Tom Villemaire

Author's details

Date registered: August 30, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Yikes! Luciano Fabro sculpture smashed to bits — September 12, 2013
  2. You go Van Gogh! Newly discovered Sunset at Montmajour on exhibit — September 12, 2013
  3.’s Tom Villemaire has list in Maclean’s Book of Lists special edition — June 24, 2013
  4. It seemed like a nice dry place… now monument under the Sea of Galilee — June 13, 2013
  5. Passive aggressive behavior is not leadership — April 19, 2013

Most commented posts

  1. Toronto scandals are nothing new, here’s why you shouldn’t let them ruin your Christmas — 1,309 comments
  2. You go Van Gogh! Newly discovered Sunset at Montmajour on exhibit — 1,217 comments
  3. The F 35 fighter probably seemed like good idea, so did the ADATS — 3 comments
  4. Canada’s newest saint closes a circle of sorts — 3 comments

Author's posts listings

Sep 12

Yikes! Luciano Fabro sculpture smashed to bits

'Impronta' in rests in pieces.

Luciano Fabro’s ‘Impronta’ created as a testment to the durability of the planet Earth was not up to a tipsy visitor. A Swiss journalist described as ‘Mr. Bean’ knocked the sculpture from its perch, becoming the news he was supposed to report.

A Luciano Fabro sculpture created as a testament to the durability of the planet Earth was not up to a tipsy visitor.

During Saturday evening at the Meno Uno gallery in Lugano, Switzerland, 30 guests gathered to tuck into canapes and free drinks and to see history be made.

Or unmade.

It was reported the guest was a Swiss journalist who has been given the delightful nickname of ‘Mr. Bean’.

‘Impronta’ was considered a ‘priceless’ work of art, but the value of 30 million pounds sterling, has been reported.

As one of the aforementioned guests, slightly less nimble on his feet, knocked the Fabro from its perch and landed on the floor. The opaque glass disk bearing an imprint of the Earth, smashed on the floor.

Radio Switzerland (RSI), reported:

“Caught between a canapé and a chat with someone, unfortunately knocked over a work by Luciano Fabro and smashed it to pieces. It is, or rather, it was, the famous Impronta (Imprint) dated 1962-1964”.

Fabro died in 2007 at the age of 71. He was an Italian sculptor and conceptional artist and associated with the Arte Povera movement, which is based in Italy. Arte Povera means ‘poor art’ and flourished in the 1960s.


Sep 12

You go Van Gogh! Newly discovered Sunset at Montmajour on exhibit

The Van Gogh Museum has discovered a new painting by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890): Sunset at Montmajour (1888). Director Axel Rüger: “A discovery of this magnitude has never before occurred in the history of the Van Gogh Museum. It is already a rarity that a new painting can be added to Van Gogh’s oeuvre.

Yeah, Vincent Van Gogh is dead.

Van Gogh died from what has been called a self-inflicted gun shot wound, July 29, 1890.

Later this month, September 24, 2013, a newly discovered painting by the world famous artist will be exhibited at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The museum announced the exhibit this month.

“What makes this even more exceptional is that this is a transition work in his oeuvre, and moreover, a large painting from a period that is considered by many to be the culmination of his artistic achievement, his period in Arles in the south of France. During this time he also painted world-famous works, such as Sunflowers, The yellow house and The bedroom. The attribution to Van Gogh is based on extensive research into style, technique, paint, canvas, the depiction, Van Gogh’s letters and the provenance.” Sunset at Montmajour will be shown in the exhibition Van Gogh at work in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam from 24 September.’

The painting had been in a private collection owned by a family, said museum director, Axel Rüger.

The director, out of privacy concerns for the family would not say any more about from where the painting had come.

Van Gogh’s work in the south of France included his sunflower paintings and the pigments and the canvas and method of underpainting used at Arles for at least one other painting – the Houston of Fine Arts Museum’s “The Rocks” are the same as those used in the painting, according to Rüger.

Theo Van Gogh, the artist’s younger brother and art dealer owned the painting after Van Gogh died, but Theo died the following year.

The painting, “Sunflower” came out the same year, 1888, as “Sunset at Montmajour” and they are both about the same size, 93.3 cm by 73.3 cm or not quite 3 feet by two-and-half feet.

