“Unconventional tales”: Baraka Books profiled in Montreal Gazette

The Montreal Gazette featured a profile of Baraka Books with a focus on James Jackson’s recently released book The Riot that Never Was, running a photo of the publisher taken right where the three innocent Montrealers were shot dead by troops on May 21, 1832.

Following the footsteps of Daniel Tracey.

You could say that Daniel Tracey was publisher Robin Philpot’s 19th-century forebear. Philpot himself sees it that way. (…)

Tracey was among the anglos who prominently sided with the Patriotes of the 1830s who rebelled against British colonial rule in what was then Lower Canada. In support of the cause, he ran a scrappy Montreal newspaper, The Vindicator, devoted to getting up the nose of the colonial ruling clique, and stood for election as a Patriote candidate.

It explains in part why Philpot’s fledgling English-language publishing house, Baraka Books, was keen to issue The Riot that Never Was, a book that tells the story of that fateful election in May of 1832 with Tracey as its protagonist. Another reason is that it challenges the conventional version of the tale.”

Coming soon is Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media by eminent African American writer Ishmael Reed, which equates attacks on Obama with so-called “nigger breakers,” who in slavery days whipped uppity blacks into submission. In a gentler vein, there will be Roads to Richmond by Eastern Townships writer Nick Fonda, a collection of small town tales from the region.
Rue Saint-Jacques, site of the shooting

Rue Saint-Jacques, site of the shooting

THE RIOT THAT NEVER WAS launched on the site of the shooting; 70 people attend

James Jackson talks about THE RIOT THAT NEVER WAS with Tommy Schnurmacher – Click and listen…

James Jackson’s THE RIOT THAT NEVERS WAS got off to a good start when it was launched on November 17 in the Hôtel XIXe siècle on rue Saint-Jacques. Some 70 people turned up to obtain this important new book about a little-known and tragic event that took place right in front of the hotel in 1832.

launch-The-Riot1-125x125THE RIOT THAT NEVER WAS by James Jackson reveals exactly what happened and what didn’t happen when British troops shot three innocent Montrealers on rue Saint-Jacques on May 21, 1832. He answers the question about that tragic shooting in a manner that will satisfy those who are similarly interested in answering questions such as: What really happened at Kent State on May 4, 1970 when four students were killed by the National Guard? What really happened in Derry, Northern Ireland, on “Bloody Sunday”, January 30, 1972 when fourteen pacifists where shot by British troops?

Until James Jackson came along,  nobody ever really tried to understand exactly what happened in Old Montreal that tragic day of May 21, 1832.

As a by-election eventually won by Irish immigrant and newspaper editor Daniel Tracey drew to a close in May 1832, magistrates supporting his opponent, loyalist Stanley Bagg, called in the British troops from the local garrison. Ordered to open fire on a supposed mob, the troops killed three innocent bystanders following what has been qualified ever since as a riot. James Jackson establishes that the riot simply never happened and that there was no mob when soldiers opened fire.

His proof is corroborated by affidavits presented to a packed grand jury that exonerated the soldiers and officers and the magistrates who called in the troops. The grand jury comprised a majority of recently arrived English-speaking Protestant farmers even though the three victims were French Canadian and Catholic. Most troubling is the fact that historians have not questioned the official story.

In this historical whodunit, James Jackson is a one-man commission of inquiry, combining the moral indignation of Émile Zola and the writing talent and historical perspective of Pierre Berton.

A fascinating, methodical investigation into a little-known tragedy reveals that truth can prevail even 180 years after the fact.

Scene of the shooting


Rue Saint-Jacques, looking west where the three bystanders were killed. The first building on the right is the old Bank of Montreal building. The vote was being conducted just to the right of the Bank.

James Jackson holds a DPhil from Oxford University. He taught French and Quebec Literature and History for 25 years at Trinity College Dublin. Twice elected president of the Association for Canadian Studies in Ireland, James Jackson now lives in Montreal.

THE RIOT THAT NEVER WAS, The military shooting of three Montrealers in 1832 and the official cover-up
James Jackson

360 pages, 12 photos, maps

Paper $29.95 ISBN 978-0-9812405-5-8

Orders LitDistCo: 1-800-591-6250

In bookstores: November 30, 2009


Baraka Books – 514-808-8504;

“Barack Obama and the Jim Crow Media: The Return of the Nigger Breakers” by Ishmael Reed – Spring 2010

The Torment of Barack Obama!

