Thomas H. Raddall and Stephen Kimber, Halifax: Warden of the North

Canadian history is not boring! Surprise!

As I romped through Thomas Raddall’s lively and very informative history of my adopted city, I found myself wondering why I have never been interested in Canadian history. Whose fault is that? I’d blame boring teachers except that I can’t really remember being taught any Canadian history in school. I started reading historical fiction at the tender age of five–I still have my tattered copies of Jean Plaidy’s The Young Elizabeth and The Young Mary Queen of Scots–so can I blame my total oblivion to Canadian history on the absence of equally romantic and accessible historical novels with Canadian heroines? (There was Anne of Green Gables, of course, but in my childish mind she was eternal, not historical, just like Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.) Though in later years I took some detours into American history (via Gone with the Wind, mostly) and occasionally into French or Russian, it was British history that had caught and held my imagination, and it really never occurred to me that I was missing anything by not exploring the history of my own country. That was a failure of patriotism as well as of curiosity, I suppose–but then I’ve never been much moved (in fact, I’m usually annoyed) by pressure to be more nationalistic, especially culturally (and Canadians actually get quite a lot of that kind of pressure, what with the incessant feeling of being encroached upon or drowned out by our noisy neighbours to the south).

Anyway, I remember various class trips to the Museum of Vancouver or the B. C. Provincial Museum, and to Fort Langley (where we’d get the obligatory square nail souvenirs) and I think at some point we made dioramas of scenes from Vancouver’s early years, but none of this competed with the thrilling stories of Lady Jane Grey or Eleanor of Aquitaine or Good Queen Bess. That was the good historical stuff! Later, as a history major in university, I stuck to Britain and America for my coursework, along with the intellectual history and historiography that were my main interests–there must not have been a Canadian history requirement, and of course it didn’t occur to me to take any Canadian history voluntarily!

Well, better late than never, right? I thoroughly enjoyed Halifax: Warden of the North, which I bought in the gift shop at the Halifax Citadel after touring the fort for the first time in my almost 17 years living here. I figured it was time I stopped moping quite so much about not living in Vancouver and tried to learn to love the east coast–and you know, the ironic thing is, Halifax actually has a lot more to offer a British history buff than Vancouver does, because so much of its early history actually is British history–obvious, I know, but reading Warden of the North finally made that sink in. From the earliest days of French and British competition for control over the area, through the drama of the War of 1812 to the nearby chaos of the American Civil War and the heyday of Victorianism–Halifax was a British outpost, for better or for worse, and right in the thick of things, too. Why, the British force that captured Washington and burned the White House was sent from the naval base in Halifax!

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