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Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

[MUSIC] Susan Agkulark, “O Siem”

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The first live music concert I attended was a 1995 show in Charlottetown put on by Inuk musician Susan Aglukark, touring Canada in the wake of the success of her hit and signature song “O Siem”. “O Siem” is still as lovely as I remember it.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 25, 2017 at 11:59 pm

[URBAN NOTE] Five links about Toronto neighbourhoods, past and present and future

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  • Metro Toronto‘s David Hains reports on a new interactive map of Trinity-Bellwoods Park designed to help users find other people in that large complex space.
  • You’ll never have to spend 20 minutes trying to find your friend in Trinity-Bellwoods Park again.

    New York-based cartographer (and former Toronto Star employee) William Davis loves Toronto, and so he knows this is one of the city’s great summer frustrations. It’s because of the geographically complicated, but very popular park, that he and Tom Weatherburn made an interactive map for Torontonians to share their location.

    All users need to do is drag and drop a “here” pin on a map of the park. It can be accessed for free at the MapTO website, a personal project with Weatherburn that features quirky and interesting maps on a variety of city subjects.

    The Trinity-Bellwoods map is overlaid with easy-to-read icons, including a dog at the dog bowl, a baseball at the baseball diamond, and beer mugs where people like to hang out.

  • The Toronto Star‘s Jennifer Pagliaro describes the catastrophic state of repair of far too many of the houses of Toronto Community Housing.
  • Half of Toronto Community Housing developments will be in “critical” condition in the next five years without additional funding for repairs, according to an internal database provided to the Star.

    Already, the data shows more than 30 social-housing properties are in serious disrepair. Of 364 developments — which include houses and groupings of low-rise buildings and towers — 222 developments are ranked in “poor” condition, with dozens edging on critical condition, based on a standard ranking used by the housing corporation.

    Those critical sites are homes for more than 3,000 individuals and families.

    The data shows a pervasive problem at a time when the city is grappling with how to keep thousands of units open with a $1.73-billion funding gap.

    Of the 364 developments, more than 100 were offloaded onto the city by the province more than a decade and a half ago without money needed to cover the repairs. Of the buildings in the critical and poor categories, more than a third were downloaded by the province.

  • Back in August, Yasmine Laarsroui wrote for Torontoist about the potential for the housing co-op model to help solve the Toronto housing crisis.
  • Those affected by the lack of rent controls left young professionals, like reporter Shannon Martin, with no option but to turn to more extreme alternatives, such as couch-surfing.

    Young people seeking more reliable housing options are turning to co-op housing—at least, those lucky enough to get a unit.

    Toronto renter Donald Robert moved into Cabbagetown’s Diane Frankling Co-operative Homes in September 2016 and speaks highly of his experience.

    Robert pays $1,300 for a large two-bedroom unit with access to an underground parking and a small gym, almost $500 cheaper than the average one-bedroom unit in Toronto. Robert explains that, “the best part though has been the community here. Everybody says ‘hi.’”

  • Also back in April, John Lorinc wrote in Spacing about the oft-overlooked musicality of the lost neighbourhood of The Ward.
  • If you try to imagine your way back into the early 20th century streets and laneways of The Ward — the dense immigrant enclave razed to make way for Toronto’s City Hall — you might pick up the sounds of newsies and peddlers hawking their wares, the clanging of the area’s junk and lumber yards, and shrieking children playing on the Elizabeth Street playground north of Dundas.

    Those streets would also reverberate day and night with a jumble of languages — Italian, Yiddish, Chinese. The dialects and accents of these newcomers were considered to be not only “foreign,” but also proof (to the keepers of Toronto’s Anglo-Saxon morality) of the area’s worrisome social and physical failings.

    But despite the fact that many mainstream Torontonians saw The Ward as an impoverished blight on the face of the city, the neighbourhood resonated with energy and culture and music — evidence of the resilience of the stigmatized newcomers who settled there in waves from the late 19th century onward.

    Photographers recorded fiddle players and organ grinders with their hurdy gurdies, playing as mesmerized children listened. After their shifts ended, one 1914 account noted, labourers whiled away their free times playing mandolins or concertinas as they sang rags and the Neapolitan songs so popular at the time.

    “When sleep in crowded rooms seems all but impossible,” journalist Emily Weaver observed in The Globe and Mail in 1910, “the people of ‘The Ward’ are astir till all hours, and the Italians amuse themselves by singing in their rich sweet voices the songs of their far-away homelands or dancing their native dances to the music of a mandolin or guitar in the open roadway beneath the stars.”

