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Canada’s History

Revamped magazine balances the wisdom of historians with the first-hand accounts of those who lived through historic events

By Frank Dabbs

Canada’s History
Edited by Mark Reid
(Published by Canada’s History Society) $6.95 

Three hundred years ago, the beaver symbolized Canada’s new-world wealth. It was central to the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur trade, and then segued onto the five-cent piece as a national reminder of our past. In 1920, the company — which had by then become a retail giant — founded a history magazine called The Beaver: A Journal of Progress.

In the most recent chapter of that journal, the magazine has been renamed Canada’s History because, as editor Mark Reid relates, few Canadians still connect the beaver to the country’s history.

Reid is putting his own imprint on the magazine with thematic issues such as a recent treatment of battlefield mental injuries that linked First World War shell shock with post-traumatic stress disorder in Afghanistan. More such theme issues are coming, Reid promises.

“Often professional historians are too inward looking to do what we do,” he says, explaining that their focus is too specialized, or they write well academically but lack narrative skills that writers for popular audiences have acquired.

Reid works to balance the depth and wisdom of professional historians with the first-hand accounts of people who have lived through historic events and the flair of journalists who love to write about history.

For instance, a recent issue headlined academics Jack Granatstein and Marc Milner on the Canadian Navy’s 100th birthday, bestselling-author Ken McGoogan with a personal celebration of Banff National Park’s 125th anniversary and freelance journalist Maria Amuchastegui revealing what happened to the FLQ revolutionary exiles after they were convicted of kidnapping in the October Crisis of 1970 and sent to Cuba.

The cachet of the magazine is the warmth and sense of excitement that accompanies the depth and unique insight of its writers, combined with the editors’ ability to make connections between stories and build themes. Canada’s History has also revamped its online presence with a stronger, more energetic website.

“Our challenge is Wikipedia,” Reid says. “Our articles take the facts of history and craft them into narratives through the storyteller’s craft.”

Frank Dabbs is a freelance writer in Annan, Ont.

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