived in Ottawa (1971-84) and Montreal (1984-87) before returning to live in B.C. He has his BA from UBC (1969)and his MA in Canadian Studies from Carleton University (1975). He worked as a newspaper reporter for two years before turning fulltime to historical writing and research. He has written six social studies textbooks produced for Ontario, Manitoba and B.C., and several important trade books on Canadian history. He has also been an editor with Geist magazine and has served on the executive of the Writers Union of Canada, the B.C. Federation of Writers, the Vancouver Word on the Street Festival and the West Coast Book Prizes Society. From 1985 to 1987 he was Editorial Director of the Horizon Canada project, an illustrated bilingual popular history of Canada. He has also been a contributor to the Canadian Encyclopedia and a contributing editor to the Junior Encyclopedia of Canada. During his presidency of the Federation of B.C. Writers, he re-established the credibility and viability of the organization.
Daniel Francis was named recipient of an Award of Merit from the Vancouver Historical Society on April, 11, 2010, recognized for "his significant contributions to the history of Vancouver and British Columbia through his prolific writing." The award was presented at the society's annual Incorporation Day Luncheon celebrating the creation of the City of Vancouver, April 6, 1886. Francis was the keynote speaker at the event, discussing his book LD: Mayor Louis Taylor and the Rise of Vancouver.
Between 1880 and the 1930s, the big railway companies, and the federal and provincial governments launched three aggressive campaigns to “sell” Canada at home and abroad. Dan Francis' Selling Canada: Three Propaganda Campaigns that Shaped the Nation recalls, with extensive illustrations, how the national government mounted propaganda campaigns to convince European immigrants to populate the prairies, to encourage young Canadian men to enlist in World War I and to attract tourists to visit Canada's awe-inspiring natural wonders with the completion of the CPR line in 1885. It was re-released in a paperback version as Selling Canada: Immigrants, soldiers,
tourists, and the building of our nation (2012). Francis reveals how these three propaganda campaigns transformed the way Canadians and outsiders thought about Canada, inadvertently providing the raw material for nationhood in the process.
Dan Francis' Trucking in British Columbia (Harbour 2012) was shortlisted for the Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award presented to the originating publisher and author(s) of the best book in terms of public appeal, initiative, design, production and content.
Canada and Prohibition — March 1918, the federal government bans the manufacture and importation of liquor. It is now illegal to have a drink anywhere in Canada. For 21 months, social reformists and zealots preaching hell-fire and damnation believe they have won the war on the evils of drink. But have they? Closing Time: Prohibition, Rum-Runners, and Border Wars (Douglas and McIntyre $39.95) looks at the federal and provincial governments’ attempts to cleanse Canada of alcohol’s corruption, while liquor smugglers and rum-runners wage a violent battle for profit. Using historical anecdotes and illustrations, Francis explores the legal and historical context of Prohibition, comparing the past with present-day prohibition of certain recreational drugs.
Where the Mountains Meet the Sea (Harbour 2016) is Francis' love letter to the District of North Vancouver on the 125th anniversary of its incorporation. From early sawmilling days through to the postwar population boom and evolution into a bustling community in its own right, to the District's development of outdoor recreation, Francis details the development of a thriving community.
CITY/TOWN: North Vancouver
DATE OF BIRTH: 19 April 1947
PLACE OF BIRTH: Vancouver
Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize, 2001; Bill Duthie Booksellers' Choice Award, 2001; both for the Encyclopedia of British Columbia
City of Vancouver Book Award, 2004; for LD: Mayor Louis Taylor and the Rise of Vancouver
Francis, Daniel. Partners in Furs: The Indians and the Fur Trade in Eastern James Bay, 1670-1870. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1982. Published in French as La Traite des Fourrures dans l'est de la Baie James. (with Toby Morantz).
Francis, Daniel. Battle for the West: Fur Traders and the Birth of Western Canada. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishing, 1982.
Francis, Daniel. New Beginnings: A Social History of Canada. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1981-1982. Two volumes.
Francis, Daniel. I Remember...: An Oral History of the Trent-Severn Waterway. Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1984. Also published in French.
Francis, Daniel. Arctic Chase: A History of Whaling in Canada's Arctic. St John's: Breakwater Books, 1986.
Francis, Daniel. Discovery of the North: The Exploration of Canada's Arctic. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishing, 1986.
Francis, Daniel. The Great Chase: A History of World Whaling. Toronto: Penguin, 1990.
Transit in British Columbia: The First Hundred Years. Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 1990.
Francis, Daniel. The Imaginary Indian: The Image of the Indian in Canadian Culture. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press / Tillicum Books, 1992. Re-released: Arsenal 2011; Re-released: Arsenal 2014).
Francis, Daniel. A History of Fort Dunvegan. Winnipeg: Watson & Dwyer, 1993.
Francis, Daniel. Imagining Ourselves: Classics of Canadian Non-fiction. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1994.
Francis, Daniel. Copying People: Photographing British Columbia First Nations, 1860-1940. Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1996.
Francis, Daniel. National Dreams: Myth, Memory and Canadian History. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1997; 5th printing Arsenal 2014
Francis, Daniel (editor). Encyclopedia of British Columbia. Madeira Park, B.C.: Harbour Publishing, 2000.
Francis, Daniel. Discovering First Peoples and First Contacts. Toronto: Oxford Canada, 2000. School text, ages 10-14.
Francis, Daniel. LD: Mayor Louis Taylor and the Rise of Vancouver. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp, 2004.
Francis, Daniel. A Road for Canada (Stanton, Atkins & Dosil, 2006). 09732346-7-9
Francis, Daniel. Far West: A History of British Columbia for Young Readers (Harbour, 2006). 1-55017-410-X
Red Light Neon: A History of Vancouver's Sex Trade (Subway Books, 2006) 0-9736675-2-4
Francis, Daniel & Gil Hewlett. Operation Orca (Harbour, 2007).
Francis, Daniel, editor. Imagining British Columbia: Land, Memory & Place (Anvil 2008).
Francis, Daniel. Seeing Reds: The Red Scare of 1918-1919, Canada's First War on Terror (Arsenal 2010).
