December 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
I am a reader. I read pretty much anything, fiction and non-fiction. As I have argued for approximately forever, reading, and especially, literature, is what keeps me sane. So I read. It’s also the end of the semester, so what I read devolves in many ways from lofty literature to murder-mysteries. I would argue, though, that a good murder-mystery is full of the basic questions of humanity, right down to the endless push/pull of good v. evil. I came to this conclusion when someone once tried to convince me that Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment was, at the core, a murder-mystery.
So, it is that I came to find myself reading the third in John Farrow’s so-far excellent series of murder mysteries set in my home town, Montréal, and featuring the crusty old detective, Émile Cinq-Mars. The third novel, however, centres around Cinq-Mars’ early career in the late 60s/early 70s. And Farrow, who is really the esteemed Canadian novelist, Trevor Ferguson, took the opportunity to write an epic, historical novel. It’s also massively overambitious and falls under its own weight oftentimes in the first half of the book. The novel opens on the night of the Richard Riot in Montréal, 17 March 1955, with the theft of the Cartier Dagger, a relic of Jacques Cartier’s arrival at Hochelaga in the 16th century. The dagger, made of stone and gifted to Cartier by Donnacona, the chief of Stadacona, which is today’s Québec City, has been central to the development of Canada. It has ended up in the hands of Samuel de Champlain, Étienne Brulé, Paul de Chomedy, sieur de Maisonneuve, Dollard des Ormeux, Médard Chouart des Groselliers, Pierre Esprit Radisson, and so on. But it has ended up in the hands of the Sun Life Assurance Company, the very simple of les maudits Anglais in mid-20th century Montréal. Worse for the québécois, Sun Life has lent it to that mandarin of ‘les maudits anglais,” Clarence Campbell, president of the National Hockey League, and the man responsible for the lengthy suspension to Maurice “The Rocket” Richard. Clearly, Farrow subscribes to the theory that the Quiet Revolution really began in March 1955 (I do not agree with this one bit, thank you very much).
Farrow then takes us through the history of the dagger, from Cartier until it ends up in the hands of Campbell, to its theft on St. Patrick’s Day 1955. And from there, we move through the next sixteen years, through the Quiet Revolution, Trudeaumania, and the FLQ, as Cinq-Mars finally solves the mystery of the theft of the Cartier Dagger in 1971 (which was also the year that an unknown goalie came out of nowhere to backstop the Habs to the Stanley Cup).
All throughout the story, Farrow, in true Anglo-Montréal style, is obsessed with franco-québécois anti-semitism. This is especially the case from the late 19th century onwards. We are brought into the shadowy underworld of the Order of Jacques Cartier, a secret society hell-bent on defending French, Catholic Québec against les Anglais and the Jews. Characters real and fictive are in the Order, including legendary Montréal Mayor Camillien Houde, and Camille Laurin, the father of Bill 101, and others. And then there’s the Nazi on the run after the Second World War, Jacques Dugé de Bernonville. We also meet Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his nemesis, René Levésque.
Outed as anti-semites are the usual characters: Maurice Duplessis, Abbé Lionel Groulx, Houde, Laurin, and, obviously, de Bernonville. Also, Henri Bourassa and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine. And so on and so forth. And, ok, fair enough, they WERE anti-semites (though I’m not sure you can call Bourassa and Lafontaine that). Québec, and Montréal in particular, was the home of Adrien Arcand, the self-proclaimed fuhrer of Canada. These are disgusting, dirty men.
But all throughout the novel, only French Canadian anti-semitism matters. This reminds me of a listserv of policy wonks, academics, and journalists I’ve been a member of for a decade-and-a-half. Years ago, we had one member who liked to rail against the sovereigntists in Québec, accusing them of being vile anti-semites (sometimes he was right). But, whenever evidence of wider Canadian anti-semitism was pointed out, he dismissed it out of hand. In his mind, only the French are anti-semites (to the point where he often pointed to the Affair Dreyfus in late 19th century France as proof the québécois are anti-semites to the core).
