Selected excerpts from a Globe newspaper published in Toronto on February 10, 1864

A friend of a friend found an old newspaper inside the wall of a house he was renovating — not an uncommon thing to find, since many people used them for insulation. But this one is really old: it’s a copy of The Globe (a newspaper published in Toronto) from February, 1864. That’s three years before Canada even officially became a country. It was very stiff and damaged by what appeared to be water, but I was still able to make out most of the text on the front page at least.

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One interesting thing is that there are ads all over the front page — for things like steamship travel, houses for rent, and new technology like the steam engine and “self-adjusting spring skates,” whatever those are. One steamship company was offering passage from New York to London: a first-class cabin cost $80, a second-class cabin was $50 and steerage was just $30.

Interestingly enough, most of the items on the front page aren’t what we would consider news stories but are letters from abroad, written in a personal style and frequently with little news at all — one reprinted from the London Telegraph is probably over 1,000 words and mentions that Montreal has a population of more than 75,000 and is therefore “the most populous city in British North America.” It also mentions (no doubt playing to the home-town crowd) that “the assertion that the British provinces are anxious to join the Union is baseless and absurd.”

There’s also a notice to the public of “an imposter, wearing the dress of a Roman Catholic priest… he is a drunken vagabond — an Irishman.” And another notice mentions the wonderful new technology of “coal oil” lanterns, describing how people were endangering their eyesight by reading or darning by the light of the fire or a shared candle, and how with this new technology, “each house can have for the same expense a light exceeding half a dozen candles.”

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When it comes to ads, in addition to the steamship advertisements, there are ads for spectacles, boots and shoes, live hogs and furniture — but the largest ad stretches the length of the page vertically and is for “Dr. Hoofland’s German Bitters,” which the ad says is “not a rum drink but a highly concentrated vegetable extract” that will “effectively and most certainly cure all diseases rising from a disordered liver, stomach or kidneys.” It then lists the symptoms of these diseases as:

“Constipation, Inward Piles, Fulness or Blood to the Head, Disgust for Food, Sour Eructations, Sinking or Fluttering at the Pit of the Stomach, Swimming of the Head, Hurried and Difficult Breathing, Fluttering at the Heart, Dots or Webs before the Sight, Deficiency of Perspiration, Sudden Flushe of Heat and Constant Imaginings of Evil”

The ad also goes on at some length about how other bitters are “compounded of cheap whiskey or common rum,” and that this class of bitters “has caused and will continue to cause hundreds to die the death of the Drunkard.” And it recommends that Dr. Hoofland’s be used specifically for “delicate children… suffering from marasmus, wasting away, with scarcely any flesh on their bones.” One bottle, the ad says, and “they will be cured in a very short time.”

There’s also a large ad about an estate auction to be held at a law office on King Street “in pursuance of a Decree by the Court of Chancery of Upper Canada, at twelve of the clock noon.” The lots to be sold include one at the corner of Queen Street and William Street with “a Blacksmith’s Shop and a small frame Dwelling House” which are being leased for “24 pounds per annum.”

Oh Canada — not too bad, eh?

I don’t want to get all patriotic on you or anything, but I came across a couple of tributes to our home and native land (okay — my home and native land anyway) and they were sufficiently funny and yet true at the same time that I couldn’t help but take note of them. One was a guest post on the Queen of Spain’s blog by Meg Fowler, and while it’s entitled “Ten Things That Are Better About Canada,” it isn’t really about why we’re better than the U.S. or anywhere else, I don’t think — just why things are pretty darn good. My favourites include:

— Our national bird is tastier than yours.

— We know the secret to feeling rich — turn all your currency into gold-coloured coins!

— Our national flag is a leaf and two bars — something you can find in any town we have, too.

— We have more trees than we have McDonalds. And more hockey rinks than Wal-Marts. And more donuts than cops.

Nice job, Meg. And the other piece was a guest column in the National Post by a U.S. executive named Dave Burwick, who is leaving his tour of duty in Canada to head back to the U.S. and came up with his own list of things he loves about this country, including some thoughts about how hockey is a metaphor for our culture (and no, it doesn’t have anything to do with Don Cherry, thank God). Some selections:

— Hockey Night in Canada: One of the last communal TV events left anywhere.

— Eating a peameal sandwich every Saturday at 7 a. m. during my son’s hockey practice.

— Raising a family right in the middle of the city, and knowing they’re safe.

— Surviving a minus-30-degree day in downtown Winnipeg, and how it made me feel more alive.

I took a bike ride this afternoon through the Rouge River valley and into Pickering, out to Frenchman’s Bay — where some people were sunbathing, some were kite-surfing in the shadow of the giant Pickering nuclear plant, and some were sailing or kayaking — and along the way I saw hundreds of people walking, biking, picnicking, playing football, throwing a Frisbee, and just generally having a great time on a beautiful day. They were many different shades, from pale white to off-white to various shades of brown and black; some were wearing shorts, some dresses, some salwar kameez and some the hijab and chador and even burqa. And they were all Canadian. Happy Canada Day.

