Volume 93, Issue 45

Thursday, November 18, 1999


Kreviazuk finding a way to get through anything

Roots stays grounded

Granatstein brings history to life

Sopranos hit high note

Granatstein brings history to life

By John Intini
Gazette Staff

Prolific writer, lecturer and current director of the Canadian War Museum Jack L. Granatstein will be speaking on campus today promoting his recent book, entitled Prime Minister: Ranking Canada's Leaders.

This effort, based on a survey in which 26 historians ranked the top 10 Canadian PMs, has raised some eyebrows due to the name at the top of the list – William Lyon Mackenzie King.

"I know that surprised all sorts of people because Mackenzie King has a reputation as being a guy who talked to spirits, who patronized prostitutes, who could never make up his mind," Granatstein says about the man who ran the country for a lengthy 17 years. "[But] he created the welfare state, ran a superb war effort and established the commonwealth. [Under Mackenzie King] the country changed from being a poor country to being a rich middle power with independence."

Born in Toronto, Granatstein completed his undergraduate at the Royal Military College, his masters at the University of Toronto and obtained his PhD at Duke University in North Carolina. Upon graduating, he served in the Canadian army for 10 years, then returned home and became a history professor at York University. In 1998, he accepted a position as director of the Canadian War Museum.

With copious amounts of experience in the field, he considers himself a national historian, claiming his research spans such broad national 20th century issues as Canada-United States relations, war, politics, foreign policy and defence policy.

In Granatstein's opinion, modern society's greatest threat to history lies in the Canadian constitution, which allows provincial governments to control our history, as opposed to a national approach.

Granatstein also mourns the lack of positivity in history, recognizing a need for what he describes as a basic cultural capital instilled in all Canadians. "I don't want for a minute, a history curriculum which is boosterism, but I don't think it should be as it is, with too often a negative outlook.

"We were all racist, we were miserable, we did all these terrible things. I don't think that is what Canadian history is," he suggests. "It's a matter of the provinces deciding there is nothing terrible about teaching about the nation. However, there is something terrible about teaching only negativism about the country. It has to be balanced. It is definitely unbalanced [right now]."

Granatstein also says he sees a dangerous imbalance in university history curriculums, suggesting social history – involving feminist theory, labour relations, gender issues and more – has unfairly garnered more attention over more politically centred fields.

"I don't object to social history being taught, I just think other things need to be taught as well. It has turned into an ideological war and the social historians have set out to kill everybody else and to drive them out of the academy."

On a more promising note, Granatstein says he receives a good response from students across the country who are aware they have been cheated of all that is Canadian. "They have been short-changed in high school and they have been short-changed at university and they actually want to learn something about their country," he affirms. "We have done a disservice to our students."

J.L. Granatstein will be speaking in King's College Main Lounge at 5 p.m. tonight.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999