I am not suggesting that anti-semitism should not be called out for what it is: racism. It must and should be. But whenever we get this reactionary Anglophone obsession with Franco-québécois anti-semitism, I get uncomfortable. This is a bad case of the pot calling the kettle black. Anti-semitism has been prevalent in Canada since the get go, in both official languages. The first Jew to be elected to public office in the entire British Empire was Ezekiel Hart, elected to the Lower Canadian legislature in 1807. But he was ejected from the House almost immediately upon taking his seat because he was Jewish. The objections to Hart taking his oath of office on the Jewish Bible (which was standard practice in the court system for Jews) were led the Attorney-General, Jonathan Sewell. But the people of Trois-Rivières returned him to office nonetheless. He was again refused his seat. Opposition came from both sides of the linguistic divide in Lower Canada, and you will surely note Sewell is not a French name. Lower Canada, however, was the first jurisdiction in the British Empire to emancipate Jews, in 1833. The leader of the House, and the Parti patriote? Louis-Joseph Papineau.
At any rate, this isn’t a defence of the franco-québécois record on anti-semitism. It’s not good. But it is to point out that Anglo Canada isn’t exactly pristine. Irving Abella and and Harold Troper’s book, None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948 makes that point clear. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s immigration chief, Frederick Blair, made sure that Jews fleeing Nazi Germany weren’t allowed into Canada. Jews had been coming to Canada since the late 19th century, and there, they met an anti-semitic response, whether it was Montréal, Toronto, or Winnipeg. Even one of our great Canadian heroes, Lester Bowles Pearson, Nobel Prize-winner for inventing UN Peacekeepers and Prime Minister from 1965-7, was an anti-semite, at least as a young man before the Second World War.
And anti-semitism has remained a problem in Canada ever since. While anti-semitism is relatively rare in Canada, B’Nai Brith estimates that, in 2010, upwards of 475 incidents of anti-semitism happened in Toronto alone.
So clearly Canadian anti-semitism isn’t a uniquely franco-québécois matter. Indeed, one of the few Anglos to feature in Farrow’s book, Sir Herbert Holt, was himself somewhat of an anti-semite himself. And I am left feeling rather uncomfortable with this strange Anglo Québec fascination with the anti-semitism of francophone québécois, especially when it’s presented out of the context of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. This was a period of pretty much worldwide anti-semitism. It was “in fashion,” so to speak, in the Euro-North American world, from actual pogroms in Russia to the Affaire Dreyfus, to the US and Canada refusing to accept refugees from Nazi Germany thirty years later.
December 12, 2012 § 3 Comments
I often amuse myself with the attempts of Canadian historians to try to explain how, in the years leading up to the First World War, Anglo Canadians could alternately view themselves as Canadians, English, British, and as citizens of the greatest empire the world had ever seen (that would be the British, if you’re wondering). They tend to see this as a contradiction, a confusion, and get themselves twisted into knots in explaining this phenomenon. It just seems so contradictory to them. Here, for example, is Ian McKay, one of Canada’s greatest historians, with Jamie Stairs in their excellent new book, Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety:
Many Anglo Canadians like [Bill Stairs, a Canadian hero of Empire] believed that a good British subject could and should simultaneously be loyal to Nova Scotia [Stairs’ home], Canada, and the Empire, and in doing so experience no contradiction.
To our 21st century Canadian identity, it is anathema that one could see oneself as more than just Canadian. And I just don’t get this. I really don’t. In the late 19th/early 20th centuries, Canada was a colony. It was not an independent nation, no matter what the politicians of the era, the Jack Granatsteins and Stephen Harper’s of today tell you. Canadian independence is a slippery concept, there is no exact moment that Canada gained its independence. For example, it could be 1848, when the Canadas gained responsible government. Or it could be 1867, when three colonies came together to form a united whole (Canada, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick). It could also be 1931, when the Statute of Westminster gave Canada (and all the other white Dominions: South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand) control over their foreign affairs. But, there was still no such thing as “Canadian” citizenship. That came on the 1st of January 1947. The following year, the Supreme Court of Canada became the highest court of appeal in the land. Prior to that, it was the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London (not Ontario, the UK one) that held that position. In 1982, our constitution was patriated from Mother Britain and made an act of our own Parliament. If you want to go all republican on the matter, I’d note that the head of state today is Queen Elizabeth II of England. So, politically, declaring the date of Canadian independence is difficult.
But the long and short of it is that 100 years ago, Canada was not an independent nation. It was also part of this massive Empire. The British Empire controlled something like 20% of the world’s land and 25% of the world’s population at the dawn of the 20th century. Think about that for a second. I mean it, just imagine the globe, imagine 20% of that land coloured the pink of the British Empire. Or just look at this map (and imagine the red as pink).
