Sir John A. Macdonald, Drunk & In Flames by Adam Bunch

It's one of the best-known facts in all of Canadian history: our first Prime Minister drank. Like, a lot. Sir John A. Macdonald wasn't just a charming social drinker; he got the kind of drunk where you find yourself puking on a chair at the Governor General's residence. Or throwing up on stage during a public debate. There were times when he went on benders that lasted for days, too drunk to show up for his official duties. And on a winter night in London, England — right in the middle of the final negotiations over Confederation — it seems to have nearly cost him his life.

This was in 1866. Canada was on the verge of becoming a nation. All the biggest politicians from the Canadian colonies had already met at two big Confederation Conferences — first in Charlottetown and then in Quebec City — to hammer out the basic framework for a new country. Drinking had famously played an important role right from the very beginning. In Charlottetown, Macdonald and his allies from Ontario and Québec showed up with $13,000 worth of champagne. Boozing and dancing and getting to know each other socially became a vital part of the nation-building process. And by the end of the meetings in Quebec City, the delegates had agreed on a list of 72 Resolutions. Now, all they had to do was to turn those resolutions into a Canadian constitution and get it officially approved by the British parliament.

So they headed off to England for one last big push.

They called it the London Conference. And it got off to a very slow start. The delegates from the Maritimes arrived in July. But the others were nowhere to be found. They were still back in Canada — delayed, in part, by Macdonald's drinking. The strain of Confederation and other political stresses were taking a toll on the man. That year, his alcoholism got worse. "He was drinking more heavily, more continually than he had ever done before," Richard Gwyn explains in the first volume of his Macdonald biography, "at times having to grip his desk so he could remain standing in the House." It wasn't until November that Sir John A. and the others finally showed up.

Macdonald was no stranger to drinking in London, either. In fact, he'd already been made an honorary member of one of the most exclusive gentlemen's clubs in all of England. The Athenaeum Club is still there today, right in the middle of the city, between Downing Street and Piccadilly Circus. Many of the most famous people in Britain have been getting drunk there for nearly 200 years: members have included Darwin, Dickens, Churchill, Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Duke of Wellington, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Thomas Hardy, Michael Faraday, Sir Walter Scott... the list goes on and on. It became one of Macdonald's favourite haunts on his frequent trips to the capital. And it was far from the only place where he drank when he was in town.

The London Conference was being held just a few blocks away: at the Westminster Palace Hotel, right across the road from Westminster Abbey. The delegates spent their days in a big room on the main floor, working out the details of the bill that would need to be passed by the British parliament. Macdonald, as always, led the way — one British official called him, "the ruling genius and spokesman." By the end of the conference, he was a celebrity in England, getting recognized on the streets of London.

At night, the delegates would head upstairs to sleep. Macdonald — whose wife, Isabella, had died many years earlier after a long battle with illness and an opium addiction — had a room all to himself.

So that's where he was was on a Wednesday night just a couple of weeks before Christmas, reading that day's newspapers in bed. He'd already changed into his old-timey pyjamas. A candle flickered on the night table beside him. And while there is, of course, no detailed record of just how much Sir John A. had been drinking that night, it seems very likely that alcohol helped lure him into an early sleep.

He woke to the smell of his own burning flesh. He'd passed out while reading the paper and the candle tipped over, setting the room ablaze. The curtains, the sheets and blankets, even the pillow beneath his head and the nightshirt he was wearing were all in flames. Just months before he became the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald was on fire.

Suddenly awake, he leapt to his feet, tore the blazing curtains from the window and stomped out the flames. He ripped the burning blankets from his bed and doused them with water from a jug on his nightstand. Then Sir George-Étienne Cartier came to his rescue.

Macdonald and Cartier hadn't always been on the same side. During the Rebellions of 1837, Cartier had fought with the rebels in Québec while Macdonald stood guard for the Loyalist militia in Kingston. But now, Cartier was Macdonald's most important ally, bringing Québec into Confederation. His room was just next door. So as Macdonald's bed and curtains smouldered, the two most notable leaders of French- and English-Canada worked together to make sure the flames were all completely smothered.

It was only then that Macdonald noticed just how badly he'd been hurt. His hair, his hands and his forehead were all burned, but the wound on his shoulder was the worst. If it weren't for a thick flannel shirt he'd worn under his nightshirt, he admitted, "I would have been burned to death." Suffering from those injuries and a subsequent infection, Sir John A. would spend eight straight days in bed.

But he survived. And so would Confederation. Months later, the delegates' bill was passed by the British parliament. It was called the British North America Act; it came into effect on July 1, 1867. The Dominion of Canada was officially born.