 OBAMA_C1-72dpi-182x275Under slavery, “Nigger breakers” had the job of destroying the spirits of tough black men by whatever means necessary. At age 15 Frederick Douglass was sold to Edward Covey who had the mandate to break him. Ishmael Reed makes the case that President Barack Obama is being assailed by 20th century descendants of Covey. In a series of essays written during the 2008 primaries and after Obama’s election, he shows how both Obama’s opponents and some supposed allies use modern reincarnations of those same ugly demons to break him. What’s more, statements and alliances he made during the campaign and in office have made him easy prey.

Ishmael Reed is the author of novels, books of poetry, and plays. He is also a playwright. He has won prizes in all categories. He taught at the University of California at Berkeley for thirty-five years. He has also taught at Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth. Ishmael Reed is a member of Harvard’s Signet Society and Yale’s Calhoun Society. He lives in Oakland, California.

Ishmael1-125x125Ishmael Reed’s previous books of essays include Airing Dirty Laundry, Writin’ is Fightin’ and Shrovetide in Old New Orleans.

ISBN 978-0-9812405-7-2 | 170 pages | trade paper

Available April 2010

50 People Attend Launch of Joseph-Elzéar Bernier and Other Books published by Baraka

Some 50 people crowded into the Paragraphe Bookstore on McGill College for the launch of Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, Champion of Canadian Arctic Sovereignty on Wednesday, September 30. Author Marjolaine Saint-Pierre and translator William Barr of the Arctic Institute explained to those present how important Bernier had been in the establishment of Canada’s sovereignty in the north. They also made it clear that he is still very relevant and that his story is fascinating.

In addition to the book on Bernier, Baraka Books launched America’s Gift, What the World Owes to the Americas and Their First Inhabitants by Käthe Roth and Denis Vaugeois. Käthe Roth spoke for both authors. See the special post on America’s Gift.

It was also the occasion to formally launch A People’s History of Quebec by Jacques Lacoursière and Robin Philpot. Jacques Lacoursière, also present, pointed out that the book is one of the first attempts to provide English readers with an accessible Quebec history book from the point of a French-language Quebec historian. The book appears to have filled a void since it has been on the Gazette’s Bestseller list for eight straight weeks.

Photo: Author Marjolaine Saint-Pierre and translator William Barr.

“America’s Gift contains the kind of information that should be required reading for all schoolchildren.” – Rover Arts, Montreal

A is for Alpaca, Anorak … Agriculture?

America’s Gift: What the World Owes to the Americas and Their First Inhabitants, Denis Vaugeois, translated and adapted by Käthe Roth, Baraka Books

By Louise Fabiani 04.10.2009 (from Rover

A is for Alpaca, Anorak … Agriculture?

Living in a cosmopolitan city like Montreal, one encounters numerous national cuisines. It is easy to assume that a culture’s culinary treasures are almost as old as its other traditions. So it is surprising to learn that many Old World meals go no further back than 1492, for the simple fact that their key ingredients were unknown until then.

Denis Vaugeois’s America’s Gift catalogues familiar dietary staples from the Columbian exchange: potatoes (to Ireland, Poland, Russia), tomatoes (to Italy), chili peppers (to Thailand), and peanuts (to several African countries), among others. While strongly emblematic of the “discovery” (or conquest, depending on your viewpoint) of the Americas, foods are but a small fraction of the earliest products of globalization. Gifts from the New World to the Old included building materials, clothing, place names, technologies, and team sports.

Vaugeois, an historian and former civil servant—with translator Käthe Roth—has organized everything in alphabetical order.

Thus, under A, we find such words as “Anorak,” originally an Inuit weatherproof jacket and now a kind of windbreaker, “Alpaca,” a South American member of the camel family, and “Agriculture.” The latter, as an introduced concept, seems impertinent, since the best evidence indicates that the first crops originated in the Middle East around ten millennia ago. Vaugeois says that it is the kind of cultivation—domesticated plants amongst wild ones, for example—which the Natives taught the newcomers.

The first entry under I is “Ideas,” and refers to the possibility that the “Noble Savage” inspired the Enlightenment. It is an interesting, if not original, proposition. However, whether some of the ideas attributed to Hurons, and others, actually belonged to them remains unclear.

Vaugeois pushes the envelope by also listing Slavery, Capitalism, and the Industrial Revolution. They were not gifts, of course, but they could not have existed without the Conquest. New lands opened up new sources of labour—practically gratis—which created the slave trade. And that, in turn, fuelled aspects of the industrial revolution. Vaugeois says silver from South America, made into coins, filled the coffers of the rich, spurring capitalism. In addition, if not for the right kinds of foods (most significantly, potatoes from the Andes), most European populations would not have expanded so quickly. Again, cheap labour (caused in part by the high unemployment found in crowded European cities) stoked the engines of the industrial age.

