Friday, June 17, 2011
"Canadians, freebooters and soldiers"
Thus Rene Chartrand , author of The Forts of New France, lumps together three groups who were housed together at the French Fort Biloxi in the years after 1699. If you know what low regard soldiers were held in during the Early Modern period, you see the inadvertant insult.
This is an indirect way of saying, without excusing anything, that I'm not flabbergasted that some Canadians might riot at the end of a Stanley Cup series. Canadians haven't always been seen as such nice guys -- remember how the Germans hated to face them on the Western Front.
Two literary episodes brought this home to me long ago. The first was the concluding chapter of The Scotch, John Kenneth Galbraith's memoir of growing up in Southwestern Ontario near St. Thomas before the First World War. The "Scotch" were a grim, hardworking lot who were not very Scottish, though they did know how to fight. One of Galbraith's most vivid memories was of The Glorious Twelfth one year when an argument over religion or politics was amplified into a full-scale riot when someone started playing the pipes. Galbraith's father saw how things were going to go before it really got going, and threw his family into the back of their wagon and headed home. Galbraith long remembered how this hugely noisy fight grew so quickly that the noise it produced never seemed to drop off as the wagon went quickly on its way.
Now that was a riot; probably we can put it down to King Billy, like a large number of unhappy events in Scotland, Ireland, and Canada.
The other story comes from the first of the Lew Archer detective novels by Ross Macdonald (was he Scotch?). Macdonald was a quintessentially post-World War II Californian writer, but he had been raised in part in Canada, and in one book (the first?) he had a Canadian character who got the plot moving. This Canadian was a clerk from Toronto whose wife had run off to Los Angeles with a gangster; he followed, determined to find her and bring her home. The curious thing about the guy was that, despite the fact he was an ordinary clerk who was coming up against some tough, ruthless gangsters, he was belligerent and tetchy and picked a fight against anyone he even thought was looking sideways at him. Every fight he picked he lost, but that didn't stop him.
I would have to say that despite decades of immigration and vast cultural changes, that old strain may not be gone. After all, even in recent times when Canadians have been mostly behaving themselves, you could always have a fight on a hockey rink, and important public figures would cheer you on. And still do. (Canadians know who I mean.)
Note: the labeling feature lets me know that after years of writing this blog, that this is the first labeled "hockey." What does that say?
Image: Biloxi oyster fishermen of the 1930s. Why not? You'd prefer a riot or a hockey game?