Tenth Anniversary Repost: “When People Eat Chocolate, They Are Eating My Flesh”: Slavery and the Dark Side of Chocolate

Active History is celebrating its tenth anniversary! As part of our anniversary celebrations we are sharing glimpses of how Active History developed and showcasing our favourite and most popular posts from the past ten years.

Today we are highlighting our most popular post from 2010, written by Karlee Sapoznik this post originally appeared on June 30, 2010. Want to know more about the second year of Active History? See our 2010 year in review post

656px-ChocolateWhether it’s a Mars, Cadbury, Hershey, Nestle or Snickers chocolate bar, most of us relish biting into one of life’s most tasty, cheap indulgences: chocolate.

While the cocoa industry has profited from the use of forced labour in West Africa since the early nineteenth century, over the past decade more and more alarming reports of child slavery in the cocoa industry have come to the fore. Amadou, previously one of the over 200,000 estimated children to be enslaved in cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast alone, told Free the Slaves that “When people eat chocolate, they are eating my flesh.”

The Ivory Coast produces roughly half of the world’s cocoa today. In his recent documentary, entitled The Dark Side of Chocolate , Danish journalist Miki Mistrati seeks to answer the following question: “Is the chocolate we eat produced with the use of child labor and trafficked children?”

In effect, the question is really not whether the chocolate we eat is produced using child labour or trafficked children. Rather, it is twofold: where exactly is this happening and in what numbers? Further, how do we take further measures beyond what is already being done under the law, by the International Cocoa Initiative, the chocolate companies, local law enforcement, activists, the general public and grass roots organizations to truly end this?

Drissa’s scars from being beat after trying to escape

Drissa’s scars from being beat after trying to escape

The link between slavery and commodities is certainly not new. In the late eighteenth century, the British, like many other countries, directly profited from the slave trade and slavery as they took their tea or used slave-produced products on a daily basis. However, little by little, the London Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade succeeded in rallying popular sentiment against slavery and slave-produced commodities. Continue reading

Of Energy and the Need for Electoral Reform: Déjà-vu and the 1979 and 1980 federal elections


Ed Broadbent, Pierre Trudeau, and Joe Clark face off in the 1979 leaders’ debate. There was no leaders’ debate in 1980, because Pierre Trudeau refused to participate.

Editor’s Note: This post is the third in our special series on elections.

Matthew Hayday

Energy taxes. Housing affordability. Deep regional divisions in Canada, exacerbated by the first-past-the-post electoral system. Oh wait, you mean we’re talking about 2019, and not about the pair of federal elections from forty years ago? This election season is offering us a great deal to contemplate, both in terms of policy issues we have seen before as well as enduring issues around electoral reform.

“Well, welcome to the 1980s!” declared a triumphant Pierre Trudeau on the night of the February 18, 1980 election.[1] Just two months earlier, Trudeau had been headed into political retirement after his government was defeated in the election of May 22, 1979.  The 1979 election delivered a win to the Progressive Conservatives led by Joe Clark, who, at age 39, became Canada’s youngest ever Prime Minister – a record even this year’s youthful crop of leaders will be unable to beat. But Clark had been held to a minority government, winning 136 seats, six short of what he needed for a majority. That shortfall would prove fatal to the longevity of his government. The fall of the Clark government and the results of the following election marked a key turning point in Canadian political history, shutting down important new policy directions, opening the door to others, and highlighting the deep structural problems of our first-past-the-post electoral system.

The 1979 and 1980 elections, which should really be thought of as an intimately-connected pair, were held nine months apart; the shortest distance between two federal elections in Canadian history.[2] These election campaigns were thoroughly analyzed in Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson’s Governor General’s Award-winning book Discipline of Power: The Conservative Interlude and the Liberal Restoration.[3] But the substance, structure and consequences of these elections, and the circumstances that prompted them, have been more important to our present-day politics than Simpson recognized in 1980.

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Won Alexander Cumyow and the Fight for Democratic Rights

Won Alexander Cumyow voting in the 1949 federal election at age 88. Source: UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections, RBSC-ARC-1153-BC-1848-9.

Editor’s Note: This post is the second in our special election series. 

Timothy J. Stanley 

The photograph of Won Alexander Cumyow voting in the 1949 federal election marks an important landmark in the struggle for democratic rights in Canada. Although born in Canada before the country existed, Cumyow had to wait 88 years to have the unfettered right to vote.

Few other non-Indigenous British Columbians have roots as deep. Won Alexander Cumyou (Wen Jinyou in Mandarin pinyin romanization), was born in 1861 on the traditional territory of the In-SHUCK-ch Nation at Port Douglas on the North Shore of Harrison Lake in 1861. Cumyou’s parents, Won Ling Ling and Wong Shee,[1] were storekeepers and outfitters who came up from California in 1860. His mother was among the handful of women from China who migrated to BC at this time. His parents were Hakka, members of a minority ethnic group from South China that made up 10% of the 19th century Chinese migration to BC.[2] By the 1870s, Cumyow’s family had moved to New Westminster where Cumyou completed his schooling, including high school. In 1889, he married Ye Eva Chan, a woman from Hong Kong whose parents were Methodist missionaries.  The Cumyow-Ye’s eventually had ten children. In 1923, their grandchild, the son of their eldest daughter Grace and her locally-born husband Chinese Cecil Sit-shiu Lee, became the first fourth generation Chinese Canadian.