And Macdonald's battle with the fire in his hotel room wasn't the only life-saving event during his trip to London. Just a few days before the blaze, he ran into an old friend while walking down one of the most fashionable streets in the city. By the time they left London, Macdonald and Susan Agnes Bernard were married — celebrations included a breakfast feast at the very same hotel where Sir John A. had nearly lost his life. His new wife would prove to be unshakeable in her quest to curb his drinking. And while, in the end, it was a losing battle — there were still plenty of benders to come — one of Macdonald's biographers figures that her efforts may have added as much 20 extra years to his life. Enough time to spend nearly two decades as Prime Minster and leave a deep and lasting legacy — for better and for worse — on the country he helped to create.

So today, 200 years after Sir John A. Macdonald was born, he's still the most famous drunk in all of Canadian history.


A version of this post was originally published on The Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera Blog. You can find more sources, links, photos, and other information there.

Posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at

Read more ...

Raising Raised by Swans by Veronica Zaretski

Eric Howden had felt a strong connection to Iceland since his first visit in 2010. “I get inspiration for my lyrics everywhere,” he explained. “But being in Iceland inspired my lyrics the same way that being ferociously in love colours everything.” So he went there to be alone in the Winter of 2011, and to work on Öxnadalur, the third album of Raised by Swans, his alter ego and solo musical project.

The process of putting the album together started during six weeks on a farmhouse in a desolate area in Northern Iceland. “I had these amazing long nights in Iceland in which I was forced to write as much as possible.” The five-hour days made it easy to get into a songwriting routine — he would spend all five hours of daylight outside, hiking, climbing, even sleeping. Then when it would get dark, he would cook himself a dinner and work into the night. Howden would continue to work for over three years after that trip to complete the album, as the songs changed and evolved. “I needed a seed of inspiration, and I found it in Iceland. I could then take that seed and grow it anywhere,” he said. The finalized songs reflect the beauty of Winter itself — otherworldly and a little melancholy, while unfolding a warmth all at the same time.

That mood was revealed when Howden performed a release show on Dec. 18 at the Horseshow Tavern, where there was an undeniable sense of intimacy between musician and audience. There were the small jokes inserted between songs and show of support yelled by some audience members, but there was also a thoughtful mood that permeated throughout the performance. This was one of only three release shows in 2014 — a solo show in Akureyri, Iceland and two full band performances in London and Toronto, Ontario, and the first performance with a full band in over two years, accompanied by Andy Magoffin (Two Minute Miracles) on bass guitar, Ray Cammaert (Pink Moth) on keyboards, and Brady Parr (Tournament!) on drums.

For his part, Howden is humble, if not downright self-deprecating about his place in the independent music scene in Canada: “I only write the way I know. I just desperately want to express things that are inside me.” But Raised by Swans has been around and garnering fans from all parts of the world since 1998. The previous two albums, Codes and Secret Longing (2005) and No Ghostless Place(2010) received the attention of filmmaker Atom Egoyan, who featured songs from the two albums in his films Adoration (2009) and Chloe (2010). Meanwhile Canadian novelist and artist Douglas Coupland featured “Violet Light” in his film Everything’s Gone Green (2007).

Somehow, though the project has been around for over sixteen years, Howden managed to keep it from completely entering the mainstream consciousness. “Every single time I hear from someone about my music its a moment of wonder and humility,” he says. “Raised by Swans is such a tiny thing and it absolutely blows my mind. The people who reach out to me would expect me to continue to make music that's original."



Photos by Veronica Zaretski

Veronica Zaretski is a freelance writer by night, communications and media professional by day. She is interested in producing stories on music, arts, culture, urbanism and travel in Toronto and beyond. You can connect with Veronica by following her on Twitter @vzaretski.

Read more ...

Songs You Can Dance Around Your Apartment To: The Best of Toronto 2014

This, we suppose, will be remembered as the year Toronto got rid of our crack-smoking mayor, but it was also yet another kickass year for music in our city. So we're ending the calendar by looking back at some of our favourite tracks released by Toronto bands in 2014, including PUP, Greys, Allie X, Stella Ella Ola, DFA1979, Alvvays & more.


1. "Trainwreck 1979" by Death From Above 1979
2. "The Noise of Carpet" by Greys (Stereolab cover)
3. "Lionheart" by PUP
4. "I Killed My Baby In Mexico" by The BB Guns
5. "Blood + Honey" by July Talk
6. "Heart" by The Beverleys
7. "Try Not To Laugh" by Unfinished Business
8. "Boys And Girls" by The Balconies
9. "Buzz Off" by Little Junior
10. "Don't Wanna Say Goodbye" by The Meligrove Band
11. "Peter Sellers" by Stella Ella Ola
12. "Buttercup" by Weaves
13. "Archie, Marry Me" by Alvvays
14. "Prime" by Allie X
15. "Meteor" by TOKEN
16. "The Bells" by Lowell
17. "She Just Wants To Drive" by Matt Raudsepp
18. "Cold Dead Hands" by Pkew Pkew Pkew (gunshots)

Compiled by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at

Read more ...

