Category Archives: history

How the government is trying to save the ‘birthplace’ of Canada

I hate how we treat heritage properties like this in Canada.

Province House in Prince Edward Island

But while our union is still sound a century-and-a-half later, the foundations of its cradle are falling apart – and the government is working furiously to save it.

Province House is in bad shape. Inside, mortar between Maritime sandstone has turned to dust, timber is rotting and plaster has fallen off the walls. The Prince Edward Island legislature moved out two years ago after decades in the east wing, and the building is closed for renovation work until at least 2020.

“It is a sick building, you might say,” Greg Shaw, a project manager at Parks Canada, told The Globe and Mail.

In 2013, as PEI got ready to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown conference, crews began some cosmetic masonry work on the outside of Province House. They soon discovered that minor blemishes were actually symptoms of deeper problems. Investigators were dispatched to peel back the layers of the building, and they found that decades of water damage and past stopgap repairs had taken a greater toll on everything from the roof to the floors than anyone had thought.

“You don’t know, really, what you have until you open the thing up,” Mr. Shaw said.

Thanks to an agreement reached when Justin Trudeau’s father was prime minister, Province House is the federal government’s responsibility to fix – even though the building is still owned by PEI. When the memorandum of agreement between Ottawa and Charlottetown was signed in 1974, Parks Canada was using most of the available office space, and agreed to be responsible for maintenance of the building for 99 years. Since then, though, the needs of PEI’s legislature grew and it took over two-thirds of the space.

The imbalance has led the federal government to rethink the deal. In 2014, senior public servants at Parks Canada recommended Ottawa figure out how to get out of its Province House obligations, according to briefing material obtained through Access to Information laws. The PEI government says it has no interest in renegotiating the deal, and points out it covered the cost of relocating the legislative chamber while the building was closed.

In a statement, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna would only say that the federal government “is committed to [the building’s] long-term conservation and has invested $41-million towards this goal.”

That bill – roughly the same cost as a proposed plan to fix up the Prime Minister’s Ottawa residence at 24 Sussex Dr. – may not be enough.

Also kudos to the PEI officials that managed to talk the Government in Canada to pay for the restoration of their legislature building.  The rest of Canada salutes you.

For Naval Aviation Nerds, This is a Sad Day

From New Atlas,

For Naval Aviation Nerds, This is a Sad Day

After almost 55 years of active service, the USS Enterprise has been decommissioned. No, we’re not talking about a certain starship, but the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which was commissioned in the US Navy in 1961 and now bears the distinction of being the first nuclear carrier to be decommissioned. The eighth US Naval vessel to bear the name, the Enterprise was removed from the Navy list today as Captain Todd Beltz relinquished his command in a ceremony in the ship’s hangar bay.

The keel of USS Enterprise was laid down in 1958 at the Newport News Shipbuilding Co. and the ship was christened on September 24, 1960 by Mrs. Bertha Irene Franke, wife of former Secretary of the Navy William B. Franke, before being commissioned on November 25, 1961. Enterprise was the first and only one of its class and was unique for the time by being powered by eight Westinghouse A2W nuclear reactors – six more than later carrier designs. This gave Enterprise an unlimited range and it required refueling only every 20 to 25 years.

Displacing 93,284 tons (84,626 tonnes), Enterprise carried a complement of 5,828, including an air crew of 1,300 to maintain and fly the 60 to 90 aircraft aboard. During its career, the US Navy says the Enterprise steamed for over one million nautical miles and at decommissioning was the third oldest ship in the Navy.

For Naval Aviation Nerds, This is a Sad Day

“The Big E,” as it was nicknamed, was involved in almost every major US Naval engagement since the Cuban Missile Crisis with the exception of the 1991 Gulf War, when it was laid up for a major overhaul. In April 1983, it also played host to actor George Takei, who portrayed Helmsman Sulu on the science fiction space-going version of the Enterprise. Unfortunately, on that occasion, the real carrier ran aground on a sandbar off San Francisco.

Castle Mountain

After hiking up to Silverton Falls, we drove further down the Bow Valley Parkway until we got to the base of Castle Mountain and stopped at the site of the Castle Mountain Internment Camp used in World War I.  It’s not a proud part of Canada’s past.

Castle Mountain Internment Camp in Banff National Park

Life at the camp was brutal.  Rations were poor, abuse was widespread and some froze to death during the winters.  They were essentially used as slave labor to build the Banff National Park infrastructure.

