Tag Archives: Canada

Book Review: Engaging China: Myth, Aspiration, and Strategy in Canadian Policy from Trudeau to Harper

Engaging China by Paul Evans

Engaging China: Myth, Aspiration, and Strategy in Canadian Policy from Trudeau to Harper by Paul Evans is the history of Canadian-Chinese relations over the last forty years. Evans is a professor at the University of British Columbia and currently teaches the Masters of Arts in Asian Pacific Policies Studies. He has an impressive academic history and is well published in his field. 

I chose this book primarily because of my background in international relations and wanted to compare United States policy, which I studied, to Canadian policy: Neighboring countries with a very similar background and heritage, but with different priorities in world affairs. For many Americans, this is an important book to read. Far too many Americans think of Canada as United States little brother falling lockstep with us much the same way they did with the British years ago. 

The United States likes having a well defined enemy and since the fall of the Soviet Union we have been looking for a suitable replacement. The terrorists are too vague, non centralized, and too intertwined into many friendly countries to be a suitable long term foe. China on the other hand, makes the perfect strategic rival and boogeyman for American policy… and they are communists too. Canada has taken a different road. 

Canada was late in recognizing the communist Chinese government. It took a while for Canadians to forget that they had fought Chinese soldiers in Korea. The Canadian approach was different than the US. Canada did not see China as leverage against the Soviets in the Cold War. Rather, it saw China as a market for its wheat and the opportunity to be China’s link to the West. It was a practical rather than a strategic relationship. Canada also differed from the United States in its policy of engagement, which is not as confrontational as it sounds. The Canadian policy has been one of inclusion rather than isolation. Inclusion tends to minimize confrontation and maximize cooperation. The Chinese would be much more willing to reform if they were an active member of the community rather than isolated. As an example, the United States isolated North Korea, but opened to Vietnam. Vietnam is allowing private businesses and trade with the West. The people are living better than they have been, but admittedly it is not perfect and has a ways to go. There have been improvements in Vietnam, but none in North Korea. Inclusion brings change; Isolation brings confrontation. 

Engaging China is a forty years study of of the policy of inclusion. It is also Canadian history. Perhaps the most interesting part is that there are no ideological tensions between, what Americans saw as life and death battle of, communism and capitalism. There are bumps in the road on issues like human rights and a slow evolution of peaceful policy. It is a very detailed diplomatic history. I do not think I highlighted a book this much since graduate school. It is a good history for all North Americans. For Americans, it will also provide a good comparison of policies. It is interesting how differently a country so ideologically, historically, and culturally similar to the United States has dealt with China.

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Book Review: Catching the Torch: Contemporary Canadian Literary Response to World War I

Catching the Torch: Contemporary Canadian Literary Response to World War I by Neta Gordon is a critical look at contemporary war literature. She earned a PhD from Queen’s University publishing a dissertation on Canadian women writing genealogical narratives. She currently chairs the Department of English Language and Literature at Brock University. Gordon is well published in both journals and books. 

2014 will be the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. The war is all but forgotten in the United States. If it is mentioned at all, it’s by Marines celebrating their birthday (10 November) mentioning the battle at Bealleau Woods. In Canada and Australia the war is a much bigger part of their culture and heritage. Although becoming self governing and its own country in 1867, Canada was still part of the British Empire and when Britain declared war in 1914, Canada was pulled into the war. While the US and Europe viewed the war as the destruction of innocence one of the more romantic myths in popular culture is that Canada, as a nation, was born in the trenches of WWI. According to author Joseph Boyden, Canada was “an army to be reckoned with, no longer colonials.” 

