The Halifax Explosions?

February 1, 2018 § 4 Comments

The Canadian Football League has long sought to add a 10th team in the Maritimes.  To do so would be to make the CFL actually national.  But, the CFL has also had to deal with some serious instability with its franchises in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa, especially, over the past 30 years.  Ottawa is currently on its third (as far as I can count) franchise since the 1980s.  The Rough Riders folded in 1996.  They were replaced by Ottawa Renegades; this franchise only lasted from 2002 to 2006.  Currently, the REDBLACKS play in the nation’s capital.  Meanwhile, down the 417 in Montreal, the original Alouettes folded in 1982; they were replaced by the Concordes, who only lasted until 1986.  After that, Montreal was devoid of Canadian football until the Baltimore Stallions were forced out of that city by the relocation of the original Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1995.  The Baltimore team moved to Montreal.  Meanwhile, the Argonauts have never ceased operations, but they have been a basket case in terms of stability and presence in the city most of my adult life.  So, in other words, expansion to the Maritimes has not exactly been on the front burner.  But that’s changed recently, and reports state that not only is there an ownership group in Halifax, but there is will at CFL headquarters.

Personally, I’d love to see a Halifax CFL team.  This would both make the league truly national, it would also speak to the deep popularity of Canadian football in the Maritimes.  The universities of the Maritimes have a long and deep tradition of Canadian football.  And just like the Alouettes and the REDBLACKS (in French, the ROUGENOIRS) have offered a professional career to many French-Canadian football players emerging from Quebec’s college teams, a Halifax team could do the same.

It is unclear what the team would be called, and so, social media (as well as Halifax’s media in general) is full of speculation, and a bevy of names have been proposed.  Last week, a fan art Twitter account, dedicated to this proposed team, suggested that perhaps the team could be called the Explosions, in a tweet:

Uh, yeah. No.  The Halifax Explosion occurred on the morning of 6 December 1917, when a Norwegian ship collided with a French cargo ship, the Mont-Blanc, in the Halifax Harbour.  The French ship was carrying explosives and war munitions (this was the middle of the First World War, after all) and caught fire after the collision.  The fire ignited the cargo, which then exploded.  It devastated a large chunk of Halifax.  Nearly every building within a kilometre radius was destroyed.  A pressure wave accompanying the explosion snapped tress, grounded vessels in the harbour, and devastated iron rails.  The remnants of the Mont-Blanc were found several kilometres away.  Nearly every window in the city was broken.  The city of Dartmouth lies across the harbour from Halifax.  It suffered extensive damage.  The Mi’kmaq First Nation, near Dartmouth, was destroyed by a tsunami caused by the explosion.

The blast was the largest human-made explosion prior to the advent of nuclear weapons.  It released the equivalent of 2.9 kilotons of TNT.  Think about that for a second. Of all the blasts of bombs and munitions in war prior to 6 and 9 August 1945, the Halifax Explosion was the greatest one ever caused by humans.  It killed over 2,000 people and injured nearly 10,000 more, out of a population of around 95,000.

In short, the Halifax Explosion destroyed the City of Halifax.  So suggesting a CFL team be called the Explosions is flat out disrespectful and idiotic.  Shame on @CFLinHalifax for even suggesting it.  Since this initial tweet on Monday, the people behind the account have doubled down in their idiocy.

Meanwhile, the CFL and the proposed Halifax ownership group have had to put out press releases distancing themselves from @CFLinHalifax.


The Centre Of The Universe?

December 2, 2016 § 2 Comments

An interesting thing has occurred in the realm of Canadian sports journalism in the past few weeks.  For those of you who don’t know, the English-language Canadian media is centred in Toronto, which every media outlet will remind you is “Canada’s largest city.”  The much smaller French-language media is centred in Montréal, which is Canada’s second largest city.  Toronto’s got a population of around 4.7 million, compared to Montréal’s 3.8 million.  Vancouver is third, closing in on 2 million.  And Edmonton, Calgary, and Ottawa are all around 1 million.  So we’re not looking at the situation in the UK, where London is the largest city and about 5 times larger than the second city, Birmingham.