Francis, Daniel. Selling Canada: Three Propaganda Campaigns that Shaped the Nation (Stanton, Atkins & Dosil 2011). $45 978-0-9809304-4-3
Trucking in British Columbia: An Illustrated History (Harbour, 2012) $49.95 978-1-55017-561-5
Closing Time: Prohibition, Rum-Runners, and Border Wars (Douglas and McIntyre 2014) $39.95 978-1-77162-037-6
Where the Mountains Meet the Sea (Harbour 2016) $39.95 978-1-55017-751-0
Reviews of the author's work by BC Studies:
Imagining British Columbia: Land, Memory & Place
The Imaginary Indian: The Image of the Indian in Canadian Culture (2nd Edition)
Encyclopedia of British Columbia
LD: Mayor Lous Taylor and the Rise of Vancouver
Seeing Reds: The Red Scare of 1918-1919, Canada's First War on Terror
Selling Canada. Three Propaganda Campaigns that Shaped the Nation
Trucking in British Columbia: An Illustrated History
Closing Time: Prohibition, Rum-Runners, and Border Wars
Encyclopedia of British Columbia (Harbour Publishing)
At the 17th annual B.C. Book Prizes, Encyclopedia of British Columbia became only the third book in the history of the event to garner two prizes on the same night.
The Encyclopedia won the Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award and Roderick Haig-Brown Prize for best book about B.C. (In 1990 the Western Canada Wilderness Committee won two B.C. Book Prizes for Carmanah; in 1987 Doris Shadbolt won twice for Bill Reid.).
It was an unprecedented ten-year gamble that paid off.
“When you bet the ranch on one roll of the dice,” says publisher Howard White, “there can be some terrifying moments, some of which last for months at a time, but if you get away with it, the satisfaction is all the more profound. The reviews have been extravagant and the letters of thanks have been pouring in from all over the province. It’s obvious people are not just pleased, many seem to be deeply moved. It’s a book that B.C. has wanted for a long time.”
Editor and historian Daniel Francis wrote approximately 80 per cent of the 4,000 entries. At the official launch for the Encyclopedia of British Columbia at the Vancouver
Public Library, White praised Francis, comparing him to Samuel Johnson. At the Book Prizes gala he said Francis had completed a Herculean task.
The text was complemented by 1,500 photos and a CD. “I found out that doing a CD turned out to be roughly the equivalent of doing a full-length feature movie,” White jokes. “Doing this project, you have to plan for every eventuality, then triple that.”
In October, White told the Globe & Mail’s Sandra Martin that the break-even point for the encyclopedia had been passed at sales of 15,000 copies. Three weeks after releasing the first print run on September 30, Harbour had to order a second batch of 15,000 hardcover, full-colour copies for Christmas.
Weyerhauser purchased 3,700 copies of the $99 reference work, one for each of the schools in the areas where the forest company operates. The project also included partnerships with BC Hydro, Telefilm, UBC Special Collections, Telus, CBC Television, B.C. Ministry of Education and ICBC.
ICBC head honcho Bob Williams, a former NDP cabinet minister, has noted that Howard White had a brief political career in 1990. “Thank God for the cultural life of this province that Howie never got elected,” says Williams.
When he accepted the Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award, White invited a dozen people onto the stage to emphasize that he and writer/editor Daniel Francis had considerable support. He compared the process of creating the 824-page encyclopedia to manufacturing a gigantic mirror.
“It’s a privilege to be able to do a book like this,” he said. “It’s sort of like finding yourself in the company of the most beautiful person in the world and realizing that they’ve never looked at themselves in the mirror before.
“You have the privilege of being the first to hold up a full-length mirror so they can freely see what a magnificent entity they are.” 1-55017-200-X
[BCBW SUMMER 2001]
Encyclopedia of British Columbia (Harbour $99)
Growing up as the son of a gypo logger on Nelson Island, publisher Howard White never dreamed he’d be competing with the Beatles. But these days his line-up of Terry (Fox), Pauline (Johnson), James (Douglas) and Wacky (Bennett) is proving almost as popular as John, Paul, George and Ringo.
White’s 850-page, million-word Encyclopedia of British Columbia (Harbour $99), edited by Daniel Francis, is in a two-horse race for top sales with the 368-page Beatles Anthology (Raincoast $92). The full-colour B.C. encyclopedia, with a CD-ROM included, was reprinted less than a month after it was released.
“Somebody told me after reading the EBC,” says White, “that they hadn’t felt as good about B.C. since Expo ’86. It made me realize that’s the sort of feeling we were aiming for.
“We wanted to give B.C. people a millennium present that would get them feeling good about themselves again, and it seems to be working.”
The risky publishing venture is the third of its kind in Canada. Hurtig Publishers of Alberta were ruined by a national encyclopedia project in 1990 (now managed by M&S) and there is an encyclopedia for Newfoundland.
[BCBW WINTER 2000]
National Dreams: Myth, Memory & Canadian History (Arsenal Pulp $19.95)
In National Dreams: Myth, Memory & Canadian History (Arsenal Pulp $19.95), Daniel Francis debunks Canadian myths taught in high school history classes - the peerless Mountie, the fearsome Native and The Last Spike (which was really a photo-op). Regarding the deal with Disney for the rights to the RCMP's image, Francis refers to the RCMP as 'the world's only souvenir police force'. In reality the RCMP has been used to spy on Canadians, particularly those involved with labour movements and radical politics. Francis also claims the comforting notion that the RCMP always gets its man and treats Natives better than American police is largely due to fiction and Hollywood films. His tome differs from James Loewen's celebrated treatise on the mis-education of America, Lies My Teacher Told Me, because, as Francis says, "Loewen debunks textbooks; I explore themes in Canadian history."
1 55152 043 5
HISTORY, LIKE YOUTH, IS WASTED ON THE YOUNG
Opinion column (Vancouver Sun, 1997)
by Daniel Francis
Not long ago I sprang a surprise history quiz on some friends. We were helping out at one of the charitable casinos which fund most of BC's cultural activity these days. It was late in the evening, we were counting the take, and money was piling up on the table in front of us.
"Who's this?" I asked, pointing at the distinguished face staring back from a $5 bill. No one knew.
"What about him?" I tried, holding up a ten. "Or them?" pointing at a fifty, then at a hundred. Blank stares all around. No one in the room could identify John A. Macdonald, Wilfrid Laurier, Mackenzie King or Robert Borden, four of the country's longest-serving prime ministers.
