Friday, March 25, 2011

Review - Frances Swyripa - Storied Landscapes

Frances Swyripa's Storied Landscapes: Ethno-Religious Identity and the Canadian Prairies (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2010), examines memory, meaning, and identity in a broad range of European immigrant groups. A series of connections frames the work, which link immigrant groups to other Canadian westerners, Canada as a whole, the mother country and the diaspora. At times these various "imagined communities" could be "overlapping....incompatible and competing." (8) For Swyripa, Ethno-religious identity is a major theme in Canadian regionalism which varies with each group's experience.  In tracing the history of heritage, Swyripa notes, "the landscapes are both physical places and places of the mind, the stories the multilayered, sometimes contested narratives and material legacies that immigrant settler peoples mobilized in shaping and claiming those places. "
      The attachment to the land and the manner in which it was ordered to gain meaning is an important theme in Storied Landscapes. Immigrant groups that arrived en masse are shown to often invoke the location of arrival as an important place. An interesting aspect of this relationship to the land is described in Ukrainian "cultural conditioning", which could affect selection of homesteads. Life on the steppe had taught that where there were trees there was fertile soil and firewood, yet in the prairie context this land demanded great labour to clear. Many homesteads were chosen in the infertile Interlake region of Manitoba. (43)
Sacred and secular symbols could be appropriated to bond ethnic groups. Numerous types of places served as artifacts which bound ethno-religious groups in a common identity. Communal pilgrimages to shrines could bolster faith, "but also reaffirmed the ethnic community in its primal connection to a specific place and its history." (66) Cemeteries also "helped create psychological and physical bonds to the new country". Founding fathers and arrival places were often a powerful secular symbol for those groups whose history featured a mass immigration.
Swyripa Lecturing at UofA. CIUS.
      Swyripa also examines the relationship between immigrant groups and other Canadian westerners. At times this is portrayed as a minority hoping to shape its own way of life within a society dominated by the majority. In other cases, the immigrant pioneer is integrated into the greater national narrative of western settlement. On the regional level, the prevalent use of the symbol of wheat and the grain elevator, (on tombstones, municipal logos, and public sculptures), linked the group to the specific lived experience of the prairie and "erased ethno-religious boundaries." (183) Wheat's history as a Christian symbol of "fruitfulness, the staff of life, or...the body of Christ", helped cross the divide between sacred and secular identity. Swyripa also notes conversely, the greater group can at times appropriate the symbols and myths of ethno-religious identity. Originally exclusive and Anglo-Canadian, by the 1930s, "the “old West” relished its diversity, proudly proclaiming cultural pluralism one of the defining features of the regional society." (22)
CPR Poster in Ukrainian, 1910-1930, GA.
      Swyripa treads wide expanses opening questions for others to explore. Canada's long-running discourse on peasants is one such theme.  Swyripa notes that Clifford Sifton's late nineteenth-century immigration policy recruited the eastern-European workers of the soil.  How was this notion related to earlier considerations of the Indian Department's Hayter Reed and the peasant farming model which brought severalty to the reserves in the late 1880s? How did later stories about European peasants in memory interact within the larger group's conception of the yeoman pioneer? The relationship between these prairie newcomers and the greater western region are addressed in brief, but a more in-depth consideration of how the experience of these newcomers interacted within western alienation, the rise of Social Credit and the C.C.F., and broader historical changes awaits another book. As a work in the booming field of historical memory which examines the similarities and differences of identity-creation across a range of ethno-religious groups, Swyripa's work is to be recommended.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shawn Cafferky and Oral History

Shawn Cafferky.  FB photo.
Prior to the latest edition of Canadian Military History, I hadn't thought about Dr. Shawn Cafferky for a while.  I first received the news of his untimely death in 2008, through an email from the University of Victoria's Dr. David Zimmerman.  I had been Dr. Cafferky's student in his inspirational Oral History and Veterans class, and through this experience was inspired to pursue a Masters degree in Second World War military history.  There was something fascinating in the interviews in UVic's Special Collections on Second World War armoured operations.  Despite the inherent problems in the recollection of military memories, I was converted to a disciple of oral history.

It was hard not to get caught up in Cafferky's enthusiasm for his subject.  He had an easy-going manner which encouraged participation in seminar, in the hallways of the history department, or occasionally at the pub.  Cafferky's connections with the Vancouver Island branch of the Royal United Services Institute, allowed his students to have unprecedented access to retired members of the Canadian Forces.  In retrospect, it was incredible that Major-Generals were inviting mere undergraduates into their homes to conduct interviews on their military careers.

