Saturday, 17 December 2011

Books I am reading now

A few weeks ago I was reading the Globe & Mail, dubbed Canada's National Newspaper and Jeffrey Simpson whose column I have been reading for years, I wonder how old he is, I do like his column a lot. He recently recommended a new book which has been published on the War of 1812, titled the Civil War of 1812. This war will be commemorated in 2012 by the Canadian Government as will be the Diamond Jubilee of our Sovereign.
A monument to the war's bicentennial is under construction in Ottawa, but no one seems to know where exactly. I think I may have glimpsed at it today by accident at the corner of the Western Parkway and Wellington street just below Parliament. I saw what looks like the new footing of a great monument, but I digress.  What I wonder is, will the government also build a monument to the Queen on the anniversary of her 60th year as monarch. She already has an equestrian monument on Parliament hill on her favourite horse Burmese (1962-1990), a gift of the RCMP.
H.M. the Queen riding Burmese

All this to say that Jeffrey Simpson in his column suggested that we should not commemorate the war of 1812 between Canada and the USA. It was according the author of the book Charles Taylor, more of a civil war between the same people, than a war between two nations. The book is full of very interesting facts, unknown to me. One in particular made me laugh, the White House sent an express messenger to Canada to warn us that war had been declared, so General Sir Isaac Brock had several hours head start on the US Authorities at the border who had no idea that they were at war with Canada. Brock took advantage of it. The book also shows that US politics was not much different then as it is today. The Republicans were against taxes of any kind. The Federalist were very friendly to Canada and willing to see  things our way. Many of the great American heroes were nothing more than greedy businessmen and rapacious landowners, the 1% of their time. The USA was not well established as a Republic and it would take at least until 1867 or after the Civil War to firm up in the population the idea of republicanism and nationhood.

The other two books are on our first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald (1815-1891) born in Glasgow, Scotland, he move with his parents to Kingston, Ontario at the age of 5. Richard Gwyn has done a marvellous job of bringing the man to life in a very personal way, showing him as a human being with his frailties and not just as a politician. Macdonald was certainly a man of vision, who united the Nation, built the transcontinental railway, created the first national political party. He became Prime Minister at a time when Britain was no longer much interested in Canada, preferring India and openly suggesting that we might want to join the USA, it was an uncertain time, even our border with the USA was not clearly established, we had far more land to the south of the 49th parallel. It was a time when Macdonald had the vision of us as a distinct people, as Canadians different from the Americans. He was a Scot by birth but an immigrant by choice who believed in the possibility of his new country Canada. His vision, to secure land, the North West ( a.k.a. Western Canada), owned by the Hudson Bay Company and to build a railway to cement the national bond. He also had clear plans on governing, he created the RCMP, ensuring that our history would be different from the Americans. His vision was that of a country based on law, order and good government, settlement of the western provinces to the Pacific ocean would be done by the government in Ottawa and not as in the US model by whoever happened to be going westward. He also decreed by Order In Council that the Government of Canada would use British English spelling in all its documents and this is what we do to this day.
Sir John A. Macdonald as First Officer of the Privy Council of Her Majesty in Canada. This picture is a favourite of mine and hangs in the Foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa.

 Certainly Sir John ranks amongst the great Nation builder of the 19th Century, men like Disraeli, Garibaldi,  Bolivar and Bismarck. It is most amazing that a man who suffered so many personal tragedies, his first wife died young, his first son died in infancy, his second son Hugh John was distant from him, and though his second marriage was a happy one, his daughter Mary was born an invalid, he love that child and 30,000 letters survive full of gentle and funny words for his dear daughter. His strenght of character allowed him to rise above it all, in other words he took the high road and who we are today as a country is thanks to him. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Canada.

Sir John A. Macdonald as a young man 1842.

Earnscliffe, the home of Sir John on Sussex Drive in Ottawa, it is the Residence of the British High Commissioner since 1930. He died there in his study in 1891.


  1. the war of 1812 was overall a bungle and an embarassment. Do let's forget it.