Gordon writes what can only be called a scholarly study of contemporary literature with WWI as the theme. In the US and Europe, WWI literature centers around loss such as T.S. Elliott’s “The Wasteland” or Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and finally to the extreme Johnny Got His Gun. By examining Canadian fiction at different periods after the war, she tracks notable changes. There seems to be several noticeable changes in the tone of writing war fiction. Early on there is a kind of romanticized, call to duty outlook, followed by the horrors of the war and assigning blame. The officer class takes a beating in some novels their poor leadership. With time, the war comes back and there is a redeeming value and then heroism is previous wars is used to call up new soldiers for next war.
Catching the torch refers the final stanza of Flanders’s Field :

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch

It has been many years since I read a critique of literature, maybe sophomore year in college. It was not a happy experience. Times changes and tastes mature and I can look at this critique with a better perspective. The book is very well researched and covers a range of Canadian literature. With the exception of “Flanders’s Field”, I am unfamiliar the literature used in the study, but the historian in me is adding new books to my reading list. I will re-read this book after reading the source novels. Gordon choice of source material supports thesis well. Canadians hate the horror of war, but the is a productive effect of war to national identity character. Views change to reflect what society wants to see. I imagine the horrors of the war will be replaced with respect for the fallen and pride in the nation next year. Canada lost 67,000 lives in WWI and twice that number were wounded. I can only be hoped that their sacrifice, no matter what the cause, will be remembered, especially today, Remembrance Day. 

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Book Review: Lost Beneath the Ice: The Story of HMS Investigator

Lost Beneath the Ice by Andrew Cohen


Lost Beneath the Ice: The Story of HMS Investigator by Andrew Cohen is a short history of the men of the HMS Investigator and their three winters stranded in the Arctic. Cohen is a professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University. He writes a syndicated column for Postmedia Newspapers and is a regular commentator on television. Cohen’s previous books are While Canada Slept and Unfinished Canada

Lost Beneath the Ice is separated into four sections. The first section is the story of HMS Investigator voyage into the Arctic, its beaching, and discovery of the Northwest Passage. The mid-nineteenth century was a time of adventure. England, after the defeat of Napoleon, needed something to do with its large navy in peacetime. One use of the navy was exploration. The Arctic offered a promise of a shortcut to the Indies by means of the long sought after Northwest Passage. There was profit to be found in a shorter route and avoiding the long and dangerous trip around South America. There was the sense of adventure (and money) in the exploration, and sometimes that competition and promises of glory lead to some bad decisions. One of those bad decisions was beaching for the winter in Mercy Bay. The men would eventually spend three winters in the Arctic struggling to survive. 

The second part of the book deals with the project locate the wreck of the Investigator in 2010 by Parks Canada. The second half of the book are pictures. The first part are drawings of the the ship, the captain’s notes, and some remarkable paintings. The final part of the book is pictures from the Parks Canada search for the Investigator. There are photographs of the ship still underwater, team members, and relics left from the ship and men. 

Lost Beneath the Ice is a short history and the report of the recent discovery of the HMS Investigator. The illustrations make up an important part of the book both the historical and recent photographs. The history is very concise, but very good. It does make me wonder what the men of the HMS Investigator thought about their discovery of the Northwest Passage and the realization that is was ultimately useless for navigation. Three long winters in isolation, on limited rations, waiting for a thaw that never came…I guess something practical would have made most of the men happy– to make it home alive. A very good read on a very limited topic.

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Book Review: Mobilize!: Why Canada was Unprepared for the Second World War

Mobilize!: Why Canada was Unprepared for the Second World War by Larry D. Rose is a Canadian history of the years before WWII. Rose was born in British Columbia, served as a second lieutenant and later as a captain in the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps (Reserves). He has worked in broadcasting for forty-five years including work with CBC Television News, Global News, and CTV. Rose earned a BA in History and Political Science and a MA in Political Science and Public Administration from the University of Victoria. 

I learned a great detail about Canadian history from this short book. That is a rather sad statement. I grew up fifty miles from Canada in Cleveland, Ohio. Throughout college the only real mention of Canada was its role in the War of 1812. I have visited Canada several times. I was actually surprised to see the RCMP in paramilitary uniforms with semiautomatic weapons– no, I wasn’t expecting campaign hats and a Dudley Do-Right jacket. I talk to Canadians on social media sites. Yet I know so little about the country.