Empire was a very powerful concept in that Canada (and if Stephen Harper has his way, we’ll be thinking this way again soon). It was not incongruous for the average Canadian of Scots, English, or even Irish, stock to see him or herself as both Canadian and British at the same time. For being Canadian made one British, such was the nature of citizenship laws, and such was the fact that the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was (and remains) the head of state in Canada.
Thus, the simple fact of the matter is that Canadians 100 years ago were both/and, not either/or. They were both Canadian and British, not Canadian or British. That was the way they rolled, so to speak. The same was true for other subjects of the British Empire throughout the Dominions. It might be time for Canadian historians to recognise this simple fact, and to stop twisting them like Mike Palmateer trying to bail out his woeful hockey team in trying to explain this. Joy Parr long ago instructed we Canadian historians that identities are not sequential, they are multiple and simultaneous. And the average Anglo Canadian’s identification with Canada, Britain, and Empire is just that: the simultaneous identities of an ambivalent population. No more, no less.
December 10, 2012 § 4 Comments
We were in Southie yesterday, the former Irish-Catholic working-class neighbourhood of Boston. Southie is undergoing massive yuppification these days. The working classes are being squeezed out, and the yuppies are moving in. This was clear as we took the #9 Broadway bus from Copley Square into Southie. The bus is the great equaliser of Boston society; in some parts of the city, it’s the only time one sees large numbers of minorities. We got off the bus at the corner of West Broadway and A Street, on our way to a yuppified Christmas foodie craft fair at Artists for Humanity on West 2nd Street. In a lot of ways, Southie looked to me like a combination of parts of the Plateau Mont-Royal and Pointe-Saint-Charles back home in Montréal. The architecture was Plateau-like in terms of post-industrial spaces and housing, but the people looked like they could be in the Pointe. There was a curious mixture of the down and out, the working-classes, hipsters, and yuppies of every skin colour.
Gentrification is a creeping problem in pretty much every North American and European city, and much has been written about this, including on this very blog (like, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for starters). But what struck me the most was Social Wines, a wine and beer emporium in a spanking new building on West Broadway at A Street. Social Wines offers its clientele “Curated Craft Beer and Spirits.” Now, I must confess, this is my kind of store: it focuses on smaller, indie breweries and vineyards. I like giving my money to these kinds of companies, rather than the Molsons, Budweisers, and massive vineyard conglomerates of the world. But curated? What the hell does that mean?
According to the Meriam-Webster dictionary on-line, a “curator” is “one who has the care and superintendence of something; especially : one in charge of a museum, zoo, or other place of exhibit. To “curate” is: “to act as curator of a museum or exhibit curated by the museum’s director.”
Of late, hipsters and academics have abused the term “curate” like it’s nobody’s business. It is one thing, in the field of Public History and its corollaries, to write of the ways in which museums and the like have “curated” items. That is the proper use of the term. But when editors of edited collections of academic papers start referring to themselves as “curators” and not “editors,” well, then we have a problem. Meanwhile. Hipsters. On any given day, one can go to PitchforkMedia and see articles about this or that music festival that has been “curated” by someone. The most egregious example of this is the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, which takes place in merry olde England, with branches occurring in the US, too. Each year, ATP is “curated” by a guest musician, one of stature and great fame. What that means is that someone is in charge of deciding who should play, and the list of artists reflects the curator’s tastes. Yup, deciding who should play a music festival is curation.
And so now we have a hipster beer and wine store in Southie that offers us “curated” booze. What, exactly is curated? The collection of booze on sale. See, the old ma and pop liquor store down the street just orders in booze that they figure their clientele will enjoy. But, not hipsters, they lovingly and carefully “curate” the collection of booze on sale at Social Wines. I don’t know about you, but I feel a lot better knowing that rather than having some old geezer just randomly order wines and beers that may or may not be any good, we have the fine folk at Social Wines to very carefully curate their collection.
My problem with the use of this term? It’s very simple. It’s pretentious. And nothing quite says “I’m a wanker” like declaring that you curated your liquor store. I applaud Social Wines’ mission. Hell, next time I’m in Southie, I may even stop in and peruse their collection of wines. But the use of this term by book editors, musicians, and liquor store owners also seriously devalues the meaning of the word in its true professional sense.