But, reading Canadian sports media these days, and you’d be convinced that Toronto is the only city in Canada and that its sports teams are all wondrous, virtuous conquering heroes.  Never mind the fact that Toronto teams don’t really win much of anything ever.  The basketball Raptors and soccer Toronto FC have never won anything.  The hockey Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967.  And the Blue Jays last won in 1993.  The Argonauts of the Canadian Football League are the really the only continually successful Toronto sports team, having last won the Grey Cup in 2012 (but, the CFL is a 9-team league, so law of averages…).

Toronto FC was engaged in a tense two-leg Eastern Conference final in the MLS Cup Playoffs against the Impact de Montréal, or IMFC.  An all-Canadian conference final should be one of those things that grip the nation, or at least get the media to recognize its import.  And while Sportsnet, the second of Canada’s sports networks, largely has, TSN, the largest sports network and MLS rights holder, has not.  It has openly and blatantly cheered for a TFC victory, and its coverage has exclusively treated IMFC as an interloper in TFC’s eventual, wondrous assent to the top of the North American soccer world.  On Wednesday afternoon, in advance of the second leg of the series, to be played at BMO Field in Toronto, TSN posted this article about the five keys to the match as its headline on  Note that it’s all about what TFC needs to do to win.  This is just the most egregious example.  The rest of the coverage on Wednesday afternoon was all slanted towards TFC: its mindset heading into the match, which players it needs to excel, and so on.  Not a word from IMFC’s perspective, except for a feel-good story about the club’s 38-year old captain, and Montréal native, Patrice Bernier.

In the aftermath of the TFC’s victory Wednesday night, in a tense 5-2 match that went to Extra Time, allowing TFC to advance 7-5 on aggregate, TSN’s homepage was a torrent of TFC.  And while this is a good thing, and deserved, TFC won, it’s also still one-sided.  This was especially true of the headline that said “TFC MAKES CANADIAN SOCCER HISTORY.”  Factually, yes, it did.  It made the finals of the MLS Cup for the first time and is the first Canadian club to do so.  But, it did so after making history in an all-Canadian conference final.  And there was not a single story about IMFC and its own very improbable run to the conference finals.  TSN has continually picked against IMFC all season.  It predicted the Montréal side would miss the playoffs.  Then it wouldn’t get past DC United in the first round, or New York Red Bulls in the second round.  And so on.

On Thursday morning,’s home page featured no fewer than 12 features and stories about TFC out of the 28 in total.  Of the remaining 16 stories and features, 10 were about the Maples Leafs (7), Raptors (2), and Blue Jays (1).  One story was about how the Calgary Flames pummeled the Maple Leafs Wednesday night and another mocked Montréal Canadiens winger Andrew Shaw and his bad temper.  There’s a reason why Canadians in the Rest of Canada tend to dismiss TSN as Toronto’s Sports Network.

Meanwhile: Hockey.  The top team in the NHL right now is the Montréal Canadiens.  But, TSN’s coverage is almost exclusively about the amazing, wondrous Toronto Maple Leafs, who have a collection of burgeoning young stars and actually look like they might be a good team again one day.  There are also, you might note, five more Canadian teams in the NHL.  Sucks to be a fan of one of them: TSN just doesn’t care, other than to note the ways in which they’re failing.

And then Sportsnet.  Sportsnet is the rights holder for the NHL in Canada.  And while its coverage tends to be more national in nature, in that it notes that there are indeed teams in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Montréal, besides Toronto, how about them kids in the T-Dot, y’all?  But Sportsnet can even out-do TSN.  On Wednesday, the American-based Forbes published its annual list of NHL teams ranked by value.  As always, the New York Rangers are the most valuable hockey team.  The Rangers are worth $1.25 billion USD.  But Sportsnet’s headline reads: “Maple Leafs Rank Third in Forbes’ Annual Most Valuable Team List.”  So, you think, well, that makes sense.  But, wait, what’s the second most valuable team in the National Hockey League?  Chicago?  Los Angeles?  The New York Islanders?  Nope.  It’s the Montréal Canadiens.