From there we checked out the Castle Mountain lookout which had a Canadian Pacific rail line go by it.

Views of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National Park

I am not sure what happened here but both Mark and Oliver just stared for ages at Castle Mountain.  For Mark it was almost a spiritual experience.  Finally he goes, “So this is why you love the mountains.” 

Views of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National Park

Then as we were talking, you could hear the familiar sound of a eastbound Canadian Pacific train coming in the distance.

A Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National Park

Sturdy Stone Centre

Sturdy Stone Centre in SaskatoonSturdy Stone Centre in SaskatoonSturdy Stone Centre in Saskatoon

It’s ugly no matter what angle you photograph it from. 

This 13 story building was built in the Brutalist style of architecture and opened in 1977. Floors 3 to 7 are used as a parkade, with the remainder of the building being office space. It was designed by the architecture firm of Forrester, Scott, Bowers, Cooper and Walls.

This was formerly the site of the Standard Trust Building, a seven-storey office building. It was built in 1912-1913 and demolished in 1976 to make way for the Sturdy Stone Centre. Public concern raised about the demolition of that building caused the Saskatoon Heritage Society to be formed.

The Coming War in the South China Sea

Quite a podcast to listen to over at War is Boring.

Of all the potential powder kegs on earth, none is more precarious than the South China Sea. Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines all have claims there. China builds artificial islands to reinforce its claims and the U.S. Navy patrols nearby.

The various militaries have brushed by each other in the water and in the air. “The Chinese people do not want to have war,” Chinese vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin said Thursday. “We will be opposed to [the] U.S. if it stirs up any conflict … if the Korean War or Vietnam War are replayed, then we will have to defend ourselves.”

This week on War College, we talk to U.S. Naval War College professor James Holmes about the South China Sea, China’s artificial islands and the entangling alliances that may lead to war.

The CIA paid spies with items from the Sears catalog

The CIA used to pay spies in Vietnam with items from the Sears catalog

Among the expenses that clandestine operatives rack up in the field, payments to their agents—the well-placed men and women they recruit to pass on information or otherwise assist them—are among the most unusual. Most expenses for CIA and other intelligence officers look like any business traveler’s: they buy meals, stay in hotels, and rent cars. But while some agents are more than happy to accept monetary compensation for their efforts, others have more unusual requests. Sometimes they want to avoid attracting attention with an extra stash of cash; sometimes they want items (everything from particular ballpoint pens and fishing equipment to guns and prescription medication) that they can’t easily acquire themselves.

Often, agents know what they want. What makes this case somewhat unusual is that the intelligence officer came up with a very unique payment scheme and sold his agents on it.

For Wiant’s cohort of agents, money didn’t work as an incentive because they rarely used it: they were “hunters, rattan gatherers, aloe wood collectors, or charcoal makers,” he wrote, and for the most part, they participated in a barter economy. Before Wiant arrived, his predecessor had started paying the agents in rice, along with other food or basic commodities. This had been more effective than offering compensation in piasters, the local currency.

But the system had a flaw. The local district chiefs in the areas where the agents operated had started siphoning away a portion of the agents’ earnings. A plan to mollify the district chiefs with Johnny Walker had worked briefly—until local missionaries objected.

A man who Wiant calls the “best of the Vietnamese agent handlers” did have some success giving one agent a canvas hat as a bonus, and that’s what gave Wiant the idea of sending that agent handler back out into the field with a Sears catalog, the most recently one available, which his wife had recently sent over. Wiant flagged a few pages of possible interest and created a basic “pay scale” connecting items of a certain value to missions of a certain length and danger.

Why Iraq is America’s new Vietnam

From the Star

“If you break it, you own it,” warned U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to President George W. Bush just before the 2003 American invasion of Iraq.

Powell knew that the president had no clue what unpredictable forces he was about to unleash. Bush now knows. We all do.

As we witness the inexorable, slow-motion collapse of Iraq in the face of viciousIslamic State extremists, let’s remember Powell’s private caution to Bush: “You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people. You will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems. You’ll own it all.”

This has been an awful week in the troubled history of Iraq. The stunning seizure last Sunday night of the pivotal provincial capital of Ramadi by Islamic State fighters took everyone by surprise.

Until last weekend, the United States and Iraqi view was that ISIS rebels were on the defensive and that Iraq’s questionable military had learned to hold its ground. But at Ramadi, even though they outnumbered the rebels, Iraqi soldiers abandoned the city in the face of the ferocious attack. Many of the ISIS fighters were equipped with American weapons captured earlier from fleeing Iraqi soldiers.

