At Vimy Ridge

The above is one in a series of pictures a Royal Canadian cameraman took during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. The photo is regarded as one of the greatest war photos — although its origins are obscure. Some note that it was taken during “pre-battle” training behind the lines. This is not unusual. Because of the primitive photographic equipment available in the field, most photos purporting to portray actual ‘combat action’ during World War I in fact showed troops during pre-war training exercises. Some however note that the soldier going over the top was making a gesture expressing his contempt for the Germans by putting his thumb to his nose. (There is a website refuting this here).

No matter what the battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917 was considered as a pivotal moment for Canada as a nation; four Canadian Army units fought together as one for the first time. Three thousand five hundred and ninety eight Canadian soldiers were killed during the battle, and four Victoria Crosses were awarded. Indeed, the Canadians captured a strategic area, but it was a minor victory for the losing Allies that spring, and had a negligible effect. The Globe and Mail noted that “if French or British rather than Canadian troops had driven the German enemy off Vimy Ridge, history probably would have forgotten about it.”

Yet, the victory at Vimy become inseparable from the Canadian identity. When there were rumors that the Vimy memorial had been destroyed by Germans during the WWII, the Canadians were whipped fury and hatred so much so that Adolf Hitler’s advisers thought it was necessary for the Nazi leader to be photographed in Vimy at the monument to demonstrate that it was still intact.

Trudeau slides down a banister

Above photo by Ted Grant, shot in 1968, is a classic of Canadian photojournalism. Pierre Trudeau was running to succeed Lester Pearson as Liberal party leader, and prime minister. The press corps waited outside as Trudeau left Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier Hotel. Grant however was inside, and heading down the stairs in front of Trudeau when he heard laughter. Turning around, he saw Trudeau sliding down the railing. Of three photos he took of that moment, only one was in-focus. “The third one, he was practically on top of me,” Grant recalled.

The photo began Trudeaumania. Before it fizzled out after 1971 with the prime minister’s rocky marraige to Margaret Sinclair, Trudeaumania would define an energetic and nonconformist generation and propel Trudeau to three election victories.

Allegedly bisexual,Trudeau dated celebrities — including Barbara Steisand and Margot Kidder — and invited John Lennon and Yoko Ono to his office. A racy bachelor with penchant for flowers in his lapel, fast sportcars, judo and scarves, he wooed Canada with his irreverent, “un-Canadianly immodest” behavior. He did a pirouette behind the back of Queen Elizabeth II, and also slid down banisters at Buckingham Palace and Marlborough House. He wore sandals to the parliament and accused of using obscenities inside the parliament once. He waved his middle finger at protestors.

Socially liberal and high-living, Trudeau was staunchly nationalistic and internationalist. He crushed a violent separatist movement in his native province of Quebec (once he stared down an attacker), while promoting French language and Francophone minority. With his attempts to form close relations with China and Cuba, his nonchalance for NATO and quixotic campaigns for world peace and nuclear disarmament, Trudeau remained a constant thorn for the White House.

The Death of Pierre Laporte

The above picture of the body of Quebec labour minister Pierre Laporte in the trunk of a car was one which shocked the normally-aplomb nation to its core. On Oct. 17, 1970, a week after he was being kidnapped by the terrorist group Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) during the October Crisis, Laporte’s body was found at the St. Hubert Airport south of Montreal.

The Vice-Premier and Minister of Labour of Quebec, derisively called as “Minister of Unemployment and Assimilation” by FLQ, was kidnapped from his home and held hostage. The kidnappers wanted “political prisoners” to be freed; but in an unprecedentedly determined move, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked War Measures Act, which allowed mass raids and arrests. Martial law was declared, and the events that followed became known as the “October Crisis”. In response, Laporte was strangled to death, and an FLQ communiqué led police and journalists to the car parked at St. Hubert airport. I

It was the first political assassination in Canada since the murder of Thomas d’Arcy McGee a century earlier. This kidnapping–aided by the above photo, reproduced innumerably–marked the beginning of the end for the public sympathy towards the FLQ. Within two months, Laporte’s kidnappers were captured and sentenced to long prison terms.

The photo was taken by Robert Nadon for CanadaPress, and he called it, “A Terrible Turning Point.”

Michelle Jean eats seal heart


It is probably the weirdest news of the year. At a community feast in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Canada on May 25, 2009, the Canadian Governor-General Michaelle Jean helped an Inuit elder skin two seals and she and her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond later ate the raw seal’s heart and arctic char in solidarity with traditional fish and seal hunts. On the Governor General’s final official visit to the Arctic, she used a traditional blade to cut the seal and asked the owner, “Could I try the heart”? And then she did.

Wiping her bloody fingers with a tissue, Jean said it is difficult to believe anyone would characterize the traditional hunting practices as inhumane. The graphic and perhaps disgusting (literally, not metaphorically) act was a direct slap in the face of the European Union, which had earlier called the seal hunt “inherently inhumane” and banned it. Although the vote was overwhelming in Europe, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper protested that the seal hunt is not any more inhumane than the accepted, legal slaughter of animals in the EU.

Canada, Greenland and Namibia kill 60 percent of the 900,000 seals slain each year. Other seal-hunting countries include Norway, Iceland, Russia and the United States. The above photo is by Sean Kilpatrick, covering for The Canadian Press.

