Non-fiction

Category: Non-fiction

Yes, the lakes may still be ice-covered, and shrinking snowbanks might yet line the roads, but the spring season in Canada’s western mountains may be the optimal time to board one of the spectacular train excursions to explore the canyons and peaks of Canada’s finest scenery.

After all, it is the time of year when daylight extends well into the evening and busloads of tour groups have yet to clog the attractions.

Dundurn Press has just released Foreign Voices in the House, a striking book published ahead of Canada’s 150th anniversary. Its 600 pages are filled with, among other things, the major speeches 64 world leaders like Nelson Mandela, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Boris Yeltsin, and Barack Obama delivered in our House of Commons over the past century. Alongside pithy bios of each leader, illustrated with the dramatic Parliament Hill photos of these history-makers, are many surprising facts about them, which you might never have suspected.

While the future of the world weighed on his mind, a corporal in the middle of the Great War noted that life goes on.

In the spring of 1917, as he and the entire Canadian Corps prepared for the greatest battle of their lives, Ellis Sifton, a twenty-five-year-old farm boy from Wallacetown, Ontario, stopped to notice familiar activity in the French countryside. Despite the approaching Easter offensive against German armies entrenched on Vimy Ridge, he noted in letters home that the planting season in France would go ahead no matter what.

I grew up with a ghost. We all did in our family — the ghost of Billy Bishop — and that has meant for interesting times.

Like his other four grandchildren, I never knew my famous grandfather, the highly decorated First World War flying ace. I was only three years old when Billy died at the age of 62. But for our family, and as someone who has achieved almost mythical status in the annals of Canadian history, it feels as if grandpa Billy is still around, continuing to live on with us in spirit, shaping each of our lives in ways that we did not expect.

In many ways, The Unbroken Machine began out of my own frustrations as a parliamentary journalist as to the kinds of lapses that I see around me on a daily basis. I see MPs who don’t understand their jobs and who burn all kinds of time and energy on things that aren’t their responsibility. I see my fellow journalists struggling to properly cover certain events without having a proper grounding in how our parliamentary system works, leading them to import American terms and ideas as though they were interchangeable with our own.

Jack McLaren almost went to war without his most vital weapon. As it was, when he enlisted in 1914, the army recruiting office in Toronto had no uniforms, no rifles, and few training facilities. A fine arts graduate and amateur playwright, J.W. (as he was known) dashed to join Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in September 1915. In his kit he carried his personal effects, foolscap for his diary, a few sketch boards, water colour paints and brushes. And because he thought they just might come in handy, he also packed some writing paper and theatrical makeup.

Some of the 7,000 Canadians wounded in the battle for Vimy Ridge couldn’t believe their eyes when they were taken from the battlefield following their victory in April 1917. Suddenly, after weeks or months in the front lines knowing no one but their comrades-in-arms, some members of the Canadian Corps awoke to the strangest looking stretcher bearers. Instead of male medics and physicians, they came face-to-face with ambulance personnel such as Grace MacPherson.

The last thing Gavin McDonald expected when he joined up in 1915 was participating in a massive covert operation in the Great War. Nor did he enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force anticipating that he would serve his country as far underground as he did.

In fact, McDonald, a twenty-five-year-old farmer from Saskatchewan, volunteered as if it were just another chore on his prairie homestead to-do list:

Lately, I have been reading a number of articles by industry experts and journalists espousing the virtues of the sixty-equity, forty-bond allocation. Their reasoning is that There Is No Alternative (TINA) to earn a good return on your hard-earned capital. I know enough to know this advice is more in line with their interests than yours. In 2017, it will only have been ten years since the beginning of the last financial crisis. For someone who is retired, or soon to be, the 60-40 allocation may be very dangerous advice. Here’s why!

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