150 Acts 5 Years Later: What Does Truth and Reconciliation Look Like in 2022?

150 Acts of Reconciliation tent at the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association Conference, hosted by Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning at the Wiliideh Site, Chief Drygeese Territory, June 2022. Photo by Crystal Gail Fraser.

If you are a Survivor of Indian Residential Schools and need support, please call the National Indian Residential School Crisis line at 1-866-925-4419 or text 686868. You can also call the Canadian Mental Health Association toll free at 1-833-456-4566 (in Quebec 1-866-277-3553) or visit crisisservicescanada.ca. Other self-care acts include taking a walk, calling or texting a friend, nourishing your body with a snack, and openly showing your emotions.

Crystal Gail Fraser & Sara Komarnisky

Five years ago, in August 2017, we created and published 150 Acts of Reconciliation for the Last 150 Days of Canada’s 150. We were writing from a place of discomfort with the uncritical nationalism leading up to and during Canada 150 celebrations of oppression, colonialism, and genocide. In this post, we offer our reflections on 150 Acts five years later, share how colonialism and reconciliation in the settler state of Canada[1] continue to be omnipresent, and think briefly but deeply about how to move forward in a way that advances truth and reconciliation. When we wrote the list, we were inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) 94 Calls to Action but recognized that the Calls to Action were aimed at elected governments, church leaders, corporations and members of the business sector, and other national organizations. We wrote 150 Acts for a settler audience in a way that would speak to the humans within these organizations and perhaps grow reconciliation in quotidian spaces through widely accessible acts. It was to complement the work of the TRC and bring acts of reconciliation to the everyday level. Despite our best efforts to educate a wide and public audience, our work did not fully prepare Canadians for what was to come.

On May 27th, 2021, Tk’emlúps te Secwèpemc confirmed what Survivors and Indigenous communities had known for decades: that Indigenous children suffered untimely deaths and their bodies were sometimes buried in unmarked graves around Indian Residential Schools. Continue reading

Virtual authenticity: The potential risks of historical video games

Dale M. McCartney

In 2014, Jonathan MacQuarrie told Active History readers that video games were increasingly teaching people about history in exciting and sometimes worrisome ways. In the years since, there has been an explosion of games that not only depict the past, but trade on historical accuracy as part of their appeal. They promise an extraordinary verisimilitude, allowing players to explore landscapes developed with obsessive attention to historical detail. For game players, this detail can make the games feel profoundly accurate as if they were a sort of time machine that reveals the truths of the era depicted. However, these games are much less sophisticated in their depiction of historical social relations and systems. They often reproduce very limited notions of race, gender, class, and historical agency. The result is that games use the appearance of “accuracy” to deliver deeply ideological messages about the past.

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Activehistory.ca Project Receives Grant from Canada History Fund

ActiveHistory.ca is pleased to announce that its application to the Canada History Fund, made in partnership with McGill University (grantee), HistoireEngagée.ca, and the Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies Program at the University of British Columbia, was successful.

Our project, “Active History on Display,” has been granted $99,958 to create two digital exhibits: one on the lived experiences of Asian Canadian communities (curated by Activehistory.ca editor and Carleton University professor Dr. Laura Madokoro); and the other on death, injury, and illness among migrant farm workers in Canada (curated by Activehistory.ca editor and McGill University professor Edward Dunsworth).

Mexican and Guatemalan workers pick strawberries at a farm in Pont Rouge Que. on Tuesday, August 24, 2021. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

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Pandemic Lockup: Covid-19 and Colonial Histories in a Small Northern Jail

Thunder Bay District Jail, n.d. – Thunder Bay Museum

This article is reposted, in slightly edited form and with permission, from the fourth issue of Syndemic Magazine“The Colours of Covid-19.” Syndemic Magazine is a project of the L.R. Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University.

Brandon J. Cordeiro

In Thunder Bay, Ontario, the city’s prison battled a Covid-19 outbreak through winter 2021. Overpopulated and faced with growing cases, the prison went into lockdown. By the outbreak’s end, 70 people had contracted the disease inside the jail. The pandemic reaffirmed many of the carceral system’s larger social and racial biases. The outbreak, however, was the inevitable result of larger institutional failures. Poor infrastructure and poor living conditions combined to create a nightmare situation for a mostly Indigenous inmate population. These failures, like in many other social institutions, were apparent long before the pandemic; Covid-19 simply intensified them with brutal force.