Maggie Trudeau’s Indiscretions


Their relationship is on the rocks, and Maggie is with the Stones. By their sixth anniversary, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and wife Margaret Trudeau had decided to go their separate ways. Thirty years younger than the PM and a hippie free spirit, Maggie Trudeau was unhappy about her husband’s constant work-related absences and was forced to raise her three young sons largely by herself.

Bipolar and depressed, Margaret smuggled drugs in the prime minister’s luggage and tore apart a tapestry in the prime minister’s official residence in Ottawa, but the public learnt about this dramatic fashion, when Maggie is spotted at a Rolling Stones concert at Toronto’s El Mocambo club. She later invites them back to her hotel room. Even before she finally separated from her allegedly gay husband in 1977, she frequented Studio 54 nightclub in New York City and the photos like the one above were  featured on many front pages. She was also associated with Rolling Stone’s Mick Jagger and U.S. Senator, Ted Kennedy.

Vive Le Quebec Libre!


On July 24, 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle was one of many world leaders invited to Expo 67 to help celebrate Canada’s 100th birthday. The relations between two countries were not at their best: earlier that year, the French government had not sent a representative to the funeral service for Governor General Georges Vanier. General de Gaulle held a grudge against Canada for its objection to France’s military position in the Suez crisis.

De Gaulle refused to land in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, as par with proper political protocol. Instead, he flew to the French colony of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, off Newfoundland, and sailed on a French frigate to Quebec City. There, de Gaulle was cheered enthusiastically, while the new Governor General was booed. The next day de Gaulle arrived in Montreal; although he was not scheduled to speak that evening, but the crowd chanted for him; de Gaulle stepped out onto the balcony of the Hôtel de Ville and gave a short address. [It was later said that his address was preplanned and he used it when the opportunity presented itself.

In his address he commented that his drive down the banks of the St. Lawrence River, lined as it had been with cheering crowds, reminded him of his triumphant return to Paris after the liberation from Nazi Germany. The speech appeared to conclude with the words “Vive Montréal! Vive le Québec!” (Long live Montreal! Long live Quebec!), but he then added, “Vive le Québec libre! Vive le Canada français! Et vive la France!” (“Long live free Quebec! Long live French Canada! And long live France!”). The speech was broadcast live on radio.

This statement, coming from a head of state, was considered a serious breach of diplomatic protocol. Standing inside, Pauline Vanier, the widow of the Governor General Vanier pressed a note into his hand containing only a date, 1940–a rebuke on behalf of the Canadians who had fought for the liberation of France. A media and diplomatic uproar ensued thereafter, which resulted in de Gaulle cutting his visit to Canada short. The day after the speech de Gaulle visited Expo 67, before flying back to Paris the following morning, instead of continuing his visit on to Ottawa where he was to have met with Prime Minister. Influential Canadian statesman Pierre Trudeau, publicly wondered what the French reaction would have been if a Canadian Prime Minister shouted “Brittany to the Bretons.”

As a bizarre footnote to history, de Gaulle instituted a series of crackdowns on Breton nationalism the very next year, and was accused of double standards for, on the one hand demanding a “free” Quebec because of its linguistic differences from English speaking Canada, while on the other oppressing the movement in Brittany.

Robert Stanfield fumbles

In 1974, during the Canadian federal election campaign, Doug Ball captured his most famous photo: the photograph of Conservative candidate for Prime Minister Robert Stanfield dropping a football during a rest stop at North Bay, Ont. on May 30, 1974. “Knock-kneed, hands clasped awkwardly, grimacing as a football slipped between his bony fingers,” recalled Doug Ball.

It was to be the defining photo of Robert Stanfield’s political career. It was Stanfield aide Brad Chapman who brought out a football for some exercise, and Ball shot 36 pictures of Stanfield throwing, catching and, once, awkwardly fumbling the football. In a glaring example of ‘image politics’ common in Canada, the Globe and the Mail ran the picture on their front pages under the headline, “A political fumble?” No newspaper run the photos of Stanfield catching the ball, like the one below.

The photo cost him the election, but Stanfield never held any grudges about the photo, which also won a National Newspaper Award, He autographed a copy for Mr. Ball more than a decade later, signing, ‘To Doug: I should’ve taken off my tie. Robert Stanfield.’”


Wait for me, Daddy


October 1, 1940. The image of a child breaking free of his mother’s hold to reach out to his father became one of the enduring images of WWII. It was taken by Claude Detloff at Columbia and 8th Street in New Westminster, Vancouver as the soldiers of the Duke of Connaught’s Own Rifles marched off to fight in the Second World War.

The mother’s outstretched hand and the swirl of her coat, the boy’s shock of white hair and his own reaching hand, the father’s turning smile and the downward thrust of his own outreaching hand (he has shifted his rifle to his other hand to hold his son’s for a moment) and the long line of marching men in the background combine to make this an unforgettable image, a masterpiece of unplanned composition, a heart-grabbing moment frozen for all time.

The next day, the picture appeared in the Canadian Newspaper Province and the family, Jack, Bernice and their son Warren “Whitey” Bernard were suddenly famous. The picture was given a full page in Life, was portrayed in Liberty, Time, Newsweek, the Reader’s Digest and the Encyclopaedia Britannica Yearbook, not to mention dozens of newspapers. It was hung in many schools in Canada during the war. First grader Whitey became the face of ‘Bring My Daddy Home’ War Bond drives. He finally did in October 1945, and Detloff took a photograph of their reunion.