This past Canada Day I was reminded of my little pop quiz when the results of the latest test measuring the ignorance of Canadians about their own history was released. As someone who has spent the past 25 years reading and writing about the subject, I am never surprised at how little Canadians know about their history. Nor am I particularly outraged. But it seems to surprise and outrage other people, judging by the amount of hand-wringing that accompanied the latest results.
The test, given to a group of young Canadians aged 18 to 24, revealed that only half could name the country's first prime minister, only a third knew the date of Confederation, only 16 percent knew the name of the first Canadian in space, and so on. Disappointing? Of course. But hardly news. This test, or one like it, has been given every few years for as long as I can remember. And Canadians always fail it, just like my friends at the casino.
The response to the latest poor showing is no less predictable than the results themselves. You could hear the gnashing of teeth from coast to coast. No wonder the country is in such a mess, commentators agreed, when Johnny doesn't even know who Wilfrid Laurier was. Conventional wisdom blames the schools, of course, which allegedly are not doing enough to produce graduates with an adequate understanding of their own culture.
But how many of these same commentators recall how little they knew about Canada when they were 20 years old? Surely they had other things on their minds. I know I did.
I knew almost no history. I knew about responsible government, of course, and Jacques Cartier drinking that stuff the Indians gave him to keep off the scurvy. Drinking was associated with John A. Macdonald as well, though I don't believe his "medicine" was tree bark. I'm sure that this smattering of random facts would not have earned me a very high mark had I taken a history quiz at the time. Everything I know now I've had to learn since.
Canadians are certain that we are uniquely ignorant about our history. The Americans, we think, would never allow it. In fact, similar tests in the US reveal the same lack of knowledge. "High school students hate history," remarks American professor James Loewen in his recent book on the subject. "Every year or two another study decries what our 17-year-olds don't know."
It is important that kids learn history in school, no question. We should keep up the effort to find innovative ways of teaching it, and reaffirm the importance of history in school curricula. It is ridiculous that the story of our own country should have become an "elective", like woodwork or typing. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking that kids will ever start scoring 100 percent on pop quizzes, no matter how dedicated their teachers or interesting their textbooks.
I am old enough to remember the furore which greeted the 1968 publication of Bernie Hodgetts's indictment of history education, What Culture? What Heritage? Hodgetts's report, and others like it, spawned the Canadian Studies movement which flooded the schools during the 1970s with new, improved, made-in-Canada learning materials. The apparent result? Today's kids are just as ignorant about the subject as I was.
Many Canadians have a touching faith in the power of history to heal and unite the country. This belief, too, dates back many years: if only we knew about our common past it would convince us to go forward arm in arm into a common future. We think it's like broccoli. The more of it we eat, the healthier we'll become.
But wherever you look around the world, people are at each others throats, and it's more likely to be because they know too much history, not too little. Don't misunderstand me. I think it's vital to know about the past. It is naive, however, to think that this knowledge will necesarily dissolve the grievances that divide us.
I personally suspect that surveys like the recent Canada Day quiz simply reveal that history, like youth, is wasted on the young. They are too busy working through their identity problems to be interested in responsible government and Louis Riel. We can force-feed them all we want, but this latest test is all the warning we need that the results may disappoint us.
"Those who do not remember the past," writes James Loewen, "are condemned to repeat the eleventh grade." For far too many of us, the school textbook is the only history book we ever read. Instead of sniping at the school system, people seriously concerned about the low level of historical knowledge in Canada might better occupy themselves dreaming up creative ways of putting Canadians in contact with the story of the country at an age when they are more likely to be interested in it.
Mayor Louis Taylor and the Rise of Vancouver (Arsenal Pulp, 2004)
from BCBW Summer 2004
Overshadowed by flamboyant Teddy Roosevelt in 1915, Vancouver mayor Louis Denison Taylor was a secretive man who made up in endurance what he lacked in zest. The accused embezzler served as mayor for a record eight terms, during three of the city’s most formative decades, bouncing back to run each time he was defeated.
One incident in Daniel Francis’s L.D. Mayor Louis Taylor and the Rise of Vancouver (Arsenal Pulp $21.95) epitomizes the character of the redoubtable mayor. It happened in 1915 when Mayor Louis Dennison Taylor was excluded from a list of dignitaries selected to greet Theodore Roosevelt during the former American president’s brief stopover in Vancouver.
Never one to take a snub passively, L.D. contrived to meet Roosevelt’s train in New Westminster, climb aboard and greet Roosevelt whom he had met previously. When the train reached Vancouver, Taylor ceremoniously ushered Roosevelt on to the platform, introduced him, and then escorted him to his own car parked outside the station. Roosevelt addressed the crowd from the back of L.D.’s car, and then L.D. gave him a quick tour of Stanley Park, and delivered him to the Seattle-bound steamer to continue on his journey to San Francisco—much to the chagrin of his political foes.
This fondness of outwitting his opponents, and Taylor’s refusal to accept defeat made him an indefatigable politician. He served as mayor of Vancouver for a record eight separate terms, during three of its most formative decades, bouncing back to run again after every defeat. As the book’s title suggests, his story is closely interwoven with that of the city.
When his civic political career stalled, as it did in 1912, he ran in the provincial election. He stood as Liberal candidate in Rossland, even though he knew he had no chance of winning (every other Liberal candidate in the province went down to defeat). He declared one of his appearances during that campaign was “the most lively meeting I have been in.” It had erupted into fist fights, with windows broken, chairs being thrown, and noses bloodied.
When there was no election to run in, he concentrated on his other vocation—that of newspaperman. In 1905 he had acquired from Sara McLagan one of Vancouver’s three newspapers, the World. In just over one year he transformed it from a small twelve page daily into a modern, urban newspaper twice the size, with a woman’s page, a serialized work of fiction, comics and cartoons as well as news. Soon its circulation equalled that of its chief rival, the Province, at which he had worked previously as circulation manager. He ran the World until 1915, when he lost it to his creditors.
