Category Archives: history

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.

It Shouldn’t Be Up to Trudeau

So according to his mother, Margaret Trudeau, soon to be Prime Minister Trudeau will not be moving into 24 Sussex Drive because it is in need of dire repairs.  That’s a good thing and I am glad Trudeau has made that decision.

Of all of Harper’s decisions, the fact that he would not vacate 24 Sussex Drive when the National Capital Commission begged to move out for repairs really bugged me.  As Harper would say, “It’s fine for my family” and it probably was but by refusing to let the needed repairs done on his watch, he made the problems worse and as any home owner would know, more costly.

According to numerous media reports over the years 24 Sussex has problems with the roof, is drafty, doesn’t have central air, and needs to be rewired.  If it wasn’t the home of the Prime Minister, it would be torn down and condos built on the property.  If was in Saskatoon, it was be torn down and turned into a parking lot (it’s like we elected a Joni Mitchell song for Mayor).  It needs to be refurbished.

Who decides when to do this?  Right now the Prime Minister has final say on this but I have long said that the National Capital Commission should (they already manage the properties but as we saw, the PM can over rule them).  When it is time, every 30 years or so do so significant upgrades to 24 Sussex Drive, the Prime Minister and the family get the heave-ho and are moved to Harrington Lake for a while or another appropriate residence.  The same goes with Stornoway or even Rideau Hall.

The Prime Minister’s residence is too important of symbol and Canadian Heritage to fall victim to political whims of the Prime Minister.  Give them a budget, a long term mandate and don’t mess with their funding.

Glad to see that Trudeau is taking the first step towards this but there is a lot of work to be done.

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 White House’s Extreme Makeover

Some fun history from the New York Times

The White House Under Rennovation

In 1947, the White House was in danger of internal physical collapse. One day, while President Harry S. Truman took a bath upstairs, a great Blue Room chandelier threatened to crash down on his wife, Bess, and her guests from the Daughters of the American Revolution. The president later joked that he might have unexpectedly dropped through the ceiling naked on the ladies below, and he confessed that the incident made him nervous. The upstairs floor, he noted, “sagged and moved like a ship at sea.”

Upon investigating the situation, Truman was told that hasty renovations, demanded by various impatient presidents in the past, had led to the weakening or removal of load-bearing walls and other supporting structures. Beams were “staying up from force of habit only,” he was informed, and the mansion had become a firetrap. Truman later wrote that with so many thousands of visitors and presidential guests, “My heart trembles when I think of the disasters we might have had.”

The following year, his daughter Margaret’s piano broke through the floor of the family quarters. In August, Truman recorded in his diary that with his wife away, he had been “moved into the Lincoln Room — for safety — imagine that!” He wrote to his sister that the White House was “about to fall in.” That November, after the president won a full term over Thomas E. Dewey, the first family was whisked across Pennsylvania Avenue to reside in the presidential guest quarters called Blair House.

Had someone other than Truman been president, there might be almost nothing left of the original White House today. The cheapest, most efficient solution was to build a whole new presidential mansion. Some even suggested a different Washington location on a tract of land larger than the current 18 acres, as would befit the commanding new post-World War II stature of the United States.

As one of the most voracious readers of history ever to serve as president, Truman recoiled from that prospect. He also felt that witnessing the old White House being torn to the ground would wound Americans’ psyches. He instead approved a plan to shore up the outer walls, tear out everything inside and install a new internal steel superstructure (“of skyscraper strength,” The Washington Evening Star said) above a large new, poured-concrete basement. (The basement included a shelter from nuclear attack, where President George W. Bush was taken on the evening of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.)

The historian in Truman consoled himself with the expectation that after the gut renovation, much of the original mansion — paneled walls, hardwood floors, ceiling fixtures and other decorations — could be grafted onto the new steel skeleton so that the White House would remain authentically historic.

Of course like all renovations, it went over budget

With his renovation over the original budget, Truman and the commission that ran the project made a deal with the New York department store B. Altman & Company to fill the empty rooms — “at absolute cost” — with reproductions. As for other spaces of the mansion, ones away from public scrutiny, little effort was made to disguise the fact that they were completed in 1952. When Jacqueline Kennedy toured the mansion in December 1960 after her husband’s election victory, she became distraught. Referring to a dreary chain of city convention hotels, she observed that the ambience of the reconstructed White House was “early Statler.”

As Mrs. Kennedy pointed out, the White House is “the setting in which the presidency is presented to the world.” Thus she obtained expert help and appealed for donations of money and historical artifacts to help make the building, or at least its public floors, a treasure chest of American history. Her efforts were so successful (and enhanced by the work of later first families) that it is no wonder that someone visiting today’s White House might presume that the mansion has always been meticulously redolent of early American history.

But Mrs. Kennedy’s restoration left some backstage spaces in the White House untouched, and to this day those spaces look much as they did when created during the Truman renovation.

For example, adjoining the second-floor Treaty Room — which presidents from George H. W. Bush through Barack Obama have used as a home office — is a small, brightly lighted bathroom with exposed plumbing and a green-and-white checkerboard tile floor that looks as if it belonged to a 1952 hotel.

I really hope that Prime Minister Harper does the same with 24 Sussex Drive.  It is in serious need of repairs according to the National Capital Commission.  I know there are politics at play (and there should not be with 24 Sussex Drive) but I think the Prime Minister’s Official residence should reflect our country’s pride as well.

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.