The text is engaging, for the most part, and the illustrations are chosen well. Unfortunately, despite her careful attention to English spelling and grammar, Roth could have used a scientific editor. For example, the entry for “Jerusalem Artichoke” states that its “tubers store insulin, which forms fructose and can be used in the diet of diabetics.” The tubers store inulin, a kind of sugar (insulin is an animal hormone).

America’s Gift contains the kind of information that should be required reading for all schoolchildren. However, some of the author’s bold assertions put the entire text on less than solid academic ground. As a result, the book is best considered a quick reference, and an incentive for further reading on this fascinating history.

Louise Fabiani, a Montreal science writer, critic, and poet, has a special interest in environmental issues.

“The New World is the product of the meeting of these civilizations” – Käthe Roth on AMERICA’S GIFT

(excerpt from Käthe Roth’s speech)

I have worked with Denis Vaugeois for many years now, and most of our projects been about the earliest days of the discovery of the Americas by Europeans. Denis has always insisted that quotation marks should be put around the term “New World” when it is applied to the Americas because, after all, these continents were new only to the Europeans who first landed on them, but certainly not to the people who had already been living here for thousands of years. In a way, this book takes that idea to its logical conclusion by celebrating what the “old world” of the Americas has contributed to the rest of the world. In fact, we may consider that the true “new world” is the product of the meeting of these civilizations.

It is easy to think of how the arrival of the Europeans irrevocably changed the lives of the peoples of the Americas. After all, that’s what the history books talk about. The influence of the original Americans over the rest of the world is subtler but just as pervasive. There are foods that we can’t imagine doing without, such as tomatoes and corn. The ancestor of chewing gum can be traced back to the original Americans, as can the use of tobacco. What would winter be like without toboggans, spring without fresh maple syrup! How many ways do we use rubber, invented by equatorial American people! And would our gardens be as bright without indigenous American flowers! The concept of team sports played with balls was taken back to Europe from the Americas, and the organization of original American societies inspired European philosophers.

When the project of L’Indien Généreux came to me, I was really excited about the concept of the book. As work proceeded on the adaptation of the text, however, I found that some of the entries didn’t really translate, and I began to be drawn in to doing research on alternatives that would work better in English. Some of these were due to etymological differences between French and English, but I also found myself wandering further into the exotic areas of South American birds and animals, and down country paths to find North American wildflowers and foods. All in all, after working on this book I certainly look at the way the “new world” and the “old world” fit together quite differently than I did before.

And in fact, I think that is what we hope America’s Gift will do for those who read it. The book is meant to be suggestive rather than exhaustive, and, in a larger sense, to encourage people to discover how two worlds – the “new” and the “old” – combined to make a truly new world More hints. We hope that people will open the book at any page and find out something that makes them say, “I didn’t know that!” and perhaps enjoy the prospect of exploring further.

Thank you.

A People’s History of Quebec – No. 1 Non-Fiction Bestseller (The Gazette)

A People’s History of Quebec by Jacques Lacoursière and Robin Philpot was published on June 24, 2009 and it hit the Gazette Bestsellers list for non-fiction by the end of July. In ninth position, then in third position, A People’s History was the Number One non-fiction bestseller on Saturday, September 5.

A void has been filled. Moreover, Jacques Lacoursière will be participating in the Books and Breakfast event held by Paragraphe Bookstore on Sunday, November 29, 2009. Information will soon be available.

Arctic Sovereignty? Canada owes it to Joseph-Elzéar Bernier! A new biography tells why, how, when and much more

Press release

Montreal (August 29, 2009) – Could Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, who claimed the entire Arctic Archipelago for Canada exactly 100 years ago, have imagined that his claim would remain the foundation of Canada’s diplomatic and possibly legal case for Arctic sovereignty in 2009? With Arctic waters being ever more navigable, a burning issue from the early 20th century is back in the headlines early in the 21st. That is why the somewhat forgotten hero, ship-captain and explorer Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, is so relevant today. Canada’s greatest navigator dreamed of conquering the North Pole, but his crowning achievement was no less than to establish his country’s Arctic boundaries. Without Bernier, the geopolitical configuration of the North might be quite different today.