A crucial event in L.D.’s life was his 1927 meeting in Seattle with Charles Lindbergh just six months after the aviator’s solo flight across the Atlantic. When L.D. invited him to visit Vancouver, Lindbergh replied that, since Vancouver had no airport, he could only fly over the city. His words convinced L.D. that Vancouver would miss out on commercial aviation if it did not immediately set about building an airport. Accordingly L.D. persuaded city council to lease land for an interim landing field, and eventually to approve construction of an airport on Sea Island.
During this period, L.D’s enthusiasm for aviation almost resulted in his death. He was a passenger on the first B.C. Airways flight that inaugurated passenger service between Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle. When the flight ended at the interim airport in Vancouver, L.D. bounded off the plane with his usual exuberance. Unfortunately, he ran straight into the path of one of the propellers and fractured his skull. Doctors operated immediately and managed to save his life. One surgeon commented that if he’d been half an inch taller, he would not have survived—a remark that was subsequently rendered as “if he’d had an ounce more brain, he’d be dead.”
Yet the indefatigable politician managed to turn even this mishap to his political advantage. When the papers learnt of his possible death, they immediately prepared obituary notices. After his recovery, he managed to get hold of these notices, and delighted in reading them aloud to audiences during his next campaign for the office of mayor. Since the papers opposed his re-election, this trick was especially galling to his opponents, although it failed to bring him victory.
In spite of his accomplishments as mayor—the establishment of a town planning commission, the building of the first airport, and the amalgamation of Vancouver with South Vancouver and Point Grey—he gained no material wealth and little recognition for his years of service. When he died just before his eighty-ninth birthday, an editorial in the Sun declared that he had served Vancouver well, better than Vancouver served him.
Daniel Francis qualifies that verdict. He notes that L.D. arrived in Vancouver at the age of 39 as a fugitive from justice. He was an accused embezzler, who fled to Canada after being released on bail from a Chicago jail. When he arrived in Vancouver, the city was a decade old and full of opportunities. L.D. was able to shed his old identity and start anew. The city and the man, Francis concludes, were perfectly suited to one another.
Although Louis Dennison Taylor served more times as Vancouver mayor than anyone before or since, L.D. is the first full-length biography. Secretive about his private life, Taylor had escaped close scrutiny for decades. Francis, an historian who edited the Encyclopedia of B.C., was initially stymied in his research until he received a very welcome call from a distant Taylor relative who led Francis to a basement trove of unseen personal archives.
The Imaginary Indian
In the 19th century, artists such as Paul Kane went to 'Indian country' to record what they thought was a dying culture. The likes of Kane and photographer Edward Curtis brought back images for white consumers. In the early 20th century, faux Indians such as Métis poet Pauline Johnson, who dressed as an Indian 'princess' for her readings, and the English born-and-bred conservationist Grey Owl, became the ambassadors for Aboriginal culture. "They were quintessential Indians," says Daniel Francis, author of The Imaginary Indian: The Image of the Indian in Canadian Culture (Pulp $15.95). "They fit the whites' notion of what an Indian should be." In his book, Francis examines the ways whites have portrayed Indians from the 1850s to the present with a brief glance at how the misnomer "Indian" took hold in European vocabularies. "There is no such thing as an Indian," Francis states flatly. "The name is a white construct, a mistake which began with Columbus and which has turned into a fantasy." According to Francis, Grey Ow1, whose valuable work for conservation was largely forgotten in the swirl of controversy about his true identity, marked the beginning of the modern view of Indians as environmentalists and as sources of natural wisdom. "Among white liberals today," Francis writes, "there is this notion that Indians have a special affinity with the land, which may or may not be true."
Contrary to prevailing impressions that Indians have been portrayed negatively, many of the images Francis uncovered are largely positive. This is especially true about commercial product names. Companies frequently apply names of Aboriginal chiefs, artefacts or tribes to their sports, teams or automobiles when they want to associate their products with speed, grace, nobility and the natural world. Francis believes when "latecomers to North America" take symbols such as the tomahawk and use it to rally their sports team, or name an automobile after a rebel chief, they are not simply being racist. He says they are coming to terms with being part of a dominant culture which robbed aboriginal people of their continent. As he puts it, "The way they identify with North America is by identifying themselves with the great nobility of Native people." 0-88978-251-2
[BCBW, Autumn, 1992]
A Road for Canada
Riding the asphalt ribbon
The Buddhist poet Gary Snyder has suggested the best way to improve the world is to stay home. If you take home to mean your own country, Dan Francis’s latest book is a grand home improvement project.
Sudbury has the Big Nickel. Echo Bay has the Big Loonie. Wawa has a giant goose. Sault Ste. Marie has a huge baseball, as if left behind by giants, and Moose Jaw has Mac the Moose, ten metres high. White River has a marbelite statue of Winnie the Pooh clutching his honey pot.
They’re just some of the roadside attractions in Daniel Francis’ illustrated story of the Trans-Canada Highway, A Road for Canada (Stanton, Atkins, Dosil $39.95). As Francis first discovered during his three-month honeymoon journey in an orange Volkswagen camper, Canada’s other National Dream is the world’s longest highway, an automotive spinal cord that stretches from Victoria to St. John’s—twice as long as the Great Wall of China.
“Driving the Trans-Canada is rite of passage,” he recalls, “but it can also be a trial by fire.” Back in the late Sixties, he and his new wife always parked on a slope, enabling them to jump-start the vehicle each morning. “Canada was several days wider than I had given it credit for,” he recalls.
While paying heed to iconic moments—such as watching a weathered grain elevator grow larger on the horizon—Francis also explores the roadway’s historic and symbolic significance. “As Canadians know from our periodic constitutional squabbles, the thread might break. Meanwhile, the highway reveals us to ourselves.”
The highway’s half-way point is Chippewa Falls in Ontario. 09732346-7-9
Red Light Neon: A History of Vancouver’s Sex Trade (Subway $22)
Dan Francis, editor of the Encyclopedia of British Columbia and author of the newly released Far West: The Story of British Columbia (Harbour 2006) for young readers, can never be accused of effete scholarship. While researching his biography of Vancouver mayor Louis Taylor, he became intrigued by the relative lack of information about prostitution in Vancouver. With the blessings of publisher and man-about-town George Fetherling, Francis has produced Red Light Neon: A History of Vancouver’s Sex Trade (Subway $22), from which the following ten highlights—or low points—were taken. As well, Francis’ overview contains three pages about acclaimed poet and ex-prostitute Evelyn Lau and a two-page summary of the censored book The Wendy King Story (1980) about a free-spirited prostitute and a judge referred to as Davey F.
