The Bull Meter: Michael Ignatieff on his family’s flight from Russia


[mac_quote person=”Michael Ignatieff” date=”March 20, 2011″]My family lost everything in the Russian revolution. They started over again in Canada. They came here with nothing.[/mac_quote]

[mac_bull score=”4″]

In his family memoir, The Russian Album, Ignatieff describes his relatives as a group of privileged, well educated, and well-heeled Russians, who seemed to recover quickly from a tumultuous decade of resettlement following the Bolshevik Revolution. Paul, his grandfather, served as the last Minister of Education in the last Cabinet of the Tsar Nicholas II, and was friends with the likes of Vladimir Nabokov. Paul’s father was a Russian diplomat. Paul’s wife (Ignatieff’s grandmother) was born Princess Natasha Mestchersky on an estate, and travelled to Paris to learn the “rudiments of cooking” at Le Cordon Bleu.

According to the memoirs of Ignatieff’s late father George, The Making of a Peacemonger, when the family fled Russia as the revolution was unfolding, they ended up in London in 1919 with £25,000 in the bank. After living on a country estate for almost a decade, they moved to a rented farm in Montreal, with much of their wealth depleted. But by the time George reached high school, the Ignatieffs had the financial wherewithal to send him to the prestigious prep school, Lower Canada College. They also had connections: a contact of prime minister Mackenzie King fast tracked the family’s citizenship so George could go off to Oxford University on the Rhodes Scholarship in 1936. As Michael Ignatieff notes in The Russian Album, “[My father] presented himself to the world throughout my childhood as the model of an assimilated Canadian professional.”

Alas, it’s a stretch for Ignatieff to say his family came to Canada with “nothing.” To their credit, they made a seemingly successful transition to Canadian life, and rose quickly up the social ladder here.

Heard something that doesn’t sound quite right? Send quotes from the campaign trail to macbullmeter@gmail.com and we’ll tell you just how much bull they contain.


Michael Ignatieff on CTV’s Question Period

The Russian Album by Michael Ignatieff

The Making of a Peacemonger by George Ignatieff


The Bull Meter: Michael Ignatieff on his family’s flight from Russia

  1. Ms. Belluz, if this stuff interests you, why not link to the government of Canada website which doesn't exactly match your story either. It claims George had to be pulled from school and they barely had money for necessities. Do you think that website is false? One can argue about "nothing" but it seems like you have written a somewhat misleading article and I wonder why?

  2. This column is a great idea. (And I know I could have said that on the inaugural post, but I want to post it on the Ignatieff story to score some points for looking non-partisan!)

  3. You should compare what Iggy wrote in his book and what he is saying now, there are many contradictions too – no wonder everybody is confused.

  4. You're more than welcome to link to any information you say is relevant to the discussion, aren't you? Otherwise, don't we have to assume that such information doesn't exist?

  5. 25 000 British pounds in 1919 would be comparably to what? 2million $ Canadian today. Tough on a czar.

  6. I don't know what is in his book, but I did look at the government of Canada website which one might describe as "tough times" for a formerly privileged family. I wondered why this version here was so selective, but I now see this is a bull post – so presumably the idea is to pick out pieces that are contradictory.

  7. Rose up the social ladder? What are we – in Edwardian England?

  8. You know, I have some time for the notion that life would have been tough for a family basically exiled as a result of revolution and forced to make a new life in a strange land. Yet Iggy and Liberals have tried to make the shameless claim that his story is one that other immigrants can relate to, which is ludicrous. Not only that, but it appears to be the norm of the day that you can't even call Iggy on this shamelessness. You have to let him get away with wrapping himself in the flag of destitute immigrants, and then get hounded for even suggesting it's not true.

  9. The 'quote' isn't what he said in the ad either.

    The question also remains why the Cons jumped all over this, as though there are 'good and bad' immigrants, and they also confused immigrants with refugees.