Bernier was a remarkable man. Born and raised to a long line of ship captains and seafarers in L’Islet-sur-Mer on the Lower St. Lawrence, he first went to sea at age 14 and became ship captain at 17. At the helm of Quebec-built sailing ships, he frequently set transatlantic records delivering ships to British owners.

To mark the centennial of the claim made on July 1, 1909, Marjolaine Saint-Pierre’s fine, well-researched biography of Joseph-Elzéar Bernier has been translated by William Barr and published in English by Baraka Books in collaboration with the Arctic Institute of North America, University of Calgary.

“The author combines the skills of researcher, historian and storyteller to produce a wonderful book.” Daniel Rolland, Culture

“A remarkable accomplishment by Marjolaine Saint-Pierre! The vast but meticulous research and the fine illustrations make it an essential book for any serious marine library.” Cap-aux-Diamants

“It is the most thorough portrait that exists of the legendary captain.” L’escale nautique

About the author and translator (both available for interviews – 514-808-8504)

MARJOLAINE SAINT-PIERRE spent five years researching Joseph-Elzéar Bernier and even more defending his contribution to Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. Her previous book Saint-Castin, baron français, chef amérindien 1652-1707, obtained the France-Acadie award in 2000.

WILLIAM BARR is a senior research associate with the Arctic Institute of North America at the University of Calgary. He has translated many books from French, German, and Russian on the Arctic and Antarctic explorers. .

372 pages, 200+ illustrations

Paper $39.95    ISBN 978-0-9812405-1-0

Hardcover $75    ISBN 978-0-9812405-4-1

Available September 1, 2009 singulair medication.
Orders: LitDistCo: 1-800-591-6250

The man who put canada on the map

By William Barr, The Globe and Mail, 27 June, 2009, Focus, p. F3

Given its desolate surroundings, Parry’s Rock is hard to miss – a four-metre high block of sandstone dropped by a glacier on the south shore of Melville Island and named for the British sailor who first explored the area an inscribed his name on it.

But Canadian also should know that this is where 34 men gathered on July 1, 1909 for a group photograph in fort of a bronze plaque they had attached to Parry’s Rock to show that they had laid claim to “the whole Arctic archipelago” on behalf of the “Dominion of Canada.”

The expedition was lead by one of this country’s forgotten heroes – a Quebec-born mariner and explorer named Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, whose dedication to the north now serves as the foundation for Canada’s claim to sovereignty in the Arctic.

That sovereignty was a burning issue a century ago and now that the melting ice pack is making Arctic waters ever more navigable, it is back in the headlines. Had Bernier not laid his claim, and made several other voyages as a representative of the federal government, the geopolitical configuration of the North might be quite different today.

On paper, the Arctic islands had been transferred to Canada by an Imperial Order in Council as of Sept. 1, 1880. Wisely, the British kept the wording vague because the full extent of the archipelago was unknown. Still undiscovered were such major islands as Axel Heiberg, Amund Ringnes, Ellef Rignes, King Christian, Brock, Borden, Mackenzie King, Lougheed and Meighen.

For 20 years after being given the region, Canada ignored it. Then, toward the end of the century, alarm bells rang in Ottawa following a series of foreign incursions.

From 1898 to 1902, U.S. polar explorer Robert Peary spent his winters on Ellesmere Island, just north of Baffin Island. He, like Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian who began his historic transit of the Northwest Passage in 1903 and made no territorial claims. But another Norwegian explorer, Otto Sverdrup, discovered and explored four big islands – Axel Heiberg, Amund Ringnes, Ellef Ringnes and King Christian – and claimed them for his homeland.

All this northern traffic spurred Wilfrid Laurier, who had become prime minister in 1896, to action. First, A.P. Low of the Geological Survey of Canada landed at Cape Herschel on Ellesmere and took “formal possession” for Canada. But it was Bernier who mounted the most extensive campaign to reinforce Canada’s dominion over the Arctic.

He had already proved himself a remarkable character. Born to a long line of seafarers in L’Islet-sur-Mer on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River east of Quebec City, he had gone to sea at 14 and become captain just three years later. While employed delivering Quebec-built sailing ships to British owner, he frequently made the transatlantic crossing in record time.

His passion for the Arctic seems to have begun in 1871, when he was 19 and happened to be in Connecticut when U.S. explorer Charles Francis Hall left in search of the North Pole. Hall didn’t survive the voyage, but northern navigation became Bernier’s primary interest and, for many years, he sought Ottawa’s support in his quest to conquer the pole for Canada.

