jump to navigation

Bookends: An Upstairs, Downstairs Kind of Murder March 10, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Bookends: An Upstairs, Downstairs Kind of Murder

The Massey MurderBy Dan Davidson

January 18, 2017

– 812 words –

 

The Massey Murder
By Charlotte Gray

Harper Collins

307 pages

$22.99

 

On the evening of Monday, February 8, 1915, Charles Albert Massey was on his way home from work. He was the not quite so well to do scion of the very well to do Massey family, a family which had grown wealthy and powerful making and selling agricultural equipment. It was a family that would go on to produce a Governor General and a world famous actor.

At 34 years of age, Bert, as he was generally known, cut quite a swath in Toronto’s social circle. It was true that he was less well off than others of the clan, that the house he and his family lived in was not nearly so grand. He was a high end car saleman in a new industry, and the family was living about his income.They had but one domestic servant, a mousy, quiet 18 year old import from Great Britain named Carrie Davis.

Bert liked her, and had crossed a line a day earlier (while his American born wife was visiting family in Bridgeport. Connecticut) by making several aggressive moves on the girl, which she successfully evaded. Even so, he was surprised, we assume, when she met him at the front door carrying his own .32 calibre Savage automatic pistol, and proceeded to shoot him twice, killing him almost immediately.

Those facts were never in doubt, having been witnessed by several people, and never actually denied by Carrie herself, although she was initially uncertain that she had killed him.

There were larger questions in play in almost no time at all. How quickly could the Massey family get this dealt with in a polite way (the girl was obviously deranged and Bert’s behavior had nothing to do with it) without besmirching the family name?

Then there was the question of public opinion, and what it might due to stimulate the sales of the two big rival newspapers in the city, not to mention the smaller ones.

Then there was the question of Carrie’s defense, and how it might put a feather in the cap of any potential lawyer willing to take it on.

Not much of this had any bearing on whether or not she had killed the man – because she had. Was it a planned event, a spur of the moment decision? Was the girl merely protecting her honour (her virginity, as it were) against a further assault?

Hartley Dewart, KC, had the daunting task of presenting a Carrie that was tried beyond her young endurance, forced to defend herself, and driven to the killing of her employer on the spur of the moment.

The city, already excited by the anxiety brought on by the war in Europe, which had begun the previous August, was somewhat diverted by this drama on the home front, and all sorts of people adopted all sorts of opinions as to what had happened and what ought to happen next.

This book is a kind of forensic examination, but it is not one about the facts of the case, which were mostly available to Gray through the newspaper coverage during the 19 days between the act and the verdict.

It is rather an examination of the time, place and society within which the events transpired. It is a portrait of Toronto during that month in 1915, in the midst of the war. As background and context we are offered the rise and fortunes of the Massey family, some of the history of the city’s newspaper wars, and a good look at the tactics that were used to both prosecute and defend Carrie Davis.

One of the reasons the book goes in this direction is that there is very little about the case preserved in the official record. It was a case where assumptions about character and motive trumped the cold facts of the killing.

Gray is the first to admit that the newspaper coverage was pretty cut-throat, and there are often competing accounts of the same speeches and descriptions, but that does help to make the book interesting.

Carrie Davis was a virgin, a major fact in her favour. She had a young suitor who was fighting the Hun in Europe. She seemed even younger than 18 much of the time, and utterly disconsolate at the state in which she found herself. The jury took pity on her.

Gray unfolds the narrative in four parts: The Story, The Law, The Trial and the Aftermath. Chapter 17 finishes off the war story that is interwoven with the trial for the month, and chapter 18 tells us something of what happened to Carrie Davis during the rest of her life. All told, it’s an engrossing story.

Charlotte Gray was Berton House writer-in-residence in 2008.

 

-30-

 

 

 

 

Bookends – Getting Ready for Another National Birthday Celebration February 17, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Whitehorse Star.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Bookends – Getting Ready for Another National Birthday Celebration

By Dan Davidson

November 30, 2016canada-history

– 815 words –

 

Canada – An Illustrated History

By Derek Hayes

Douglas and McIntyre

296 pages

$36.95

 

With Canada’s 150th birthday coming up, it might just be a good time to dip into this highly readable short history of our nation. This is a “revised and expanded” edition of a work that originally came out in hardbound copy in 2004. Apparently the final chapter, “The Third Millennium”, contains the bulk of the new material. The publisher indicates there weren’t that many more changes, and the increased page count seems to fit with that addition.

The book is a lovely package, a well-bound paperback with over 450 illustrations, ranging from photographs to historical paintings and maps, as well as posters, stamps, cartoons, stained glass and tapestries. In the section on Louisbourg one of the paintings was a wall mural that I saw on display there last summer. There is full colour throughout and not a single page without some type of illustration – though there are some pages that have no words.

The publishers’ notes indicate: “The book covers the events, the newsmakers, and the ordinary folk that shaped the Canadian experience. Here are tales of the famous, the infamous, the popular, and the unknown: the natives, the nation-builders, the separatists, and the statesmen; the soldiers, the settlers, the rebels, and the refugees; the artists, the astronauts, the invaders, and the inventors; the motorists, the mail carriers, the fur traders, and the photographers—a myriad of individuals who shaped our country.”

Don’t let that generic list or the table of contents fool you. While they read like a standard history of Canada, marching on from First Nations habitation through the Vikings, French, English, wars, rebellions, Confederation, and on to the present day, there are a lot of sidebars on specific issues or trends that stand out from the main text by having a different background colour and a different type of content. Some are single page segments, but most are two page spreads.