It was in Cafferky's course that I learned that doing history could be more than the time-honoured tradition of desk-bound academia.  Here was human history, with all its inherent problems of abrasive personality, selective memory, and interpreted experience.  Historians turn a skeptical eye towards the personal testimony of oral history, so often recorded long after the events in question.  For my own part, I consider oral history as another welcome source, to be scrutinized by the historian with due consideration for the nature of the oral medium.

Cafferky's article  "Battle Honours Won", published posthumously in the Summer 2010 edition of Canadian Military History, examines the British escort aircraft carrier HMS Nabob, which after the fall of 1943 was captained by Horatio Nelson Lay of the Royal Canadian Navy, and staffed by a mixture of Canadian and British Soldiers.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Culling of the Melfa

John Mahony VC
The Battle of the Melfa Crossing of 24 May 1944, was a hard-fought action of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, during the exploitation of the 1 Canadian Infantry Division's rupture of the Hitler Line.  In this legendary river-crossing, the reconnaissance troop of the Lord Strathcona's Horse and a small group of infantry from the Westminster Motorized Regiment scraped out a small bridgehead and sustained several armoured counterattacks which failed to eject the force.  The most publicized hero of the battle, Major J.K. Mahony, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery.

A lesser known member of this force, was the twenty-three year-old Private, John William Culling of Bluffton, Alberta, an infantryman of the Westminster Regiment.  Culling's actions on that day, single-handedly destroying a German Self-Propelled 88mm gun.  Culling's platoon had been the first across the Melfa.  Before they were done frantically digging their slit trenches, German tanks and self-propelled guns appeared and began opening fire.
L/Cpl J.A. Thrasher, Westminster Regiment and the Self-Propelled 88mm he knocked out with a PIAT, near Pontecorvo.
Culling slid into his thinly scraped slit-trench and awaited his fate.  Moments later a self-propelled 88mm gun rumbled next to the Private, and its commander appeared, attempting to assess the chaotic situation.  A proposed press release reported his subsequent actions:

"Culling grasped this heaven sent opportunity and his Bren gun.  First he wiped out the commander with the Bren then tossed a grenade into the open top of the vehicle, killing the driver.  Two more of the crew were shot with the Bren and the remainder called it a day and surrendered."

Melfa River Crossings Lawren Harris. CWM
Curiously, accounts gleaned from the Maple Leaf, Mark Zuehlke and Daniel Dancocks slightly alter the Culling story as recorded in the pre-press report for the unit war diary.  For Dancocks, Culling is from Swift Current, Saskatchewan, and never wields a Bren gun, but kills the crew commander with a grenade.  John Grodinksi in his essay in More Fighting For Canada has another variation of the circumstance adding that Culling tosses two grenades and kills the rest of the fleeing crew with his rifle.

A modern account in the Maple Leaf puts the story as such:

"The tank commander opens his hatch and starts to climb out, and Pte Culling throws a grenade, killing the officer and getting the attention of the gunner, who swivels the turret toward his slit trench. Pte Culling takes another grenade, pulls the pin and tosses it at the hatch, where it rolls around like a basketball on the hoop before dropping in."

Here we have a tank, not a self-propelled gun, not to mention the slightly different circumstance of Culling's feat.  One is left wondering, whether the war correspondent's initial account, or that gleaned from later personal testimony is legitimate.  Then again, perhaps such analysis is merely nitpicking.  Culling dispatched an armoured vehicle that day in a hard pressed situation, with a well-placed grenade. It is clear that he deserves the Military Medal that was awarded to him for the action.

5th Canadian Armoured Brigade War Diary. Appendix 5.  3 Jun 1944
Daniel Dancocks, The D-Day Dodgers, 268.
Maple Leaf War Time Story

Friday, March 18, 2011

Italian Campaign War Diary Snippets


R.T. Currelly, "Report on Operations of 12 CAR (TRR) for the period 1 Apr to 6 May 44...", 1 Canadian Field Historical Section, Directorate of History and Heritage, 31 July 1944, 4.

"Cassino was like a ghost town. It is completly demolished. The jagged remains of the house walls stand up stark and white like bleached bones in a desert and there is not a tree or a bush that is still alive. At night the enemy would emit weird bloodcurdling cries like the call of wild animals. The eerie silence which normally prevailed was periodically shattered by the scream and crash of an incoming salvo of shells. The whole atmosphere was most death-like, and was by no means improved by the pervading stench of rotting corpses in the rubble of the shattered buildings."


6 British Armoured Division, 1 June 1944

From captured document of 1 German Parachute Division written by General Heidrich.

"(a) Elimination of the word "catastrophe". In accordance with the directive of the Ministry of Popular Enlightenment the word "catastrophe" is to be eradicated from general usage. The word "catastrophe" will be replaced by the phrase "circumstance of great peril" and the phrase "catastrophic action" by the phrase "air-raid action".