Instead he was enlisted by Laurier to help secure the islands, and in 1906 (the year Amundsen completed his trip through the passage) made the first of three treks aboard C.G.S. Arctic,

He conducted several ceremonies to assert Canadian sovereignty over various parts of the archipelago, with the one in 1909 – just three months after Peary claimed to have reached the pole – designed to sum up all the others in case any islands had slipped through his net.

As well, being an official fisheries officer, Bernier issued licences and exacted fees from any foreign whalers he encountered – tangible evidence of Canadian control of the Arctic.

Later, he made three private expeditions to Baffin Island, where he operated trading posts and purchased land from the Crown. He also obtained a licence to mine coal on Pond Inlet in 1914 and filed a mining claim on Admiralty Inlet. All these activities became powerful demonstrations of Canadian sovereignty.

As a result, sovereignty claims to land areas have, with a few minor exceptions, long been settled. But conflict could arise over the Arctic seas, seabed and continental shelves, and Bernier’s activities again will have considerable bearing because sovereignty over the waters and seabed is determined by sovereignty over the islands.

For example, Canada and the United States are at odds over whether the Northwest Passage should be considered international waters and what should happen to the border between Alaska and the Northwest Territories once it heads out in the hydrocarbon-rich Beaufort Sea.

What’s more, the claims made by Otto Sverdrup could have proved very costly for Canada – predated those of Bernier and he repeatedly pressured Norway to uphold them.

Norway lost its bid for possession of eastern Greenland in 1933, when the International Court of Justice ruled in favour of Denmark. But had it appealed to the court over Sverdrup’s claims, a large chunk of what’s now known as the Queen Elizabeth Islands could very well be Norwegian – and allow Norway to claim a substantial area of the seabed to the north.

Luckily for the Canadians, this dispute was resolved in a “civilized” fashion. Norway formally recognized Canada’s title on Nov. 11, 1930, just weeks before the death of Sverdrup, who had been paid $67,000 by Ottawa for the maps, diaries and documents from his expedition.

By then, Bernier’s days also were numbered. He suffered a fatal heart attack on Christmas Eve, 1934, a week before his 83rd birthday. Forty years later, the Sverdrup Basin underlying the islands was found to contain at least 17.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 334 million barrels of oil – another good reason to thank the man who staked that claim at Parry’s Rock.

William Barr is a senior research associate with the Arctic Institute of North America at the University of Calgary. He also translated Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, Champion of Canadian Arctic Sovereignty, a biography by Quebec scholar Marjolaine Saint-Pierre to be published by Baraka Books and the Arctic Institute in September.

The First Concise English-Language History of Quebec as told by Jacques Lacoursière

Jacques Lacoursière, the renowned Quebec historian, can now be read in English. This handy guide to a little-known part of North American history tells the fascinating tale of the settlement of the St. Lawrence Valley. But it also tells of the Montreal and Quebec-based explorers and traders who travelled, mapped, and inhabited a very large part of North America, and “embrothered the peoples” they met, as Jack Kerouac wrote. Based on meticulous research, Jacques Lacoursière and Robin Philpot connect everyday life to the events that emerged as historical turning points in the life of a people, thus shedding new light on Quebec’s 450-year history––and on the historical forces that lie behind its two recent efforts to gain independence.

A People’s History of Quebec never ceases to surprise by its breadth and depth. For example, readers will learn about:

  • The pre-Conquest ginseng boom with exports to China, and its eventual bust
  • The Montreal fire chief who torched the Parliament of United Canada in 1849, which helps explain why Ottawa became the Capital
  • The Jewish Emancipation Act of 1832, a first in the British Empire, adopted thanks to Louis-Joseph Papineau and the Patriote Party
  • The Conscription crises in Quebec that shook Canada during both World Wars, and much more…

207 pages, 24 illustrations, $19.95

“A People’s History of Quebec is both an excellent history book to refresh the reader’s memory and a rich introduction to a people who supposedly had no history. A great read.”

Hélène de Billy, writer, biographer, journalist.

“Recipient of the Pierre Berton Award in 1996, Jacques Lacoursière is to Quebec what Pierre Berton was to English Canada.”

Canada’s National History Society, publisher of The Beaver

“If Lord Durham had met Jacques Lacoursière, he would surely not have written that the French Canadians were a ‘people with no history and no literature’. In fact, in Quebec, Jacques Lacoursière’s name is synonymous with history.”

André Champagne, Radio-Canada

In bookstores July 2, 2009.