These are the pages where the book gets away from the military and political themes that used to dominate historical writing and begins to deal with social issues. There are sections on the plague ships that led to quarantine islands, the 19th century’s discovery of oil, the Underground Railway, the development of the railway, the evolution of law and punishment, the development of the telephone and Standard Time, photography, fire fighting, bicycles, the Klondike Gold Rush, catalogue shopping, the postal service, and many other topics. The one problem I have with it relates to the glossy paper and the 91/2 by 113/4 inch size. It’s a somewhat cumbersome book and it’s hard to find a position where light isn’t reflecting off the pages. It turned out that it was easiest to read while sitting at the kitchen table.

Derek Hayes , a geographer by training, has a passion for old maps and what they can reveal about the past. He is the author of the bestselling Historical Atlas Series, which includes the Historical Atlas of Canada , Historical Atlas of Vancouver and the Lower Fraser Valley , Historical Atlas of the Arctic, Historical Atlas of Toronto and Historical Atlas of the United States . His website lists 15 books on a variety of geographical and historical topics.

The book provides a lot of material for trivial pursuit fans. For instance, did you know that:

  • Germans landed in Canada during the Second World War
  • Canada was valued at a billion dollars in 1872
  • a new boat was demonstrated in Toronto in 1897 that rolled over the
  • waves
  • up to 1930, Norway claimed a vast territory in Canada’s North
  • the first automobile crossed the Canadian Rockies in 1904 – by driving
  • on the rails of the Canadian Pacific
  • Canada once issued a 25 cent bill – and a $50,000 bill
  • Canada nearly had a flag with three maple leaves, not one
  • it was not until 1949 that all of Canada drove on the right
  • a major Canadian bridge collapsed not once but twice
  • the first transatlantic phone call was made in 1927 by radio
  • the first Canadian railway began running in 1836
  • the original “Red Indians” lived in Newfoundland
  • during the War of 1812 a cannon made in 1657 was used to defend
  • Toronto against the Americans
  • it took only a hour for French Canada to fall to the British
  • Canada’s first newspaper was the Halifax Gazette, published in 1752. It
  • was a single sheet of paper
  • one of the principal French forts is today a traffic island
  • France imported women into Canada, and then passed a law requiring men to marry them
  • Samuel de Champlain expected to find China at the western end of the Great Lakes
  • part of Canada is named after a brand of gin, and another after a beer

 

-30-

 

 

Bookends: Imagining the aboriginal roots of Canada January 27, 2016

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Bookends: Imagining the aboriginal roots of Canada

By Dan Davidson

June 17, 2015

– 801 words –

 

A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada

By John Ralston SaulA Fair Country

Penguin Books

342 pages

$20.00

 

The most basic summary of Saul’s 2008 study of our country is to say that we are not who we think we are, and that this misunderstanding is holding us back. Saul apparently expands on this theme in his next cultural analysis, The Comeback, but the reviews of that refer to it as a sequel, so after the publisher sent me a copy of that it seemed I had better read this one first.

The first 110 or so pages present Saul’s argument that we take more of our social morays and thoughts about government than we are aware of from the First Nations. While there are British and French roots in our self definition, there are also aboriginal roots that we tend to ignore. Such a blending makes us a Metis civilization, not as European as “deux nations” theorists would have us to be, and not quite like our American neighbours to the south and (writing from the Yukon) the west.

Part two of the book deals directly with governance. Time was when one could not get through Canadian Government 101 without learning that one of our defining characteristics was “peace, order and good government”, shortened to the POG Clause. The order part has been used to justify breaches of civil liberties such as the War Measures Act and, more recently, Bill C-51, the omnibus bill (“An Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts”) that will restrict our liberties and freedoms in the name of defending them.

Saul maintains that the original versions of the documents that led to Confederation had “fairness” where the British parliament insisted on putting Order. Had we but followed the nation building strategies of Baldwin and LaFontaine (Saul’s very favourite pre-Canadian politicians) we would be a very different nation today, and things like the Residential Schools tragedy might never have occurred.

In part three Saul takes on the leaders of our nation, the political and business elites. He calls them castrati, for he says they have neutered themselves in their attempts to be British, French, American, anything but the fully committed Canadians they need to be in order to make the most of our resources and national spirit.

Our elites are failing us on a regular basis because they don’t know who we are, or who they ought to be, or what the nature of our country is.

Castrati, of course, were those male singers who maintained their youthful soprano voices by being castrated and thus, never becoming fully adult males.

It all comes back to what Saul writes on the very first page of his book, a thought that heartens to Thomas King’s dictum that all we are is stories and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are what define us.

Saul’s version of this thought goes like this:

“A dancer who describes himself as a singer will do neither well.”

(Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire might argue with him, but they were exceptional.)

“To insist on describing ourselves as something we are not is to embrace existential illiteracy. We are not a civilization of British or French or European inspiration. We never have been. Our society is not an expression of peace, order and good government.. It never was.”

As he begins the last section of the book, Saul issues a bit of a challenge. He is going to deal a bit with the North and with something he calls A Circle of Fairness.

“What we become in our lives is often a matter of self-perception. So, too, for any society. If we can see how Canada has taken its unconscious shape from our Aboriginal experience and how we have organized that inspiration around the concept of peace, fairness and good government, we will approach our need to act in a different manner.”

His notion is that should have an idea of citizenship that is a “circle that welcomes and adapts” and in which “fairness and inclusion are the keys to how we function.”

I’m not at all certain that I am entirely convinced by his arguments, but I do think that he argues with some conviction, that a good many of his criticisms are well founded, and that the discussion is worth having.

Indeed, the weakest point of the book is that it lacks an index, making it difficult to check on specific points when trying to review its contents.

 

-30-