Songs You Can Decorate Your Christmas Tree To

We don’t know anyone who loves Christmas more than Laurie, our Editor-at-Large. She spends our meetings doodling Christmas trees and snowflakes (even in August). To keep her happy, we let her hijack our regular playlist with a special edition of festive songs. Break out the rum, eggnog and sparkly ornaments: it's Bing Crosby, The Muppets and more.


1. "Sleigh Ride" - Leroy Anderson
2. "Twelve Days of Christmas" - John Denver & The Muppets
3. "Winter Wonderland" - Liz Phair
4. "Silver and Gold" - Burl Ives
5. "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" - Brenda Lee
6. "Must Be Santa" - Bob Dylan
7. "Frosty The Snowman" - The Ronettes
8. "Jingle Bells" - Frank Sinatra
9. "Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas)" - Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters
10. "Christmas In Prison" - John Prine
11. "Little Toy Trains" - Roger Miller
12. "Joy To The World" - Sufjan Stevens
13. "Silent Night" - Low


Originally posted December 10, 2011.

Laurie McGregor is a Toronto-based dilettante. She is the co-founder of The Holy Oak Book Club, a sort-of monthly reading series in Toronto, and seating engineer and curator for Trampoline Hall, a very excellent monthly lecture series. She likes books, soft things, baking, unicorns, robots and has an unnatural love of vending machines. You can find her posts here and email her at

Read more ...

Corporate Tax Loopholes & How We Should Close Them: Part One by Umar Saeed

Developed nations have a problem. GDP isn’t growing the way it used to. Job prospects have diminished for the young and middle class. That means government tax revenues aren’t growing either. But the public still maintains a high level of expectations for government programs and services. Nations are struggling to find additional sources of revenues to bridge this fiscal gap. They know that debt only defers the tax burden — it doesn’t eliminate it. How can governments raise more money when the overall economy is struggling?

This struggle to find tax revenues without taxing the public further has highlighted an old and often ignored problem: corporate tax loopholes. There is a great deal of political will to eliminate tax loopholes. The public is tired of hearing about corporations reporting profits yet somehow evading taxes. This isn’t about tax rates being too high or too low. This is about the profits that form the tax base, the very thing being taxed, somehow eroding when it comes time to pay Uncle Sam. But this won’t be easy. Corporations play this game too well to simply change one rule or another. If governments want to win, we have to change the game itself. 

What is tax arbitrage?

On 29 June 2009, despite most of its stores and revenues being in Canada, Tim Hortons had officially repatriated back to Canada for tax purposes. So at some point after former NHL player Miles G. Tim Horton started the first “Tim Hortons Doughnuts,” in Hamilton, the company grew so large that it made sense to situate itself in Delaware for tax purposes. Tim Hortons was American. That was, until 2009 when it was again advantageous to move back to Ontario. This specific strategy is simply called “inversion.” The name stems from the fact that a company’s corporate presence is inverted from its primary place of business.

At a basic level, we all know what these companies are doing. Once companies get big, expectations of profit go up. Even something as simple as a coffee shop, once it’s big enough, spends a lot of money hiring tax lawyers and accountants to find strategies to “create value.” 1

The most basic tax arbitrage tenet is to recognize revenues in a country where the tax rates are low and then recognize expenses and losses in an area where tax rates are high. In other words, setup the books so the profits and gains show up in a low tax regime and losses get stuck in a high tax regime. Inversion is just one step. To go further, companies use something known as “transfer pricing.”

Large companies often structure themselves as parents with children. The parent might reside in a low-or-no tax jurisdiction. Its child will reside in a place that provides good market demand for the product being sold. There may even be siblings. In the end, all of these children are controlled by the parent. The parent can initiate transactions that will vacuum profits from its children to itself. For example, a parent might purchase supplies for its child’s coffee shop at $1 per roll. It would then sell these cups to its children for $5 per roll. By overcharging its children for paper cups, it is effectively shifting profits from a higher tax jurisdiction into its lower tax one.

Does there have to be a jurisdiction?

Apple, Google and others have created a more convoluted and aggressive corporate structure to evade tax. They have setup their parents in tax havens, a practice that is common among hedge funds and more sophisticated offshore investing. They channel their profits to countries where income tax is low or non-existent. The dad is American and holds an investment in a foreign mother. The mother is Irish, and holds rights to royalties and international profits from its children around the world, which may be taxed mildly in Ireland. Whatever profits make it to the father are treated as investment income, which is a most favourable tax treatment in America.

What is most disturbing of this strategy is that legally, the mother claims no jurisdiction for tax purposes. Irish law asks where a company is managed and controlled to determine its tax residence. U.S. law asks where the company was organized, that is, where the articles of incorporation were filed. If neither country regards a particular corporation as a resident, there is no treaty to force a jurisdiction on that company for tax purposes. This tax loophole resembles a black hole.

