Thursday, October 27, 2011
Friday, October 21, 2011
|The Durham Report|
So where was I? Right, the Durham Report! After the rebellions, sick of all the turmoil in Canada, the British had sent Radical Jack Durham here as Governor General to see what could be done. By the time he returned to England a few months later, he'd been convinced by Canadian liberals like Robert Baldwin and his father William Warren Baldwin that we should have Responsible Government. Democracy. Power over own own affairs. But the British Prime Minister thought it was a crazy idea. "A logical absurdity," he called it.
This, they say, was one of the defining moments in the history of our country. Electoral violence was the norm back in those days. People used to hire gangs of thugs to clear the way through the mobs in order to record their votes. And LaFontaine had hundreds of men at his side ready to do just that. But he hadn't supported violence before the rebellions and he sure as hell didn't believe in it now. He chose not to fight. Instead, he calmed his supporters down and they left without any further bloodshed, avoiding what would have been, in his words, "a massacre". Unwilling to kill for it, LaFontaine lost his seat. One of the most important supporters of Responsible Government had no voice in the new legislature.
That's when Robert Baldwin came up with a plan.
See, in those days, you were weirdly allowed to run in two ridings at the same time. It was apparently supposed to be an insurance policy for party leaders, just in case they happened to lose one. If you won both of the ridings, you could pick the one you wanted to represent; there was a by-election in the other one. And in that election, Robert Baldwin had ended up with two seats in Upper Canada. The plan was for his father, William Warren Baldwin, to run in the by-election in the extra riding, which was just north of Toronto. It had a strong base of Reform supporters — having been held by William Lyon Mackenzie back before the Baldwins ran there. But Robert Baldwin had an idea. He wrote to his father and asked him to stand aside so that LaFontaine could run there instead. His father agreed. A francophone was going to try to win an election in rural, Protestant, anglophone Ontario.
To prepare, LaFontaine moved to Toronto, into the Baldwins' house on Front Street (on the north-east corner of Bay, diagonally across from where Union Station is now). Before long, he was like a member of the family. Together, he and William Warren travelled the riding giving speeches. They argued for Responsible Government. For democracy. Against the old European idea that loyalty should mean loyalty to your race, your religion, and your Crown. The Tories and our British overlords were still fighting for that belief, but Baldwin and LaFontaine argued that our ultimate loyalty should be to be to the greater good — to our fellow human beings regardless of what language they spoke or what god they worshiped. They believed that whether you spoke English or French, you were first and foremost Canadian. And that we were all going to have to work together in order to win our freedom, our democracy and our nation away from one of the most powerful empires the world had ever seen
The voters agreed. LaFontaine won in a landslide. And Baldwin insisted that his new BFF become the leader of the new government. LaFontaine's official title would be Premier of Canada. But people called him Prime Minister.
Together, the two men set to work. The march toward democracy would be a slow one. They spent much of the next eight years building the trust between English- and French-speaking Canadians. The government was made bilingual. Baldwin sent his children to school in Québec City. Later, when the Tories pulled the same election mob bullshit with him that they had pulled with LaFontaine, Baldwin would run for election in Rimouski, in eastern Québec — and win.
Still, it wouldn't be easy. Canadian conservatives hated them — even burned Baldwin in effigy outside his home on Front Street. And in England, the liberal Whig party had just lost their election to the conservative British Tories, who hated the idea of Canadian democracy even more. When they sent a new Governor General to Canada, he had clear orders to ignore any demands for Responsible Government.
He had always seemed a strange politician. He was quiet and reserved. An introvert. He mumbled his way through speeches. His skin was pale. His eyes were described as dull and expressionless. He was tall and stooped over. They say he had "a funereal bearing". When he was young, he had fallen head over heels in love with his fifteen year-old cousin, Eliza, and their families — or, um, family — had been appalled. They sent her away for two years, but the young lovers waited and were married when she got back. For nine years, they lived a happy, love-filled life. But then Eliza died, slowwwly and painnnfully after childbirth. Baldwin was devastated. He became obsessed with her death. For the rest of his life, he carried her letters with him wherever he went. Every day, he would spend time alone in her room, which no one else was allowed to enter. Every year, around the anniversaries of their wedding and of her death, he could barely function, sorrowfully wandering the streets of Toronto, visiting the places they had shared special moments together, from their home on Front Street up to their estate, Spadina House, where she lay waiting for him in the family tomb. And now, just as Baldwin and LaFontaine were beginning to make progress, his father William Warren died too. Baldwin got worse. There were headaches. He was known to burst into tears in public. Soon, he was thinking about quitting politics altogether.