4th British Division, 25 June 1944

"3. Manners Makyth Man
It has come to light that one of our patrols located a German position yesterday by a singular chance. The patrol was passing along a track when a rude and quite unmistakable sound was heard. On stealthy investigation, a German was found, and when he endeavoured to warn his comrades, was shot at point-blank range. Had he been able to restrain his bestial impulse, he might be living."


Kensingtons Regimental News, May 1944
"A.T.S. girls are now warned to look before they Jeep and so avoid being Yanked into maternity."


138th Field Regiment RA War Diary 20th May 1944

"A lull in the fighting. Three objects for the day: 1. To kill Boche; 2. to calibrate the guns in order to kill Boche in the future; 3. to kill more Boche."


75th Heavy Field Regiment RA War Diary

2 May 1944
"At 0830 hrs O.P. on M. Trocchio reported Swastika Flag flying on top of Hangman's Hill (pt 435). After Airburst practice by 504 Bty at 1230 hrs an ambulance was observed proceeding to tgt area."

17 May 1944
"At 1020 a report was recieved that the enemy in the Monastery had put up the white flag but subsequently fired on the Polish Infantry. The Poles said they would take no more prisoners."

17th Heavy Field Regiment RA War Diary
12 May 1944

2306hrs "Barrage reported to have shaken a bottle of beer off the table in 228 Bty Comand Post - broken."

66th Medium Field Regiment RA War Diary
15th May 1944

- 1045hrs "B.O.P reports 'enemy recce cavalry in our area. Am prepared to use own armament if necessary' later reported to be 2 enemy on mules who gave themselves up."

17th Medium Field Regiment RA War Diary
17th May 1944

1230hrs "Corps artillery fired on MONASTERY - still in German hands - enemy had shown white flag and then machine gunned, Polish infantry as they emerged form cover. Incidient reported of wounded paratrooper stabbing Polish medical orderly in an A.D.S as he tended another casualty."


259th Field Company Royal Engineers War Diary

1430hrs "O.C., Lt Price to recce bridge site. They swam the river and recced far approach without any trouble, which they were not in a position to combat anyway, having no clothes."
German Propaganda Leaflets
Roosevelt the Reaper

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Coronation of George V and the Naming of Central Albertan Towns

A: Veteran, Alberta
The arbitrary nature of the names of numerous prairie towns is a topic considered here before.  The Canadian Pacific Railway could choose the names it liked for its stations, and the subsequent names of the towns that sprung up around its communications hubs seldom altered these epithets.  A series of towns in central Alberta display a patriotic impulse behind the naming of some stations.  The coronation of George V in 1911 was the occasion seized for the names of: Throne; Veteran; Loyalist; Consort; and Coronation.
George V Coronation PostCard. Nova Scotia Archives.

Frances Swyringa, in the work Storied Landscapes: Ethno-Religious Identity and the Canadian Prairies (2010) notes that a handful of Manitoba settlements also found British inspiration for drawing their names.  Baden, Powell and Mafeking were all named in honour of that famous Imperial officer, and the site of his great victory in the Boer War.  In the Siege of Mafeking, Robert Baden-Powell used a number of young boys to send messages and fulfill other non-combat roles, which would later lend inspiration to the scouting movement.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Christianity and Remembrance Day Ceremonies

Jonathan Vance's Death so Noble: Memory Meaning and the First World War (1997) exposes justification as the dominant theme of Canadian remembrance.  Canadians needed to tell themselves a positive story about the Great War that explained the passing of 60,000 brothers, sons, fathers and husbands.  Far from a myth implemented from the ruling elite, common Canadians created a story about the Great War which ordered the chaos of war.  In doing so, many Canadians drew on the Christian symbols to turn tragedy to triumph.

The remembrance day ceremony is one inheritance from this period which still remains in twenty-first-century Canada.  Remembrance day is one of the few public gatherings in which the greater community shares a moment of solemnity.  The moment of silence is central to this ceremony, but few observers realize its underlying Christian meaning.

McKenzie King laying wreath on Parliament Hill, 1937. NAC.
When interwar Canadians sought to understand the sacrifice of their nation's citizen-soldiers, they increasingly turned to the metaphor of Christ.  The soldier, like Christ, was an ordinary man who offered his life for civilization.  In remembrance day ceremonies we insure that fallen soldiers too are immortal.  As Kipling put it,  "Their name liveth for evermore."

RCAF Buglers sound Last Post, Calgary 1953. GA.