Now, I know we Quebecers had ourselves a couple of referenda on leaving the country, and we still harbour a pretty strong separatist movement; at any given time, around 35% of us want out of Canada.  But, in both 1980 and 1995, we chose to stay.  And 65% of us at any given time want to stick around in Canada.  And we keep giving Canada Prime Ministers.  In my lifetime, five of 9 prime ministers have been Quebecers.

So, in other words, my dear TSN and Sportsnet, Québec is part of Canada.  And Montréal remains one of the largest cities in North America, and also remains a major centre of global commerce.  And its soccer team isn’t that bad, even if its appearance in the Conference Finals is a surprise.  And its hockey team, which is, after all, the most decorated hockey team in the world, is the most valuable Canadian team.

And, if you just so happen to be one of those provincials from the rest of the country, well, as we say back home, tant pis.

Residential Segregation

September 23, 2015 § 2 Comments

Sometimes I’m shocked by segregation, in that it still exists.  It exists in Canada.  Don’t believe me?  Look at East Vancouver, the North Side of Winnipeg, the Jane-Finch corridor in Toronto, or Saint-Michel in Montreal.  But, in the US it is even more shocking.  Boston was the most racist place I’ve ever seen, the casual racism of Bostonians towards black people, the comments on Or the fact that people told me that The Point, an immigrant neighbourhood of Salem, MA, was a place where “you can get shot.”  Or the simple fact that residential segregation was very obvious in and around Boston.  Unless you take public transit (as in the bus or the subway), you could live your entire life in Boston without noticing people of colour there.

Down here in Alabama, though, it’s not a simple question of race, class is also central to residential segregation.  I live in a small city (so small, in fact, that my neighbourhood in Montreal is about the same size as this city in terms of population).  I live in a neighbourhood that is comfortably middle-class, veering towards upper-middle class the closer you get to the university.  But, in the midst of this, there are a few blocks that look like something you’d expect to see in the 1920s in a Southern city.  These images below are from one of these streets, a block behind my house.  These houses are essentially a version of a shotgun house.  The block behind me is about 70% black, 30% white.  It is also full of abandoned houses, empty lots, and lots with the ruins of homes.  The street itself is about a car-width wide, and where I come from, would be called a back alley.

IMG_0137 IMG_0138IMG_0143IMG_0130What is perhaps most shocking to me is how an apartment complex (which my neighbours all eye suspiciously) ensures this segregation with fencing designed to keep the riff raff out. To me, the very clear segregation of this block is shocking.  Almost as surprising and shocking this block is in the midst of my neighbourhood.  For example, the final photo is of the next block over from this street.IMG_0140





Something is Rotten in the Country of Canada

September 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

Seriously, there is something deeply and fundamentally flawed in this country.  According to The Globe & Mail, Ontario is making a push to become the centre of the digital entertainment industry in Canada.  That’s all fine and good until one realises that the industry is presently centred in Vancouver and Montréal.  So, basically, Toronto, backed by the provincial government, is now going to take on the other two major cities in the country, backed by their own provincial governments, in order to see who wins.  This is just wrong.

Certainly, the provinces have had flashpoints, economically speaking, including Québec’s infamous deal with Newfoundland for Churchill Falls.  But that deal was made because Newfoundland lacked the ability to harness the power of Churchill Falls.  Vancouver and Montréal, on the other hand, are already the centre of this industry.  What Toronto and Ontario are doing here is nothing short of cannibalisation.

Something is wrong, very wrong, in this country.

Radicalism and Diaspora in Canada

January 15, 2010 § 2 Comments

Yesterday, the ring-leader of the Toronto 18, Zakaria Amara, apologised to Canadians for his role in plotting to blow up U-Haul trucks outside of the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Toronto CSIS HQ, and a military base just outside the city.  It is worth noting that the Toronto 18’s goal was specific, to convince the Canadian government to pull out of Afghanistan.  Amara said that he “deserves nothing less than [Canadians’] complete contempt.”  At least according to The Globe & Mail, he went onto to explain how it was he was radicalised in suburban Mississauga.