    Refugees arrive with nothing….immigrants usually have whatever they've been able to bring from home, money, keepsakes, paintings etc

    Plus, what's wrong with becoming a success in Canada? Isn't that the idea?

    ' In his 1984 memoirs, The Making of a Peacemonger, the late George Ignatieff explained that his father's neighbour, who happened to be friends with prime minister Mackenzie King, arranged for the family's citizenship to be fast-tracked -thus allowing George to take up a Rhodes Scholarship, without which, he wrote, "I doubt whether I would ever have become a diplomat."'

  10. His is hardly a typical immigrant's story. Why aren't people allowed to point that out?

  11. But it is. You seem to be confusing 'immigrant' with 'refugee.'

  12. Easy enough to find: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/publicatio

    Here's the part about arriving in Canada:

    In England, the neophyte émigrés operated a dairy farm. Young George attended St. Paul's, a boarding school, until the sale of the farm forced the family to move once again. While his father tried to raise funds in Europe for Russian refugees, Mrs. Ignatieff set out in 1928 with George and his brother, Leonid, for Canada, where two other brothers of George's, Nick and Jim, had already settled.

    Although there was barely enough money for basic necessities, George's resourceful mother managed to squeeze enough out of the household budget to send her young son to Montreal's exclusive Lower Canada College. The stock market crash of 1929, however, put an abrupt end to George's private–school education. With the advent of the Great Depression, Ignatieff and the rest of his family united under one roof in Thornhill on the northern outskirts of Toronto.

  13. Why is Macleans attacking Ignatieffs family. I am certain Ignatieff will be very hurt by this.
    Trying to be everything for all people is going to be Ignatieffs undoing.
    Remember he said he grew up on a public education. His nose certainly grew a little.

  14. I agree – it is downright shocking that foreign service staff writers might be generously fluffing the heroic tale of 'one of their own.' Because it's on a government website doesn't make it true.

  15. Most immigrants come from extreme czarist privilege and marry into Canadian aristocracy?



  16. Now try comparing British pounds to Canadian dollars…..in the same year…1919.

    Plus the money was lost on the farm in the UK.

  17. No, and he was a minister not the czar….but most immigrants arrive with money, furnishings etc

    Marriage was way down the road, since George Ignatieff was a child when he arrived.

    We don't, btw, have an aristocracy.

  18. He graduated from the U of T

  19. It's the Harper Govt website, dear.

  20. The issue in question, I guess, is how wealthy were the Ignatieff's when they came to Canada. From above, they were well off leaving Russia and going to England but depleted most of their wealth during the next decade and then came to Canada. They were highly educated, and valued education highly, but that seems a side issue. It would have been nice if Julia could have provided some relevant answers rather than just the bull.

  21. You know, as I suggested elsewhere in this thread, I have some time for the idea that Iggy's family history in Canada is a noble one. Heck, having the press write it up might be a suggestion. But when he comes out and suggests that his family came here with nothing, and had no insider connections in the process, is just too much to stomach. Sorry.

  22. No one cares what you 'have time for'.

    We've long since discovered truth isn't one of those things.

  23. Yes, so far the 'bull meter'….on it's first two outings… is a dead loss.

  24. not if the intent is to spread more of it around.

  25. Nola, what did I say now? That you have to already resort to your campaign of smears just reflects badly on your credibility – about Iggy and everything else. Why do this? Is this your religion? Your job? Your life? Wow.

  26. Ms. Belluz' inaugural foray into this spit-fest gets five gored bulls.

    Hey, speaking of spits and gored bulls, who wants brisket? It'll only take a day or so….oh, wait, there's the marinating. And the rub. Preparing the mop sauce…

    See you Friday noon? Bring yer own bun.

  27. “much of their wealth depleted”. And they had a country estate in England. Interpret that as you will but clearly they were not broke.

    The Ignatieff quote says” LOST EVERYTHING in the Russian revolution”. That is a lie. They had 25000 pounds.