Closing the loops

An estimated 44 countries accounting for 90% of the world economy are on board with a plan to reform corporate tax laws and treaties. They have asked the OECD to tackle the basic issues above as well as treaty shopping (manipulating tax treaties), hybrid mismatches (double dipping on deductions in different jurisdictions) and patent boxes (favourable treatment of intellectual property income). As a big step forward, on September 20th the Group of 20 finance ministers agreed to proceed with free exchange of tax information across jurisdictions. This cross-jurisdictional transparency is imperative toward understanding the extent of tax evasion in the first place. This type of exercise may lead to, “oh, I thought you were collecting their taxes.”

But many remain skeptical about whether governments will actually go through with closing these loopholes. First, it brings up fundamental questions about a nation’s sovereignty. For example, shouldn’t a country and its elected leaders be in control of its most significant power — the ability to tax its own citizens? Second, politicians may not follow through on reforming loopholes because they are caught in a “prisoner’s dilemma” with each other. Exploring these two issues may actually lead us to a different path to solve the problem at hand.

Next time, we’ll address these two issues and whether the game can be changed — for good.


Umar Saeed is an accomplished professional in finance and accounting. On his website (, where this post originally appeared, he writes essays to explain the elaborate connections between people and money, without making your head hurt. You can follow him on Twitter @UmarSaeedCA. You can read the rest of his posts at The Little Red Umbrella here.

To read footnotes, just hover your cursor over them.

Image via Consortium News.

Read more ...

Two Toronto Nurses & One of the Most Terrible Nights of the First World War

One dark night in the summer of 1918, the HMHS Llandovery Castle was steaming through the waters of the North Atlantic. She was far off the southern tip of Ireland, nearly two hundred kilometers from the nearest land. It was a calm night, with a light breeze and a clear sky. The ship had been built in Glasgow and was named after a castle in Wales, but now she was a Canadian vessel. Since the world had been plunged into the bloodiest war it had ever seen, the steamship had been turned into a floating hospital. She was returning from Halifax, where she had just dropped off hundreds of wounded Canadian soldiers. On board were the ship's crew and her medical personnel — including fourteen nurses. They were just a few of more than two thousand Canadian women who volunteered to serve overseas as "Nursing Sisters," healing wounds and saving lives and comforting those who couldn't be saved. As the ship sliced through the water, big red crosses shone out from either side of the hull, bright beacons in the dark. The trip was almost over. Soon, they'd be in Liverpool.

But then, without warning, the calm of the night was shattered by a terrible explosion. The ship had been hit by a torpedo. All the lights on board went black. The wireless had been knocked out, too; there would be no S.O.S. And when the captain ordered the engines reversed, there was no reply; the engine room had been hit, the men inside were already dead or wounded. So the ship continued to surge forward into the waves, filling with water as the prow plunged beneath the surface of the ocean. Within minutes it was clear: the Llandovery Castle was doomed.

