Christopher Armstrong Reflects on Historian Ramsay Cook

Christopher Armstrong Reflects on Historian Ramsay Cook


it’s a pleasure to be back at York amongst so many historians I didn’t know about Chairman Mao being a member of the history department but I suppose he was probably pretty effective and I’ve been around here for too long long time but times do change I first came to know Ramsay in 1966 when I joined his graduate seminar at the University of Toronto and later on he supervised my doctorate and subsequently I became a colleague of his at York in the 19702 and continued to be so he retired and then I retired but we continued to see each other and I I’m glad that Kate McPherson said something so perceptive which was that Ramsay was fun and I thought I’d just say a few words about fun and Ramsay at the beginning before I turned what I think was one of his contributions to the study of Canadian history about 1976 Ramsay and I went to Winnipeg because the University of Winnipeg was holding some kind of a conference and the importance to them of Ramsays presence was that he had of course left United College which then later turned into the University of Winnipeg he had left at about the time of the Crowne Affair which most of you probably don’t know about I don’t think Michiel Horn is here so we probably won’t hear an hour-and-a-half about it but the Crowne Affair arose when Harry Crowe and Stewart Reid and Kenneth McNaught it had some internal private correspondence intercepted and they were fired and I know that Ramsay was very fond of all of them having been taught by them at United and so he didn’t go back to the United College until his time which I guess was twenty years after know I don’t know what the conference is about and I don’t know why I was there I actually looked at my CV to see if I’d given a paper but I didn’t or I was too ashamed to put it on my CV there we were the two of us among many others and of course the people at the University of Winnipeg were positively falling all over themselves in delight that Ramsay was back but on the Friday during the conference again I don’t know what happened or at least for our point of view nothing happened so Ramsay said to me “why don’t we rent a car and go to Morden” which is a town in Southern Manitoba where he spent his adolescence I guess before he left to come to the United College and then on to Queen’s and the University of Toronto so I said okay so we rented the car and we drove to Morden and we got to Morden and I was driving I think and so we turned down the main street of Morden and Cook kept saying to me “slow down” so I’d slow down and he’d say “and that used to be so and so’s pharmacy and over there was the hardware store and so on but slow down more” so I keep slowing down eventually we were creeping along at that point the RCMP pulled up beside us and said “what are you guys doing here” I think they probably thought we were sort of slow motion bank robbers or something casing the joint anyway we satisfied them that we had a reason being Morden and we left town though not very fast cause we discovered that the car we rented had a governor on it that meant it couldn’t go more than 52 miles an hour but we went back to we went back to Winnipeg and that evening that was where the real fun for the two of us began or rather it began for Ramsay he said to me “why don’t we go and look at the Thomas Scott memorial orange Lodge” again not all of you will know who Thomas Scott was he was executed during Riel’s brief governance of Manitoba in 1869/1870 and he was of course an Ontario Orangemen so I said “okay” so we went to the top to the Thomas Scott memorial orange Lodge which was in a vast three-story building and it turned out that it’d become a kind of burnet that weren’t enough Orangemen to fill it all the time so they rented it out on that night I think the University’ of Manitobas’ engineering students had taken over and there was an enormous amount of noise and dancing and frivolity but we met the guy who was the Orangemen who is the manager of the lodge and he said “what brings you here” and Ramsay said to him “well we’re from the Tommy church orange Lodge in Toronto” I guess again Tommy Church was an orange man who was Mayor of Toronto around the time of the First World War and so this guy said “well that’s great let me show you around” so he showed us all around and he took us into these rooms and with all sorts of regalia and I remember we ended up on the third floor where there were no engineers though it was a vast room and he told us with great pride that it was the largest spring-loaded dance floor in Western Canada we didn’t attempt to test this so I after a while I said come on Cook we got to get out of here but we went downstairs we’re going we’re going out the door and this this man had been sufficiently impressed I think more by Ramsay than by me he said there’s a big orange gathering in Neepawa tomorrow and we’re going in a bus wouldn’t you like to come along and Ramsay turned to me and said what do you think about this and he said and i’m sure this is true that I looked absolutely stricken at this idea I blurted out something about the fact that my wife was expecting me home and this man pressed us a little bit but not too much and eventually we escaped without being discovered as non orange men so that was fun with Ramsay there were lots of other times when there was fun there was a time some celebration of national celebration I think maybe it was when the Constitution was repatriated or Patriated and there was a big celebration in downtown Toronto and Ramsay and Carl Berger went and stole a 40-foot long red and white maple leaf pennant from the glory you cut glory cadillac dealership at the corner of Bay and College I wasn’t involved in this theft I was just at home but anyway sometime in the late evening the doorbell rang and they tried to give me this thing because they realized there was gonna be trouble when they got home and I actually I just flatly refused to take it I said you guys got this thing this is your problem i’m not i’m not going to take it so that was that was fun with Ramsay and there was lots more of it as time went on I thought I might just say a few words before Marlene gets out the shepherd’s crook and hauls me off about the contribution that I think Ramsay made to Canadian history as I said I joined his graduate seminar in 1966 so I think what what he did, he did many things that seminar but one thing that he did that looking back on it I remember was that he introduced us and I think over those years from the late fifties through the sixties to a new view especially for Anglophone historians in Canada of the place of confederation and a place of Quebec in Canada and confederation Ramsay as Don Wright reminded me in his splendid introduction to the second edition of the regenerators which came out a short time ago Ramsay had intended when he left Queens to come to the University of Toronto and study with Frank Underhill but Underhill left but