  • The Toronto Star‘s Azzura Lalani describes how the rapid growth of young families in Leslieville threatens to overload local schools. What will the Downtown Relief Line do?
  • As the mother of a 16-month-old boy, Michelle Usprech is looking to leave the Financial District where it’s just “suits and suits and suits,” for a more family friendly vibe, and she’s got her eye on Leslieville.

    But one of Toronto’s most family-friendly neighbourhoods may be a victim of its own success as signs from the Toronto District School Board have cropped up, warning parents in Leslieville their children may not be able to attend their local school because of possible overcrowding, school board spokesperson Ryan Bird confirmed.

    Those signs warn that “due to residential growth, sufficient accommodation may not be available for all students,” despite the school board making “every effort to accommodate students at local schools.”

    [. . .]

    It’s a concern for some parents, including Kerry Sharpe, who lives in Leslieville and has a four-month-old daughter named Eisla.

    “It’s still early days for me,” she said, but, “it is a concern. Even daycare, that’s hard to get into, so I don’t see it getting any better.”

    [AH] What if French Canada survived past 1763?

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    Detail, The Death of General Wolfe (1770)

    Early in January, before my trip to Montréal, I went to the Royal Ontario Museum where I saw–among other things–the museum’s copy of Benjamin Wolfe’s painting The Death of General Wolfe. This famous tableau’s depiction of the death of James Wolfe, the commander of the victorious British forces in 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham that saw the fall of French Canada and the end of New France but who barely lived to see the end of the battle himself, is literally iconic. This moment marks the end of one empire and the expansion of another.

    Was the end of New France inevitable? Quite a few fans of alternate history suggest that it was. In perhaps the classic few, the value of France to colonize its North American territories nearly as thoroughly as England (and later the United Kingdom) did theirs ensured that, ultimately, New France would be overwhelmed by the colonists. Some even go so far as to argue that New France was a failing colony, that the failure to expand French colonization much beyond the Saint Lawrence valley demonstrates a fundamental lack of French interest. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham was irrelevant.

    I’m not sure that I buy this. Conceivably there could have been more French settlement in New France, perhaps with a bigger push under Louis XIV, but it isn’t clear to me that France in America was a failure. New France’s economy was built substantially on trade with indigenous peoples and not on (for instance) the plantation colony of many British colonies, making increased French settlement irrelevant at best and potentially harmful at worst. As it was, French Canada was actually a dynamic society, the St. Lawrence valley becoming home of a colonial offshoot of France with outposts stretching far west into the basin of the Great Lakes and, not incidentally, managing to hold off conquest by the British for nearly a century and a half. New France was not nearly as populous as the Thirteen Colonies, but that no more proves that New France was a failure than (say) the fact that Spain’s Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata was less populous than Portuguese Brazil means that the Spanish colony was a failure. At most, there was underexploited potential. If French Canada has since largely contracted to the frontiers of modern Québec, it is because successive British administrations have taken care to hem it in.

    Had the Battle of the Plains of Abraham gone even slightly differently, there could have been a French victory. The end of the Seven Years War could have seen the French flag continue to fly in Canada. Even if Canada had fallen, that it would be kept by Britain was by no means preordained: Had Britain preferred to keep the valuable French sugar island of Guadeloupe, or had the French government different priorities, Canada might have been restored to France in the peace.

    What would this surviving French Canada have been like?

    It’s certainly possible that a continued French presence in Canada would have helped discourage the Thirteen Colonies from rebelling against the British Empire, especially if it was perceived as a threat. It’s not clear to me that this would automatically be the case, especially if New France had been weakened in the conflict, demilitarized and/or territorially diminished. Perhaps, in this timeline, the Americans might revolt against Britain in anger that their interests were neglected in the settlement of the final peace. We might not see a conflict like the War of American Independence, but then again we might. If this war, or another great power Anglo-French war does come about, then France will face the same cascade of dysfunctional public financies than in our history triggered the revolution.

    What will become of Canada in all this? I can imagine that it might, or might not, receive more attention from France. I suppose that, if history runs along the lines we are familiar with up to the French Revolution, Canada might be in an interesting position versus the metropole. (A French kingdom in exile?) It is imaginable that a populous French Canada might stay French, especially if the Americans are allies and Britain has interest elsewhere. The case can be made that French Canada could survive, within borders not wildly different from that of modern Canada, into the 19th century.

