Tag Archives: Canada's History

  • Retracing the Steps of Mackenzie King in Nazi-Era Berlin

    Mackenzie King reviewing participants in the women’s and men’s tennis events at the German All-German Sports Competitions, 27 July 1937. Front row, left to right: Robert Ley, head of the German Labour Front, Prime Minister King, King’s personal secretary Edward Pickering, and Hans von Tschammer und Osten, Reich Sports Leader.

    In 1937, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King travelled to Nazi Germany in an attempt to prevent a war that, to many observers, seemed inevitable. The men King communed with, including Adolf Hitler, had assured him of the Nazi regime’s peaceful intentions, and King not only found their pledges sincere, but even hoped for personal friendships with many of the regime officials. 

    Four Days in Hitler's Germany addresses how King truly believed that any threat to peace would come only from those individuals who intended to thwart the Nazi agenda, which as King saw it, was concerned primarily with justifiable German territorial and diplomatic readjustments. In this post, author Robert Teigrob shares how walking the city streets of Berlin led him to write his new book.


    For the last decade I have taught a summer course in Berlin. For a historian, the city is an endless trove of commemorative spaces, architectural motifs, and museum collections that attest to some of humanity’s darkest, as well as noblest, impulses. It is a built environment perpetually under revision and renewal, a testament to both the destruction and political dismemberment wrought by Hitler’s war, and to a deeply-engaged and increasingly diverse population’s struggle to properly represent and confront the past. This struggle has many outcomes: the demolition of what Germans call “historically burdened buildings,” the preservation of others as historic sites, the repurposing of still others toward more life-affirmative ends, and seemingly on every block, a memorial to the events and people that make up Berlin’s tumultuous history.

    Walking the city a few years ago sparked a couple of ideas that became the genesis of my new book, Four Days in Hitler’s Germany: Mackenzie King’s Mission to Avert a Second World War. I recalled a picture from my high school history textbook showing a very jovial Prime Minister Mackenzie King touring a Berlin factory complex in 1937 – the same one I was now passing – escorted by top Nazi officials. I was struck by the contrast between modern Germans’ evident willingness to own up to the mistakes of the past and, on this count, the comparative reticence among Canadians to do the same. For in that same textbook (and as I was to learn, in many other historical accounts), King’s visit was portrayed as a stern warning to the Hitler regime that any Nazi aggression would stimulate a powerful and unified response from the Western powers. I knew this to be something of an oversimplification – King was in fact one of the globe’s foremost advocates of appeasement, and had enthusiastically shepherded a trade agreement with Germany through Parliament just before his visit – but the more I dug into the records, the more stunning the prime minister’s interactions with Nazi officials became. I came to the conclusion that the 1937 visit deserved a sustained, critical analysis.

    Roaming Berlin also led me to wonder how future generations of Canadians will judge our relationships with today’s global community. We see intense debates in the House of Commons and the media over how to balance our economic interests with our stated commitment to human rights and international laws and norms: how to square principles with profit-making in the proposed sale of weapons to authoritarian regimes; whether to “constructively engage” or shun potential trading partners that flout the rule of law (and for that matter, how to respond to some of our own companies’ controversial activities abroad – in the mining sector, for instance). Canada and the world wrestled with similar issues in the 1930s, and the recent ascent of regimes and political movements built on ethnic nationalism, militarism, and regressive attitudes toward the multinational international order painstakingly constructed since 1945 gives the story of King’s visit to Germany a decidedly contemporary aura.


    Robert Teigrob is a professor in the Department of History at Ryerson University and the author of Four Days in Hitler's Germany.

  • Why The Canadian Financial System Did Well During The 2008 Credit Crisis

    Written by guest blogger, Joe Martin.

    A decade ago much of the world suffered through a financial credit crisis. In North America, the United States and Canada –two countries with many similarities, not the least of which are physical location and similar legal roots based in the United Kingdom –had very different experiences. The US experienced a full-blown financial crisis, beginning in the subprime mortgage market and culminating in the failure of Lehman Bank. Many other financial institutions were bailed out or failed. North of the border, Canadian financial affairs were much calmer. Although there was an Asset Backed Commercial Paper (ABCP) problem, no financial institutions failed and the economic decline was not as severe as in the US.

