The Strange Anglo Fascination with Québécois Anti-Semitism

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.

Update

January 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ah, what the hell, this is my blog, if I can’t flog my media appearances and other publications and whatnot here, where can I?  I’ve been rather silent around here for the past 8 months or so, though that will change in the coming weeks.

First, I have submitted the manuscript for my book, The House of the Irish: History, Memory & Diaspora in Griffintown, Montreal, to the publisher.  It is out for review now, and with any luck, it will appear on bookshelves and on-line stores around this time next year. Academic publishing moves rather slow at times.  As long as The House of the Irish appears before 2014, we’re good.   I published an article on the Montreal Shamrocks Hockey Club at the turn of the last century in a book edited by John Chi-Kit Wong of Washington State University, entitled Coast to Coast: Hockey in Canada to the Second World War. I wrote the article in 2005-6, it was published in 2009.

I have a raft of ideas for the next projects, but two I am pursuing, or will be once I get the chance later this semester are:
1) I wrote my MA thesis on the Corrigan Affair, which involved the fatal beating of a neighbourhood bully, Robert Corrigan, by a gang of his neighbours in Saint-Sylvestre, Québec, in October 1855.  Corrigan was an Irish Protestant, and his attackers, Irish Catholics. What’s more, the Orange Order and an Irish Catholic secret society, the Ribbonmen, got involved. This led Corrigan’s death to become a cause célèbre in the era of heavy sectarian tensions in 1850s Canada.  Right now, this looks like it will become a book.

2) Boston as the cultural centre of the Irish diaspora. I am fascinated by the Irishification of Boston in recent years in pop culture. Sure, Boston’s always been a major centre of the Irish diaspora, but as the city itself has become less and less Irish over the years, it has become more and more green in pop culture.  Aside from the obvious, a basketball team called the Celtics, you’ve also got the Affleck brothers who play up that Southie culture in film, the novels of Dennis Lehane, and, of course, the music of the Dropkick Murphys.  I’m not sure how this will proceed, whether as an article, a book, or a documentary film, but time will tell.

In the meantime, last month’s controversy surrounding the Habs and the firing of Jacques Martin and his replacement by a unilingually Anglo coach in Randy Cunneyworth found me doing a bit of punditry in the national media here in the Great White North.  First, an article that appeared on Canoe.ca and then I was on Global National news later that week. And way back in September, I welcomed the Winnipeg Jets back to the NHL on the National Council on Public History’s Off the Wall blog.

At any rate, as I move forward with these projects and begin to think about history, memory, and the public in coming months, there will be a lot more here. As they say, “Watch this space!”

Between the Horns

January 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

My good buddy, Jason Santerre, has started a new blog, Between the Horns, to give him some space to ruminate on one of his passions, heavy metal (the other being the Habs). Go check it out. Aside from being a metal head, Big J. has a gentle soul, and he just happens to be a wonderful poet, too.

Today in Hockey History

January 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Happy New Year!  It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, I got caught up in the craziness that is the end of the semester and then took a nice relaxing Holiday sabbatical. Anyway, yesterday, whilst sitting in a MacDonald’s parking lot in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, I did a radio interview with CJSW in Calgary, their excellent “Today in Canadian History” series. I was honoured with their first podcast last 1 July talking about the meanings of Canadian Confederation.  Today marks 111 years since the Montréal Canadiens played their first home hockey game, so here I am talking about the importance of the Habs.

The Shoe on the Other Foot

August 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Being Canadian, it sometimes feels like we’re the ones on the short end of the stick in global affairs.  We’re the ones the Americans invaded during the War of Independence and again in 1812.  During World War I, the British used our troops as cannon fodder in battles like the Somme.  We have been colonies of the French and the British.  Economically, we’re largely dependent upon the Americans.  Our peoples are descendent from the colonised of the world (ok, so is the rest of the Western world).  In short, I think Canadians like to see themselves as victims, or at least feel like victims far too often.  This is why winning double gold medals in hockey over the Americans at the Olympics is such a big deal.  For that moment, we’re the winners.

The once-great Vancouver band, Spirit of the West, wrote a song back in the early 90s called “Far Too Canadian.”  It’s a lament for our status as hewers of wood and drawers of water, amongst other things.  The lyrics:

I’m so content, to stand in line
Wait and see, pass the time
Talk a streak, fall alseep, wake up late, whine and weep
I kiss the hand that slaps me senseless
I’m so accepting, so defenseless
I am far too Canadian
Far  too  Canadian

I am the face of my country
Experssionless and small
Weak at the knees, shaking badly
Can’t straighten up at all
I watch the spine of my country bend and break
I’m a sorry state.

A sobering thought, that song. And all the cheesy, stupid, lame-brained Molson Canadian ads in the world (apparently has more square feet of “awesomeness per person” than any other nation on Earth) can’t change it.