Oddly, this isn’t the first time the museum has held this painting. The owners attended the museum in 1991 with the painting but Rüger said it wasn’t recognized as a Van Gogh.
For more, check out the museum website here:

Jun 24’s Tom Villemaire has list in Maclean’s Book of Lists special edition

The Ross Rifle is one of author Tom Villemaire’s favourite Colossal Canadian Failures.’s Tom Villemaire has a list in the latest Maclean’s special edition, Book of Lists 2.

Villemaire cowrote two books with Randy Richmond, called Colossal Canadian Failures books one and two and Villemaire also has a podcast on failures of a more global nature called Things That Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.

This list is a take off of the books.

Called Colossal Canadian Failures, it lists nine things that were laughable failures for Canada.

You can check out the list here: so let us know what you think.

Jun 13

It seemed like a nice dry place… now monument under the Sea of Galilee

Well, it seemed like a nice dry place… now monument is under the Sea of Galilee. A large monument about 70 metres across, 12 metres high has been found below the waves of the Sea of Galilee.
When it was built about 6,000 years ago, the site was on dry land.
“The base of the structure — which was once on dry land — is lower than any water level that we know of in the ancient Sea of Galilee. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that water levels have been steadily rising,” said professor Shmulik Marco of Tel Aviv University’s department of geophysics and planetary sciences. Because the Sea of Galilee is a tectonically active region, the bottom of the lake, and therefore the structure, may have shifted over time. Further investigation is planned to increase the understanding of past tectonic movements, the accumulation of sediment, and the changing water levels throughout history.

Shmulik Marco Credit - Basalt boulders form conical mound at bottom of Galilee.

Shmulik Marco Credit – Basalt boulders form conical mound at bottom of Sea of Galilee were originally built where it seemed like a nice dry place to build, say researchers.

The 60,000 tonne structure is made of basalt boulders hauled almost two kilometres reported Marco.
Basalt is common on the Golan Heights but not in this area of the lake.
Marco added, “the base of the structure — which was once on dry land — is lower than any water level that we know of in the ancient Sea of Galilee.”
The Journal of Nautical Archaeology article attributed the submergence to either tectonic movement or rising water levels.
According to the June 10, 2013 press release, the research team plans to further investigate “past tectonic movements, the accumulation of sediment, and the changing water levels throughout history” to determine how the structure ended up at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee.
The ancient community of Beth Yerat was not inhabited during the Biblical period or 1200 to 450 BCE, by then it had been abandoned or destroyed but it was reinhabited during the Persian period and the early Islamic period. The Hebrew name means House of the Moon (god) and the site is an archaeological mound itself, located on the south shore of the lake, where the Jordan river runs out. The mound or ‘tell’ covers about 50 acres and contains remains from a similar period of the Bronze age as the submerged cone-shaped structure. The Arabic name for the community was Khirbet Kerak or Ruins of the Castle and probably comes from the Roman fort built in the area.
Starting at the end of June, 2013 and running until the end of August 2013, the Archaeological Institute of America is running a project to explore the old site of Beth Yerah. Here is how it describes it: “Tel Bet Yerah (Khirbet Kerak) is a large mound situated on the Sea of Galilee, at the outlet of the River Jordan in Israel. Occupied throughout the Early Bronze Age and sporadically in later times, Bet Yerah was a fortified city at the beginning of the third millennium B.C.E.. It had contact with the First Dynasty kings of Egypt and was later home to a unique ceramic tradition: Khirbet Kerak Ware, with roots in the South Caucasus. In 2013, students and volunteers will continue to investigate the monumental Circles Building (granary), excavating a nearby plaza and houses dating to 3000 – 2800 B.C.E.”
The team examining the newly discovered underwater site also included TAU Profs. Zvi Ben-Avraham and Moshe Reshef, and TAU alumni Dr. Gideon Tibor of the Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute.
While the structure was discovered in 2003 during a sonar survey of the lake, publication about the study the discovery entailed was just made this spring.
Researchers say it’s possible the site is linked to a nearby town, Beit Yerah, which was a major settlement during the Bronze Age which was between 2200 and 3300 BCE.
The Sea of Galilee, the largest freshwater lake in Israel, is also known as Lake Tiberias or Lake Kinnerat. It’s about 53 kilometres in circumference and a maximum depth of 43 metres. It’s the lowest freshwater lake on the planet and the second lowest body of water in the world with the Dead Sea being the lowest – it’s a saltwater lake and the lowest point in the valley at about 790 metres below sea level at the bottom of the Dead Sea – the shore is about 400 metres below sea level.
It’s located in the Jordan Rift Valley which is part of the African Great Rift Valley formation. This is caused by the sliding of the African plate and the Arabian plate. It was formed during the Miocene Epoch which was 5 million to almost 24 million years ago as the Arabian plate moved northward and then eastward away from the African plate. It has created the lowest land on Earth, including the two lowest bodies of water, mentioned above.
The area has long been a choice one for human and pre-human settlement. The abundant water of the lake and rivers along with the fertile plains have attracted settlement, say researchers. At El-ʿUbeidīya, three kilometres south of the lake, lacustrine or lake formations dating from about 400,000 to 500,000 years ago have revealed prehistoric tools and two human fragments, which are among the oldest in the Middle East. Canaanite (ancient Palestinian) structures have been uncovered that date back to between 1000 and 2000 BCE. In the first century CE the region was rich and populated; the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote of nine cities on the shores of the lake in ancient times, but of these only Tiberias has survived. Tiberias, on the western shore, north of the Beth Yerah site, was one of the four Jewish holy cities, and Kefar Naḥum (Capernaum), near the northwestern shore, has preserved one of the most beautiful synagogues of the Galilee region, dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries ce. A sanctuary for the Druze (an independent sect founded in the 11th century that followed a creed containing elements of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) is located near Kefar Ḥittim near the western shore. The Sea of Galilee is well-known to Christians because Christ’s miracle work as reported in the Bible took place in the region, including his walking on water and feeding the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and and a few fish.
Marco and company didn’t expect to find the basalt pile. They were trying to determine where a certain kind of pebble found in the area came from, suspecting it was washed down the watercourse now occupied by the River Jordan, south of the lake.
As they did sonar readings of the south end of the lake, a sudden mound appeared on what was a fairly level lake bottom. Marco dived on the pile and found it was a structured pile made of one metre long volcanic stones – the nearest source of which was more than a mile away.
The age of the site was determined by the build up of lake sediment, which was about three metres deep over the base of the mound.

