New Directions in Active History: Update #2

Conference planning for October’s event is going well and we have a handful of updates for you.

First and most importantly, if you have not yet registered, the rate is going up on 1 September (Tuesday).  You can access the registration form here:

Also, our preferred rate at the Delta ends on 4 September. The Delta is in downtown London, just blocks from major London Transit hubs and the VIA rail station. The college can be easily accessed on London Transit.  To book one of these rooms call 519-640-5004 or 1-800-236-2427 and quote “New Directions in Active History – Public.” Grad student accommodation will remain available until full.

If you are presenting at the conference, we have posted abstracts here: Please review them for accuracy and let Daniel Ross <> know ASAP if there needs to be any modifications.

If you are on Twitter, we will be using the hashtag: #ActiveHist2015 for all conference events. Feel free to use it to promote the conference, your session or poster.

Finally, for those of you coming from out of town (and of course locals who want a night out!), we have been able to arrange history-based walking tours of downtown London. Both tours will begin at 7:30 p.m. downtown (about 10 minutes on the bus from Huron). One tour will be led by Kym Wolfe, author of Barhopping into History and Hopping into History, and will focus on London’s oldest surviving taverns and bars in heritage buildings (as well as local brewing etc…). The other tour will be led by the London branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and will focus on the history and architecture of downtown London. Both tours will cost $15 and include a complementary drink at the end. If you have already registered, please contact me in order to be added to the list.  You can pay when you arrive at the conference. If you have not registered, we have modified the registration form in order for you to pay for the tours with your registration fee. Spaces are limited.

Devolutionary Empire: A Review of James Kennedy’s Liberal Nationalisms: Empire, State, and Civil Society in Scotland and Quebec

By Gordon E. Bannerman

In the twenty-first century, the notion of colonial empires has a distinctly antiquarian feel. Yet the British Empire, one of the most successful, exists to this day albeit in a composite rump-like form. At its height, the global reach of the British Empire was equalled by the wide range of political culture within it, and this variation, alongside the complex colonial relationship between ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ informs James Kennedy’s Liberal Nationalisms: Empire, State, and Civil Society in Scotland and Quebec. Kennedy provides a comparative history of nationalism and nationalist movements, through the respective histories of the Young Scots Society (YSS) and the Ligue nationaliste canadienne (LNC) between 1899 and 1914 relative to the multi-faceted ideological dynamics of the British Empire and Canadian Confederation.

The book examines the divergent historical and political context within which the YSS and the LNC operated. Their different methods of political organisation and activity are related in an interesting, thought-provoking way. By embracing a more interventionist form of liberalism, both groups were fundamentally informed by ‘state-reforming’ nationalism rather than separation and independence. The YSS was associated with Liberal politics, and propagated a progressive ideology of improvement based on education and knowledge. It aimed to build a mass movement, and was aided by an ideological shift from traditional liberal concerns to a more radical social policy agenda, alongside Scottish Home Rule. By contrast, the LNC, pursuing greater autonomy relative to Canada’s provincial and federal powers, was independent of existing political parties and viewed its primary mission as educational. Avoiding grass-roots organisation, the LNC relied on persuading ‘men of influence’ through the press, publications, and speeches. Continue reading

The Idiosyncrasies of Memory: Marking the Life of Harold Geddes

Andrew Nurse, Mount Allison University

GeddesI never knew Harold Geddes, although I saw him now and then fifteen years ago when I first starting working at Mount Allison. Geddes died in 2004 after a long life that is now marked — literally — on the town of Sackville, New Brunswick. He was one of those characters that people in small towns love or wonder about, the kind of person who is described as quirky, eccentric, or weird depending on one’s perspective. He is best known for a singular (and long-standing) act: street cleaning, a point clearly made by the plaque that commemorates his life. In it, we see an aging but still vital man, hat tilted, who stares firmly, unapologetically, and directly at the observer. The effect is to present Geddes as a self-confident man who did not flinch from someone else’s gaze. To one side are the tools of his trade: a broom and shovel. The Geddes memorial is situated across the street from the Sackville, NB “art wall,” that commemorates better-known local and national figures, including the poet Douglas Lochhead. Exactly why Geddes became celebrated part of local history is telling. He represents, I want to suggest, an interesting alternative engagement with the past and what should be celebrated in it. Continue reading

History Slam Episode Sixty-Eight: Grindstone Island and Non-Violence Resistance in Canada

By Sean Graham

In the past couple of weeks, the History Slam has looked at war resistance and human rights. Following a similar theme, this episode examines non-violence. The first thing I ever had published examined non-violent resistance in the context of the American Civil Rights Movement. The part about it that I find the most fascinating is that you need 100% buy in from the participants. As demonstrated beautifully in Selma, if one person retaliates, the whole movement can be compromised. To make a poor comparison, given how hard it is to get four people to agree on what type of pizza to order when watching sports, I find it remarkable that so many movements have successfully implemented a non-violent approach.

