Hard Times in Peterborough: Peter Wylie Takes on Small Town Big Business

Trent University, 2011. Suzanne Schroeter, Wikimedia Commons

David M. K. Sheinin

In 1997, the Peterborough real estate developer AON, Inc. settled out of court libel suits against the Peterborough Examiner newspaper, local television station CHEX-TV, and Trent University Economics professor Peter Wylie. As a function of the settlements, each respondent apologized unreservedly to AON. At issue was an accusation by Wylie that AON and the City of Peterborough had colluded on a contract to build a downtown parking structure. The Peterborough Examiner and CHEX-TV told the story to the public. According to a thirty-year veteran of CHEX-TV, nobody at the station can remember another occasion on which the lead news anchor has issued an on-air apology. In steamrolling its opponents, AON made clear that further legal wrangling would cost the respondents dearly, and for years to come. Run out of town on a rail, Wylie lit out for British Columbia.

The clash between the powerful real estate corporation and the Trent University professor (with local media as collateral) capped two decades of rapid change in Peterborough. In the 1960s, Peterborough had been a booming industrial city shaped by high-tech industries like Canadian General Electric (CGE) and tool-and-die manufacturer Fisher-Gauge. But by 1990, Outboard Marine, which once employed 2,000 people, and several other industrial plants, had closed. The 80-acre CGE site employed a tenth of those working there three decades earlier. General Motors (Oshawa) now ranked as the county’s largest employer followed closely by Trent University. Through two decades of deindustrialization, AON had overtaken traditional heavy industrial concerns as the most powerful business voice in the city—demonstrated publicly in its apology demands. Meanwhile, in its tepid support of Peter Wylie, Trent University—once a hotbed of 1960s political and cultural dissent—had settled into a more staid identity as a respectable corporate member of the Peterborough community. In the case against Peter Wylie, both AON and Trent University put their stamp on the city. Continue reading

History Slam 199: The Making of a Museum

      No Comments on History Slam 199: The Making of a Museum

By Sean Graham

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Judith Nasby, former Director of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre/Art Gallery of Guelph and author of The Making of a Museum. We discuss the gallery’s style (1:51), the challenges facing smaller museums (5:21), and how a dedicated space changed the gallery’s prospects (14:12). We then chat about the gallery’s relationship with the university (17:02), writing memoir as history (23:00), and what advice Judith would give to anyone wanting to work in museums (25:24).

Continue reading

With Intent to Destroy a Group: Genocides Past and Present in Canada

Andrew Woolford

Chris Chang-Yen Phillips and Dylan Hall are MA Students in the Department of History, Classics, & Religion at the University of Alberta. They interviewed Dr. Andrew Woolford as a part of the department’s annual Western Canadian History Lecture. Crystal Gail Fraser and Shannon Stunden Bower edited the transcribed interview for length and clarity. Andrew Woolford is a Professor of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Manitoba. He is also an emeritus member of the Royal Society of Canada College of New Scholars and former president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars.

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.

Chris: In 2021, the news of thousands of unmarked graves at former Indian Residential School sites has forced a national conversation about settler colonialism’s destruction of Indigenous Peoples’ lands and cultures. Why were you drawn to the field of genocide studies?

Andrew: When I began my master’s degree, I was interested in Latin American human rights issues. I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico and was learning Spanish to become a human rights observer in the Lacandon Jungle after the Zapatista Uprising. Simultaneously, I heard news from home about the British Columbia Treaty Process. I realized that I was in Mexico trying to support Indigenous Peoples when I knew so little about Indigenous Peoples in Canada, particularly on Vancouver Island where I grew up.

I interviewed Coast Salish Elders and Leaders for my PhD research on the BC Treaty Process and they often said, “Well, first we have to tell you about the genocide.” For example, in Tsawwassan I learned how the road to the BC ferry terminal destroyed their last longhouse and with the coal port decimated local shellfish populations. At the time, I was TA-ing a course on genocide studies, which was my first introduction to this field. These two intellectual pursuits – Indigenous histories and genocide studies – made me think, “What has been said about genocide in Canada and why do we seldom discuss it? Whose power is reflected within the conceptual architecture of genocide?” Continue reading

History Slam 198: Atacama

      No Comments on History Slam 198: Atacama

By Sean Graham

In the 10 years that we’ve been doing the History Slam Podcast, I’ve learned that there is no correct way to tell historical stories. Over the years we’ve talked with playwrights, musicians, and literary authors about the ways in which they tell accurate (and moving) stories from the past within their respective media. One of my favourites to discover over the years has been the incredible depth of historical fiction in Canada, where authors have been able to tell stories that have otherwise been underrepresented in the more traditional historical literature.