1. Vancouver’s first brothel was owned by Birdie Stewart and was located next door to the Methodist minister’s house in Gastown near the present site of the Lamplighter Pub.
2. After the city was created, in 1886, city council routinely met its budget shortfall by arresting the prostitutes, fining them $20 apiece, and letting them go. For the women, it was a tax on doing business; for the city it was a windfall.
3. Vancouver’s first red light district was located on East Pender St., then known as Dupont St., near the western entrance to Chinatown. As the city expanded in that direction, the women were shunted into Shanghai Alley and then, by 1912, onto Alexander Street near the waterfront.
4. In the interwar years, the “King of the Bawdyhouses” in the city was Joe Celona, an Italian immigrant whose close connections to the police chief and the mayor created a major scandal. In 1935 Celona was convicted of keeping a brothel in a Hastings Street hotel and sent to jail for a long stretch.
5. Gerry McGeer got himself elected mayor in December 1934 by promising to clamp down on “the pimps and brothel keepers.” A year later he announced a day of prayer in the city “to thank God for the removal of commercialized vice and the return of peace and order.”
6. During the Depression it became illegal for restaurants in Chinatown to hire white waitresses because the authorities claimed the cafes were fronts for prostitution and were corrupting the city’s white womanhood. The women marched on city hall to protest the loss of their jobs, but the law held.
7. In January, 1959, in a front-page exclusive, the Vancouver Sun revealed that a team of its reporters, posing as customers, had had no trouble ordering prostitutes from bellhops and cabbies at a variety of local hotels. In Vancouver, apparently, sex was on the room-service menu.
8. Just before Christmas, 1975, police raided the Penthouse Cabaret, a thriving centre of prostitution. In a sensational trial, owner Joe Philliponi, along with two brothers and a couple of employees, was convicted of living off the avails of prostitution, but on appeal the convictions were set aside. Philliponi was later murdered at his home next to the club, which thrives today as a peeler bar.
9. During the 1980s, street prostitutes and residents were at each other’s throats in the West End, until in July 1984 Chief Justice Allan McEachern passed an injunction banning street walkers from the neighbourhood. Of course, they just moved somewhere else.
10. In the fall of 1998 police received an anonymous phone tip linking a pig farm in Port Coquitlam to the rash of disappearances of sex trade workers from the Downtown Eastside. The call was investigated, but neither the Vancouver police nor the RCMP were able to justify a search warrant. In February 2002 a joint task force sealed off the property, arrested one of its owners, Robert “Willy” Pickton. In the interval between these two dates, 30 more women had gone missing. Pickton was charged with the murder of 26 women. 0-9736675-2-4
[BCBW 2007] "History"
Everything from abalone to Zukerman
Literary Essay (2007)
from Dan Francis
If the Golden Age of BC book culture has been reached, the Encyclopedia of British Columbia, published in 2000, was arguably its summit. Here its editor Daniel Francis recounts the origins of one of the most culturally important books from and about British Columbia.
The EBC began as the germ of an idea shared between the publisher Howard White and myself during a freak snowstorm on the highway south of Vancouver. (This is my version of the story, of course; Howard will have his own.) Howard and I had been to White Rock on an errand of a completely different sort. We had been visiting an elderly union organizer whose memoirs I was supposed to be ghosting and Howard was expecting to publish. But I turned out to be insufficiently communist for the old firebrand’s liking, and the project died on his living room rug. While we inched our way down the slippery highway back to the city, we began to cook up another scheme.
At that point – it was 1990 – Howard and I were not the good friends we subsequently became. We had been students at UBC at the same time during the 1960s but had not met there. Following university, I married and moved to eastern Canada to live. When we finally did meet, it was in the offices of the Stern Gallery in Montreal in 1986. I was living in the city and Howie was there on business. I commissioned an article from him for the magazine I was then editing. When I returned to the Coast the following year, I began performing freelance editorial chores for Harbour.
As we made our snow-impeded way in from White Rock that fateful day, it turned out that both Howie and I had been mulling over a similar idea, some sort of a compendium of information about British Columbia. This kind of project seemed to flow naturally from my own recent involvement in Mel Hurtig’s various incarnations of the Canadian Encyclopedia. Meanwhile, Howie had been contemplating a sort of traveller’s guide to the province, inspired by a California guide book he had seen. From this basis, the EBC began to take shape in our minds as a one-stop guide to all things British Columbian; as Howie put it in his Foreword to the book, “everything from BC soup to BC nuts”, or, as it turned out, everything from abalone to George Zukerman.
As I say, it was 1990. Looking ahead, I calculated that in 1992 much fuss would be made about the 200th anniversary of Captain Vancouver’s arrival on the coast. The public coffers would open, I thought, to support commemorative projects, of which ours could be one. Here I made two rookie mistakes. The first was to think that BC would celebrate the great explorer’s coastal survey. As it turned out, 1992 passed with hardly a ripple of attention paid to the bicentennial. The second mistake was to think that I could compile an encyclopedia, singlehandedly, in two years. In the event, it would take ten, and the assistance of many contributors.
Naivete and hubris notwithstanding, by the time Howie and I reached Vancouver, the idea of the Encyclopedia of British Columbia was born. It threatened, however, to be a still birth. Thinking it might be nice to have some funding in place before we began, I wasted a lot of time contemplating ways of raising the cash. This was not going to be an ordinary book; it would have to be funded in extraordinary ways. We were aware that Hurtig’s company had run aground on the shoals of his encyclopedia projects and Howie did not want to see Harbour suffer a similar fate. But after months of fruitless talking and thinking, it occurred to me that fund-raising was neither my strength nor my job. That responsibility belonged to the publisher. I decided to get started on the content.
I began by treating it as a harmless hobby. As other people might play golf or press stamps into an album, I compiled brief articles about people, places and things. I had told writing students in the past, when a subject seems so large as to be intimidating begin by biting off a small piece and starting to chew. In the case of the EBC, I followed my own advice. I simply began writing entries. There was no method to my approach. If something caught my attention in the morning paper, I followed it up. So-and-so inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame? I tracked down enough information to write a biography. The latest census released? I downloaded population figures for every city, town and village. Another lumber company bought or sold? I better get going on a list of pioneer loggers. One thing always led to another and as the months, then years, passed, the pile of finished entries on a table in my office reached toward the ceiling.