The order came to abandon ship. Lifeboats were lowered over the sides and the evacuation began, but it was dangerous work. As the decks pitched forward and the ship lurched through the waves, two of the lifeboats were swamped with water, broken, and swept away. Others had already been destroyed by the explosion. The crew kept at it, though; they were calm, no one panicked. Within a few short minutes, it's thought that every single person who had survived the blast had been ushered into a lifeboat and lowered to the water below.
Mary Agnes McKenzie
Mary Agnes McKenzie was in one of those lifeboats. Her friends called her Nan. She had been born and raised in Toronto. She went to school in St. Jamestown as a young girl — at the Rose Avenue School, which is still there today. She lived in the neighbourhood of Rathnelly, on Macpherson Avenue, near Dupont & Avenue Road. She was still just a teenager when she decided she wanted to become a nurse. She got a job at a hospital here in Toronto and, in the years before the war broke out, got some experience working at the Military Hospital in Halifax. When the war did come, she volunteered for duty. She was originally posted to the Ontario Military Hospital in England, built by our provincial government, and then found herself serving on board the Llandovery Castle. While the ship had been docked in Halifax, she'd hoped for a chance to come home to Toronto for a brief visit with her family. But all leave had been cancelled. She promised her mom she would try again the next time they were back in Canada.
And she wasn't the only nurse from Toronto in that lifeboat. Carola Josephine Douglas had been born in Panama, but grew up with relatives in Toronto after both her parents died. She graduated from Harbord Collegiate before training to become a nurse. When the war broke out, she too volunteered to head overseas — filling out enlistment forms that still assumed all new recruits were "he" and the "man." Soon, she found herself in the thick of the action in Europe, tending to the wounded at one of the most dangerous military hospitals in France. As you might expect, the work she did there took a toll. After more than two years helping to stitch people back together near the front lines, she became a patient herself, recuperating from exhaustion. After that, Douglas was assigned to the Llandovery Castle.
The hospital ship was supposed to provide the nurses and other personnel with something of a rest — a relatively easy assignment for those who had already seen more than their fair share of stressful duty. But now, McKenzie, Douglas and the other nurses found themselves back in danger, lowered over the side of the doomed vessel, along with a few men from the crew, in Lifeboat No. 5.
And Lifeboat No. 5 was stuck. After it hit the water, it still was held by ropes to the side of the sinking ship. As they pitched in the waves, the small boat kept smashing against the hull of the big steamer. One of the men — Sergeant Arthur Knight from London, Ontario — grabbed an axe and tried to cut the lifeboat free. But it was no use; the axe broke. So did the second one. After that, they tried to use the oars to brace themselves, to keep from being crushed. One by one, the oars broke too. Until, finally, mercifully, the ropes snapped and they were free.
The lifeboat drifted away, but it still wasn't out of danger. They realized in horror that they were being drawn back toward the stern of the ship, caught in the suction as the Llandovery Castle sank beneath the waves. They were being dragged into a whirlpool. And there was nothing they could do.
HMHS Llandovery Castle
One of the nurses — Matron Margaret Fraser, daughter of the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia — turned to Sergeant Knight as they drifted toward the swirling vacuum. "Sergeant," she asked, "do you think there is any hope for us?"
He later described those dreadful moments, stranded in a lifeboat with fourteen women who had spent much of the last few years up to their elbows in blood and guts, but whose entire gender was still dismissed by many Canadians as too frail for that kind of work, too weak and emotional to be trusted with an equal say in the world. "Unflinchingly and calmly," he remembered, "as steady and collected as if on parade, without a complaint or a single sign of emotion, our fourteen devoted nursing sisters faced the terrible ordeal of certain death—only a matter of minutes—as our lifeboat neared that mad whirlpool of waters where all human power was helpless... In that whole time I did not hear a complaint or murmur from one of the sisters. There was not a cry for help or any outward evidence of fear."

It took only ten minutes from the time of the explosion to the moment when the last of the Llandovery Castle disappeared beneath the waves. And she took Lifeboat No. 5 with her. Everyone on board was flung into the churning water. The nurses were all wearing life jackets, but most — if not all of them — were probably drowned right away. Sergeant Knight never saw any of them ever again. He was only saved by a lucky explosion — maybe the boilers exploding as the ship sank toward the ocean floor — which propelled him back to the surface. If McKenzie or Douglas or any of the other nurses did survive, they found themselves stranded in the dark waters, clinging to the wreckage as the night's final horrors got underway.

The U-boat wasn't finished yet.

The captain of the submarine had just committed a war crime. It was illegal to attack a hospital ship. The red crosses on the sides of the Llandovery Castle had been brightly lit and easy to see. The Germans hadn't given any warning or tried to board and search the ship first — which would have been within their rights. Instead, they'd simply fired their torpedoes. That was against international law and against the standing orders of the Imperial German Navy. So now, it seems, Captain Patzig was anxious to cover his tracks.

At first, the U-86 submarine seized one of the lifeboats and accused the Canadian crew of harbouring American flight officers or of shipping ammunition. But the crew denied it. And when it became clear they weren't getting anywhere, the Germans let that lifeboat go. As it rowed away to safety, Captain Patzig tried a new approach: the U-boat turned on the other survivors.
For the next two hours, while those in the water clung to the wreckage and cried out for help, U-86 sailed between them, ramming the lifeboats that were still afloat, firing shells at any that weren't completely destroyed. Then, once all the Canadians had been forced into the water, the machine guns opened fire. They killed everyone they could find. If McKenzie or Douglas or any of the other nurses had managed to survive their initial plunge into the water, they didn't survive those guns. There had been 258 people on board the Llandovery Castle. By the time the night was over, the only survivors were the 24 lucky enough to be on board the one lifeboat Captain Patzig couldn't find. They would spend the next 36 hours alone in the middle of the ocean, until they were finally found.
Later, the captain of a British ship sailed through the wreckage. "[S]uddenly," he remembered, "we began going through corpses.... we were sailing through floating bodies. We were not allowed to stop — we just had to go straight through. It was quite horrific, and my reaction was to vomit over the edge. It was something we could never have imagined... particularly the nurses: seeing these bodies of women and nurses, floating in the ocean, having been there some time. Huge aprons and skirts in billows, which looked almost like sails because they dried in the hot sun."
Nearly a century later, the sinking of the Llandovery Castle is still considered to be one of the greatest atrocities of the First World War. And it immediately began to a play an inflammatory role in the hatred and violence between the Allies and Germany that would keep the world drenched in blood for decades to come. In the days that followed the attack, Toronto's newspapers were filled with cries of outrage. The Daily Star denounced "this latest exhibition of Hun deviltry." The Telegram went with "Hun savagery." Their words were officially echoed by the Canadian government, which decried the "savagery... and the utter blackness and dastardly character of the enemy..." Whether or not any of the nurses had survived long enough to be shot, Allied propaganda posters showed them there in the water as German submariners mowed them down.