One such example comes in the form of Atacama: A Novel, by Carmen Rodriguez. It tells the story of two 12-year-olds in Chile in the early 20th century, brought together at a time when workers’ rights and collective action around the world were changing the face of Chilean life. Together they forge a lifelong connection through their opposition and resistance to the autocratic regime and repressive military. Based in part on Rodriguez’s own family history, Atacama combines archival research, oral history, and artistic license to tell a captivating tale that spans over 20 years. The violence imposed by the government is starkly contrasted by the optimism of youth, combining to tell a story that is much more optimistic than one would guess at first sight.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Carmen Rodriguez about the book. We discuss the benefits of telling historical stories through fiction, the challenge of having more historical context than the characters, and her personal history with Chilean political resistance. We also chat about the book’s message of hope, the contributions of Chilean immigrants in Canada, and the universal themes present in the book.

Continue reading

History Slam Special: Best of 2021

      No Comments on History Slam Special: Best of 2021

By Sean Graham

Before we put 2021 to bed later tonight, I wanted to look back at some of the great conversations we’ve had on the History Slam this year. The past 12 months have not been the easiest for anyone, but I’ve been so energized by the discussions, insights, and expertise that has been part of the show. So in this special edition, we re-visit a few of the great guests from 2021:

You can find the full catalogue of 197 episodes under the podcast tab or wherever you get your podcasts. Happy New Year and all the best for 2022!

Continue reading

A Peace Resembling War

      No Comments on A Peace Resembling War

W. George Lovell

December 29, 2021, marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of a peace accord that, under the auspices of the United Nations, brought a formal end to thirty-six years of armed conflict in Guatemala. At the time the accord was signed, Guatemala’s was Latin America’s most prolonged internal strife, during which acts of genocide occurred. A quarter-century on the peace that was supposed to be firm and lasting is anything but. If peace prevails in Guatemala, it is a peace resembling war.

Anthropologist Victoria Sanford sums up the situation thus: if the number of victims keeps rising, she predicted, “more people will die in the first twenty-five years of peace” than during the country’s brutal civil war, which a U.N. inquiry documented at over 200,000. More than 80 percent of casualties were unarmed Indigenous Mayas, hence the charge of genocide levelled against the Guatemalan army, held responsible for 93 percent of the killings. To guerrilla insurgents fighting to overthrow a heinous regime could be attributed three percent of recorded atrocities.

Sanford’s grim reckoning is borne out by Guatemalan homicide rates. Continue reading

Science as Vocation and Life

      No Comments on Science as Vocation and Life

By Dimitry Zakharov

Gerhard Herzberg was a man of science. His life revolved around his office, where he spent countless hours, often working six days a week going over spectrograms, interpreting and writing results, and familiarizing himself with the latest research in his own field and quantum physics in general.

Spectroscopy and the scientists involved in this field were his first family. In his short 1985 memoir, published in the Annual Review of Physical Chemistry, Herzberg recollects the moment in 1929 when he married Luise Oettinger, who co-authored several papers with him, and mentions the birth of his two children, Paul and Agnes, when they lived in Saskatoon.[i] The focus of this memoir, however, was spectroscopic research and the people who contributed to this discipline – scientists like Alex Douglas and Walter Heitler, and the affirmation of their work by Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, whom Herzberg met in England. Despite conventional ideas about individual genius, which still persists in the form of breakthroughs attributed to the ideas of a single person, Herzberg’s work attests to the importance of the scientific community and the collaborators who often play a far larger role than they are given credit for.

Science as a Community

Gerhard Herzberg’s intellectual history is a complicated subject. He was trained as a theoretical physicist at Darmstadt and then Göttingen, the best physics university of the time. Perhaps only the Cambridge system with its Wrangler system could have matched it in terms of prestige and sheer physico-mathematical importance. In the Cambridge mathematics program, the first place Senior Wrangler exemplified an achievement of the university itself, and this classification system went down to the lowest final passing grade of the year, accompanied by the dubious title of Wet Spoon.[ii] As historian of science Iwan Rhys Morus has argued, English and German universities of the 19th century had different models of education. While English universities favored mathematical and empirical science, German universities encouraged a Buildung model, favoring a holistic or balanced approach that encompassed scientific disciplines, as well as the arts, history, philosophy, literature, and music.

