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Mass Disruption

Mass Disruption

Thirty Years on the Front Lines of a Media Revolution
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
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Once a Bitcoin Miner

Once a Bitcoin Miner

Scandal and Turmoil in the Cryptocurrency Wild West
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

 

There was a presentation by Bitwage, which offers a service that allows companies to pay their employees with cryptocurrency. I had been working on a second cryptocurrency article about that very subject, to coincide with Labor Day, and at that event, I met a lot who were taking salaries in Bitcoin—some entirely.

 

One of them was Gerald Cotten, a bright-eyed, sandy-haired 20-something, who like Mt. Gox’s Frenchman Mark Karpeles, seemed to be always smiling. Gerry, as he was known, had founded the exchange platform QuadrigaCX, where people can buy and sell cryptocurrency, and five years later, would die in India and send shockwaves across and beyond the cryptocurrency world—but that is a whole other story.

 

A business-school graduate, Gerry was a fixture in the Toronto’s burgeoning cryptocurrency scene, attending Anthony’s meetups even before the latter had secured his fashion-district building. Reserved, private and an avid player of Settlers of Catan, a nerdy, nerdy strategy board game, Gerry carefully avoided gluten and drank cider instead of beer due to digestive issues.

 

Gerry shook my hand and handed me a black business card, white text upon a dark, perforated steel theme. It was nice-looking, but it was clearly not made by a professional. There were at least three different types of fonts on it.

 

I had known Gerry a little by reputation, but of course, that was not unusual. At the time, there was few places in Canada where you could easily buy and sell cryptocurrency in an organized fashion, with Canadian dollars. Everyone knew Gerry and Quadriga. Aren’t you in Vancouver? I asked.

 

Oh, no, Gerry said, we were, but we just moved to Toronto.

 

I asked Gerry about Quadriga. It was then only nine months old, and it wasn’t doing that well. Only C$7.4 million worth of bitcoin traded hands on the platform that year, and it took in a meager C$22,168 in revenue December 2014 through January 2015, against almost four times that in losses.

 

Yet Gerry had gone all in. “I make all my money in Bitcoin,” he said. He was in for the long haul, a steadfast believer in the future of cryptocurrency.

 

For a while, I almost forgot about all the money I had lost. There was something oddly inspiring about Gerry. I decided to hold on to my Bitcoin.

 

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Newspapering

Newspapering

50 Years of Reporting from Canada and Around the World
edition:Hardcover
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Embedded

Embedded

Two Journalists, a Burlesque Star, and the Expedition to Oust Louis Riel
edition:eBook
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Excerpt

Blawsted Fence

“All the way up, stories have been retailed in the barrooms of the hotels of the most ludicrous character. Captain Cameron and his eye-glass comes in for a share of these remarks. It was told that he went boldly up to the stockade the insurgents had thrown across the Fort Garry road, took out his eye-glass, looked through it wonderingly at the impediments, and in a club-house kind of style, said, “take away that blawsted fence,” and when some of the half-breeds made their appearance, he took to his heels, and manfully ran for it.” — Robert Cunningham, “The Insurrection in the North-West,” Globe, January 13, 1870

In March 1869, the Canadian government and the Hudson’s Bay Company finally agreed to terms for the sale of Rupert’s Land, a vast tract bestowed upon the company by English royal charter in 1670. It stretched from present-day Labrador in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west to Baffin Island in the north. The nearly 1.5 million square miles featured an extensive fur-based economy that supported 100,000 or so Indigenous Peoples and a few thousand non-Native settlers. It also contained 97 trading posts and a partially built telegraph line. In exchange for the land (and everything else), Canada agreed to pay the Hudson’s Bay Company £300,000 cash, grant it nearly 11,500 square miles of land concessions, and guarantee its ability to trade without “exceptional” taxation within its former territory.

The Parliament of Canada ratified the deal in July 1869 and set December 1, 1869, as the closing date for the transaction. It also passed legislation to establish a temporary government for the NorthWest Territories “until more permanent arrangements” could be made. Prime Minister Macdonald designated William McDougall, his public works minister and long-time advocate of westward expansion, as lieutenant governor.

On paper, McDougall wasn’t a bad choice; he at least had some experience on the file. Earlier in the decade, he’d served as commissioner of Crown land in Canada West, overseeing the department responsible for colonization in northern parts of the province. During Confederation debates, he’d been an outspoken advocate of Canada annexing Rupert’s Land, even helping to ensure that a provision for the admission of the territory was included in the British North American Act, 1867. And in Macdonald’s first government, McDougall, as public works minister, was responsible for transcontinental expansion. One of his first acts was to introduce a series of resolutions into Parliament calling on Great Britain to transfer Rupert’s Land to Canada outright.

While negotiations with the Hudson’s Bay Company dragged on into the summer of 1868, McDougall hired senior Dominion engineer Simon Dawson to map out the “best means of opening a line of communication between Lake Superior and the Red River Settlement.” Dawson recommended an old North West Company canoe route he’d run across back in 1857 — “impassable to any vessel larger or stronger than a bark canoe,” he said — linked by two new roads to be built at either end, one from Lake Superior to the start of the canoe route at Shebandowan Lake, the other from the western end of Lake of the Woods to Fort Garry. McDougall liked the plan and contracted Dawson to build the eastern road and another engineer, John Allan Snow, the western.

McDougall and the Dominion government billed Snow’s part of the project as a “humanitarian mission.” The inhabitants of Red River were desperate for food because their crops had been ruined by locusts the previous year and droughts had decimated buffalo herds and game and fish stocks. In October 1868, Snow and his crew arrived in Red River and were initially welcomed by the local population. But quickly the bloom came off the mission. Rather than pay local hires cash for services, Snow and his paymaster, a McDougall appointee named Charles Mair, developed a convoluted payment system involving credit for provisions that were scarce in the settlement. The system became a source of agitation when locals realized Snow’s credits had subpar value and could only be redeemed at a store owned by John Schultz, unofficial leader of a small group of outspoken immigrants known as the Canadian Party. Schultz was a strident advocate for Canada annexing Rupert’s Land and flooding the territory with English-speaking Canadian settlers. He’d also gained a reputation as an ”unscrupulous land-grabber.”

Mair’s presence didn’t help Snow’s cause in Red River. Mair was a 30-year-old poet and co-founder of Canada First, a movement dedicated to promoting Canadian nationalism and westward expansion. George Brown, editor of the Toronto-based Globe, shared similar politics, and on learning McDougall was sending Mair to Red River, hired him as a correspondent to “inspire eastern interest in the northwest frontier.” Mair’s columns began running in January 1869 and featured romantic accounts of an idyllic prairie landscape, as well as insulting caricatures of local residents, especially the “indolent half-breeds.” Annie Bannatyne, a Métis woman married to prominent businessman Andrew Bannatyne, took particular exception to a January 4 story in which Mair said Métis women had “no coat of arms but a ’totem’ to look back to [and who] make up for the deficiency by biting at the backs of their ’white’ sisters.” Bannatyne and two of her similarly slandered friends accosted Mair in her husband’s store shortly after the article arrived in Red River. They pulled his nose, slapped his face, and ran him into the street at the business end of a riding crop. Mair’s stories earned the Globe significant enmity in the settlement — enmity not forgotten when Robert Cunningham arrived on the scene as the paper’s special correspondent in January 1870.

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