Indeed, the global pandemic undressed society’s far-encompassing disparities. Many racialized groups and other vulnerable communities — including the unhoused and the incarcerated — endured the pandemic’s harshest realities. Covid-19 exposed the carceral system’s larger social and health problems, as jails and prisons across the world faced viral outbreaks. The outbreak at Thunder Bay’s jail made this connection apparent.

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Digital Access, Pandemic Responses, and the Future of Archives

Two people in wheelchairs speaking to someone crouched in front of them

Fran Humphrey (centre) strategizes with British Columbia teammates Avis Galbraith and Mil Mouw, in preparation for the inaugural tri-sport meet known as the Canadian Games for the Physically Disabled, held in Cambridge, Ontario (June 21, 1976).  Reference code: F45-0-2-0-0-439. Guelph Mercury fonds (F45). Courtesy of the Guelph Public Library Archives, on Archeion.

Jazmine Aldrich

Anyone who has been conducting historical research (or attempting to do so) over the past two years, has likely faced challenges ranging from closed facilities to limited hours due to COVID-19. Archives, museums, historical societies, libraries and all manner of cultural heritage institutions have felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as the fog lifts and some semblance of the “before times” returns, many cultural heritage institutions are still struggling to recover and many are reevaluating their priorities. Not only in terms of resource allocation and services: Many institutions are also reevaluating their collections mandates, thinking about how to highlight marginalized voices, addressing deliberate silences within their collections, and considering whether some records would be better stewarded by the communities they represent. The past two years have been challenging and reflective, both within the archives and beyond.

One major theme in the archival world during the pandemic has been a push towards digital access. Many archives were already providing some kind of digital access prior to pandemic shutdowns, but health crisis closures transformed digital access, for many institutions, from a rosy future to a rushed present. Suddenly, in-person visits to heritage institutions were forbidden, and digital access to collections holdings became more important than ever. Continue reading

History Slam 10th Anniversary Special: Life as Historians

By Sean Graham

On July 11, 2012, we released the first episode of the History Slam Podcast. It featured my conversation with Ian Milligan, which we recorded at the 2012 CHA Annual Meeting at the University of Waterloo, where Ian is now a full professor. The idea behind the show was simple: what if I talked to interesting people doing interesting historical work? I always wondered how faculty keep up with trends in the field and figured this could be a good way for me to maintain a broad understanding of where history and historical research was going.

A lot has changed since that first episode. I was a PhD student at the time, but have since graduated, lived in different countries, worked in various public history settings, and have taught in very different environments. The one constant of my career has really been the podcast, which has been a wonderful, if at times stressful, part of my professional journey.

When I think about the early days of the show, though, I think about the journeys of the first few guests we had. Episode 2 featured a conversation with Victoria Lamb Drover, a PhD student who has since gone on to great success in with Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies. The mercifully unreleased pilot episode was a chat with Aaron Boyes, a fellow PhD student at the University of Ottawa, who has parlayed his education into a career with the federal government. The 4 of us have all taken divergent paths, so I wanted to look back to see how our studies in history influenced our careers and how we take stock of the discipline 10 years later.

In this 10th Anniversary Special, I catch up with Ian Milligan, Victoria Lamb Drover, and Aaron Boyes. I start by talking with Ian about his shift towards digital methodology, where he sees history going, and his advice for prospective graduate students. I then chat with Vickie about how she got into administration, the benefits of being challenged in history courses, and how her studies influence her current work. From there, Aaron joins the show to reflect on his journey to the government, his conflicted feelings about grad studies, and the skills historians develop. I finish by discussing my journey through history programs, the financial reality of historical study, and the podcast’s role in my career. I also thank everyone who has ever listened, all the guests over the years, and the folks behind the scenes who have helped the show reach the decade mark.

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Cod, Culture, and Loss: Thirty Years of the Cod Moratorium in Newfoundland

Cod fishing in Bay de Verde, Newfoundland during the recreational ground fishery in July 2021. Author’s photograph.