TAU Credit - Shmulik Marco.

TAU Credit – Shmulik Marco.

What’s next? Marco says they will organize a specialized underwater excavation team to examine the site more, hoping to find artefacts that will help date the structure more accurately. He said it could be just as important for explaining the geological history.

Apr 19

Passive aggressive behavior is not leadership

Political appointments are an opportunity to demonstrate leadership. Or not.
In Canada political appointees that have backfired have risen in conversation again. This time it isn’t a senate appointment, it’s a human rights tribunal appointment.
According to reports in the press, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s appointment of Shirish Chotali to head the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal may backfire after a two year investigation into the woman’s actions as boss of the organization that is supposed to help protect human rights, found she was allegedly abusive to her employees.
This is after a winter of discontent with the Prime Minister’s decision-making abilities with regard to senate appointments when two of his freshest senators made headlines that are cringe worthy. There is no need to repeat them here. Okay, a quick mention.
Patrick Brazeau was charged with assault earlier this year. This came after he made headlines for calling a reporter a ‘bitch’ in a twitter message and for being investigated for billing taxpayers for a housing allowance he may not qualify for because of his home’s proximity to the national capital.
Mike Duffy is also being investigated for the housing allowance issue. He was also in the news last year for comments he made to the press – which prior to becoming a senator, he was a member of – and suggesting they should do their jobs and stop bothering him with questions.
These aren’t the first political appointments that have backfired and won’t be the last.
Come back with me to the year 1902.
American President Teddy Roosevelt appoints Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. to the Supreme Court. It’s TR’s first appointment to the Supremes – as Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, calls it.
The president is pretty pleased with the appointment.
Fellow Republican and senator, Henry Cabot Lodge says “he’s our kind right through.”
Skip ahead to 1904, an election year.
T.R. is hoping his appointment will have the stomach to decide against the railway in what is up to that point, the biggest railroad busting case called the United States v. Northern Securities. It’s a case where what is called the Sherman Act is being called into question. It’s an act that is supposed to limit what railways can do to strangle competition. T.R. wants the act upheld. The Supremes vote 5-4 in favour of the act, but Holmes writes the minority decision.
Roosevelt, who has had Holmes over to the White House for dinner, feels his political appointment has cast his progressive credibility into the dumpster.
“I could carve out of a banana a judge with more backbone than that,” said Roosevelt.
Harry Truman was also bitten by a judicial appointment.
“It isn’t so much he’s a bad man. It’s just that he’s such a dumb son of a bitch,” said Truman of Justice Tom C. Clark when ruling against the president’s 1952 actions to avoid a strike by seizing the steel industry.
But backfiring political appointments are even older than that in the states.
Take the case of possibly the very first American political appointment. Sort of, as the appointment took place in 1774.
The Rev. Jacob Duche was an Anglican Church minister. He was appointed by the first congress of the United States to be the congressional chaplain.
Duche found out by letter from the congress that he’d been appointed. The letter, from no less than John Hancock (must have been a big sheet of paper) desired his presence to open congress on Tuesday, September 6, 1774.
There was a political reason behind the appointment.
An Anglican minister as chaplain for the congress would give a measure of legitimacy to the actions of congress, it was thought. Many members of congress were members of the church. The church would possibly be elevated in the eyes of the public because of the links with congress.
It is estimated that only about one in three people actively supported the war for independence and another third opposed it and one third had no opinion. Any support gathered would help the cause.
John Adams wrote, “[Joseph Reed] says we never were so guilty of a more masterful stroke than in moving that Mr. Duche might read prayers. It has had a very good effect &c. He says the sentiments of people here are growing more and more favorable every day.”
Duche served two years and in October 1776 wrote a letter to George Washington telling him he was stepping down.
He was declaring his support for the British crown.