Canadian propaganda
For the remaining days of the war, the Llandovery Castle became a rallying cry for Canadian troops. About a month after the sinking of the ship, the Allies began their final major push — The Hundred Days Offensive — which drove the Germans back out of France and finally to their surrender. The Canadians played a leading role. At the Battle of Amiens, they used "Llandovery Castle" as a code word. One brigadier from Moose Jaw told his men "the battle cry... should be 'Llandovery Castle,' and that that cry should be the last to ring in the ears of the Hun as the bayonet was driven home." Some say the outrages of that night in the North Atlantic helped to inspire some Canadian soldiers to commit their own — choosing to kill surrendering German troops rather than take them prisoner.
In the wake of the war, the Allies insisted that the German officers responsible for the sinking of the Llandovery Castle face charges. The case became one of the Leipzig War Crimes Trials, held by the German government to prosecute their own troops. As Captain Patzig fled the country, two of his lieutenants were tried and convicted to four years of hard labour. But they escaped on their way to prison and were later acquitted on the grounds that only their captain was ultimately responsible for their orders.
For many people living in Allied countries, the Leipzig Trials were seen as an example of the Germans being too lenient with their own war criminals. But many Germans saw the trials as yet another example of the unfair peace terms imposed upon them by the Treaty of Versailles. Some Allies had committed war crimes, too, but it was only the Germans who seemed to be forced to face the consequences. Those who stood trial in Leipzig were hailed as patriotic martyrs.
Many historians believe the anger over the peace terms — including the Leipzig Trials — eventually helped to propel Adolph Hitler into power. And when Hitler launched a Second World War, there was a familiar face on his payroll. Captain Patzig had been welcomed back into the German navy. And this time, he was in charge of an entire flotilla, training a new generation of German submariners how to wage war.


A version of this post was originally published on The Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera Blog. You can find more links and other information there.

Posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at

Read more ...

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: The Babadook Review!

If it's in a word, or it's in a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook...

On paper, there’s nothing remotely scary about The Babadook. I mean, honestly - It’s a nonsensical title for a movie about a haunted, spooky pop-up book for children, right? It’s truly earth-shattering, then, when this film sucks you into one the most deadly serious kinds of conflict one can imagine in a horror film - the question of how to reconcile the equal parts love and devotion to ones children, with the resentment and anger many feel towards them for the sacrifices they require. When this manifests itself as the batlike phantom called the Babadook, the result is one of the most chilling experiences you’re likely to have with a film this year.

In The Babadook, the widowed Amelia (Essie Davis) struggles to keep it together as her six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman)’s nightmares and misbehaviour keep her in a perpetual sleep-deprived trance. When a mysterious pop-up book appears on their bookshelf, strange, violent phenomena begins to swirl around both Samuel and Amelia, leaving both they and the audience wondering what’s real.

The film’s two anchors are Sam and Amelia and as characters, both pop off the screen in every scene they’re in. Noah Wiseman is exactly the right amount of adorable, irritating and, when necessary, skin-crawlingly creepy. Davis, similarly, goes through an incredibly wide array of character twists that perfectly convey the slow crawl of anxiety and outright exhaustion creating the horrifying hallucinations around her. It’s the scenes (and there’s a lot of them) where Davis and Wiseman are together, though, where their chemistry is nothing short of magical, making even the most hardened horror fan viscerally feel each tender scene and each horrific one equally.

The Babadook itself, springing from the pages of the twisted (and beautifully rendered) pop-up book, is absolutely not one of the ghosts/demons from lesser horror movies that spend the whole movie in shadows, only to reveal themselves in the last few frames. No, the Babadook is right there from the beginning, in both sight and sound. If you think the word ‘Babadook’ sounds silly now, I’d challenge you to have the same opinion after hearing the painful croak of it in the film.

Jennifer Kent’s ability to mine horror from the real emotion between a mother and son is rather unique, shared only by films like Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin. With this deft handling of extremely nuanced characters and issues, I'm just going to say it, it's a goddamn crime that there aren't more female voices like hers in horror. Rest assured though, with more films like The Babadook, it'll be a lot easier for these types of voices to break through.

The Babadook continues a long history of Australian horror films that have almost always been thought-provoking, brilliantly-directed and acted, and of course, some of the most terrifying films ever to be produced. Joining films like The Loved Ones, Wolf Creek, Snowtown, Next of Kin, and a host of others, The Babadook is all but assured a place among Australia's best horror exports, and in my opinion, one of its best films of any kind.


Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on, the CBC Street Level Blog,, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.

Read more ...

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: Time Lapse Review!

Time travel movies were, up to a point, strictly the realm of big-budget films where scientists with Troll-Doll hair and a penchant for exclaiming 'Great Scott!' would nag young Family Ties alums about creating paradoxes by screwing with their own timelines. After Shane Carruth's breakthrough Primer, though, everything changed. Suddenly it was possible to write a great story and use time-travel as a device to put a great character piece onscreen without needing any elaborate special effects. That's what Time Lapse attempts to accomplish and though it’s not a flawless film by any means, it gets remarkably close to the mark.

Finn (Matt O' Leary) is a painter and building manager for an apartment complex in which he lives with his girlfriend Callie (Danielle Panabaker) and the eccentric, scheming Jasper (George Finn). With tension brewing between the trio over typical roommate stuff like money and a dissatisfaction with work situations, things escalate after the death of their eccentric scientist neighbor reveals that he has discovered and built a machine that can take Polarioid pictures of the future. The issue of how best to capitalize on this information, if at all, results in a conflict reminiscent of Shallow Grave, and a situation where no one can be trusted. In particular, the need to re-create (or is it create? dun dun dunnnn) the future scene from the Polaroids becomes the source of huge drama and implications for the three friends.

Beyond the usual trappings of a time-travel story (paradoxes, the question of fate, etc), there's a really small but important set of interpersonal issues that are brought to the surface in Time Lapse, which snowball into a climax that leaves everyone involved with wounds both literal and figurative. At times you feel like you're watching a stage play, as the film is particularly dialogue-heavy, only a small handful of sets are used, and the characters are kept to the barest minimum. Callie's is probably the meatiest role here and Panabaker takes you through a rollercoaster of emotions throughout Time Lapse's running time, but O'Leary and Finn more than hold their own in scenes with enough tension to make any viewer squirm.

Time Lapse is the perfect reminder that there's a lot to love about minimalist, diminutive sci-fi. In a lot of ways the time travel/prediction is a bit of a MacGuffin, where the Polaroids could be substituted for almost any get-rich-quick scheme, but the dramatic tension between the three leads is more than enough to sustain the film. In a different time, this story would be right at home in an episode of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, but as a standalone piece, it's a great little mind-bender that shows that time travel doesn't exclusively have to be the realm of Marty and Doc anymore.


Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on, the CBC Street Level Blog,, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.

Read more ...

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter Review!

There’s a scene in Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter where the titular Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) stands, distraught, in her bathroom holding the remnants of a VHS copy of the Coen brothers film, Fargo that has been unwound and destroyed by her VCR. Before flushing the whole celluloid ball down the drain, Kumiko buries her face in the mass of film in a brief moment of feverish ecstasy, literally engulfing herself in the frames of a movie that encapsulates all of her hopes and dreams of a new life. No other moment in the film is this striking for me, and that's saying something in a film that's filled with striking and surprising moments. It's Kumiko's quirkiness, obsession, and complete devotion to her quest all summed up in a few minutes.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter opens on a lonely Kumiko mysteriously finding a waterlogged but functional copy of Fargo in a cave, and proceeds to show her growing obsession with the film, specifically the scene in which Steve Buscemi stashes a large sum of money in the snow near a fence. Kumiko rewinds and rewatches the scene countless times and uses the images to construct a map to where this treasure is buried and abruptly abandons her job, her nagging mother, even her beloved rabbit Bunzo, and hops a plane to Minnesota to pursue the riches she believes she's 'discovered'.

This movie hinges on Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim, Babel) and her ability to effectively portray two characters — the withdrawn Kumiko of Tokyo who goes through the motions of being a participant in society but never truly fits, and the lost but heartbreakingly determined Kumiko of Minnesota who must rely on the unbelievable kindness of strangers to accomplish her task and claim her treasure. It's hard to argue that Kikuchi makes a single wrong acting choice here, always choosing the more difficult route of being subtle and spare rather than overdramaticizing the turmoil her character feels at every turn. This makes her few outbursts of joy, despair, and anger in the film seem truly meaningful. In short, it's one of the best performances I've seen this year.

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter is nothing short of a gorgeous film that harvests beauty from both the emptiness of Kumiko's Tokyo and the austere landscapes of Minnesota, though this is all background for Kumiko herself, who's in almost every frame. The Octopus Project's score bolsters every scene with a dreamlike quality that puts you right in Kumiko's head when necessary. It's a stirring combination of sight and sound all working together to make this fever dream of a story fill every space in the theatre.