I don’t really know what mixture of blind confidence and pigheadedness made me think anything was going to come of it. Somewhere along the way I read the biography of James Murray, editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. The image of him pigeonholing his word definitions in the great iron Scriptorium he had built for the project seemed depressingly apt. When Murray embarked on the project in 1879, its promoters expected that the OED would take ten years to complete. Five years later he and his team had reached the word “ant”. When the famed editor died in 1915, the dictionary was still not finished. I hoped to live long enough to see the end of the EBC, but there was no guarantee.
Periodically I would drive up to see Howie in Madeira Park to have another planning session. The entries were in my computer, of course, but I made print-outs and took them along to impress him with my progress. As the number of boxes of paper I heaved out of my trunk grew, so did our realization that maybe, just maybe, the book might become a reality.
At one point I received a letter from the writer Daphne Marlatt. I had written a short biographical entry about her and had sent it out for fact checking. She wrote back with some minor corrections, but mainly she wrote to tell me that she had noticed from my letterhead that I was living in the same house in North Vancouver that she and her family had lived in when they immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s. She recalled particularly the large sawdust-burning furnace in the basement and leaping into the pile of sawdust as a kid. Daphne said that it gave her a great deal of pleasure to think that an Encyclopedia of British Columbia was now being produced in the house where she spent part of her childhood. Whenever the whole project seemed larger than my ability to complete it, I used to recall this letter, and the coincidence it evoked, and be reassured that there was an audience of people who shared an experience of the province and wanted to know more about their place.
Haphazard as my approach was, there seemed to be no other way. So long as we had no money to pay contributors, I could not bring myself to ask anyone for help. As time passed, I overcame this inhibition and discovered to my surprise that most people were more than willing to be a part of the project for nothing. Dozens of writers, some of whom were friends, many of whom were strangers, agreed to add to my own output. Then we assembled a group of knowledgeable advisors to help sort out the essential from the incidental. There was a limit to how big a book it could be and we were fast approaching it.
Finally it looked like we would be ready to publish on BC Day, 1999. But at one of the Madeira Park meetings the editorial team decided that we better take another hard look at the material. The one thing an encyclopedia has to be is dependable. There were still some holes to fill. And were we certain that the information was as reliable as we could make it? So we delayed for another year and submitted the entire text to another vetting.
Finally, in the year 2000, we celebrated the new millennium by launching the book with a huge party at the Vancouver Public Library, inviting all the people who had contributed to the finished product. The book was such a success that it made us all look like we knew what we were doing. In fact, most of the time we were flying by the seat of our pants. As I said on the night the book won a pair of BC Book Prizes, Howie and I both sensed from the beginning that if we waited to raise the necessary money, to set up the editorial committees, to consult all the experts, and to draw up the flow charts and data bases, we’d never get the damn thing done. Instead, we just went ahead and did it.
I do not recommend this as the best way, but it seems to me to be a typically BC way.
And it worked.
Imagining British Columbia
According to Howard White’s guest foreword for Imagining British Columbia: Land, Memory & Place (Anvil $18), a new anthology edited by Daniel Francis, when Knowledge Network broadcast a documentary on the life of coastal pioneer Jim Spilsbury, it drew the highest weekday audience the network ever had. So, as White puts it, “Culture is not the symphony, any more than transportation is a Lear Jet.”
Editor Daniel Francis obviously concurs, having gathered a diverse and far-reaching collection of nineteen creative non-fiction works from the Federation of BC Writers members such as George Fetherling, Jan Drabek, Deanna Kawatski, Trevor Carolan, Harold Rhenisch and Pauline Holdstock.
Working on seiners in Barkley Sound. Encounters with grizzlies. Family road trips in the Sixties. Revisiting the family farm. Recalling Shuswap family history and a shell-shocked father’s suicide. Mostly these attempts to locate our identity with a place veer towards the deeply personal. The noteworthy exception is Margaret Thompson’s astute essay about how land itself can provide solace and fortify us with a sense of geological time.
Thompson, a former Federation president, recognizes one of the great shortcomings of contemporary life in B.C., a lack of what she calls “the weight of history.” In Europe, where she was raised, she was always reassured by the presence of the past, that sense of being with a continuum of human existence.
“Over there,” Thompson writes, “the past is everywhere present: Roman roads march across country, like their legions, ruler-straight and still used; their aqueducts still straddle the rivers and fields; traffic whirls about their theatres and coliseums; the fractured remains of ancient columns support pots of herbs in Greek gardens; in Dr. Johnson’s favourite tavern, The Cheshire Cheese, modern backsides polish his customary bench every day; city dwellers hurry down streets whose names still spell out the identities of those who lived and worked there hundreds of years before—Pudding Lane, Rue des Martyrs, The Shambles, Rue des Juifs.”
As a former European, Thompson now grapples with her Old World sensibility that thrived on things ancient. “On Canada’s western edge nothing seemed to carry the weight of ages.”
And so the importance of land—the ancient land—takes on deeper significance in British Columbia as a compensation for the relative newness of our buildings, of our man-made leavings. 978-1895636-90-1
-- Alan Twigg / BC BookWorld
from Grant Shilling / BC BookWorld
Whales have become emblematic of B.C. To capitalize on the deep emotional connection British Columbians feel for whales, and particularly Orcas, a corporation called Orca Bay opted for a whale motif as their Vancouver Canucks logo, in the form of a snarling ‘C’ for their hockey jersey, to inspire loyalty and sales.
Whereas a few decades ago it was official government policy to shoot killer whales on sight, nowadays hundreds of people can be mobilized to rescue a single mammal. That transformation of our perception of whales from vicious predators to gentle emissaries of the marine environment is the subject for Daniel Francis and Gil Hewlett’s Operation Orca (Harbour $34.95), an examination of the rescue and return of two Orca whales in the context of our evolving ideas about the largest member of the dolphin family.