Professional curators, those who work in museums and art galleries, do not just collect stuff they like to display. They are responsible for the content of exhibits, and they are required to carefully make decisions on what is appropriate and what is not, to carefully arrange the displays, to negotiate with sponsors, and so on and so forth. There is a reason why curators go to school to learn how to properly curate. Musicians and liquor store owners do not.
November 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
So Montréal got itself a new mayor today, Michael Applebaum. He wasn’t democratically elected, but given the sudden resignation of the scandal-plagued Gérald Tremblay on 5 November, he has to be an improvement. The big woopedy-do about Applebaum is that he’s Anglophone (he’s also the metropole’s very first Jewish mayor). Montréal hasn’t had an Anglo mayor since 1910, when James John Guerin sat in the mayor’s chair.
Guerin, despite the last name, was Irish Catholic. He was also a central player in one of the most vicious election campaigns in Canadian history. In 1917, at the height of the First World War, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden called an election over the issue of conscription. Borden had invited the Liberal Party, under Sir Wilfrid Laurier (Prime Minister of Canada, 1896-1911), into his government to form a Union government for Canada for the duration of the war. Laurier, however, could not countenance conscription nor could his Québec powerbase. He refused. Borden called an election for 17 December.
By 1917, voluntary enlistments into the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was pretty much drying up. The war had been going on for three years. And the Great War was little more than a killing field. Mechanised warfare wreaked havoc on the soldiers. Casualty rates were enormous. Canada, with a population of little more than 7 million, lost 65,000 men, with another 150,000 wounded. Many of those who were wounded and survived were never the same again. They lost their eyesight, their hearing, limbs; their lungs were destroyed by the Germans’ poisonous gas; they were shell-shocked. It wasn’t just in Canada that enlistments were drying up by 1917, the same was true in England, Scotland, and Wales. Thus, conscription was needed to compel young Canadian men to fight. Conscription was made palpable in the rest of Canada, in part, due to exemptions. The most famous case was that of farmboys, whose labour was needed on the farms of the Prairies (and Ontario). (Not that Borden kept this promise). But, in Québec, nationalists failed to see why Canada should be wrapped up in an imperialist war that had nothing to do with Canada’s interests. Indeed, Henri Bourassa, the most influential nationalist leader of the day, and founding editor of Le Devoir, argued in that paper’s pages
Le Canada aurait pu intervenir comme nation, lié a l’Angleterre par des attaches politiquées, et à la France par des motifs de sentiment et d’intérêt, sans compromettre en rien son état politique…[and that Canada had] aucune sort d’obligation morale ou légale de participer à la guerre et tenir compte des conditions particulières, des intérêts vitaux qu’il doit sauvegarder comme pays d’Amérique avant lier sont à celui des nations d’Europe.
Bourassa wasn’t entirely correct, Canada did have a legal obligation to participate. Britain still controlled Canada’s foreign affairs, and would continue to do so until the Statute of Westminster in 1931. Thus, when Britain went to war, Canada went to war.
At any rate, the Liberal Party of Canada split over conscription in 1917. Most Liberals outside of Québec took Borden up on his offer; most Liberals in Québec stood behind Laurier. The outcome of the election was a foregone conclusion, of course. But that didn’t stop the Bordenites from engaging in some skeezy politics. They enfranchised women who had sons or husbands in the military, calculating that they would vote for the Bordenites. They gerrymandered ridings to ensure the best possible outcome for the Unionists.
One of the gerrymandered ridings was St. Ann’s, in Montréal’s west end. Prior to the 1917 election, the riding was comprised of Griffintown, Little Burgundy, and Pointe-Saint-Charles, a working-class industrial slum. The sitting member was Charles J. Doherty, a Conservative and the Minister of Justice in Borden’s government. He was initially election to represent St. Ann’s in 1917. He was also Irish-Catholic, so, in essence, the Irish of Griffintown (and Pointe-Saint-Charles) had elected one of their own. Again. St. Ann’s was one of those ridings where the outcome was not a foregone conclusion. It could just as easily go Liberal. Thus, the gerrymander. Conservative, non-Irish, neighbourhoods including the western part of Pointe-Saint-Charles and all of Verdun, were added to the riding.