Once again, the debacle has called into question the country’s future as a unitary state. Not only is the Iraqi military’s will to win in doubt, but the Iraqi government is also showing itself to be divided and inept. As for the Americans, whose military intervention has been limited to largely ineffective air strikes, their strategy to “defeat” ISIS is floundering.

However, it is not as if these Islamic State jihadists, who are now roaming freely in Iraq and Syria, were invented out of thin air. They have a history.

They are largely the remnants of the Al Qaeda movement operating for years in Iraq, as well as veterans from Saddam Hussein’s Baath party. Shortly after the Americans deposed Hussein, the U.S. foolishly disbanded Iraq’s Baath army. It was a move that put more than 200,000 angry young men out of work. Is it a surprise that many of them are now are working for ISIS?

Paul Krugman says the invasion of Iraq was criminal.

Why did they want a war? That’s a harder question to answer. Some of the warmongers believed that deploying shock and awe in Iraq would enhance American power and influence around the world. Some saw Iraq as a sort of pilot project, preparation for a series of regime changes. And it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that there was a strong element of wagging the dog, of using military triumph to strengthen the Republican brand at home.

Whatever the precise motives, the result was a very dark chapter in American history. Once again: We were lied into war.

Now, you can understand why many political and media figures would prefer not to talk about any of this. Some of them, I suppose, may have been duped: may have fallen for the obvious lies, which doesn’t say much about their judgment. More, I suspect, were complicit: they realized that the official case for war was a pretext, but had their own reasons for wanting a war, or, alternatively, allowed themselves to be intimidated into going along. For there was a definite climate of fear among politicians and pundits in 2002 and 2003, one in which criticizing the push for war looked very much like a career killer.

On top of these personal motives, our news media in general have a hard time coping with policy dishonesty. Reporters are reluctant to call politicians on their lies, even when these involve mundane issues like budget numbers, for fear of seeming partisan. In fact, the bigger the lie, the clearer it is that major political figures are engaged in outright fraud, the more hesitant the reporting. And it doesn’t get much bigger — indeed, more or less criminal — than lying America into war.

But truth matters, and not just because those who refuse to learn from history are doomed in some general sense to repeat it. The campaign of lies that took us into Iraq was recent enough that it’s still important to hold the guilty individuals accountable. Never mind Jeb Bush’s verbal stumbles. Think, instead, about his foreign-policy team, led by people who were directly involved in concocting a false case for war.

So let’s get the Iraq story right. Yes, from a national point of view the invasion was a mistake. But (with apologies to Talleyrand) it was worse than a mistake, it was a crime.

The Top 10 Secrets of Grand Central Station

From Untapped Cities

Like the rest of Grand Central, the Campbell Apartment serves as a testament to the grandiosity of another era. But this testament is one that can be imbibed. If appropriately attired, enter a room resplendent from paraphernalia of the past and sip on cocktails from the fin de siècle in this virtual museum to the opulence of New York’s high society of the past.

Though it did have a kitchen and butler, this was once the office, not apartment, of tycoon John C. Campbell. President of the Credit Clearing House, Campbell rented the space to be closer to the hub of the New York Central Railroad (Cornelius Vanderbilt’s train empire), of which he was a major stockholder. Rumor has it that he used to sit behind the massive desk (that to this day takes up much of one side of the gorgeous 25 by 60 foot room) half nude, as he detested wrinkles in his trousers. The Campbell Apartment deteriorated drastically after its namesake vacated it in the ‘50s, and like everything else in the terminal, it fell on hard times. Metro North claimed the space as first a signalmen’s headquarters and later a police station, temporarily detaining criminals in what was once Campell’s wine cellar and storing their firearms in his curio cabinet. It was restored to its original glory in the late ‘90s, and is an excellent place to get a real taste of the decadence of Grand Central’s past.

Grand Central Station also holds a tennis court, a top secret room, and a secret railway line that is only used when the President is in town. 

What is Obama’s Legacy?