    Why did the Canadian financial system perform so much better than that of the US financial system? Before answering the question it must be understood that a financial system begins with public policy. Governments set the rules in both countries. On the other side of the system are the private sector players who are governed by the rules set in the public sector.

    In order to answer the question of why Canada performed better it is necessary to go back to the late eighteenth century – NOT the late twentieth century. While the Government of Canada’s decision to block the big bank mergers in the late twentieth century was a useful decision, it was not a transformative one. Four of the five key reasons the Canadian system did better than the American system in 2008 reach back to the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They are:

    1. Canada has a Hamiltonian financial system. Yes, the same Hamilton, Alexander from the Tony award-winning musical Hamilton, with limited joint stock liability and branch banking. The US has a Jacksonian system, or at least did have, which limited US banks within states – indeed in some states no bank could have a branch other than the main office.
    2. The Fathers of Confederation ensured that both banking and currency were federal responsibilities when they defined Canada’s form of federalism at the 1860s Conferences. This was in marked contrast to the US where “banking” is not mentioned in their Constitution.
    3. Canada had the good fortune of having John A. Macdonald as our first Prime Minister with his capability in “cabinet making.” While his first two Ministers of Finance did not pass the test, the third one did.
    4. Sir Francis Hincks was John A’s third and best choice for Finance Minister. Hincks not only knew finances, he knew politics and how to work with the media, and he was not from Montreal. Hincks brought in compromise on the issue of currency and had the wisdom to ensure all banks were equal. In addition, he introduced the far-sighted policy of providing for decennial Legislative reviews, which resulted in more continuity in Canada than almost all other countries, especially the United States.
    5. Our financial system more or less behaved itself from the 1870s to the 1980s, but in the 1980s misbehaved. The consequence was failure – both bank and trust company, and the appointment of the Estey Enquiry. The report of the Estey Enquiry, plus Minister Hockin’s Blue Paper, resulted in the creation of the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI).

     

    The OSFI – plus nearly two centuries of a Hamiltonian financial system in which banking was a federal responsibility from day one, the right choice for Minister of Finance in 1869, and in 1871 the foresight to provide for regular reviews of the Bank Act – led to Canada to doing much better than the United States in the 2008 financial crisis. In addition, there have been basic and fundamental differences between the way the two countries finance the housing market which were also a big factor. But those are the subject of a future blog post…

     

     

    Joe Martin is the Director of the Canadian Business and Financial History Initiative at the Rotman School of Management as well as President Emeritus of Canada’s History Society. He is the co-author of From Wall Street to Bay Street. Want to learn more? Check out the trailer for Stability and Crisis: The History of the Canadian Financial System, a new documentary from Kevin Feraday based on the book.

  • Canada's medical history

    The December/January issue of Canada’s History has an article by Christopher Moore on the latest in the Canadian history of medicine. For “Healing words,” Moore interviewed four of Canada’s top medical historians to find out how the field has changed since the 1960s:

    9780802098252Jacalyn Duffin is the Hannah Chair of the History of Medicine at Queen's University and the author of the History of Medicine: A Scandalously Short Introduction, now in its second edition. (You can find out who the Hannah Chair is named for, and why, in Moore’s article.)

     

     

     

    9781442645950Edward Shorter is the Hannah Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Toronto. University of Toronto Press is proud to have published his book Partnership for Excellence: Medicine at the University of Toronto and Academic Hospitals earlier this year.

     

     

     

    9781442614314Wendy Mitchinson just released her new book, Body Failure: Medical Views of Women, 1900–1950 in September, her third with UTP.

     

     

     

     

    9780802083449Michael Bliss may be best known, as Christopher Moore says, for his The Discovery of Insulin. But that’s only one of his many books of medical and social history, including biographies of Frederick Banting, William Osler, and Harvey Cushing.

     

     

     

    In the article, Moore says that Canadian medical history is continuing to expand, as “new ideas and new books arrive constantly, from med schools, history departments, and far beyond.” I asked Len Husband, acquiring editor for the history of medicine at UTP, what it was that had garnered these historians such attention. He told me that “not only are these historians exceptional at what they do, they are able to do it in an accessible manner:  no mean feat when dealing with medicine. And they all illustrate the number of diverse approaches to medical history which seems to me evidence of a vibrant, growing, and frankly exciting field.”

    The article in Canada’s History isn’t online, but you can find some online bonus content at the magazine’s website here.

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