Earlier in April of this year, 2013, The Park Geun-Hye Blue House apologized for a lack of judgement in the appointments it made. The South Korean Blue House is similar to the American White House.
Top officials who were appointed by the right wing government, were forced to walk away from their posts because of their pasts.
Opposition cite a lack of accountability on the part of the government.
“The Blue House has lost any kind of decency before the people by making its spokeswoman read an apology on a weekend while no one is assuming responsibility,” Kim Hyun, the left wing DUP spokeswoman, said. “President Park must punish the chief of staff and senior civil affairs secretary.”
The lack of proper screening of the appointments and ‘high handedness’ are blamed for the ruling party’s drop in the polls.
Under the British government of Margaret Thatcher there were a number of appointment scandals. Thatcher’s appointment of Nick Ridley to Secretary of State for Trade and industry backfired. He was forced to resign after an interview in which he described the European Economic and Monetary Union as finishing the work of Adolph Hitler.
“A German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe.”
Ridley was so tightly tied to Thatcher through his loyalty, this caused deeper rifts in the governing party and eventually, Thatcher had to resign.
Is it possible the whole appointment scandal ploy is just a sign of cynical passive aggressive action against a policy governments find distasteful today, but lack the backbone to do something about it?
In Texas, a state much like the province of Alberta, where Stephen Harper was elected in that it is a conservative place with oil and people like to think of themselves as rugged individualists, appointments have a whole other problem.
The state has lots of positions that require appointing.
The governor of the state, former Republican presidential nominee hopeful, Rick Perry, is not a believer in appointments.
This means the people already in the position get to stay or the position goes empty.
Take Ric Williamson, the Transportation Commissioner, who has slowly become more and more despised as he pushes for more and more toll roads in the state.
Perry backs Williamson, so he’s happy to have him remain as commissioner. Another Republican, the chair of the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee asked Williamson to meet with him and Williamson refused, because Perry backs him.
Perry’s lack of appointments has caused problems with Texas Southern University where the lack of governors needed for its board has led to financial and oversight problems.
Many Texas appointee positions hold important posts that are intricate in the running of the state.
It may end up with legislation being moved that will change the rules that Perry has found a way around.
It may be that governments want someone else to make the decision for them, so they set things up to fail.
If that is the case, then what is happening in Canada and around the world is a manifestation of a governments acting in passive aggressive manner to get what they want.
Which is not leadership.

Jan 06

History of France in English on the iTunes “New and Noteworthy” list for educational and history podcasts, but it’s still pretty good!

The History of France in English Podcast by’s Tom Villemaire is now on the iTunes list of “New and Noteworthy” podcasts.

For History and Education podcasts that is, even so, it’ s still pretty good and kinda funny in spots. Not Steve Buscemi funny in Fargo, but still, pretty funny.

