Monday, January 14, 2013


CANADIAN HIGHLIGHTS                       

Discovered by the English – John Cabot, 1497

Explored and Settled by the French – Samuel de Champlain, 1608

Conquered by the English – Seven Years War, 1756-63

Fought the Americans to maintain their status as Englishmen – 1775-1815

     to Dominion, 1867, consisting of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia
        to Independence within the British Commonwealth, 1932
Parliament from the National Gallery of Art


 Above: British General Wolfe dies on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, outside Quebec City during the Seven Years War.

House of Commons

Queen Victoria

Though Canada and America are close allies -- connected by the longest friendly border, the English language, the Great Plains serving as a breadbasket, large-scale free trade, and democratic traditions -- most Americans have little familiarity with Canadian history. While sharing colonial roots…. Canada followed a different course, maintaining its independence from the US and aligning itself with the British Empire.

The eastern and most of the maritime Canadian provinces combined in 1867 to become a unified government with Ottawa, a centrally located town, becoming its capital. The more likely choice was one of three bustling cities -- Kingston, Montreal or Quebec -- which had competed for the honor. However, Queen Victoria, probably as a compromise, selected this little known provincial town as the seat of the Canadian government. In the early 1800’s, Ottawa had developed as a trading and farming center along the Ottawa River. In 1832, the Rideau Canal was dug from Kingston on Lake Ontario to Ottawa as a trade route to bypass the potential American military threat on the Great Lakes, should there be another “War of 1812” between the two nations.  Though possible at times in the first half of the 19th century, conflict never came as both the American and British governments had strong interests in settling border disputes (Webster-Ashburton Treaty 1843 and the Oregon Treaty 1846). Peace has characterized the relationship since that time.

The Canadian Parliament building—a Victorian structure sits high on a ridge overlooking the Ottawa River and bordered by the Rideau Canal. The House of Commons members are popularly elected; the Senate members hold honorific positions with little real power. They are appointed by the Governor-General upon recommendation by the Prime Minister.  As a constitutional monarch, the Queen is the head of government. She appoints a Governor-General as her representative, who routinely ratifies all laws passed by the Commons. The current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, comes from the majority conservative party. While maintaining the trappings of the British Commonwealth, Canada is a firmly established, independent democracy.

Sunday, January 6, 2013


Trade is what people do. You have something I want; I have something you want. What enables trade to take place? CURRENCY -- money used as the medium of exchange between persons.

Ottawa’s Currency Museum is on the main floor of the glass and steel Bank of Canada building on Wellington Street across from the Victorian-style Canadian Parliament.

Examining ancient currency in its various forms gave one a sense of the sweep of history.  What are some unusual examples of currencies?

            Elephant hairs woven into a bracelet – from Africa.
            Rare animal teeth and shells. 
           Chinese tea mixed with blood was made into embossed blocks to be cut into different sized cubes depending on the value of goods traded.
            Salt, a necessity of life, was used as a means of exchange. In fact, the word salary derives from the Latin “saladium, i.e. salt.  Roman soldiers could be paid their salaries with salt, hence, a person not worth his salt is someone who might not be paid.
            A “made beaver,” i.e. one trapped in winter with a full fur coat, was currency at the Hudson Bay Trading Post.

Various forms of currency held value as they were based on items that were hard to obtain or make --beads, wampum (belts of beads), copper, gold and silver.

Emperor Hadrian

Made Beaver Pelt
New Canadian 20 - with see through panel, holograms, and other hidden protections
 Roman emperors glorified themselves by issuing coins embossed with their faces. Under the glass case, we could examine with a magnifying glass – the likeness of Hadrian, Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, to name a few. The custom of making coins for exchange spread to India with the conquests of Alexander the Great. Today the Lincoln penny, Washington quarter, among other American coins, are adapted from this tradition.

In about 200 C.E., the Chinese were the first to use paper money. Paper money retained its value based on trust. Issuing too much paper with no economic base can lead to inflation and devaluing of paper currency. In fact, the soldiers of the Continental Army during the American Revolution often used the paper bills with which they were paid to line their boots for warmth. Hence, you may have heard of the phrase for this relatively valueless means of exchange, “not worth a continental.”