The Irish were an issue in 1917 because of the effect of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin on the Irish diaspora. The 1916 Rising, and the brutality of the British response, served to radicalise the Irish, both in Ireland and the diaspora, including and perhaps especially, Griffintown. Griffintown was home of the most radical republican Irish nationalists in Canada in the 1910s, mostly centred on the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH). Thus, for the Bordenites, it was essential that Doherty, who was responsible for conscription, be protected at all costs. Hence, the gerrymander.
Borden was opposed in the riding by two Liberals at the outset. Daniel Gallery, the former Liberal member (and city councillor) for St. Ann’s, as well as Dr. J.J. Guerin, a long-time city councillor and former mayor of Montréal. Gallery, though, ultimately lost the Liberal Party’s endorsement and was left to run as an independent against the Liberal Guerin and the Conservative Doherty. The election was vicious in Griffintown. Goon squads intimidated followers of all three candidates. All three were heckled mercilessly on the campaign trail. Threats were made.
Doherty won the election handily. Indeed, he won with the largest margin of his career. But he also won in large part due to the gerrymander. In Griffintown, the heart of St. Ann’s, Guerin walked away with the vote, outpolling Doherty by an almost 2-1 margin. Gallery, despite a long career in service of Griffintown, was never a credible candidate. He spent most of his time denying that the Unionists were paying him to split the Liberal vote with Guerin. He garnered fewer than 1000 votes. Guerin may have lost the election, but he won Griffintown. And he eventually succeeded in representing St. Ann’s in Parliament; he was elected the Liberal member in the 1925 election and held the seat until his death five years later.
April 2, 2012 § 1 Comment
In Griffintown/Dans L’Griff will be a documentary about Griffintown, made by my friend, film-maker G. Scott MacLeod. Scott’s most recent film, a short entitled The Saga of Murdo MacLeod has been received rapturously by Montrealers at its various showings around town, most recently at Ciné-Gael, Montréal’s Irish film series, which is celebrating its 20th season this year.
Scott is proposing to do a short documentary on Griffintown through the eyes of Claude and Lyse Mercier, amongst the last generation of Griffintowners. Claude and Lyse, as you might guess by their names, are NOT Irish! Shock! Indeed, they are French Canadian, a voice that has long been lost in the stories and memories of the Griff (as my forthcoming book, The House of the Irish: History, Memory and Diaspora in Griffintown, Montreal, will tell you). Almost all the attention on the Griff’s history has been focused on the working-class Irish Catholics, leaving out the other residents there: French Canadians and Anglo-Protestants, and Scott’s about to address this lacuna.
Scott and I have had a lot of conversation about Griffintown, over Thai food and as we’ve wondered the streets of the neighbourhood both of us are so hell-bent on preserving the memory of. And while books are great (especially mine!), a documentary, graphic evidence of what once was, is a brilliant addition to the growing corpus of Griffintown memories.
The trailer for the film is below, but I urge you to click on this link, which will take you to Scott’s indiegogo page, where he is attempting to raise money to help with the costs of film-making. Any amount will help, but Scott is offering 3 levels of support. 20$ gets you a thank you in the end credits and a copy of the DVD, 100$ gets you into the end credits and a DVD, and 1000$ makes you a producer, and you also get a copy of the DVD.
February 15, 2012 § 2 Comments
My sister-in-law’s husband is spear-heading this campaign. Please circulate this widely. The actions of the Rostov-On-Don city council are disgusting and an attempt to erase history and are thinly veiled anti-Semitism. Let us ensure they cannot get away with this:
Please disseminate the following press release by the committee organizing the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of Zmievskaya Balka – “Russia’s Babi Yar.” Scheduled events will commemorate a series of mass executions by Nazis just outside the city of Rostov, Russia between 1942 and 1943. While grassroots commemorative initiatives have taken place since the early 1990s by Rostov’s small Jewish community, 2012 marks the first major effort to commemorate the Holocaust in Rostov publicly.
The planning process takes place amidst conflict over the recent decision by Rostov government officials to take down a memorial plaque that was erected in 2004, identifying most of the 27,000 Zmievskaya Balka victims as Jewish. The replacement plaque does not mention Jews, but rather the “peaceful citizens of Rostov-on-Don and Soviet prisoners-of-war.” Having struggled for decades to battle exclusionary nationalism and anti-Semitism in the construction of public memory of the events at Zmievskaya Balka, Rostov’s Jewish community and the diaspora it has yielded have been spurred to action and are seeking support as well as information, donations of artifacts and broad participation in the commemorative activities.
