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From the archives

The Other Side of “Irish Eyes”

Brian Mulroney abroad and at home

The Ramble

Memories from the PMO

Vintage Years

Two political memoirs

Charlotte Gray

Charlotte Gray is an award-winning biographer and the author of Murdered Midas.

Articles by
Charlotte Gray

Untoward, the Last Spike

Connecting Canada came at a cost January | February 2024
Any attempt at a widescreen portrayal of Canadian history is a risky undertaking these days. Toppled statues, heartfelt apologies, angry assertions of neglect, outraged counterclaims: since the turn of the century, this country’s past has become a battleground as various groups struggle to make their version of it the dominant story. University-based historians have frequently exacerbated the…

Door Stopper

A historical whodunit May 2023
The titillation factor in true crime stories makes them catnip for podcasters and documentary filmmakers. The neat story arc — from fatal blow to courtroom denouement — provides a great frame for insights into a society’s values, fears, and assumptions. It was already a well-established genre back in the nineteenth century, when newspapers adeptly exploited its morbid appeal and many stereotypes: bullied…

Outward Bound

A Finnish migration story January | February 2023
For narrative historians and biographers, primary sources are gold dust, particularly if the writer uses an attention-grabbing metaphor. So the following lines, taken from a forty-year-old letter, immediately sparked my interest: “My coming to this country was like a drowning man grabbing at a straw. I did not wish for anything, just threw my future to…

On the Silver Trail

A small town’s outsize influence April 2022
Cobalt is a crucial resource for the twenty-first century. Frequently found alongside ­silver in geological formations, it is one of the most sought-after minerals in the world, with all kinds of uses in our digital age, including an important role in the lithium-ion batteries that power smartphones and electric vehicles. Cobalt is also the name of a small town in the Temagami region of northern…

Agent Zero

Her tale of delusion April 2021
A compelling biography must answer two crucial questions. The first is “Who is this person?” The second is “Why is she or he important or interesting?” In that sense, this biography is an anomaly, since after reading it I knew tombstone data about the Montreal writer Doris Hedges but had little idea of her personality and motivations. And Robert Lecker’s assertion that she was “Canada’s first literary agent” is…

Murder, She Writes

Why I returned to true crime September 2019
A few months ago, a friend sent me a link to podcast I had never heard of: My Favorite Murder. Co-­hosted by the comedians Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, it had been taped in front of an enthusiastic and largely female audience in Toronto’s Sony Centre. “You’ll be surprised,” my friend texted. “They were all over The Massey Murder.” I stuck in my earbuds and listened as two cheerful American voices rattled on about boy…

Meanwhile in another forest…

Canada’s trees, and the long history of another era’s resource war November 2018
In July 1954, there was a spectacular birthday party in an isolated Quebec town, hemmed in on three sides by thick bush, and on the fourth side bordering the St. Lawrence River. A large crowd enjoyed French-Canadian ballads played by an accordionist and fiddlers in colourful lumberjack shirts and neckerchiefs. According to a report in the Chicago Tribune

Haunted by Weird Willie

The remarkable afterlife of our strangest PM—and what we want from politicians May 2017
“A strange man, a strange age, a strange country. There is more to Mac­kenzie King, and to Canada, than meets the eye.” In the mid 1970s, the writer of those words, political scientist Reg Whitaker, sat down in the reading room of the Public Archives in Ottawa to study the newly released volumes of the King diaries—a massive journal that Prime Minister Mackenzie King began keeping as a student in the…

A Strangely Obtuse Country

A diary of a public culture maker. March 2016
Back in 1978, I was living in England and wondering whether to detach myself from London’s literary circles, move across the Atlantic and join my Canadian boyfriend. His persuasion tactics included mailing me novels intended as proof that this country’s vast geography contained more than trees and snow, and its intellectual landscape featured a culture in which I might feel at…

Canada’s Homeless Portrait Gallery

A historic collection falls victim to economic and intellectual uncertainty December 2008
Locked in a high-tech storage and laboratory facility in western Quebec, way beyond the sightlines of Parliament Hill, is a most intriguing collection. Inside Vault 34 at the Library and Archives Canada Preservation Centre, dozens of paintings are hung on rolling art racks, about one foot apart. Between cold cement walls, under brutal fluorescent lighting, a helpful curator rolls them out for the occasional…