Way funnier than a broken leg – even with clever stuff scrawled on yer cast.

So check it out.

We won’t break your leg.

What would you learn from that?


Jan 04’s podcast History of France in English ranks in top 50 on iTunes

Historylab's Tom Villemaire has his new History of France in English podcast now available on iTunes.

Historylab’s Tom Villemaire has his new History of France in English podcast now available on iTunes.’s podcast History of France in English by Tom Villemaire is ranked in iTunes top 50 educational productions.

This is because of the huge amount of support of the people in the history podcast community, in particular, those who hang out at the facebook site, the link is here.

The podcast will be launching its fourth episode this week, less than a month after its first and the download numbers are very encouraging.

Thanks to everyone who has helped!

Dec 31

Some bright ideas are Canadian

It was New Year’s Eve in 1879 that Thomas Alva Edison unveiled his best known invention, but some bright ideas are Canadian first.

Edison’s incandescent bulb shone light on a new era as well as a new year.

Matt Evans was co-inventor of a working light bulb before Thomas Edison lit up the night with his on New Year's Eve, 1879.

Matt Evans was co-inventor of a working light bulb before Thomas Edison lit up the night with his on New Year’s Eve, 1879.

Thomas Alva Edison lit up the night on New Year's Even 1879 but two Canadians had the bright idea working first.

Thomas Alva Edison lit up the night on New Year’s Even 1879 but two Canadians had the bright idea working first.

That Thomas Edison — a great guy. He invented the light bulb and changed the way the world … um, not really. It’s sad but true. Two men from                            

Toronto, Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans, invented a light bulb before Edison. But they couldn’t get the financing they needed to get their invention from the lab to the store windows. So they sold the rights to their 1875 patent to Edison. In 1879, Edison demonstrated his light globe — one of the inventions most associated with his name. Like so many other great Canadian ideas, Woodward and Evans’s invention ended up going south.

The brain drain didn’t end there.

Henry Woodward was co-inventor of a working light bulb before Thomas Edison's bright idea.

Henry Woodward was co-inventor of a working light bulb before Thomas Edison’s bright idea.

When you think radio, you probably think Guglielmo Marconi.

And you probably think Canada’s role in the invention of the radio was to provide some real estate for the first intercontinental radio broadcast.

You’d be wrong.

First, the broadcast was made in Newfoundland long before it ever entered Confederation. And second, don’t think Marconi. Think Fessenden.

Reginald Fessenden was a Quebec-born inventor who, like many Canadian inventors, may have been a genius but could have used some help with marketing and publicity.

When Fessenden was growing up in Ontario, his uncle, a physics teacher, brought him to see Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, the year Bell invented the telephone. Fessenden liked the telephone but was curious about why it required wires to connect the two sets. Right then and there, Fessenden decided he was going to broadcast voices through the air.

And he did. Before Marconi.

In 1901, Marconi managed to send a radio signal across the Atlantic with the message in the dots and dashes of Morse Code. Marconi had a theory of why this happened, but it was wrong and Fessenden knew it. He recognized that a radio, to be useful, would need to use a standing wave; that is, it would have to broadcast continuously, not in little spurts of sparks as his contemporaries believed. Fessenden’s first speech broadcast was looked on with something like amusement — why use speech when you can spark off some dots and dashes? And other scientists ridiculed his theories of the continuous wave.

Fessenden’s first speech broadcast took place on December 23, 1900 — the year before Marconi’s trans-Atlantic transmission of dots and dashes. He transmitted his own voice over the first wireless telephone from a site on Cobb Island in the middle of the Potomac River near Washington, D.C.

In 1906, with Marconi still playing about with sparks and arcs and dots and dashes, Fessenden broadcast music and speech to ships in the Atlantic. In 1906 he also managed two-way voice communication between Scotland and Massachusetts.

Instead of getting rich, his backers seized his patents and pushed him aside. He sued. That took almost two decades to settle. When all was said and done, he won about $500,000 in damages and handed over about $300,000 in lawyers’ fees.

He wound up working in the United States building radios for that country’s military. In Canada, he couldn’t get the funding to do research. And when he tried to create a radio network in Canada, he was told he couldn’t. The Canadian government had given that privilege exclusively to Marconi — who was not a Canadian.