The playing of the last post originated in the seventeenth century and was played to announce the end of the day. In today's ceremony it is used to symbolize the death of the soldier, or in our religious metaphor, Christ.  The moment of silence is both a time to reflect upon the dead, and a symbol of Christ's time in the grave.  The moment of silence is broken by Reveille, the traditional announcement of day-break and time to awake for troops.  Here is Christ's resurrection, and our soldier's rise to eternal memory.

Vance, Jonathan. Death so Noble : Memory, Meaning, and the First World War. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997.[Page 49 for the information on Christian metaphor and Remembrance Day Music]

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Brews not Bullets: Labatt 50 in Korea

A recent spat between Molson and Labatt's brewerys over the right to be the official beer of the NHL is now going to the courts.  It seems that Labatt's longer relationship with the Canadian Forces remains intact.  Product placement is a common enough practice in contemporary media, but during the Korean War, Labatt's brewery went to great lengths to promote their new brand of beer commemorating the 50th anniversary of the company.  John Labatt personally delivered 3,440 cases of  Labatt 50 to troops in Korea.  This favour was apparently appreciated, as the 57th Field Squadron of Royal Canadian Engineers dubbed a bridge they built the "The John Labatt 50th Anniversary Bridge."

RCR Soldier enjoys a beer in Korea. NAC.

Labatt continues this tradition of sending beer to Canada's soldiers, sending thousands of cans of Keiths, Blue, and Kokanee to the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan.

Heron, Craig. Booze : A Distilled History. Toronto Ont.: Between the Lines, 2003.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sean Mills Podcast on the Empire Within

I have already posted my own two cents on Sean Mills' The Empire Within.  For those of us not content reading Mills' words, we can now listen to them, courtesy of the National Campus Radio Association.  Mills basically gives a short teaser to the major themes in his work, which covers post-colonial ideas within the various strains of the protest movement in 1960s Montreal.
Sean Mills Drinks Coffee

Mill's interview emphasizes the global context of the Quiet Revolution, and an understanding of the complexities of various Montreal groups.  He also addresses the rise of the various strains of the neo-nationalist movement in Quebec, and shows that the various voices of dissent during the 1960s, were acting as an alternative to this state-centred neo-nationalist refrain.

Mills speaks to the way in which thinkers such as Sartre and Memmi, were at first  skeptical towards the notion of Quebec as a post-colonial society, but were later to accept the province within an anti-colonial framework.

The rise of women in the 1960s movements is also addressed.  Women's support of the organizations of dissent started in periphery roles.  Later they demanded gender equality, not only within these organizations, but in greater Quebec society.

Admittedly, there isn't allot here for those who have read the book already, but the podcast serves as a good overview for those who haven't picked it up yet, and a refresher for those who have.

Listen to the Podcast

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hidden Hooch: Alcohol Smuggling

Dominion Brewery Invoice, Toronto, 1896.

Dominion's Club Ale, ca. 1900.
As Craig Heron's engaging history Booze (2003) explains, drink has a long history in British North America. While the story of alchohol prohibition in Canada is mainly focused on the 1920s, temperance crusaders have been active since the early nineteenth century.  By the 1870s, control over alcohol cut a major federal-provincial divide.  The Scott Act of 1878 allowed for municipalities to hold a plebiscite over the issue, and some localities became dry.  This did not stop the Dominion Brewery of Toronto, however, who sewed 4-5 dozen bottles into flour sacks for sale in "dry" districts.(Heron, 97)

Between 1919 and 1929, the sale of alcohol was prohibited by retailers and bars alike in Canada. The making of alcohol, however, could still provide a source of income.  One Alberta farmer was reputed to claim as the police were charging him, "Yes, I voted for prohibition, and I'd vote for it again.  I went broke farming."  (Heron, 240-242).  While making alcohol was still legal in Canada, the completely dry United States provided another potential market for rum-running (or perhaps rye-running) Canadians.

Pig Carcasses Stuffed with Whiskey. Glenbow Archives.
Methods of delivery were ingenious and varied.  Royal commissioners had learned of a whole host of methods which had sought to break the prohibition of liquor to the Northwest Territories in the late nineteenth century: "It was brought in secreted in packages of merchandise; in tins specially prepared and labelled "bibles"; as canned fruits, a single peach, perhaps, floating in alcohol valued at $5; in casks of sugar and rice; in packages of bottles, supposed to contain nothing but temperance drinks; in carloads of hogs or lumber, or as eggs."

Later in the 1920s, all conceivable products were again used to hide a shipment of booze.  Liquor was disguised with lumber, laths, and even packaged as Christmas trees.  Coffins were even used to try to hide liquid assets bound for the United States.  Talk about importing a stiff drink!

Heron, Craig. Booze : a distilled history. Toronto Ont.: Between the Lines, 2003.