Monday, 24 November 2014

The Imperialist: Grey and the Canadian Football League

This weekend my home town team won a spot in the Grey Cup - Go Stamps!
The Stampeders originally were the Bronks, glad they changed the name. Sounds like a horse snorting.

I type this as a sad and dejected Eskimo fan with a toque on sits down across from me in the coffee shop. Next time guys!

It will be the 102st Grey Cup, the Canadian Football League's Superbowl, filled with history and pageantry in Vancouver. I really didn't pay much attention to the history of the game in Canada until the game's centennial in 2010. And while I learned a lot, I noticed the media had only a few words on the imperialist father of the Grey Cup, Albert Grey.

Whose this Grey guy anyways?
Lord Albert Grey, wearing fur because he is in Canada. Picture:LAC

Lord Albert Grey was your quintessential Victorian imperialist elite gentleman. Like most of the elite class in Canada. he was born in England in 1851 to rich parents and had a career in politics. His tireless promotion of the Crown and the supremacy of imperialism underlined every action he ever took. He remained in England until the call of money and power came from Africa, where he became an administrator in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Rhodesia was controlled by the British South African Company, and therefore controlled the people and the land. However, the government called Grey back to serve as Governor General (the King's representative) to Canada in 1904. He also needed a job as his investments in the region failed.

At this time, Canada was trying to forge itself as an independent nation, but also keep their British overloads happy. Canada was a dominion, meaning we still had to look to mother Britain for the okay to all our laws. This was alright to Grey, who liked to impose his ideas on others, be it in South Africa or in Canada. Funny enough his hard core temperance ideas and pro church stance did not go down well in Canada. He had to be reigned in a lot by Prime Minster Laurier, because even back then Canadians really just liked life without too much interruption. His idea that Canada should be the crowning jewel in British imperialism meant he pushed hard for a navy and a larger military as a tool for expansionism.

Grey's ability to cock up diplomatically was of epic legend. One failure was trying to get Newfoundland into confederation with Canada in 1905: he acted more like a bully than a appeaser and so the newfies told him to bugger off. The biggest failure was the Plains of Abraham in 1908: he wanted to purchase the Plains of Abraham and turn them into a national park under a battlefield commission for Quebec's 300 year birthday.

His endeavours to elevate the project into a grand imperial enterprise fell short but nevertheless made it difficult to sell in Quebec. In the end Laurier was persuaded only by the intervention of Quebec mayor Georges Garneau to pass the potentially controversial legislation in March 1908 creating the National Battlefields Commission. During this campaign Grey had discovered a citizens’ committee making modest plans to mark the tercentenary of Samuel de Champlain’s founding of Quebec. Fresh from his battlefield victory, he decided to transform the event into an international celebration of Franco-Anglo-American friendship. The visit of the Prince of Wales, the Atlantic fleet, American and French warships, and a host of official representatives required coordination, diplomatically, by the governor general’s office and took arrangements well out of the hands of the local committee. In addition, the elaborate historical pageants promoted by Grey and staged in July threatened, despite their interpretative accommodations, to turn the event into a celebration of the arrival of British general James Wolfe in 1759 rather than Champlain. The criticism voiced  was understandable, but not to Grey, who blamed the reaction on an unenlightened element in the Catholic church.
One thing that he was successful at was smoothing over the rough waters between Canada and American after the latter purchased Alaska from the Russians. He also promoted, supported and loved sports and the arts, assisting a ton of organizations in Ontario and Quebec during his tenure.

Why did he like football so much?

Grey believed that cultural institutions were an excellent vehicle to promote imperialism. One of these paths was through sports.His interest in physical well-being came from his work in social reform and imperial wholesomeness, as well as from his own attachment to sport and the outdoors. He promoted overseas clubs backed the Boy Scout and cadet movements, and persuaded Lord Strathcona to amend the terms of his trust fund (set up in 1909 to promote physical and military training in Canadian public schools) to permit the remuneration of women cadet instructors.

He donated various cups to all sorts of sports, but the biggest was to the new amateur rugby football league in 1909. Originally he wanted to donate a cup to the newly formed Canadian hockey club but was beaten to it by Sir Allen.

The first winners of the Grey Cup was the University of Toronto who trounced Toronto Parkdale 26-6.

But Grey soon forgot about his promise. There was no trophy to present when the University of Toronto won but they did receive it in time for their photo. Weeks before the game, organizers sent a letter to the governor general reminding him of his promise, according to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Museum. A hurried order was sent to silversmiths to create the sterling silver cup with a wooden base. The total bill: $48.

Having researched so much on Albert Grey now, I wonder what he'd think of modern Canada, our looking more to America for our policies, and our attitudes towards our colonial past that gives us so much shame and trouble now? More importantly, what would he think of our CFL now, with multi-ethnic players and owners, and a lack of imperialistic fevour?

Monday, 17 November 2014

History Bytes: History on Twitter


I'm short on time this week, and wanted to get my history fix quickly. I' so tired of facebook except for keeping up with friends and the occasional cat video.

So I wondered: is twitter the answer for my history fix?

In keeping with the short and useful theme, he's my short assessment after reading about 50 tweets from each source. I rate them based on quantity and quality, plus any issues.  I rate them using the following old school lingo, from the best being an A to an F for crap.

 And remember if you like something better or have questions go ahead and ask me in the comments section.