In 1929 Fessenden invented a television. He also developed a kind of sonar to help the world avoid another Titanic disaster by helping ships detect icebergs. The same invention came in handy during the First World War, helping ships detect submarines.

During that war, he also created a device that would allow the Canadian military to detect enemy artillery and determine its range and location. His sense of patriotism had brought him back to Canada and he was sent to work on the device in London, England. But the bureaucrats who approved purchases for the military weren’t interested. (A Canadian army officer later created a similar device out of necessity, at the front, driven by the horrific losses of men to German artillery.)

In all, Fessenden was a holder of more than five hundred patents. He was highly regarded in the United States. He was awarded money and recognition by the city of Philadelphia as “one whose labors have been of great benefit to mankind.” The Institute of Radio Engineers of America presented him with its medal of honour. The head of General Electric Laboratories called him “the greatest wireless inventor of the age — greater than Marconi.”

The New York Times wrote an editorial regarding Fessenden:


It sometimes happens, even in science, that one man can be right against the world. Professor Fessenden was that man. He fought bitterly and alone to prove his theories. It was he who insisted, against the stormy protests of every recognized authority, that what we now call radio was worked by continuous waves sent through the ether by the transmitting station as light waves are sent out by a flame. Marconi and others insisted that what was happening was a whiplash effect. The progress of radio was retarded a decade by this error. The whiplash theory passed gradually from the minds of men and was replaced by the continuous wave — one with all too little credit to the man who had been right.

In my lifetime, I developed over a hundred patentable inventions including the electric gyroscope, the heterodyne, and a depth finder. I built the first power generating station at Niagara Falls and I invented radio, sending the first wireless voice message in the world on Dec. 23, 1900.

But despite all my hard work, I lived most of my life near poverty. I fought years of court battles before seeing even a penny from my greatest inventions. And worst of all, I was ridiculed by journalists, businessmen, and even other scientists, for believing that voice could ever be transmitted without using wires. But by the time death was near, not only was I wealthy from my patents, and all of those people who had laughed at my ideas were twisting the dials on their newly bought radios to hear the latest weather and news.

In many American encyclopedia and reference books, he is considered an American Canadian, even though he never gave up his Canadian citizenship and when war was declared he returned to Canada to serve, although his genius had been ignored and gone unrewarded in his own country.

Even today the Encyclopedia Canadiana does not give him a separate listing. Mention of him is included only under the listing for his mother, Clementina, who established Empire Day in Canada. Reginald is mentioned as one of her four sons, “inventor of the wireless telephone, the radio compass and the visible bullet for machine guns, he also invented the first television set in North America in 1919.”

Still — no credit for the radio.

Aw, well, let’s head out for a drive.

On the weekend, you probably like to hit the road for the country for a picnic with your friends and family and take a few photographs with the McCurdy and …

What, you’ve never heard of a McCurdy?

Well you would have, had Arthur Williams McCurdy been as much businessman as inventor.

McCurdy was a genius when it came to inventions. One of them was a method of making pictures anywhere — not just taking them but making them. It was called the Portable Film Developing System, and McCurdy created it in 1890. A little ahead of his time.

Even so, thirteen years later, when the world caught up to him, he sold the patent to George Eastman. Yes, as in Eastman Kodak Co. It took decades for the first Polaroid cameras to come onto the market. And McCurdy was long forgotten.

Canadians have some bright ideas, sometimes it takes an American to shine a light on them.

For more on the light bulb, click here.


Dec 13

History of France in English podcast now available on iTunes!

The History of France in English podcast is now available on iTunes. The first episode deals with the history of wine in France, from its first historic mention about 600 BCE up to the end of the Roman occupation, including the destruction of the Gaul vineyards around 92 AD and the somewhat biased view of the Greeks and Romans towards the Gauls and their ability to grow grapes.

Check out the iTunes website by clicking here!

Historylab's Tom Villemaire has his new History of France in English podcast now available on iTunes.

Historylab’s Tom Villemaire has his new History of France in English podcast now available on iTunes.

Dec 11

Toronto scandals are nothing new, here’s why you shouldn’t let them ruin your Christmas

Toronto scandals?

Toronto is a world-class city.

So it does scandals big… um, yeah.

Ask any city politician.

Toronto scandals are nothing new. The city has survived weirdness long before Rob Ford became mayor.

Toronto scandals are nothing new. The city has survived weirdness long before Rob Ford became mayor.