Since paper money can be readily counterfeited, new polymer materials (like Tyvek) are now used in Canada and Australia. They are offer protection against debasement of the currency and are quite beautiful, practically indestructible, and virtually impossible to mime.

Since admission to the museum was free, we left no currency behind.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


This was a “wow” of an exhibit. 

The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa is a striking sculpted structure in and of itself.  It is made of poured reinforced concrete with the pattern of the boards used for the forms clearly in evidence on the interior walls.  It has a grand entry space and multiple fine exhibits depicting the military history of Canada from the Plains of Abraham in Quebec to the remote mountains of Afghanistan.

But we came to see a special exhibit on the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, coming to an end in these first few days of 2013. 

The 1812 exhibit gained much from its layout/design.  Off a central chamber are short halls to four separate rooms each depicting the role and impact of the war on its major participants:  the Americans, the Canadians, the British and the Native Tribes.  Although the War of 1812 is thought of primarily as America’s second war of independence, it was much more than that.  It helped forge a nation in Canada, it established true independence of the Americans from the British, it began an era of free trade (or freer trade) in which England, Canada, and America thrived together, and it lay the groundwork for the American westward expansion over the Appalachians as the Indian tribes, having lost support of the English, could not longer resist American westward expansion.

The exhibit displayed original military uniforms under vacuum in glass showcases. Very moving was the jacket of the British Major General Isaac Brock, who was killed by a bullet to the chest. The bullet hole through his woolen jacket is visible under the left lapel.

The battles of this war were fought in widely separated locations -- on the Atlantic Ocean, the Oregon coast, Great Lakes, New Orleans, and the small towns along the American-Canadian border. An astounding 35,000 persons from all sides were killed over the 3 year conflict. For the British, the War of 1812 was a distraction as they were engaged in a titanic struggle with Napoleon’s France on the continent. Americans prevailed in large part because the British were preoccupied and Wellington, after defeating the French, was unwilling to continue the war in American.

 Two of the highlights of the exhibit included
1. A battlefield grave marker (on right)
2. The original Treaty of Ghent that concluded the conflict opened to the page where John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay and Albert Gallatin signed as representatives of the United States.
Isaac Brock's jacket - note partial view of bullet hole in center

Captain Bob


The Bronco Buster

Soldiers Faces based on Civil War Photographs

Coming through the Rye

Charge up San Juan Hill, Cuba

On the fringes of upstate NY is Ogdensburg, a port city on the St. Lawrence River, where Frederic Remington (1861-1909) spent part of his childhood.  En route to crossing into Canada, we visited the grand 19th century mansion that houses the works of Frederic Remington, the American artist and sculptor. Remington’s widow, Eva, born in Glens Falls, NY, spent her later years in the mansion. The Newell family founded their company in Ogdensburg and later transformed it from manufacturing curtain rods to making Rubbermaid products and Cephalon.  In recent years, Newell descendants expanded the museum so it now displays Remington’s memorabilia, books, drawings, paintings and sculptures.

Remington grew up and felt very much at home in the north woods of NY state.
As a youth, he exhibited considerable artistic talent. However, due to pressing family demands, his years at the Yale School of Art were cut short as he returned to care for his ailing father. To earn a living, Remington found a niche in the market with his talent for sketching people.  As he became better known, he drew for Harper’s Weekly and illustrated books such as Owen Wister’s The Virginian, Bret Harte’s western stories, and a new edition of Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha.

Having spent time in the West, Remington was convinced that rustic frontier life built strong men. This view affected his vision of the American West as he immortalized scenes of the outdoor life and our nation’s westward expansion.  Rugged cowboys on horseback, U.S. cavalrymen galloping with their horses on the plains, Indians trying to preserve their customary lives  -- all were subject for his artistic eye. Remington is best known for his dynamic, tension-filled bronze sculptures depicting the American west ---  Coming Through the Rye, The Broncho Buster, and The Rattlesnake --  some captured on photos above.

Later in his life, he added color to his work and painted such scenes as the Charge Up San Juan Hill. Perhaps it was just a coincidence (or was it more?) that Frederic Remington had a striking resemblance to Teddy Roosevelt—with his expanded girth, mustache, vigor, love of the out of doors and of American expansionism.