Canadian History: A Live Grenade

June 10, 2013 § 2 Comments

All History is both political and public in nature.  I tend to describe myself as a public historian.  As such, I am interested in how history is viewed by the general public and I’m interested in the intersection of public memory and history.  But that should be obvious to anyone reading this blog or what I’ve written on the NCPH’s history@work blog.  But, sometimes I tend to forget about the inherent politicisation of any act of history or memory.

To wit, I got drawn into an argument on Twitter yesterday, my foils were both Canadian Army soldiers.  One retired, one active.  One I have never come across before, the other is a guy I follow and who follows me.  The discussion was about Stephen Harper’s new paint job on his plane, one that makes it look like a Conservative Party of Canada Airbus, rather than an RCAF plane.  We argued about the colours of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and whether red, white, or blue belong there (we all agree they do), and in what proportion.

The outcome of the argument is irrelevant.  What is interesting was the very fact that we were having it in the first place.  In Anglo Canada, history has long been a dead subject, it wasn’t usually the topic of public discussion or debate, and when it was, it was something we could all generally agree on, like hockey.  Even when Jack Granatstein published his deliberately provocative (and generally quite stupidly offensive) Who Killed Canadian History? in the mid-90s, Canadians generally yawned and looked the other way.

But, in the past few years, largely I would argue as a result of Stephen Harper’s Prime Ministership, Canadian history has become a live grenade.  Anglo Canadians argue about the role of the monarchy in our history, we argue about the role of the military in our history, and so on.  Canadians are having real arguments about their history for the first time in my life.  And, as much as I despise Stephen Harper and his government, I suppose we have him and they to thank for this.

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§ 2 Responses to Canadian History: A Live Grenade

  • When I moved to Toronto from Montreal in 1978, as a 13 yr old, math, history, French and to an extent, science, were topics that were better covered in Montreal’s grade and middle school, than the equivalency here in Ontario. History there covered Europe, Acadian culture & more of confederation times in Canada.

    Having said that, we can honour our RCAF, but to have a dash of red, rather than the prominence it deserves, can’t be defended by speaking to our history. It’s CPC branding, plain & simple.

  • John Matthew Barlow says:

    I had similar experiences moving from Montréal to Toronto and then Victoria and Vancouver in the same era, though I was 6 when we left Montréal in 1978.

    As for the CPC and Harper, it is branding, but it is also done on historical precedent, Harper is skilled at using an imagined Canadian past to trumpet out as history to justify his pet theories and policies as Prime Minister.

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