Reddit History A-

Their tagline: Your connection to the past! Read discussions on historical topics.

These are always short post done almost daily. Reddit is a listserve in reality, and all their links drive you to their page, with the discussion board and links. All of the links lead to good, solid and credible articles online, like However, if you're looking for visuals, you'll have to dig into the original articles that they link to. More work but the history is solid with good references.

Outstanding tweet: WWI Starts - a youtube channel that goes into the war in depth everyday.

HistoryPics -also called ClassicPics B+

The world's biggest dead people condo - over booked and over sold.

This twitter feed is devoted to the awesome and the strange in history, from a kid in an alligator cart to Johnny Cash in the 1960s to pictures of the Clintons in the 1970s. The problem is that the context is missing, like looking at old photo albums of people you don't know. But, they do fulfil your history snacking needs.

Outstanding tweet: The world's biggest cemetery in Iraq

History Chanel  B

Easy to read, good links to their website where all of the links lead to. They never put up any links that don't feed to their blog/site History Lists and Ask History. Fun if you have some time to kill and are interested in a lot of general world and American history. They also tweet at least ten times a day and have the always favourite but silly this day in history themes.

Their biggest problem is its delivery - whoever they have hired has an idea of what to deliver that will be interesting to the broadest demographic, If you're a history buff or looking for stories that are not the norm, this tweet feed is not for you.

Outstanding tweet: Are the Great Lakes Connected?

Medievalist  A+

These guys go to the head of the class. I like history and it's clear that they do too. They update a lot, they link to other people's work and pages, they try to find new and interesting historical developments...what's not to love? They are short on tweeting pics but that can be forgiven by the solid content and great information you get from them.

Outstanding tweet : Sex and scandal in Medieval Ireland! You tube video as well

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Going Home: World War I Solidiers Identified

First off, much thanks to you all for reading my little blog. I finally have about ten of you reading it on a daily basis, and that's really nice. I just love history so I'm glad to share some of this love with you.

Now, enough of the mushy stuff...oh actually there is more. Get your Kleenex out.

Sidney Halliday
Sidney Halliday

Good news from the field of muck. No, not the much-embattled CBC, but their report on the identification of soldiers from WWI from the mud of France. The remains of a unknown soldier have now been identified as Canadian Pte. Sidney Halliday. The Department of National Defence (DND)announced today that they had identified Halliday's remains. His remains was one of eight discovered together in France in 2006. DND revealed the identities of four others September 27.

The feel good part is how he was identified.  His sweetheart Lizzie gave him a locket with her hair. He carried that all though the war and it remained on his body when he was killed by a bullet to the head in 1918. When they found the locket, they could see her name etched on it.  Thanks to meticulously written war records, Sidney's records indicate that he had left most of his meagre wealth to his mother but at some point had asked for a change to be made. He asked that $10 go to Lizzie Walmsley of Winnipeg. The researches put all of it together and realized that these were the remains of Sidney.

How'd he get there?


Tim Cook write in Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting The Great War 1917-1918 about the Battle of Amiens, where Haillday died. It began before dawn on Aug. 8, 1918.That offensive included four Canadian divisions and the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. Canadian troops would be the spearhead of the attack.There were 300,000 Allied troops in total, a third of them Canadian. The Allies also had "the largest tank force ever assembled to that point in history," he writes. Cook also says that on Aug. 11, near the eastern edge of the battle, infantrymen in Canada's 78th Battalion found themselves surrounded as they tried to hold on to the village of Hallu. 100 men were killed or went missing that day. These men were unknown and were buried there where they fell. 
Hallu, France today. Yeah war has a funny way of destroying everything

How did they do this after he and his fellow soldiers were in the dirt for 96 years?


First thing is someone has to find them. France is littered with the bits and bones of the dead from two world wars. A teenager in this case, Fabien Demeusere, was poking around in his backyard which use to be the town of  Hallu for military belts and other items. Surprise: He found their bodies instead. I imagine he pooped his pants at finding some dead guy's skull in his yard.

He did the right thing and called the police and government, They realized these were probably Canadians and called the Department of National Defence. The task of identifying the remains fell to Casualty Identification Coordinator, Laurel Clegg. Using official war records that contained ages and heights of the missing, Laurel was able to narrow down the possibilities. Genealogist Janet Roy helped find descendants of the missing men from the 78th. DNA was used to positively identify five of the eight: Lieutenant Clifford Neelands and Privates Lachlan McKinnon, William Simms, Sgt. John Lindell, and now Halliday.

 For more on the men of his regiment, I suggest the documentary Forgotten No More, The Lost Men of the 78th, which will be broadcast on CBC on November 7th.

Why you should give a toss?


I always like to give a reason why you should give a shit about a 96 year old dead guy. For one, the amazing work of the team at DND should be recognized and celebrated. No way was this easy to do as they crawled through documents and details for the last six years.

Also he's just not a name - Halliday was a human being who died from a gun shot to the head in a stupid war. He had dreams, friends, a girlfriend, family who missed him and never got to bury a body. His surviving nephew Jim Halliday said to the CBC:
"I guess it makes you feel as if he just passed away, instead of all those many years's a strange feeling. It's one you can't really explain all that well, brought some sense of closure, as they say."
And maybe when we honour all our dead, we find maybe we think long and hard if we want to add to the list of our war dead with our modern wars and military actions.