In North America, arguably the most prominent example of non-violent resistance is the aforementioned Civil Rights Movement. While not nearly as celebrated, Grindstone Island in eastern Ontario also has an interesting history with non-violence. Inhabited by Charles Kingsmill, the first admiral of the Royal Canadian Navy, in the early 20th century, his daughter inherited the site after his death. Intrigued by non-violence, she opened the island to serve as a Quaker non-violence training centre. What followed, as detailed by Tarah Brookfield during the CHA Annual Meeting, was an experiment with mixed results.
Continue reading

Is Pre-Confederation History actually Declining? A Response to Thomas Peace and Robert Englebert

By David Zylberberg

In June, ran a series of posts focused on the topics discussed at the then upcoming Canadian Historical Association Annual Conference. As usual, Thomas Peace posted an informative analysis of the topics, regions, time periods and languages covered while Robert Englebert discussed possible reasons for the limited number of papers on pre-Confederation topics. Drs. Peace and Englebert are both skilled historians of pre-Confederation Canada who rightly perceive dangers for Canadian History as a field if it becomes overly focused on the second-half of the twentieth century. They use quantitative analysis of the CHA annual conference programs since 2004 to argue for a decline in pre-Confederation history. However, the CHA program is not the only metric to understand the interest of Canadian historians. Below, I will propose and briefly explore a few others, which suggest that the field of Canadian History generally places greater emphasis on early time periods than is evident at the annual conference. Continue reading

Our Bodies and Inescapable Ecologies: A Look at the Mining Community of Sudbury, Ontario

By Kaleigh Bradley

“Where does the body end and ‘non-human nature’ begin? When we recognize that human bodies are directly affected by their environments, we are forced to acknowledge that humans are not simply agents of environmental change, but objects of that change” – Linda Nash, Inescpable Ecologies

Last week I was surprised to hear about the toxic leak of nitrous oxide at Vale’s Copper Cliff Mine in my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario. Residents near the mine were told to leave or stay inside with their windows and doors shut until the toxic leak had cleared. Air quality readings showed levels of nitrous oxide that were about fifteen to twenty times higher than usual. A high-ranking mine employee told the CBC that the leak posed “no risk to the community,” although exposure to nitrous oxide is known to cause respiratory issues and it can be lethal in high doses. I wonder if after the gas had dissipated, and the residents and workers returned to their regular activities in the area, if they were completely safe from exposure? And what about the150 kilotonnes of sulphur dioxide that Vale’s Copper Cliff mine continues to release every year, despite its promise to reduce emissions? Is Sudbury a safe place to live today, even if it is a little greener?


Typical blackened rocks and stunted trees in Sudbury, ON. Source: Wikipedia.

Growing up in Sudbury, I didn’t think much of the industrial landscape that surrounded me. A
mining town with its black rocks, stunted trees, slag hills, and iconic Superstack, Sudbury was home. It was not until I began to venture outside of the Sudbury region that I realized something was very unnerving about my hometown. Trees growing in other cities, like Ottawa or Toronto were much taller and healthier. There were also several different species of trees besides birch or spruce lining the forests along the highways just outside of Sudbury. Rocks outside of town were any colour but black, and as far as I could tell, there were no slag hills, orange streams, or green-ish tailings ponds at our family’s cottage, about a 40 minute drive away. These other environments that I visited were not pristine because most ecosystems have been manipulated by humans. But why was Sudbury so different?

Continue reading

Lowered Expectations and The Historical Origins of the ‘Great Decoupling’ in Canada

Pierre Elliot Trudeau,  fundraising meeting at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montréal, Québec, 1980.

Pierre Elliot Trudeau, fundraising meeting at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montréal, Québec, 1980.

by Christo Aivalis

Recently many economists have emphasized that since the 1970s in western nations like Canada and the United States, high profits and productivity have been accompanied by stagnating wages, especially for lower income workers. These commentators, including Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfeeThe New York Times’ Steven Greenhouse, and UNIFOR economist Jim Stanford, have argued that in the 1970s, wages became decoupled from profits and productivity, ending a pattern of complementary increases existing since the end of the Second World War. But still, major politicians, including U.S. Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush, say Americans need to work harder before better wages materialize.

