For Canadian school kids, the country’s History involves tedious tales of explorers lugging canoes between mosquito-infested rivers as they contemplate what or whom to eat. Apart from the odd skirmish between the French and English, stories of fur trading routes being established and canals being dredged are among the juicer bits. Being situated where we are doesn’t help: When you compare a tale of starving pioneers cursing fate as they turn into popsicles to, say, the Civil War, it’s tough for even the most patriotic Canucks not to be a bit envious.
But while it’s unlikely that Canadian History will ever inspire a Hollywood blockbuster, here we present eight unsung stories from our nation’s inglorious past that would, at the very least, make for decent government-funded movies.
1. INDEPENDENT REPUBLIC OF MANITOBAH
The federal Dominion of Canada was founded July 1, 1867, but present-day Manitoba wasn’t yet part of it. It was known as Rupert’s Land, and owned by North America’s oldest commercial corporation, Hudson’s Bay Company, a fur-trading outfit that is currently a bit like Target but less glamorous.
Scottish-born Thomas Spence’s settlement in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba (100 miles from the present North Dakota border) fell outside all recognized jurisdictions, rendering it in effect lawless. Politically astute Spence convinced settlers that security would lie in the formation of a recognized council, and who better to lead it than him? The Independent Republic of Manitobah was born, with Spence as its president.
The Scotsman set about trying to collect taxes from residents—and confused fur traders who happened by—to fund the construction of a council house and jail. One shoemaker refused to pay, calling Spence and his council a bunch of drunks who used tax Money for bar tabs. Incensed by that kind of sauce from one of his subjects, Spence sent two of his “deputies” to arrest the shoemaker for treason, and eventually tried him in one of his constables’ homes. The shoemaker’s friends intervened and the “trial” deteriorated into a brawl, with the Republic’s president cowering under a table once the revolvers came out.
The Republic fell finally and forever when Spence received a letter from the Colonial Minister in London informing him that neither he nor his republic had any status whatsoever and to knock the whole, bloody thing off.
2. OH, BROTHER XII, WHERE ART THOU?
One of Canada’s most notorious cult stories had a marriage-like arc—starting with visions of love and promises of mutual betterment and ending in acrimony over money and sex. Edward Arthur Wilson was a British-born mystic and sea captain who began having visions in 1924 and came to believe that an Egyptian spiritual master was guiding him.
Renaming himself Brother Xii, Wilson decided he needed a colony—what he called the “Ark of Refuge”—to prepare people for the coming Age of Aquarius, but first he needed the cash to pay for it. Enter gullible Californians who ate up his lectures during a speaking tour and bankrolled both his Ark of Refuge (in Cedar, British Columbia) and the Aquarian Foundation backing it.
By 1927, the Foundation was raking in serious money. But tensions began to mount when it was discovered that Brother’s actions in the “House of Mystery”—a building meant for spiritual contemplation—were not so mysterious if you were familiar with the sounds of frenzied lovemaking.
Other sex scandals followed [Read other Non-Boring Moments in Canadian History here]