Co-authors Francis and biologist Hewlett, who joined the Vancouver Aquarium as a resident biologist in 1964, use the words Orca and Killer whale interchangeably as they recall the fates of Springer, a calf left on its own in Puget Sound off the Washington coast in 2002, and Luna, another lone Orca that showed up in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
In the 1960s, such troublesome whales most likely would have been shot or else captured to spend the rest of their lives in an aquarium. Most fisherman of that era hated killer whales, considering them rivals for the precious salmon on which they also depended for a living.
(At one point in the early ‘60s, fishermen convinced the government to install a Browning machine gun on a lookout on Quadra Island near Campbell River but that gun was never used due to fears that a human might be killed.)
It was the accidental capture in 1964 of a whale dubbed Moby Doll that began to change our attitudes about whales. After Moby Doll was towed “like a dog on a leash” from Saturna Island, where it had been harpooned, it was given haven in a drydock at Burrard Inlet.
When the doors of Burrard Drydock were opened to the public, twenty thousand people showed up to view the whale. For the first time people had a chance to get closer to a killer whale. Instead of a fearsome man-eating predator, they discovered an amiable creature that was endearing and apparently smart.
Moby Doll died of a lung infection three months after its capture, but the ‘gold rush’ for Orcas was on. Major aquariums—which to that point had not housed a whale—began to pay handsomely for them. In 1967, Murray Newman, after much debate with the board of directors for the Vancouver Aquarium, bought that facility’s first resident whale, eventually dubbed Skana, for $22,000. Undeniably the presence of Skana created new possibilities for scientific research.
By 1973, more than a dozen aquariums had purchased killer whales from the coastal waters of BC and Washington State, so researchers and members of the public began to wonder how many killer whales were on the coast. A ‘whale census’ in 1971 produced shocking results: there were only between 200 and 350 Orcas left.
This census led to the banning of the capture of killer whales in 1976. Operation Orca affirms that if live capture had not ceased, the southern resident populations likely would have been wiped out.
It is against this backdrop that we flash forward 25 years to the ‘rescue’ of Springer, a young female found in Puget Sound mysteriously on its own in 2002. After much debate among the public and scientific community, it was decided that Springer should rejoin her pod in the Johnstone Strait.
Francis and Hewlett engagingly detail Springer’s epic journey and the eclectic skills and backgrounds of the workers who came to her rescue. The logistics of transporting a whale were daunting. Rescuers also didn’t know how the whale would be received by her pod upon her return—as an intruder or as a prodigal child?
When Springer was returned to Kwakwaka’wakw waters her people were there to greet her—as well as her family. The whale’s ability to live in two worlds—breathing air yet living under the water—was one of the reasons why the killer whale was so respected by the Kwakwaka’wakw people in the Johnstone Strait area. The return of the killer whales each summer signified the return of the salmon and the renewal of the life cycle. In mythic terms, they were retuning to the people who they had created.
Springer remains with her pod today. In the words of whale rescuer Lance Barrett-Leonard, “We’d repatriated a whale, a First Nations icon as well as an icon of a different kind to people around the globe…”
While Springer was making her historic journey, another lone orca dubbed Luna showed up in Nootka Sound. Concerns were raised due to Luna’s propensity for playing with boats. Amid concerns he would come to harm, another rescue was planned to return him to his family, but the plan fell apart due to a conflict between local First Nations government and various levels of government.
As widely reported on the evening news, a large tugboat, the General Jackson, killed Luna in 2006. “Many people who had been involved in the attempts to rescue Luna were angry at his death,” write Francis and Hewlett, “For them, the failure to ‘save’ this one whale was symptomatic of a larger failure of community and humanity. They thought that Luna died because the interested parties had not been able to put aside their personal agendas to work for the good of the animal.”
But the glass is half full, not half empty. In the summer of 2007, some of the people involved in the Springer operation held a reunion in Johnstone Strait, and who should show up but the guest of honour herself, Springer, accompanied by her Orca ‘aunt’ Yakat.
“Springer’s relocation,” write Francis and Hewlett, “represented the first time that a wild whale had ever been captured, transported back to its home range and successfully released. It was the most ambitious animal rescue effort ever mounted on the Pacific Coast.”
ISBN 10: 1-55017-426-6
ISBN 13: 978-1-55017-426-7
Imagining British Columbia: Land, Memory & Place
When Knowledge Network broadcast a documentary on the life of coastal pioneer Jim Spilsbury, it drew the highest weekday audience the network ever had.
So, as Howard White maintains in his guest foreword to Imagining British Columbia: Land, Memory & Place (Anvil $18), “Culture is not the symphony, any more than transportation is a Lear Jet.”
Editor Daniel Francis obviously concurs in his selection of 19 far-reaching creative non-fiction works from Federation of BC Writers members such as George Fetherling, Jan Drabek, Deanna Kawatski, Trevor Carolan, Harold Rhenisch and Pauline Holdstock.
Working on seiners in Barkley Sound. Recalling Shuswap family history and a shell-shocked father’s suicide. Encounters with grizzlies. Mostly these attempts to locate our identity with a place veer towards the deeply personal.
The noteworthy exception is Margaret Thompson’s astute essay about how land can fortify us with a sense of geological time.
Thompson suggests that contemporary B.C. life can often lack “the weight of history.” In Europe, she was always reassured by the presence of the past, that sense of being with a continuum of human existence.
“Over there,” Thompson writes, “the past is everywhere present: Roman roads march across country, like their legions, ruler-straight and still used; their aqueducts still straddle the rivers and fields; traffic whirls about their theatres and coliseums; the fractured remains of ancient columns support pots of herbs in Greek gardens...”
And so the importance of land in B.C.—the ancient land—takes on deeper significance in British Columbia as a compensation for the relative newness of our buildings, of our man-made leavings.
[BCBW 2008] "Non-Fiction"
Seeing Reds: The Red Scare of 1918-1919, Canada’s First War on Terror
from Shane McCune
Seeing Reds: The Red Scare of 1918-1919, Canada’s First War on Terror by Daniel Francis (Arsenal Pulp Press $27.95)
Most people know the story of the Red Scare: After the war an irrational fear of communism led to witch hunts, censorship and purges. Police infiltrated unions and spied on civilians, due process was suspended and lives were ruined or even lost.
Those crazy Americans, eh?