70th Anniversary Commemoration of Zmievskaya Balka – “Russia’s Babi Yar”
Rostov on Don, Russia, August 12-14, 2012
Organizing Committee Announcement
August 2012 marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of mass executions of Jews by the Nazis in Rostov on Don, Russia, in the Zmievskaya “balka” – a huge ravine on the edge of this southern Russian city of over one million residents. Here more than 20,000 people were killed. The greatest number of victims, including poisoned children, died on August 11 and 12, 1942. For Russia, this place holds the symbolic importance of Ukraine’s Babi Yar. There is no place in Russia where a greater number of Holocaust victims lost their lives. Others were also killed here: Soviet citizens of other nationalities, prisoners of war, resisters, psychiatric hospital patients, and others.
In 1975, a memorial was erected at the Rostov “Zmievskaya Balka” and a small museum was built there.
This anniversary of the Rostov tragedy, dedicated to the memory of the victims, deserves attention on an international level, as this place has relevance for many famous people connected with the history of the Holocaust. Among those executed here was world-renowned psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein (about whom several feature films have been made). Both before and after the war Alexander Pechersky lived in Rostov. Pechersky was the organizer of the only successful mass escape from a Nazi death camp — the escape from Sobibor. A British film about his exploits was well received.
Two other prominent Jewish leaders are connected to Rostov: Fedor Mikhalchenko, rescued in Buchenwald as a child and later to become Chief Rabbi of Israel, and Meir Lau, present day chairman of the Board of the museum “Yad Vashem.” Meir Lau, who is planning to attend the rememberance events, will be one of the honored guests. Government delegations, including the U.S. and Israel, are being invited.
Please note that August 11, 2012 falls on a Saturday (the Sabbath), which means that no memorial services will be held on this day.
August 12-14, 2012
Planned memorial /educational activities in Rostov-on-Don include the following:
– A memorial evening in one of the city’s largest halls on August 12th ;
– A ceremony at the Zmievskaya Balka on the morning of 13th August;
– Opening of a new exhibit at the Museum of the “Zmievskaya Balka” (August 13);
– International conference in memory of Sabina Spielrein on the “Fate of Scientists during the Holocaust” (August 12th -13th );
– A seminar for teachers of Russia, CIS and the Rostov Region, “Lessons of the Holocaust – the path to tolerance” (12th -14th August);
– A Holocaust Film Festival to feature both documentary and feature films;
We are seeking support from colleagues and interested parties across the globe.
How You Can Help:
– Join the organizing committee.
– Donate money to help us hire organizers and researchers.
– If you have any information about the victims of Zmievskaya Balka or their relatives or descendants, please contact us.
– Do you read Russian? When searching for the names of the dead, we found the miraculously-preserved records of the Rostov synagogue circa 1850-1921. Please help us translate these records, as well as other research articles on the events at Rostov, from Russian into English so that they may be more widely disseminated.
– Contribute to memorial books or consider donating to the exhibit.
– Spread the word: disseminate this press release widely.
Please contact us for more information.
February 4, 2012 § 19 Comments
I am on a steering committee attempting to launch Bloomsday Montréal this year on 16 June.
For those who don’t know, Bloomsday is an annual celebration worldwide of James Joyce’s masterful novel, Ulysses, which was first published in 1922. Ulysses traces the travels of one Leopold Bloom, a Dubliner, across the city on 16 June 1904. That date was significant for Joyce as it was the date of his very first outing with his wife to be, Nora Barnacle. Many consider Ulysses the finest novel of the 20th century. The first Bloomsday was celebrated on 16 June 1954, the 50th anniversary of Bloom’s travels, in Dublin, where the Irish artist John Ryan and the novelist Flann O’Brien decided to re-trace Bloom’s route around the city.
From there, Bloomsday has grown to be a massive cultural phenomenon, celebrated in over 60 nations around the world. In 2004, the 100th anniversary of Bloom’s travels, a massive celebration was held in Dublin, with over 10,000 people in attendance. On 16 June 1958, the star-crossed Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were married on Bloomsday. Why Montréal, a major city of the Irish diaspora has not had a Bloomsday until now is beyond my ken. But, it is time.