New York Magazine asked 53 historians what Barack Obama’s legacy will be

Almost every respondent wrote that the fact of his being the first black president will loom large in the historical narrative — though they disagreed in interesting ways. Many predict that what will last is the symbolism of a nonwhite First Family; others, the antagonism Obama’s blackness provoked; still others, the way his racial self-consciousness constrained him. A few suggested that we will care a great deal less about his race generations from now — just as John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism hardly matters to current students of history. Across the board, Obamacare was recognized as a historic triumph (though one historian predicted that, with its market exchanges, it may in retrospect be seen as illiberal and mark the beginning of the privatization of public health care). A surprising number of respondents argued that his rescue of the economy will be judged more significant than is presently acknowledged, however lackluster the recovery has felt. There was more attention paid to China than isis (Obama’s foreign policy received the most divergent assessments), and considerable credit was given to the absence of a major war or terrorist attack, along with a more negative assessment of its price — the expansion of the security state, drones and all. 

Spell check. Someone run a spell check.

George Cooper

So I was looking for some information on Keeler, Saskatchewan, where my family is from and I came across this family history of my family.  My grandfather and I weren’t that close after my dad left in 1982 but I couldn’t help but notice he spelled my name wrong in the family history.  And if this is accurate, my father is now 62 years old.  I had no idea.

In case you are interested, this is his old house (and post office), this is the bar I hung out in when I was six and this is his old garage.  Also when I was six, I may or may not have held up the general store.

Lucky Dollar General Store

I had my trusty dog Tip, a pop gun, a cowboy hat and what I thought was a reasonable demand that she gave me some ice cream.  I would have gotten all of the ice cream if I hadn’t fired my toy gun (she thought it was real).  When nothing appeared to have been shot, she told my grandmother.  Crime never pays kids.  Crime never pays.

Interesting trivia note is that I have the till from that General Store in my house today.  It weighs a ton and everywhere you can grab it has very sharp edges.  I also think that the book is incorrect as I have memories of Mrs. Garry running the store when I was older than three.  

Of course as I am reading, it just clicked in that these must be my great grandparents.

Christopher Cooper

Totally unrelated note: A well known lawyer in town has told me that he think the reason that he is in Canada is because his great great grandfather possibly killed one of my ancestors in a drunken fight back in the U.K.  Even weirder is that we have known each other for years before and he found this out while researching his own family’s genealogy.  Its stuff like that gets left out of small town history books.

I guess I am glad that we don’t come from an honour based society where I would have to kill one of his family and so on and so on.  If I remember correctly, he did buy dinner the night that he told us this so we could be even.

Not only did RFK think the Warren Commission had flaws but Warren had doubts as well

From Politiico

What else did Bobby Kennedy know? Last year, the son and namesake of the late Attorney General Robert Kennedy revealed publicly that his father had considered the Warren Commission’s final report, which largely ruled out the possibility of a conspiracy in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, to be a “shoddy piece of craftsmanship.” Robert Jr. said his father suspected that the president had been killed in a conspiracy involving Cuba, the Mafia or even rogue agents of the CIA. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a close friend of the Kennedy family, would disclose years later that he was told by Robert Kennedy in December 1963, a month after the president’s murder, that the former attorney general worried that the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was “part of a larger plot, whether organized by Castro or by gangsters.” Schlesinger said that in 1966, two years after the Warren Commission report, Kennedy was still so suspicious about a conspiracy that he wondered aloud “how long he could continue to avoid comment on the report—it is evident that he believes it is was poor job.”

Newly disclosed documents from the commission, made public on the 50th anniversary of its final report, suggest that the panel missed a chance to get Robert Kennedy to acknowledge publicly what he would later confess to his closest family and friends: that he believed the commission had overlooked evidence that might have pointed to a conspiracy.

The documents show the commission was prepared to press Kennedy to offer his views, under oath, about the possibility that Oswald had not acted alone. An affidavit, in which Kennedy would have been required to raise his right hand and deny knowledge of a conspiracy under penalty of perjury, was prepared for his signature by the commission’s staff but was never used. Instead, the attorney general became the highest ranking government official, apart from President Lyndon Johnson, who was excused from giving sworn testimony or offering a sworn written statement to the commission.

The decision to scrap the affidavit is another example of the extraordinary deference paid to the attorney general and his family by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the commission’s chairman. In an unsworn August 1964 letter to Warren—already public and long seen by historians as evasive, if not as an effort to mislead the commission outright about what he really knew and suspected—Kennedy said he was aware of “no credible evidence to support the allegations that the assassination of President Kennedy was caused by a domestic or foreign conspiracy.” Kennedy’s private papers, however, suggest he struggled over signing even the unsworn letter to Warren.

There you go, some JFK conspiracy content for you on an early Tuesday morning.