Forget Rob Ford. He’s a rank amateur.

Toronto has had a world-class scandal that includes all the usual stuff of scandal — sex, abuse of power, stupidity, cupidity, and money — and, in a uniquely Canadian twist, a professional hockey player.

According to Justice Denise Bellamy, who was appointed to probe the scandal, what should have been a routine and even boring computer leasing contract ballooned into a complicated tale of greed, mismanagement, and lying.

The so-called Toronto computer leasing scandal ended up costing the city over $100 million. The biggest cost was the contract between the City of Toronto and MFP Financial Services for $40 million in computers and computer services. The city ended up spending more than $80 million under that contract.


Well, to figure out that (and other aspects of the scandal) the city spent more than $19 million for a three-year inquiry, with witnesses including the treasurer, city budget chief, and a famous hockey player’s brother who worked for MFP. (The hockey player made an appearance at the inquiry to testify on his brother’s behalf.)

Justice Bellamy, who presided over the inquiry, said, “Some people disgraced themselves, failed in their duty to their City, lied, put self-interest first, or simply did not do their jobs.” The report contains more than 240 recommendations for preventing a repeat of the scandal.

Although MFP was not the only city supplier that seemed to cross conflict-of-interest lines, its name is the one most associated with the scandal, primarily because of its leasing contract with the city — a contract that didn’t have guaranteed lease rates and to which additional equipment was allowed to be added without proper approvals, some of the key reasons for the doubling of the price.

Since the beginning of the inquiry MFP has changed its name to Clearlink Capital Corp. By the summer of 2005, it had settled a number of lawsuits with other municipalities in the province.

During the inquiry Toronto decided it would not pay MFP any more money under its contract. But the city relented. In the fall of 2005, Toronto city lawyers recommended a further $9 million plus payout to MFP to settle its claims. After all, they had a contract.

Ah, good times.

But it doesn’t end there.

In July 2001, when Toronto lost its bid for the 2008 Summer Olympics, distraught city leaders wrung their hands and pointed their fingers.

Mayor Mel Lastman was the target of most of the finger pointing. Only a month earlier, before visiting Kenya to

Self-made man and the first mega-Toronto mayor, Mel Lastman was no stranger to the many challenges of running a world-class city. He saw his own share of Toronto scandals.

Self-made man and the first mega-Toronto mayor, Mel Lastman was no stranger to the many challenges of running a world-class city. He saw his own share of Toronto scandals.

promote Canada’s bid to the International Olympic Committee, Lastman noted, “I’m sort of scared about going there…. I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me.”

Many IOC members were shocked, especially those from Africa. Instantly, Canada had a worse human rights reputation than China, which is not an easy feat to accomplish. Lastman had helped cannibalize his own city’s bid. Beijing got the Olympics.

It wasn’t the first time bizarre incidents contributed to Toronto’s losing an Olympic bid. The city also failed to get the 1960 Summer Olympics.

City officials apparently lost the bid because they misplaced some paperwork. An official IOC application had been sent to the city in 1954. But no one filled it out. And no one could figure out where it had gone.

These days Olympic bids are fought and awarded with much front page hoopla. But when Toronto lost the 1960 bid, the news made it to page 28 of the Toronto Star on April 15, 1955. The story was not based on an announcement or even a press release. It was based on a letter from Harry Price, chairperson of the Canadian National Exhibition, to the city’s Civic Parks Committee. The Civic Parks Committee, not the mayor and a thousand others, was handling the Olympic bid. The letter from Price described a phone call he had just received from Sidney Dawes, the official Canadian representative on the IOC. According to Price, Dawes told him Toronto had lost the bid.

But Dawes had some good advice for future bids: always accompany the bids with a little gift for IOC members. Over the years, Dawes said, he had collected some very nice gifts from cities competing for the Olympics.

Decades later, a scandal erupted over the awarding of gifts to IOC members by the organizers of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. IOC members were offered cash and scholarships, trips to Disney and Las Vegas, and tickets for the Superbowl.

But this story was taking place in 1955, and the gifts back then were more understated. It’s always a “very nice gesture,” Dawes advised the Toronto bidders, to send each IOC member a lighter with the city crest on it.

Why, if things continued that way, scandals in Toronto would cost taxpayers dozens of dollars!

Mel Lastman has a very interesting blog to check it out, click here.

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