I was a little surprised with the the title of the book. Being an American I continually heard how the US was not prepared for WWII throughout my education. I thought about the title of this book and realized aside from Germany and Japan what countries were prepared for WWII? After reading Mobilize! I realized how prepared the US was for war compared to Canada. In the prewar years Canada did not have a military capable of protecting its borders, let alone a force to contribute to the Allies. Canada was so unprepared for hostilities that the US had plans to protect Canada’s western coast from possible Japanese aggression whether Canada supported the action or not. A slap in the face of Canadian sovereignty. 

In the interwar years, Canada’s armored divisions had no tanks. There were still horseback mounted cavalry. The navy had few ships and no money allotted to keep them ready for war or even defensive anti-submarine warfare. Naval guns were not fired in training because it cracked the paint on the guns. The Royal Rifles didn’t have uniforms and wore armbands to identify themselves. They were also almost barracks bound until a citizen donated thirty pairs of boots. The air force did not even have a operational bomber group until October 1942. 

Several key players in Canadian history are covered. From military leaders to Prime Minister King who was instrumental in managing to build a military that could contribute to the war. Canada went to war in 1939. American neutrality laws prevented Canada from getting arms and equipment from its closest neighbor. It took a great effort to build Canada up to a point where it could contribute to the war effort. There are plenty of internal struggles in the years leading up to the war. 

Canada was caught up in several events that proved to be challenges. The Statute of Westminster in 1931 gave Canada the power to truly govern itself and set its own foreign policy. Being newly “independent” created fiscal challenges that were further complicated by the American stock market crash and droughts throughout Canada. The idea of war was completely unexpected. Canada went home after WWI like the United States thinking that there would be no future wars. The only threat to their territory came from the US want to protect its own territory. Prepared or not, Canada joined the war almost two years ahead of the United States. It went to war not to bring democracy or defeat Hitler, but because England went to war. The war cost Canada 37,000 lives. That is quite a sacrifice for a country not threatened by a European war. Mobilize! gives a good and detailed history. It is well written and documented and will give a southern neighbor an education that is sadly missing.

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Book Review: Rails Across Ontario: Exploring Ontario’s Railway Heritage

Rails Across Ontario by Ron Brown

Rails Across Ontario: Exploring Ontario’s Railway Heritage by Ron Brown is a history of railroads and the infrastructure that came with the railways. Brown is a geographer and a freelance travel writer. His other books are about, among other things, Ontario history and railways.

Trains are magical machines. They linked the nineteenth century world and further linked the world into the mid-twentieth century when they were killed off by highways and air travel. I was a child at that tail end period and loved trains. Late nights in East Cleveland, Ohio I would stand at the rise overlooking the tracks and wait to watch the trains roll by. I traveled by train in the 1980s in central Europe. A few years ago at the state fair, I spend almost my whole time mesmerized at the train museum. Today, when I have to travel farther than my bicycle will carry me, I go by train.

Rails Across Ontario begins with a short history of the railway build up in Ontario and presents some of the challenges both geographical and financial. Railway towns are discussed in some detail along with bridges. Bridges presented a challenge especially when crossing commercial waterway. Brown discusses the engineering that allowed both trains and ships to pass. Many bridges have been abandoned but the Wasauksing swing bridge is still operational and a tourist site.

Like the bridges, railway stations and hotels are described and likewise general locations of each are given. There is a call to preserve the heritage and save the buildings. Some have been converted to other uses. Ottawa’s grand Union Station has been converted to a convention center. Many are protected landmarks, but sadly left to decay on their own. Many of the ancillary structures are preserved, from round houses still in use to coal chutes.

Brown gives general locations of all the structures and if you are a train enthusiast or historian you can easily find all the places. It should be an easy task for those in Ontario, but detailed mapping might be needed for visitors. Individually covering each station and bridge will allow the reader to plan a day trip visiting different locations. The book is written as a guide more than as a history. There are very few photos and no maps in the book to help outsiders locate the landmarks and very little on the engines that ran on the rails. All in all it is a good book for railway enthusiasts and probably as very good book for enthusiasts and historians in Ontario. Three stars on the understanding that the audience for this book is Ontario residents.

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