That being said, we do have our moments, our victories, and our glories.  But we tend to play those down, too (except when they involve gold medals, hockey, and the Olympics).  We’re a modest people, I suppose.

So all of this being said, I’m always surprised to find Canadians on the other side, at least historically-speaking.  Not far from Charlemont, Massachusetts, is the town of Deerfield.  On 29 February 1704, during the War of Spanish Succession, a joint force of 47 French and Canadian soldiers and 200 Mohawk warriors (including the Pocumtuck, who had lived in what is now the Pioneer Valley before the English settlers arrived) raided Deerfield before dawn.  The raid was partly in revenge for the settlers’ violent and callous treatment of the Pocumtuck, which culminated in a massacre  in what is now nearby Montague Township in 1676.

The combined French-Canadian-aboriginal force caught the settlers unaware before dawn and massacred 56 people.  109 people survived the raid, they were captured and made to march 500km north to Québec, in harsh winter conditions.  21 of them either died or were killed during the trek.  Most of those who made it to Québec were eventually ransomed and made their way back to Deerfield.  A few, most notably the pastor’s daughter, Eunice Williams, chose to remain.  Williams spent the rest of her life at Kahanwake, a Mohawk settlement near Montréal, marring a Mohawk man and having a family with him.

The Deerfield Raid was no doubt a traumatic event for the people of the small settlement.  And it has lived on for the past 300 years, it is a foundational story in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts.  At times, listening to people describe it, reading newspaper stories about the raid, and seeing how it is represented in the pop culture of the Valley, I even get the sense that the trauma of the raid lives on.  Certainly, it is strange for a Canadian to realise the Americans were victims of the colonial era.  It is even more bizarre to realise that one’s ancestors were the ones who caused the trauma.  We are usucally the victims, not the aggressors of historical trauma.

The fact that the 1704 raid lives on in Deerfield, and is largely forgotten in Québec (as France lost that war), is significant.  No doubt it lives on in part because Deerfield’s raison d’être today is as a tourist site.  Historic Deerfield is a national historic site, and the town’s economy centres around the historical experience there, and the 1704 raid factors heavily into it.  It is no doubt the most significant event to have occurred in Deerfield in its 337 year history.  And, as a result of the historicisation of Deerfield, the 1704 raid gets played out, reinterpreted, and re-assessed almost daily by the town’s residents, the historical educators, and the tourists who come to visit.

But for me, a Canadian, the first time I visited Deerfield, on a warm, sunny day in late May 2006, I was stunned to find a place that was traumatised by Canadians, at least a place that was not an aboriginal settlement/reserve.  And as I took in the colonial American scene in front of me that day, I couldn’t help but feel a shudder of fear imagining that 247-man strong force crawling across the plain along the Deerfield River, coming out of the mist and the snow and laying siege to a small frontier settlement.  And every time since that I have driven past, or been into Historic Deerfield, I cannot shake that feeling of terror that the colonist there must’ve felt that cold February morning 306 1/2 years ago.

Canada and Russia: Stereotypes Inverted

April 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Growing up in Canada in the 1980s, the Cold War was kind of an abstract concept.  Sure, we had the occasional drill to learn what to do in case of nuclear attack, but the larger context of the Cold War was missing.  Except when it came to hockey.  That was the Cold War here.  It began in 1972, Canada and the Soviets played an 8-game Summit Series of hockey, 4 games in Canada, then 4 games in Russia.  Canadians thought it would be a cakewalk.  After Game 4 in Vancouver, Canada was booed off the ice after losing 5-3.  Heading to the USSR, Canada was trailing 2 games to 1 in the series (the 4th game had been a tie).  Team Canada’s Phil Esposito reacted to the booing in Vancouver in a post-game interview:

Canada came back to win the series, scoring at the last minute in Moscow.  Legends were built around this series, and, in part, around Esposito’s rant.  As Canada and the Soviet Union met up in international play throughout the 70s and 80s, a stereotype emerged of both nations, based on their hockey players.  Canada, we were the good guys, the passionate hockey players, who’d do anything to win.  The Soviets, they were the heartless commies, mechanistic and humourless.  The international series went back and forth.  Even club teams got into it.  Apparently the greatest hockey game of all-time was played on New Year’s Eve, 1975, at the Montréal Forum, as the Montréal Canadiens played Central Red Army to a 3-3 draw.

So, given these stereotypes, I had to laugh this afternoon reading the local Montréal English-language newspaper, The Gazette.  Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon, is in the Arctic this week, having just touched down in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, to inspect the activities of Canadians working on proving Canada’s claims to the Arctic Archipelago before the 2013 deadline.  Cannon was impressed with their work, but not so impressed with the actions of the Russians.