Canadian copyright bill: Good and bad

Six months after it was first scheduled to hit the legislature, the government’s proposed copyright law was tabled in the House this morning, giving critics a first look at the law that they have been rallying against for the better part of two years. Although Industry Minister Jim Prentice is trying to rally support for the bill by calling it a “made-in-Canada” solution, prominent opponents such as law professor Michael Geist have made it clear they believe most of the new law’s features have been dictated by outside interests — including the global record industry, U.S. movie studios and other foreign content industries — and have called it “a carbon copy of the DMCA.”

The truth is that the proposed legislation is somewhere in between — in good and bad ways. There are areas in which the Canadian law differs dramatically from the U.S. DMCA — most notably, the use of a so-called “notice and notice” approach when it comes to the liability of Internet service providers for copyright-infringing content, as opposed to the U.S. “notice and takedown” approach. The U.S. law has been criticized by many for effectively forcing services such as YouTube to remove content even when it’s not clear whether it actually infringes copyright, such as when it could fall under the “fair use” exception in the law (Canada has a similar, but more restrictive, concept called “fair dealing”).

Another element of the proposed Canadian law is that the personal (or “non-commercial”) liability for infringement has been reduced from $20,000 per infringement to just $500 — and that’s for each case brought by a copyright holder, even if it involves multiple offences; the existing legislation provides for damages of $20,000 per file. It’s important to note, however, that the reduction doesn’t apply if the person doing the infringing has cracked, broken or otherwise gotten around any digital-rights management controls on the content. Those cases would still be open to the $20,000 per infringement damages that are in the current law.

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Drop that mouse! It’s the copyright cops

(Note: This is cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

Are you sure that all of the songs on your iPod were legally acquired? What about the music or movies or other digital content on your laptop? You could be subjected to some nasty questioning next time you cross the border, if a new international trade body has its way — and your ISP might decide to rat you out to the government as well.

According to a leaked document (available at Wikileaks and also at IP Justice), Canada and a number of other countries are planning to create a NAFTA-style body that would police copyright, and would be empowered to seize and/or destroy property without a court order. This agency — whose creation wouldn’t have to be approved by the legislature, according to some reports, because it deals with international trade matters — would also have the power to force Internet service providers to divulge information about their customers without requiring a warrant.

Past attempts by the Canadian record industry to compel ISPs to produce such information failed when the courts ruled that the Canadian Recording Industry Association didn’t have the authority to request that kind of private personal data.

The proposed multi-country agreement (which reportedly involves the U.S., Canada, the European Union, Japan, Mexico and South Korea) is called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA. In addition to the ability to force ISPs to provide customer info, the agreement would also give border guards the right to inspect laptops, cameras, iPods and other devices for any illegal digital content, and would allow them to take action without requiring a complaint from a rights-holder. The agreement would permit guards and others to conduct “ex parte” searches of property or individuals, meaning a lawyer would not have to be present.

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iPhone Canada: Pay me now, or pay me later

If you’re an Apple fan who has been waiting for the iPhone — or at least an “official” version of the iPhone — for lo, these many months, your heart probably leaped at the word from Rogers Communications supremo Ted Rogers this morning that he has signed a deal with Apple to launch a maple-flavoured version of the world’s most sought-after handset. If you have ever had a cellular data plan from Rogers, however, your heart probably leaped a little less high, and may even have let out a small sigh or shrugged its heart-shaped shoulders.

Why? Because as more than one person has pointed out, the fact that the iPhone is coming to Canada isn’t really the important thing. It’s important, of course, but everyone knew that it was going to arrive eventually. The *really* important thing is what it’s going to cost when it finally arrives — and not so much the phone itself, but the data plan. Will the word “unlimited” be used in conjunction with the word “data?” And if it is, will it actually mean “unlimited,” or will it mean something else that only appears in that special Rogers’ dictionary?

The nightmare scenario is that the iPhone comes, but the costs for service are so prohibitive — not so much for phone calls, but for data charges, Web surfing and so on — that it makes it ridiculous for anyone but a movie star or possibly a dentist to actually afford. Rogers and Bell are notorious for adding charges that boost even the most normal cellular bill into the stratosphere, especially when the user goes onto that thing called the “Internet” and does stuff with a regular app as opposed to the crippled WAP browser that most devices come with.

These are just the kinds of activities that iPhone users tend to engage in, of course — which is why Ted and the gang are so excited about getting them here, and even more excited that they will only work on the Rogers network. For me, I’d be a lot more excited if there was a reasonable data and Web-surfing plan attached to it.