I looked as a result of this I looked at Underhill’s Massey lectures for 1964 which were delivered in 1963 and in those Massey lectures its called the image of Confederation Underhill perfectly captured what I think was probably the usual view that Anglophone historians had of Quebec as Underhill put it I’m not quoting here but paraphrasing that he that’s the leaders of Quebec Society wanted to create and maintain a rural peasants society with its Catholic values which would stand against the rank commercialism and industrialization which were ruining North American society well Ramsay had done his homework obviously before the Massey lectures were delivered but he had delved into the literature mainly by Quebeckers about Quebec and of course what he discovered was sure there were plenty of people who did want what Underhill said was the vision of Quebec Society as a rural peasant Catholic society designed to have a lot of children and exercise a civilizing mission on Anglophone North Americans but the work Quebeckers as far back as 1840 when the these are my extensive notes just so that I don’t make a mistake Etienne Parent wrote something in 1846 calling for the industrialization of Quebec and the fact that it needed to come to terms with the future and this theme continued through the writings about Quebec by some people though a minority up to, well on up into the 20th century Errol Bouchette wrote something which again urged the same sort of thing now it’s true there were plenty of people like Monsignor Paquet and Abbe Groulx who took a different view and Ramsay had us read both of these things I remember the great pleasure of reading JP Tardivels’ “Pour la Patrie” which I think I have a copy of yet he sent us off to the Robarts Library and the Sam Sigmund Samuel library to look for these things and they largely existed in books that had last seen to I guess maybe Ramsay had taken them out but before that they’d been taken out about 1912 and people had read them but they hadn’t paid very much attention to them I don’t think and so he pointed out to us that there were people with a distinctly other vision of Quebec society should look like that it should look there was every reason that it should look like the rest of North American society and of course some of these people pointed out the embarrassing fact with a great parts of Quebec society already did look like the rest of North American Society there was industrialization for those who couldn’t get industrial jobs in Quebec of course the up and left and went to New England so they took they took their civilizing mission with them but they went to New England and there they behaved like people from Massachusetts though I don’t know if they drove as badly as people in Massachusetts but anyway there was a decidedly other view of what Quebec was like and this was, this I think actually here Professor Wright and perhaps Marcel Martel will have something to say for it about this too I think this penetrated back into Quebec into into the ideas of scholars in Quebec and Ramsay made it his business to get to know and become friendly with people many of whom took these views Michel Brunet had written a famous essay in which he wrote about three dominant ideas of Quebec society one of which was agriculturalism which he which he in a sense debunked and there were other people to like Maurice Lamontagne and and of course Pierre Trudeau who wrote a famous essay called “Some Obstacles to Democracy in Quebec” and so these ideas were put into our heads where I don’t know what was made of them at least not immediately but these were influential ideas and one of the reasons that they were influential I think was that Ramsays seminar at the University of Toronto as it later wasn’t York was a place where a lot of doctoral students were trained who went on to get jobs in those wonderful days when jobs were to be had and I remember in my, in the year that I took Ramsays seminar there was aside from myself there was Michael Bliss and David Bercuson and I rather think Paul Rutherford was there but I don’t know the year before Patricia Dirk’s and Michiel Horn had been in Ramsays seminar presumably read some of the same stuff and had been introduced to some of the same ideas as we were and so this is, Ramsays concern about the nature Canadian society and particularly francophone Anglophone relations is of course usually associated with his concerned about the possible restructuring of federalism which he didn’t want to happen and the the other things that that went along with that and so I think that these notions about Quebec, Quebec Frank Underhill I think it was he said not only a thing about the peasant rural peasants society but I think we tended in those days to be rather dismissive about politics in Quebec and I think if i’m not mistaken Frank Underhill once said that provincial politics Canada are dull as ditchwater and Quebec politics are full of it and so it was something you needed to pay attention to for Anglophones even historians at that time the mid-1960s fifties and sixties Quebec became important only because we argued about separate schools we argued about conscription we argued about Imperial relations with the British and the british empire but nobody seemed to really pay very much attention to some of the ideas that were circulating within Quebec society and so by bringing the attention of the number of graduate students to this and of course writing a lot about it as well because his book “Canada and the French-Canadian Question” came out in 1966 the very year that I was in a seminar thereby hangs a rather embarrassing tale which i’ll conclude we were in were in the seminar which met and Ramsay’s office so we were in quite a small room with bookshelves all around in the first floor Sydney Smith Hall and a big argument broke out probably between me and Cook but if it wasn’t me it with bliss and Ramsay said “well I can settle this because I deal with this it’s in my book” so he looked at me and he said “it’s right up above your head” so I got up and I turned around and I looked at the bookshelf and I of course was looking for the green cover of the book which was the published version of his PhD thesis that he had done for Donald Creighton on J.W. Dafoe it had it had an ugly kind of green cover and so I was staring at it and looking for that and I couldn’t see any looked like it and what he was referring to of course was Canada in the French-Canadian Question the book that he had just published which has an ugly purple cover with green writing on it and he said to me “don’t you know about my book, “haven’t you read it” and I said “no but I’ve got the t-shirt and the record”

3 thoughts on “Christopher Armstrong Reflects on Historian Ramsay Cook

  1. A blast from the past. Took History 410 from Prof. Armstrong at Brock university in 1970.¬†Classes were always entertaining and very informative. Yes, my use of the commas is still "…whimsical at best"

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