The Russians are planning a few maneouvres in the Arctic, including dropping two paratroopers onto the North Pole to belatedly commemorate the 60th anniversary of a similar exercise in 1949.  Said Cannon:

It was interesting . . . to see our Canadians working extremely hard to collect the data, to be able to make sure that we do submit to the commission by 2013 the extended mapping and our scientific data.  On the other hand, we have the Russians playing games as to who can plant a flag or who can send paratroopers there. I thought the contrast was striking. We take our job seriously, and it seemed to me that the Russians were just pulling stunts.

[Cross-posted at Current Intelligence].

Montreal Mosaic

March 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

I have an article published on the Montreal Mosaic website on the Montréal Shamrocks Hockey Club, based on the article I published.  You can read it here.

Positive Feedback

March 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

A few months ago, I published an article in a book edited by John Chi-Kit Wong of the University of Western Washington in Bellingham.  The book was entitled, Coast to Coast: Hockey in Canada to the Second World War (University of Toronto Press, 2009), and my article was entitled “‘Scientific Aggression’: Class, Manliness, Class, and Commercialisation in the Shamrock Hockey Club, Montreal.”

Today, John forwarded the authors a review of the book from the H-Arete listserv, which deals with sport history, written by Jason Blake, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.  Blake had this to say about my article:

A few chapters show a keen interest in narrative, examining individual newspaper reports and trends in sports reporting. In “‘Scientific Aggression’: Irishness, Manliness, Class, and Commercialization in the Shamrock Hockey Club of Montreal, 1894-1901,” John Matthew Barlow argues that reporters in Montreal “became less concerned with the idea of fair play” and “more interested with winning and losing” (37) long before the amateur debate died. In a special subsection, Barlow provides cogent Ð almost literary Ð readings of individual press accounts. Important, too, is his highlighting of how self-consciously the journalists created stories of games. Consider this 1900 pronouncement: “Narrative in the superlative can only convey an imperfect sense of the paragon of perfection and sensation detail of this, the last and premier exhibition of a week’s great hockey” (64). It’s a shame Aethlon was not around then.

Very nice to get such good feedback on my first publication.

Knee-Jerk Anti-Americanism…

January 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

Zach McKelvie is a prospect for the Boston Bruins, a defenceman playing for Army.  That means he signed up for the Army.  Today, word has come that rather than pursue his professional career, McKelvie must report for active duty and training at Fort Benning.  McKelvie says he understands the decision, but he also sounds pretty frustrated about it:

It’s frustrating on one side. At the same time, I can understand it…I have no problem serving in the military. This is what we train to do here. We train to be a part of this Army and help this country out. But at the same time … I feel like they never should have, I guess, led me on. And at the same time, it’s a pretty hard time to let someone play professionally. I totally understand that because of the situation that’s going on.

He thinks he was led on because, when he signed up, US Army policy was that if an athlete had a professional contract, s/he would be allowed to play for 2 years before being re-evaluated for future service.  That policy has since been changed, and there is apparently no grandfather clause.  He’s also frustrated because some prospective Olympic athletes are being allowed to pursue that by the Army.  Fair enough, I can understand why McKelvie is frustrated, but I can also understand why he would accept the Army’s ruling.

What I find stupid and pathetic are some of the comments on TSN’s website.  One commentor says McKelvie is brainwashed if he accepts the US Army’s ruling.  Others comment on the “militaristic US culture.”  My favourite, though, says this: “thats the usa for you.”  Um, no.  That’s not the USA for you.  It’s also got nothing to do with militarism.  Or brainwashing.  It has everything to do with signing up for the military.  In any nation.  The same would happen in Canada.  There are obligations and rules one must respect.  It’s that simple.  Knee-jerk anti-Americanism is just so boring.

Oh for the love of God

January 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

This is entirely off-topic, but: the Winter Olympics in Vancouver are coming up next month.  And this is Canada.  In Canada, we expect to win every gold medal on offer in international hockey.  We do win a lot.  Just not in men’s international hockey.  At least not in the Olympics, with only 2 in the past 60 years (1952 and 2002).  In 2006, Canada bombed out of the Olympic men’s hockey tournament in most embarrassing fashion.  Anyway, I digress.  For this year, Pepsi and Hockey Canada have teamed up to commission an “official” chant for the fans.  Yes, that’s right, “they” want to tell “us,” the fans, what to chant at a hockey game.  The chant, moreover, is so godamned lame it’s not even funny: “Eh! O, Canada Go!”  It’s being test-driven at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Saskatoon right now.  One word: Awkward, try saying it yourself.  Go on.  Seriously, an “official” chant for the fans.  One coming from a marketing campaign.  I can’t even begin to tell y’all how much that depresses me.

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