Before I watched Kumiko and immediately afterwards, I had no idea why this movie was at After Dark. There's nothing remotely resembling science-fiction, action, and certainly not horror here. Some would call Kumiko's quest a futile one — little more than the delusions of someone on the fringe of madness — and the last third of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter features a host of well-meaning characters trying to convince Kumiko of this. But sometimes, when we grab onto something as powerful as a myth, it's impossible to let go, and that's why this film is at After Dark. We're all here - programmers, writers, directors, reviewers, and audience members - because we love film enough to follow it into the most unfamiliar and unforgiving places that it can possibly lead us.


Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on, the CBC Street Level Blog,, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.

Read more ...

Doctor Who & The Companion Who Forgot To Care

[Spoilers up to and including "Flatline", the ninth episode of Season Eight.]

Well, that was pretty messed up. And I don't just mean the terrifying creatures from the two-dimensional universe who were sucking humans into flat deaths, or that giant hand, or the shrinking TARDIS. Because, yet again this week, the most fascinating thing about the episode was the relationship between the Doctor and Clara. Season Eight's portrayal of our current companion continues to be much more interesting than the two-dimensional character (pun oh-so-very intended) we were introduced to last year.

Last week, after "Mummy On The Orient Express," I wrote about the way the Doctor seems to be actively moulding Clara in his own image. And I wasn't the only one who noticed. As Chris Lough wrote in his review for, "Over the course of the season... he continually places her in positions that will make her just like him." It backfired in "Kill The Moon" — she was so upset by the responsibility he forced her to shoulder that she was ready to leave him for good. But their showdown with the mummy helped Clara to better understand the Doctor's thought process. She even lied to Maisie just like he would have.

But this week, the show made that theme kind of the whole point of the episode. (Y'know, other than all the saving of the world.) In "Flatline," Clara runs around with the sonic screwdriver, calling herself the Doctor, and trying to save the day. It's not the first time we've seen a companion take on the Doctor's role — like, say, Amy in "Dinosaurs On A Spaceship" — but this week it had a whole new weight.

That's largely because we're left to wonder just how much of a positive development this really is. Just a couple of episodes ago, Clara had deep concerns about the Doctor. She's had them all season long — unable to answer his "good man" question in "Into The Dalek." But in order to satisfy her time travel addiction, she now seems willing to overlook her concerns and embrace the Time Lord's way of seeing the universe. To make it, in fact, her own.

It ended well in "Mummy On The Orient Express" and again in "Flatline." They save the day. But the Doctor's companion isn't supposed to think like the Doctor. They're supposed to think like a human being. That's the whole point, as we've been reminded over and over again this season. Clara is the caretaker. The one who cares so he doesn't have to. His conscience. The asking questions one — not just about the details of an episode so the audience can understand what's happening, but also about whether or not what the Doctor is doing is truly a good thing to do.

So the moment in "Flatline" that really stands out for me is one that happens when they're in the tunnels. While they're trying to escape the Flatliners (sorry Doctor, "the boneless" is a terrible nickname) they come across some of Rigsy's graffiti. While Clara has been playing the role of the Doctor, Rigsy has been playing the role of her companion. And in that moment, he looks for praise from her just like she looks for praise from the Doctor. But she barely even glances at his artwork. "Yeah, not bad," she says dismissively. She's got bigger things on her mind. It's exactly the kind of rough bedside manner we've been seeing from the Twelfth Doctor all year. Focusing on the big picture while forgetting to be nice to people. It's the kind of thing Clara is supposed to be better at. That's why he needs her around. She is after all, a school teacher. She's supposed to be encouraging to young people. But right now, she's too busy saving the world to be nice.

It's a small moment, but an emblematic one. She's supposed to care about being nice. About lying to people. About seeing them die. But in "Flatline," she doesn't. At least, not as much as she's supposed to.

"You were an exceptional Doctor, Clara" the Time Lord says to her at the end of the episode. "Goodness had nothing to do with it." And you can understand the worried look on his face. Because, if the Doctor's companion becomes too much like him, then who's left to do all the caring?

Other thoughts:

- There's a good discussing about that graffiti moment on the Verity! podcast this week.

- Emily Asher-Perrin points out the great class-related stuff for

- Interesting choice to have a graffiti artist in Bristol named Rigsy; that's Banksy hometown. I visited the city this summer — Bristol's street art is great.

- For a show about travelling through all of space and time, there have been an awful lot of episodes taking place on Earth this year. And another one, it looks like, next week.

- It doesn't have much to do with "Flatline", but as a Canadian I couldn't help but have the events in Ottawa in mind as I re-watched the episode this week. "Flatline" deals, as Doctor Who so often does, with the question of violence and what our response to it should be. These days we seem to have an increasing understanding of how often mental illness plays a role in these situations — it occurs to me that it's something I wouldn't mind seeing the show tackle at some point.


This post posted by Adam Bunch, the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at

Read more ...