This model produced some of the best scientists of the time and didn’t ignore creating a balanced individual.[iii] Morus argues that the German educational model produced more theoretically minded scientists than their English counterparts. Herzberg, a product of this system, specialized in the sciences, but was also well versed in music and philosophy.[iv] What’s more, he formed scientific communities wherever he went. Herzberg was a brilliant experimentalist, an equally brilliant theoretician, and he also possessed an aura of charisma that gathered other great minds around him wherever he went. Continue reading

Physics in Exile: Nazism, Anti-Semitism, and the 1933 Scientific Exodus

By Dimitry Zakharov

In September, 1935, physicists Gerhard and Luise Herzberg arrived in Saskatoon, Canada. This move was a leap of faith, as they had only learned of the small prairie city’s existence shortly before their journey, and secured a university position due to a chance friendship with the University of Saskatchewan chemistry professor John Spinks, and a generous grant from the Carnegie Foundation which aimed at helping German scholars. While Saskatchewan was not previously known to the Herzbergs, available faculty positions in universities outside of Germany were already scarce. Many postings in England and North America were already filled by academics and scientists who left as soon as the Nazi party passed a law forbidding Jews and other non-Aryans from working in public sector jobs like universities.

Several months prior to his arrival, Herzberg had received news from the Carnegie Foundation that he qualified for funding of a two-year tenure appointment in a British Dominion or Commonwealth university. His first choice in Canada was the University of Toronto, which already had a spectroscopy laboratory led by British/ Canadian physicist Sir John Cunningham McLennan. However, the University of Toronto already made an offer for its available faculty position to a German mathematician, Bernard Haurwitz from Leipzig. After more communication with chemist John Spinks and University of Saskatchewan President Walter Murray, Herzberg accepted their offer on April 2nd, 1935. On September 1st, the Herzbergs arrived by ship in New York, and left by train for their new home, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

An NSDAP poster dated February 27, 1925 advertising a meeting in Munich where Adolf Hitler will address the party. The poster reads “Germany’s future and our movement” and announces the re-establishment of the party. Image courtesy of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

What caused the exodus of German scholars, the Herzbergs among them? What made staying in Germany too dangerous for Luise and Gerhard and for a number of other notable scientists, doctors, and others? Continue reading

Dr. Gerhard Herzberg and The Prize

      No Comments on Dr. Gerhard Herzberg and The Prize

By Denisa Popa

In Gerhard Herzberg: An Illustrious Life in Science, Boris Stoicheff recalls the amusing way in which Herzberg found out he had received the Nobel Prize. On November 2nd, 1971, as Herzberg was seated on a train waiting to leave Leningrad station, the Secretary of the Soviet Academy of Science ran up to his cabin and informed him he had won the Nobel Prize in Physics.[1] This was well before smartphones, of course, so Herzberg, stuck in this train, had no way to contact his colleagues and family back in Canada. He spent the next six hours by himself on the train wondering why he had won the Nobel Prize in Physics and not Chemistry.[2]

“Gerhard Herzberg, Nobel Award Certificate, Dec. 1971” Dr. Gerhard Herzberg Fond, National Research Council of Canada.

The confusion was cleared up once he arrived and learned that the award was, indeed, for chemistry. Herzberg’s memorable experience was not the last time a Nobel laureate found out they’d won the prize while stuck in transit. In 1991, Richard Ernst found out he won, for chemistry, while on an airplane traveling from Moscow to New York.[3] As he recalls in this video, the captain came to his seat mid-flight to personally inform him of the news. Ernst recounts going to the plane’s cockpit to call his family.[4]

Herzberg’s Nobel journey began in 1958, Continue reading

Scientific Freedom and “the Golden Years”: Gerhard Herzberg and the National Research Council of Canada

Denisa Popa

From 1948 until his retirement in 1994, Dr. Gerhard Herzberg conducted ground-breaking research at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). As his close friend and biographer Boris Stoicheff has noted, Herzberg’s early period at the NRC– culminating in his Nobel win in 1971 — were truly “the golden years” of his career.[1] Recognizing the essential nature of his work, the NRC offered him the time, resources and freedom to pursue any research of his choosing. (The NRC’s intellectual environment was challenged during Herzberg’s later years.) This latitude contrasted the constraints he’d faced previously at the Yerkes Observatory in Chicago from 1945 to 1948. Indeed, this episode further highlights the vital role that Canadian institutions played in Herzberg’s scientific work.[2]

“Gerhard Herzberg in lab coat at blackboard” Dr. Gerhard Herzberg Fond, National Research Council of Canada.

Yerkes Observatory: University of Chicago

When Herzberg first arrived in Canada, he spent 10 productive and enjoyable years as a professor at the University of Saskatchewan. But in 1945, Yerkes Observatory at the University of Chicago offered him a job. At first, this opportunity seemed like “the ideal situation” for Herzberg as he would join a larger institution connected closely to U.S. universities.[3] As Stoicheff notes, it would enable him “to become an astronomer, a career he had dreamt of long ago.”[4] Yet even while he was negotiating the job offer, difficulties began to crop up. The university could only hire him as an associate professor, a step down from his position in Saskatchewan. Nevertheless, Herzberg accepted the position, and set out for Williams Bay with his family.

The intellectual focus of the Yerkes Observatory differed greatly from Saskatchewan. Continue reading