At the same time, LaFontaine was going through his own personal misery. William Warren's death had hit him hard too, but that was only the beginning. For years, he and his wife had longed for a child of their own but had never been able to conceive. They had been overjoyed when they finally adopted a daughter. But not long after William Warren died, she did too. So did LaFontaine's niece. The inflammatory rheumatism he had long been suffering from began acting up again. It kept him in bed with fevers and chest pains and excruciatingly swollen joints for weeks at a time. Sometimes months. At times, he said, he was surprised to still be alive.
But the two men carried on the fight. Even after they lost the next election. They dragged their tired bodies across the two provinces, meeting people, giving speeches, hand-writing letter after letter after letter. Baldwin outran an angry mob of club-wielding Orangemen one day; spent another being carried triumphantly through the streets of Rimouski. And it paid off. The election after that, in 1848, Baldwin and LaFontaine won a massive majority. The Tories were crushed. The time had finally come.
History remembers their government as The Great Ministry. In just a few short years, Baldwin and LaFontaine laid the groundwork for the Canada we know today. They brought in public education. An independent judiciary. Our jury system. A system for appeals. The made sure that everyone — not just the rich — had access to the courts. And that anyone — not just the rich friends of Tory politicians — could be appointed to the civil service. They brought democracy to municipal governments. Opened our ports to ships from all over the world, instead of just British ones. They helped build our railways. Won amnesties for many of the rebels of 1837, including leaders like Wolfred Nelson and Louis-Joseph Papineau, who were finally allowed to come back home. And they took the religious King's College away from Bishop John Strachan and turned it into the secular University of Toronto.(Though they did, sadly, totally fuck up when it came to a woman's right to vote.) The impact these few years had on the history of Canada is hard to even imagine.
But none of that was as important as what they would pull off in the spring of 1849. That's when democracy finally came to Canada.
And I'll finally tell that part of the story in my next post.
I believe I shared this at the bottom of my last post, too, but you can read the full text of the Durham Report here.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Sunday, October 16, 2011
William Faulkner liked to drink. A lot. There's an interview he did with the Paris Review — one of the few interviews he ever gave — where they asked him what he needed in order to be able to write. He answered paper, food, tobacco and whiskey. Emphasis on the whiskey. When big-deal director guy Howard Hawks asked him to write the screenplay for a movie called Road To Glory, Faulkner showed up to the script meeting with a brown paper bag under his arm. As they got down to work, he pulled a bottle of bourbon out of the bag and sliced his finger open trying to unscrew the cap. And as he bled all over the place, instead of, oh say, taking a break, he just dragged a wastepaper basket over to his chair so that he could bleed into it while he kept drinking. Yup. Dude was one badass alcoholic.The reason Faulkner was into that kind of macho shit seems to have something to do with the fact that he grew up during the First World War. He was in high school in the States when the U.S. got involved, and his brother went off to fight in the trenches in France. Faulkner wanted to fight too, so he dropped out of school and tried to enlist in the army. But he wasn't a tall man, only about 5'5", so he was rejected. For a while, he kicked around, not quite sure what he'd do.
|U of T during WWI|
It all must have seemed pretty badass to a guy like Faulkner, who soon arrived for training. This was only about 15 years after the Wright Brothers' first flight; you had to be pretty brave to get into one of those rickety biplanes on a good day, never mind when Germans were trying to shoot you out of the sky. The average lifespan for a pilot during the war was something like 11 days. Faulkner studied hard, became popular with the other recruits (he regaled them with limericks so dirty that even on the Internet every source I find says they're "unprintable"), and looked forward to the day he'd get to fight in Europe.
|University College, U of T, during WWI|
Faulkner's plane smashed through the roof and got lodged in the rafters. For years afterward, the writer would walk with a limp. He'd have a crook in his nose for the rest of the life. But as he hung there upside down in the cockpit, Faulkner was unfazed. He just pulled out some more bourbon and kept drinking.