    Here, I’m stymied. It is not easy to imagine the development of French Canada as a French territory for the simple reason that France had no colonies of settlement like (for instance) Britain had Canada. French Algeria eventually became a destination for European immigration, but most of these immigrants came from elsewhere in the western Mediterranean (Spain and Italy particularly) and they arrived in a territory that never stopped being overwhelmingly Arab-Berber and Muslim in nature. New Caledonia, in the South Pacific, also received substantial numbers of settlers relative to the native population, but the absolute numbers were low. There is no close parallel, not in the second French colonial empire, to a colony like Canada, a vast semi-continent with a substantial population mostly descended from French colonists.

    I do think France could certainly colonize Canada as thoroughly as Britain later did, especially if France enjoys stability and peace. Franco-Canadian relations were broken by the Conquest and only began to pick up again a century later, as the French became dimly aware that the Canadiens survived. In a timeline where the relationship between France and Canada was never disrupted, Franco-Canadian relations would be far more intense. Trade and investment flows aside, we might see well see substantial amounts of French immigration to a prosperous Canada, and more immigrants coming from outside France, just as in the case of Algeria. The details depend critically on the borders of this Canada and its relationship to its neighbours, but I see no reason why French Canada could not be successful.

    Even if–a big if–French history remains largely unchanged up to the mid-19th century, the existence of a large, populous, and growing French Canada will eventually change the French polity rapidly. How will the millions of Canadiens be represented in French political life? A populous American branch of the French empire will have very substantial consequences.

    What do you think?

    Written by Randy McDonald

    May 16, 2017 at 11:59 pm

    [LINK] The National Post on the Patriote flag

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    The National Post has a feature from Graeme Hamilton noting the controversy associated in Québec with the flag of the Patriote rebels of 1837.

    On May 22, as the rest of Canada celebrates Victoria Day, Quebecers will get a day off in honour of les Patriotes, the 19th-century rebels who fought to bring responsible government to what is now Quebec. It’s no surprise that the mostly French-speaking province isn’t terribly keen on paying tribute to a long-dead British monarch, and such Patriote leaders as Louis-Joseph Papineau, Jean-Olivier Chénier and Wolfred Nelson are worthy of celebration. Yet last week, Quebec’s Liberal government angered nationalists by blocking a proposal to have the Patriote flag fly above the legislature in Quebec City.

    Q: Who were the Patriotes?

    Charles Alexander Smith via Wikipedia
    Charles Alexander Smith via Wikipedia”Assemblée des six-comtés”, a painting depicting the Assembly of the Six Counties, held in Saint-Charles, Lower Canada on October 23 and October 24, 1837
    A: The Patriotes was the name given to Papineau’s Parti canadien and the popular movement he and others inspired to rise up against British colonial rule in 1837-38. “The primarily francophone party, led mainly by members of the liberal professions and small-scale merchants, was widely supported by farmers, day-labourers and craftsmen,” the Canadian Encyclopedia says. They advocated democracy and the right to self-government, but at the same time they were in no hurry to get rid of the seigneurial system. After the rebellion was crushed, many participants were imprisoned, exiled or hung.

    Q: What is the Patriote flag?

    A: The flag was introduced in 1832 by Papineau’s political party and was carried at political speeches and into battle during the rebellion. It is a simple design consisting of three horizontal bars, green, white and red from top to bottom. The flag was seen by the Montreal aristocracy as a revolutionary symbol, and in 1837 the Montreal Herald wrote urging people to destroy it. Some early versions also featured a beaver, a maple leaf or a maskinonge fish. Today, the flag often has the profile of a musket-toting, toque-wearing, pipe-smoking rebel superimposed in the centre.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    May 16, 2017 at 11:29 pm

    ‘Revolted’ Quebecers turn on Bombardier, once the jewel of province’s economy

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    The National Post‘s Graeme Hamilton suggests that backlash to loans made to Bombardier by the Canadian and Québec governments has badly hurt a company that was once a prize.

    In recognition of the lingering stench left by generous raises recently awarded Bombardier executives, protesters outside the company’s annual general meeting Thursday chose a theme: feces.

    There were turd balloon sculptures, turd placards, a turd costume and novelty eyeglasses that made their wearer appear to have a turd on his head. Inside the jet hangar where the meeting was held, the atmosphere was less vulgar, but executives were clearly on the defensive.