  28. This seems so silly. Usually one can use "barely enough for necessities" and "nothing" interchangeably without people going off on an a tangent about exactly how much of nothing this is.

  29. It's gone from a farm to 'country manor'. This is like Ignatieff's French villa which turned out to be a small house.

  30. Was that before or after you ran into the door again?

    Lots of doors available Dennis….whether you hit them all or not is your choice.

    Move on while you still can.

  31. Not what the ad said I'm afraid.

    They had a farm in the UK after Russia….and then lost the farm.

    George Ignatieff arrived here as a young boy with a single mom.

  32. Well, we have varying sources regarding how much they did or didn't have. Nevertheless, what it seems they did have was aristocratic lineage and access to social circles most immigrants can only dream of, right?

    Let's not forget, it was Iggy who tried to talk about his family history. Well, if that's the case, why aren't others allowed to talk about it, too, and put it in some realistic context?

    I realize Iggy doesn't have much going for himself in this election, but that doesn't mean we should let him play fast and loose with his personal history, does it?

  33. Now a threat! lol. It gets better with each post, Nola. lol

  34. Not a threat, a promise, Furlan.

  35. Yes, Cons are splitting hairs and trying to make a wig out of it as usual.

  36. This "bull" is "well done". Haven't changed my opinion about the ad.

    Disingenuous: giving a false appearance of simple frankness, calculating

  37. It's realy unfortunate that this has become an issue.

    I really hate the CPC for making this an election issue. This stuff is personal, it has nothing to do with politics.

  38. These are your tactics. You can't handle dissenters otherwise. We know.

  39. Typical mean spirited tories. Keep the anger and insults coming folks. Canadians are learning alot about how a tory really feels… you're doing a great job showing your true colors!!!
    ON MAY 2

  40. I don't need tactics Dennis.

    I don't start fights, I end them

    Now quit before you're removed.

  41. Nice unbiased reporting. Start with Baird stating the obvious (disingenuously I might add) and rate him with two bulls. Then ignore all the BS statements of Harper to focus on Ignatieff. Give him four bulls based on… what exactly? No explanation.

    Giant FAIL.

  42. Again with the threats! lol

    Yes, commandante! Heil!

  43. Good.

    Oh and polish your boots while you're at it.

  44. Looks like the bull meter is full of bull

  45. If you don't like peopl4e talking about your Parents, then stop telling us about them. There is nothing to compare between your Parents and the REAL Immigrant who came to this Country with not a penny in their pocket and could not even afford butter for their bread.
    So please, stop B.S.ing us about your Parents. Also, stop pandering for the Immigrant vote….phoney

  46. Than stop bringing it to the Political scene. I don't give a "hootL" about his Parents, or him as far as that goes.
    I cannot stomach to look at him and I cannot stand the sound of his screeching voice.

  47. Agreed. This post scores a "bullness" of 85 Sir Francis odas (SFOs), unfortunately. Not altogether auspicious.

  48. Actually, many established professionals come to Canada with something of a nest egg (the doctors and engineer who come to Canada and end up driving taxi cabs). His tale isn't all that extraordinary.

  49. Did their children get an automatic Countship like Sir Iggy did?

  50. Assuming the government site is accurate, then they arrived with money, but it lasted a whole year before the Depression left them with little.

    Which would men there's an element of truth to both the wealth AND the poverty stories.

  51. Wow, I can't remember the last time I saw something negative about Ignatieff on this site.

    This one deserved 5 bulls I think. Iggy is spouting complete and total bull on this one, his family didn't even arrive from Russia, they came from the UK.

  52. I would argue it has everything to do with politics. As the descendant of people who left Russia to get away from the Czar and build a life in a country that actually allowed them to own their own land rather than live out their lives working as serfs on some Russian aristocrat's land, may I suggest that any number of Canadians of Ukrainian descent are quite interested in Ignatieff's family history.