Starting off by quoting the Quran, in hindsight, [Amara] said his interpretation of Islam was “naïve and gullible,” and that his belief system made worse by the fact he had “isolated himself from the real world.”

Today he told the court he has been rehabilitated by his time awaiting trial in jail – mostly through his interactions with fellow prisoners who challenged his hate-filled ideology. He promised he would change from a “man of destruction” to a “man of construction.

He also apologised to Canada’s Muslim community, noting that he had brought unwelcome attention and scrutiny.

The Globe also reports on Amara’s accounting of his radicalisation in suburban Mississauga, a multicultural locale with a population larger than all but a handful of Canadian cities (Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, and Ottawa-Gatineau), one that sounds not all that dissimilar than what Marisa Urgo describes in Northern Virginia, a suburb of Washington, DC.  As she notes, Northern Virginia has produced a fair number of radicalised young men.  Mississauga, on the other hand, has not, other than the Toronto 18.  In Mississauga, Amara isolated himself from all but a small handful of radicals, and they fed off each other.

In prison, Amara claims to have seen the light, befriending a former stock broker who worked at the very exchange Amara had planned to blow up.  He, a Sunni Muslim, also befriended both a Jew and a Shi’a Muslim.  In his radical era, Amara had nothing but contempt for Jews and Shi’a.  But now, he says, he’s seen how wrong he was.

Amara’s psychiatric examination in prison suggests that he became radicalised as a means of escapism, the drudgery of life, of having had to drop out of university to help support and raise a daughter, as well as the pain from his parents’ divorce.

One thing that strikes me the most, though, about the discourse surrounding the Toronto 18, is this horror that Canada might have produced radicalised terrorists from a diasporic community.  Canadians seem genuinely befuddled that this could happen in his multicultural nation where immigrants and their progeny are generally welcomed (not that there isn’t racism in Canada, there is.  A lot).

But, this is where being an historian is kind of fascinating. As I have argued over at the CTlab, historians get to take the long-view, we see context, and depth.  We don’t, or at least we shouldn’t, engage in knee-jerk reactions.  And so, I would like to point out that this isn’t the first and only time that diasporic radicals have trod on Canadian soil.

Indeed, the neighbourhood I study, Griffintown, here in Montréal was once one of the hottest of hotbeds of radicalism, in the 1860s, 150 years ago.  Then, it was the Fenians, a group of Irish nationalists who were always more successful in the diaspora than in Ireland itself.  Indeed, their plan wasn’t all that different than that of the Toronto 18.  The Fenians in the United States and Canada dreamed of seizing and conquering Canada and holding it as ransom against the British in return for Irish independence.  And Griffintown was the centre of Fenianism in Canada.

The Fenians met secretly around Griffintown and Pointe-Saint-Charles, plotting how to act as a 5th column when their American brethren invaded, and how they would then take over the country.  The Griffintown Fenians were also the ones responsible for the first political assassination in Canadian history (there have been only 2 in total), that of Father of Confederation and Member of Parliament for Montréal West, Thomas D’Arcy McGee on 7 April 1868 on Sparks St. in Ottawa.  McGee had been a radical in his youth in Ireland, a member of the Young Ireland movement there in the 1840s, but, after relocating to Montréal, he had become convinced of the Canadian cause, and during the particular contentious 1867 federal elections (the first Canadian election), McGee had outed the Fenians in the pages of The Gazette.  Not surprisingly, this didn’t go over well, and the Fenians, acting, it seems, independently of their American counterparts, and Patrick Whelan shot him.

Then, as now, there was all sorts of anguish over the thought of terrorists (though this word wasn’t used for the Fenians) on Canadian soil.  Anglo-Canadians couldn’t understand why the Irish would wish to carry their old world battles into the new Dominion, and they tended to see Irish-Catholics as a singular whole.  Not unlike how Canadians in the early 21st century have responded to the Toronto 18, in fact.  Not that this exonerates either the Fenians or the Toronto 18 as radicalised diasporic terrorists, but the long view is always interesting in and of itself.

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