    The nearly 50-per-cent raises for top Bombardier executives, first made public in March and later deferred in part after a public outcry, were in line with executive compensation at comparable large companies, Jean Monty, chairman of Bombardier’s compensation committee told the meeting. On the large screen behind him, it was spelled out that big paydays are required to “attract the best talent” and “retain talent.”

    But try as Bombardier’s management might, they could not polish what has long been considered a jewel of the Quebec economy but is now increasingly an object of scorn.

    Karl Moore, an associate professor at McGill University’s business school who attended the shareholder meeting as an observer, said the provincial and federal government investments and loans that pulled the company back from the brink last year have changed public attitudes in the province toward the company.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    May 16, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    Posted in Canada, Economics

    Tagged with , , , ,

    [URBAN NOTE] “How do Toronto’s light rail vehicles compare? It’s Bombardier versus Alstom”

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    The Toronto Star‘s Ben Spurr looks at how the new streetcars the TTC is contracting to buy with Alstom with compared with Bombardier’s oft-promised ones, and the consequences.

    After a protracted dispute with Bombardier about delays to its light rail vehicle order for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, Metrolinx has taken the drastic step of placing an order for cars with another company.

    Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca announced Friday that Metrolinx, which is the provincial agency in charge of transit planning for the GTHA, has inked a deal to buy 61 vehicles from the French firm Alstom at a cost of $528 million.

    The transit agency hasn’t cancelled its $770-million purchase from Bombardier, which as a result of a lawsuit brought by the manufacturer is now tied up in a dispute resolution process. But Del Duca said allowing both purchases to go ahead simultaneously would provide Metrolinx with a backup fleet that guarantees it will have enough vehicles to open the Crosstown line by 2021.

    Del Duca called it “a creative and prudent approach to dealing with a less than ideal situation.”

    Bombardier maintains that Metrolinx had no need to seek another supplier, and says it will be able to supply all 182 cars the agency ordered in 2010, 76 of which would run on the Crosstown line.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    May 16, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    [LINK] “Get ready for a Canadian Arctic research boom”

    Meagan Campbell of MacLean’s examines how the Canadian Arctic is on the verge of a boom in scientific exploration.

    “The first moment, you don’t even believe it.” Jonathan O’Neil, a geologist at the University of Ottawa, is referring to his research team’s recent discovery of evidence that the oldest known life on Earth may, in fact, be embedded in rocks in Quebec’s far north. “You say, ‘That can’t be.’ So you reanalyze it, and you get the same result. You redo it again, again, again, and you come back with the same results, and you start to believe it.”

    The breakthrough, which gained international attention when it was published in the journal Nature in early March, could be one of many discoveries soon to come from the Canadian Arctic. Opening this summer in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, is the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS), a Plexiglas, quarter-billion-dollar wonder of the northern world. Firs announced in 2007 under Stephen Harper, the station has so far attracted 200 research applicants from countries as far afield as Argentina, South Korea and Australia, all hoping to explore what lies beneath the tundra.

    “They’re lining up at the door,” says David Scott, president of Polar Knowledge Canada, the government agency overseeing the project. “Growth chambers” for cultivating specimens, wet labs with cranes for lifting mammals, a dive centre for filling scuba tanks, triplexes for housing researchers—the station cost eight times more to erect than the Perimeter Institute, a science hub in Waterloo, Ont. One popular research area will be geology, as the Arctic holds rock formations rich with information about climate change and, in the case of the Hudson Bay area where O’Neil did his research, the history of life on Earth. O’Neil dated the fossils of ancient bacteria at 4.3 billion years old (although skeptics say they don’t look a day over three billion), suggesting that life existed before the planet had oxygen or oceans, and that life could just as easily have started in other barren parts of the universe.

    Aside from prompting research, CHARS is a chance for Canada to stake its claim to the Arctic. The station is opening in a year when the Arctic Council, which negotiates land rights between eight Arctic countries, is looking for a new chair—the United States will step down in May after holding the position for two years. It also comes just before Canada submits a claim for the Arctic continental shelf in 2018 (competing with Russian and Danish claims). While the Canadian Forces have already boosted their presence with exercises in Nunavut including at Alert, the government will emphasize that “We the North” by opening the all-inclusive station for nerds.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    March 5, 2017 at 9:00 pm