Bush’s remarks are not novel. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau vocalized similar points in the 70s, arguing that prosperity would not come through better labour legislation or stronger unions. But through weaker labour unions and legislation, which would give job creators more space to create and trickle wealth down. In simple terms, Trudeau’s efforts during the inflationary crisis were primarily about lowering the wages and expectations of Canadians to help bolster corporate profitability and competitiveness, in part helping to initiate the current inequalities between wages and productivity. For example, Trudeau would cast inflation as a psychological malaise amongst the public, a social pathology to be cured, not simply through legislation, but through a public pedagogical effort to lower expectations:

People can only bring inflation down by lowering their expectations…because if we all adjust our incomes downward, then inflation will come down. But if we all think inflation is going up, then we all tend to adjust our incomes upwards and inflation will go up.[1]

With the above statement, and dozens like it, Trudeau stressed that Canadians needed to fight inflation by adjusting their mindsets. To let the status quo prevail was to enable a destructive “we want it all and we want it now…state of mind that can only lead to disaster.” For Trudeau, these unreasonable expectations were rooted in a postwar world where everything was deemed possible. Continue reading

History Slam Episode Sixty-Seven: The Canadian Museum for Human Rights

By Sean Graham

Human RightsOver the past few years, there has been plenty written on the changes in Canada’s national museums. A good deal of the focus has been on the renovations to the newly re-named Canadian Museum of History, but there has also been plenty of news out of Winnipeg and the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights. There have been questions related to the turnover in staff, the freedom granted to researchers, and the narrative used in publications. For as much as these have shaped the museum’s first year, however, they have been covered elsewhere and are not the focus here.

During the Canadian Historical Association Annual meeting, several curators from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights presented a panel on the visitor experience and exhibit construction at the museum. The discussion largely centered on the museum’s efforts to use first-person accounts and create an innovative environment for visitors.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Jodi Giesbrecht, manager of research and curation at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. We chat about the geography of the building, the creation of the exhibits, and the challenges of presenting difficult material in an engaging manner.
Continue reading

Raising ‘Human Ammunition’: Motherhood, Propaganda, and the Great War

By Suzanne Evans

motherhood WWI posterIt’s no coincidence the monolithic “Mother Canada” statue proposed for the controversial war memorial on Cape Breton (and discussed in previous ActiveHistory posts herehere, and here) is the figure of a woman. Although women make only rare appearances in public memorials to the Great War, the “Mother Canada” statue evokes a long and potent tradition of both state and civilians mobilizing motherhood as the symbol of sacrifice in wartime. In her design, cowled and garbed in a flowing gown, “Mother Canada” is modeled after the monumental mother at the front of the Vimy memorial in France; she in turn bears a distinct likeness to images of Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as other prominent bereaved mothers associated with religious traditions such as the Jewish Maccabean mother of seven martyred sons, or al-Khansa the Muslim mother of four sons who died fighting for their faith. Each of these mourning mothers is portrayed in art and literature as grief-stricken but steadfast, holding true to her faith and ideals, and demanding that we remember and value the sacrifices they and their sons have made.

A woman whose body once gave life to the dead child she now mourns, enjoining – sometimes demanding – that the population honour her loss: this is the stuff of a propagandist’s wildest dreams. No surprise, then, that during the Great War “mother stories” were among the techniques used to spur military enlistment and civilian self-sacrifice. Continue reading

Food Insecurity and the ‘Temporary’ Relief of Food Banks

by Krista McCracken

Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto. Creative Commons License.

Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto. Creative Commons License.

There are currently over 800 food banks and 3,000 food programs across Canada. Each month approximately 850,000 people access services provided by food banks. The distribution of food to people in need is not a new occurrence.  But the food bank model, as we know it today, was started in the United States in the 1960s by John van Hengel, a soup kitchen volunteer in Arizona.  Food banks were created during an economic recession and were designed to be a temporary solution. The first food bank in Canada opened in 1981 in Edmonton during a recession caused by an oil industry bust.  Thirty-four years later food banks are still widely used and there continues to be a need for them across Canada.

Canadian food banks are community run organizations that are typically run by volunteers to collect and distribute donated food to those ‘in need.’  Unlike the United States, Canada does not have federally funded food assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or nutrition for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and food banks are often where Canadians turn when they are in need of food assistance. Canadian food banks receive no direct government funding and are driven by community donations.

The quality, nutritional value, and quantity of food distributed at food banks can vary greatly between communities and between visits. Additionally, the majority of food banks have policies around access and some require documentation to substantiate claims of ‘need.’ Food banks are not designed to meet all the food needs of all their clients. Rather food banks are often framed as sources of supplemental food and provide relief from immediate hunger. Continue reading