Shannon Conway

Newfoundland is known for cod. The fish is often one of the first things that come to mind when thinking of the island. For “Come from Aways”, a key part of becoming an “honorary Newfoundlander” (as part of a “Screech-In” ceremony) you must kiss a cod fish. I am from Newfoundland and when I think of home I think of cod – eating it, catching it, the history of it. Cod is predominant and iconic in Newfoundland culture and memory. Decades of overfishing decimated the historically plentiful ground fish population and it has yet to return to healthy levels, despite the moratorium on cod put in place by the federal government thirty years ago. Nevertheless, cod remains central to the history, culture, imagery, and even identity for Newfoundland and its peoples.

The cod fishery has a long history in Newfoundland, with the affluent cod stocks being the very reason the island was settled by Europeans in the 17th century.[i] Continue reading

History Slam 220: Canada’s Abortion History

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By Sean Graham

Last Friday, the United States Supreme Court made its much anticipated decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization case. In the majority opinion, the court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which ruled that the privacy clause in the U.S. Constitution protected a woman’s right to an abortion. In the week since, there have been protests across the United States in response. In Canada, there has been similar protests and great concern not only for what this will mean for Americans, but also the future of abortion rights in Canada.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Robyn Schwarz to talk about the history of abortion in Canada. We discuss the legality of abortion in the late 19th century (6:06), how changes in medicine have influenced perceptions of abortion (20:10), and the history of family planning (27:10). We also chat about the lack of attention on this issue by historians (37:13) and the importance of putting abortion into its proper historical context.

For more information, you can visit Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights’ project The 1970 Abortion Caravan: Celebrating 50 Years and Shannon Stettner’s edited collection Without Apology: Writings on Abortion in Canada.

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Ten Resources to Learn About Queer and Trans History in Canada

pride coloured lego figures and rainbow on a table

Photo by James A. Molnar on Unsplash

Krista McCracken

It’s nearing the end of Pride Month. As a non-binary, queer scholar who offers workshops on gender and queer identities, June is a busy month.  Throughout the month I’ve received a number of requests for reading recommendations about teaching about gender, history, and pride in Canada.  In light of those requests I’ve created a list of ten books, articles, and resources that contexualize and speak about the history of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community in Canada. 

This list is merely a starting point and is focused on queer and trans history in Canada. There are lots of resources I wanted to include but couldn’t because of length.  Likewise, there are many other sources where students and scholars can learn more generally about trans and queer identities. In all cases I would suggest that listening to the voices of queer and trans communities is a crucial part of learning about this history, community, and lived realities.  Continue reading

History Slam 219: Canadiana & Historical Storytelling on the Web

By Sean Graham

Back in the summer of 2017, a new web series was released on YouTube. Telling viewers that they were on the hunt for the “most incredible stories in Canadian history,” Canadiana was a new type of Youtube channel. A documentary-style series, Canadiana combines archival and secondary research with outstanding visual elements to provide audiences with wonderful storytelling. And while the first season was bootstrapped by its creators, through its success in finding a big audience they have been able to secure additional funding and partnerships to expand and improve what was already a quality show. This season, for instance, the series is partnering with Parks Canada to tell some little-known stories at various national parks and historic sites.

As I look forward to the premiere of Season 3, coming on Tuesday (June 28), its success is a reminder that there is an interest in history. Despite the regular claims of Canadian history being boring and the stark reality of declining enrolments in history departments across the country, when history is done well, people want to engage. Over the past five years, the word unprecedented has been used with alarming regularity in the press (seriously, Google ‘unprecedented’ and click news and you will inundated with stories), which is fair only if you ignore the precedents. The past isn’t always prologue and certainly the very idea of history is under attack in some places, but in this environment of uncertainty, there is an appetite to look to our past and it’s critical that quality historical content be there for people to consume.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Adam Bunch and Kyle Cucco of Canadiana. We talk about the delays to season 3 caused by Covid (3:27), how they pick topics for the show (12:07), and the benefits of filming on location (17:40). We also chat about their partnership with Parks Canada (24:09), the two-part season premiere on piracy in Canada (30:40), and the audience for Canadian history online (39:08).

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