Actually, the events described above happened in Canada during and immediately after the First World War, 30 years before the McCarthy era. The years 1918 and 1919 were arguably the most chaotic, fearful and politically significant in Canada’s history, yet few of us know much about them beyond references to the Spanish flu and the Winnipeg General Strike.
Into that breach steps North Vancouverite Daniel Francis, B.C.’s best popular historian. His Seeing Reds: The Red Scare of 1918-1919, Canada’s First War on Terror, is not only a solidly researched review of a neglected corner of our past but a gripping—and cautionary—tale.
For one thing, he reminds us that protecting civil liberties has never been a priority of the RCMP. Spying on civilians was not a dirty job foisted on the horsemen by politicians during the 1950s Cold War. It was part of its inheritance from the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, which embraced the task enthusiastically.
“(I)n the case of the RNWMP, it is probable that the force would not have survived if the Scare had not come along to give it a new reason for existing,” Francis writes.
So it’s no surprise that, when asked to investigate the growing unrest and militancy among unions, the RNWMP ascribed it to leaders with unpronounceable names and suspicious accents, rather than to shrinking incomes, wretched working conditions, widespread unemployment and a very unpopular war.
That was also what the coalition government headed by Conservative Robert Borden wanted to hear. Under siege over conscription and a stalled economy, Borden was only too eager to redirect public anger toward the dreaded Reds (although Francis indicates the PM was not as hysterical about the threat as some of his ministers).
And many labour leaders, especially in Western Canada, were in fact Bolshevik sympathizers, while others endorsed the Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies) or the One Big Union. This radicalization of unionists sprang largely from their opposition to the war, a view not shared by mainstream labour groups back east, some of which even supported conscription.
It was also due to the wider political upheavals shaking the status quo around the world— the Russian Revolution, waves of immigration, militant unionism in Britain, anarchist violence in Germany and even the growth of left-wing movements in the U.S. (Seattle’s general strike preceded Winnipeg’s by three months).
Having set the stage in his opening chapter, Dan Francis zooms in on the cast of characters, bringing them to life in quick, vivid sketches. On the left are bold and outspoken men and women excited to be part of a movement they believe will change the world for the better.
On the right are employers, politicians, police and war veterans determined to crush that movement by any means. Some are gripped by foolish fears, some are cynically exploiting such fears, and a few, such as national censor Ernest Chambers, are almost comical in their pomposity.
Conflicts began to boil over in early 1918 as soldiers returning from the war demanded priority in the search for work over non-combatants, especially “enemy aliens.” They were incensed by the anti-war campaigns of radical unionists, and there were violent clashes from one end of the country to the other.
Francis recaps the shooting of Albert “Ginger” Goodwin in the hills above Cumberland in the Comox Valley. That sparked Canada’s first general strike in Vancouver on Aug. 2, 1918, which in turn provoked mobs of veterans to attack labour halls and assault union leaders. (Goodwin is still a figure of controversy in Cumberland. In 1996 a nearby section of the Inland Island Highway was renamed Ginger Goodwin Way. The sign was repeatedly vandalized and eventually disappeared.)
Tory alarmists made wild claims about Bolshevik cells fomenting revolution in Canada under the direct control of puppeteers in Russia. Apart from the utter lack of evidence to back such claims, they were more than a little hypocritical in light of Canada’s participation in efforts to undo the Russian Revolution.
A month after the Great War ended, the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force—including an RNWMP squadron—sailed for Vladivostok to fight the Bolsheviks. Its first skirmish took place in the streets of Victoria when some of the men mutinied.
“Officers ordered other soldiers to remove their belts and whip the recalcitrants back into line,” Francis writes. “Urged along at gunpoint, the mutineers eventually boarded the ship and the expeditionary force sailed for Siberia.”
The climax of Seeing Reds is, of course, the Winnipeg General Strike. Francis’ narrative here is almost cinematic in its pacing, its rapid switches among geographic and personal viewpoints and its sheer tension. Even though the reader knows how it will turn out—or perhaps because of that—each vignette adds to that tension.
The organizing council draws up last-minute plans, unaware than one of their number is an RNWMP plant. Women on both sides of the dispute pump gas, drive vehicles and generally keep essential services going.
Sensationalist newspapers publish the vaguest of rumours, each one scarier than the last. Police “specials” find themselves surrounded by a hostile mob and have to be rescued. A wild storm hits the city, toppling trees and snapping trolley poles in an omen of the violence to come.
Of course, the strike collapsed. It was followed by show trials of the leaders. The prosecution gained access to names of potential jurors and was able to stack the jury.
At the trial of strike leader Bob Russell, RCMP officer Frank Zaneth, who had infiltrated the strike committee as organizer “Harry Blask,” gave sensational testimony about conspiracies and ominous references to weapons—but nothing directly damning of Russell, whom he had never met. Even so, Russell was convicted, as were the other leaders.
(Zaneth retired in 1951 as an assistant commissioner of the RCMP.)
On Boxing Day 1919, Russell was taken to Stony Mountain Penitentiary, where he served a year. Upon his release, according to one account cited by Francis, the presiding judge, then on his deathbed, asked to speak with Russell. He refused, saying: “Let him die with his guilty conscience.”
Dan Francis notes one major difference between the first and second Red Scares: While McCarthy was chasing ghosts, the radical unionists of the first Scare “did pose a threat to the establishment.” Not the church-burning, maiden-defiling, home-seizing threat cited by the shrillest of newspapers, but a determination to obtain better pay and working conditions and a say in the management of the economy—much scarier threats to employers and government.
“In this sense the threat was real, and the Red Scare was less an illogical outbreak of paranoia than it was a response by the power elite to a challenge to its hegemony.”
It’s a cliché to say of a historical book that it is relevant today, but there’s a reason why the subtitle refers to our “first war on terror.” The parallels between Robert Borden’s Canada and Stephen Harper’s are inescapable: fear and hatred of alien immigrants (Bolsheviks then, Muslims now), ill-defined military operations overseas (Siberia, Afghanistan) and suppression of due process at home (War Measures Act, secret trials).
At less than 300 pages, Seeing Reds manages to cover its subject with surprising thoroughness while remaining a brisk read. Every chapter offers details and insights that made me wonder, “Why didn’t I learn this in school?”
Well, many of Dan Francis’ previous works have become textbooks, so perhaps there’s hope. 9781551523736