  53. Where's the beef Julia. Even for someone who wasn't disposed to favour Ignatieff and merely wanted to have some real context you failed. This is simply a badly written [ researched] article. I don't mind you digging through the bull and discovering that Ignatieff is lying so much; but you don't even do that. This is simply a lazy piece of work.

    Kinda reminds me of the Woody Allen joke:
    " I took a speed reading course while reading war and peace; it's about Russia."

  54. "Alas, it's a stretch for Ignatieff to say his family came to Canada with “nothing.”"

    No. They went to London with something, then came to Canada with nothing. It's not a stretch – it's the truth.

    In fleeing Russia, they lost their homeland, lands, titles, fortunes, professional stations, personal and professional networks and went from being a family at the top in their own culture to a family on the move through two new countries — aritstocratic technocrats turned into expatriate farmers, then tenant farmers, then wiped out in the Depression. This was followed by a climb back up the ladder in Canada. A climb facilitated by a commitment to education.

    Any one sentence description of what happened to your grandparents will be generalized — but Iggy's story is broadly consistent with that of his father. They were on top at home, lost it all on the road and started over in Canada.

    And education helped their rise up.

    PS: I know lots of South Asian and East Asian immigrants to Canada whose experience mirrors that of the Ignatieffs. Indeed, it's quite a typical immigrant story, contrary to what the Conservatives are saying.

  55. So let me get this straight – people are dissing Michael Ignatieff because he is proud to be his father's son?

    Anyone who loves a relative of theirs (or anyone) is likely to see that person in the best light possible – it's only human. Can we discuss the issues, please?

  56. I doubt many people will pay attention to this issue. Ignatieff himself is the issue.

    Now that the campaign has started and he's been in the public eye I've witnessed a few first hand reactions to him on TV by very non-political friends. I found it rather interesting and a little bit stunning that at separate times and after watching separate news clips of Ignatieff two women I know said exactly the same thing about him…"What an a-hole!"

    That's a pretty tough first impression for a politician to be making. Like it or not…personalities matter and I don't think his is going over too well.

  57. spot on – if you want to criticize the Liberlas this is NOT the forum or the TGM or the CBC : the National Post is the forum for that – you see this is how it works nowadays – web forums are NOT for debate they are for hyper partisans who all want to to agree .. then when someone doesn't they can rant and post drivel and spread more BS around than this meter will ever rise to. I call it internet misery loves company : then the posters can feel somehow that a majority of the people agree with their view – the thing is as an example on this forum there would have to be at least 3 – 4 thumbs down per if you post something postive about the CPC here – so if you get say 8 or 9 thumbs down and you generalize overall ration then you are probably lining up with the collective view of the non-partisan

  58. I agree with you, that is what has happened around here, on some blogs anyway. I generally ignore the hyper-partisans…. sometimes I'll debate them anyway. I also ignore the thumb scores.

  59. In 1919 $1 US was worth .2259 pounds. $1 Canadian was worth $1.046 US. That would suggest that 25,000 pounds were worth about $105,750 Canadian (in 1919 dollars). Translating to 2011 dollars using the Bank of Canada's inflation calculator you get $1,328,625.

  60. Which was all lost when the farm failed.

  61. The main theme here is he's a lying Grit – like them all – yes, includes the Tories and Socialists too.

  62. Harper is still the best person to pull us out of any financial set-back – the Libs and NDP are incapable of doing anything other than increasing taxation and spending your money.

  63. Sounds like he is a liar. Just after the true immigrant vote!!

  64. If you don't think there IS a social ladder today – then you are too ffar down it to realize it's existence.

  65. Ignatieff is the one that made it a political issue by making an election ad about it. If Ignatieff wants to use it to get votes, then the Conservatives have every right to question it. That's an important part of democracy. Ignatieff is making a claim, and the conservatives are questioning his claims. Using a book full contradictory evidence written by Ignatieff himself none the less.

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