Cumyow was well integrated into settler society at a time when there was almost no Chinese or Hakka community to speak of. He grew up speaking Hakka, Cantonese, English and Chinook, which was the Indigenous trade language and the main language of work on the coast in 19th century BC. Following the common practice of the times, although his father’s surname was Won, Cumyow’s given name became his surname. He attended school in New Westminster with Richard McBride, a future premier of British Columbia. The 1881 census lists his religion and that of his siblings as Anglican.[3] Reporting on his wedding, the New Westminster British Columbian Weekly described him as “well known to most of our readers, as, perhaps, the most intelligent, clever and best educated young Chinaman in the province, exceeding in his English education many young men of Caucasian origin.”[4] Indeed, his reputation was such that from 1889 until his retirement in 1936, the Vancouver Police Department employed him as its official Chinese and Chinook interpreter. During this time, he also worked as a labour contractor and importer.[5]

Despite his education and reputation, Cumyow experienced racism directly. Trained as a lawyer, he was unable to article because he was not on the provincial voters list. British Columbian and 1885 Canadian legislation barred any “Chinaman” from voting. Cumyow was able to register to vote in New Westminster during the 1890s and may have voted in elections, but he was unable to remain registered to vote in the 20thcentury. In 1885, an all-white jury took 20 minutes to convict Cumyow of fraud based on what Cumyow claimed was the falsified evidence of his white business partner. Chief Justice Matthew Bailey Begbie sentenced him to three years in the provincial penitentiary.[6] In 1914, when he moved his Christian, English-speaking family from Vancouver’s Chinatown to the Grandview area, the local ratepayers association passed resolutions calling to prevent Chinese from owning property in Vancouver and elsewhere in BC.[7] In 1923, like all other Canadian-born Chinese, he had to register with the federal government under the Chinese Immigration Act in order to remain in the country.

Throughout his life, Cumyow actively fought against discrimination and for the rights of Chinese people. Continue reading

The Personality is Political

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Louis St-Laurent surrounded by children on the 1949 campaign trail. Source: Library and Archives Canada/PA-123988

Editor’s note: Over the course of the next week, Paul Litt, Timothy Stanley, Matthew Hayday and Colin Grittner will provide insights on the history of elections and electoral politics in Canada from the 19th century to the present, with a special focus on the 1949 and 1979 – 1980 elections. Although references to history have dotted the current election campaign, they have largely been confined to the political lifetime of the party leaders. This special Active History series offers a space in which to consider the politics of elections more broadly.

Paul Litt

This year’s election is somewhat unique insofar as there is one big, urgent issue on which the majority of the electorate favours decisive action. Yet so far the campaign has been about the party leaders’ personalities rather than global warming. Leadership has always been important, but since the electronic media came into their own it has been more important than ever, prompting election strategists to double down on the politics of image. The leadership debate earlier this week was rehearsed theatre in which the leaders’ performances trumped policy. How did we ever get this way? In search of answers, this post looks back seventy years to the federal election of 1949 to examine an earlier case of image-driven electioneering.

The 1940s were an interesting period in the history of Western liberal capitalist democracies. Thomas Piketty has documented how the triple whammy of world war, depression, and world war managed temporarily to interrupt the inexorable “rich get richer” logic of capitalism.[1]  Neither business nor the mainstream political parties had any answers to the challenges of the Great Depression. The 1945 election was similar to this year’s in that there was an overwhelming democratic consensus on one big issue. Canadians thought that in return for their participation in total war they deserved a postwar society with an economy that not only worked but worked for them.

The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), founded in 1932, called for economic planning, social programs and a fairer distribution of wealth. It hadn’t done very well at the polls in the 1930s, but in the early 1940s its support ballooned. Wartime mobilization showed Keynesian theory worked in practice – state intervention could revive and regulate prosperity. The CCF ran a strong second in the 1943 Ontario election. A public opinion poll indicated it had the support of 29% of the electorate nationwide, 1% more than both the Liberals and Conservatives.

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In Praise of a Nondescript Government Facility (or, The Most Canadian Title Ever)

Nondescript government facility.

Alan MacEachern

As I drove deeper into a suburb in the small town of Matane on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, things got busier instead of quieter. More and more parked cars lined the streets. There were no sidewalks, so the many people walking were all in the street, all of them headed toward the same low-slung, nondescript office building in the distance. To anyone who has watched Stranger Things, or a Bond movie, or any number of movies or TV shows, it all screamed “top secret government facility.”

Which it was. Or if not “secret” at least “little-known.” And certainly under-appreciated.

In 1977, the government of Canada opened the René-Tremblay Building in Matane to be the terminal destination of all government cheques. It still takes in tens of millions of cheque stubs – staff told me proudly that any specific one could be retrieved within two minutes – retains them for six years, and shreds them. But the advent of direct deposit banking in the new millennium threatened the future of the facility – which, as a leading employer, threatened the future of the town. As a result, many of the staff retrained, and soon became some of the nation’s frontline experts on digitization. Starting with a single flatbed scanner, Matane’s Document Imaging Solutions Centre [DISC] has grown to become Canada’s principal facility for digitizing government material – including of historical material. If you’ve used or perused the First World War attestation papers of the Canadian Expeditionary Force online, for example, you know their work. Continue reading

Tenth Anniversary Repost: The Role of Historical Monographs

Active History is celebrating its tenth anniversary! As part of our anniversary celebrations we are sharing glimpses of how Active History developed and showcasing our favourite and most popular posts from the past ten years. 

In 2009 Active History launched with a focus on soliciting paper length contributions. Within the first year we shifted our focus to blogging. Many of our posts in that first year were written by the Active History editors. Founding editor Ian Milligan’s post on “The Role of Historical Monographs” (republished below) was one of our most popular pieces in 2009. Want to know more about the early days? Check out our very first year in review post.

The Role of Historical Monographs

At a recent workshop in London, I had a conversation with a fellow graduate student about the relevance of history as an academic discipline. He held that the entire academic world was a farce: professors spent too little time in the classroom, producing books that nobody read, were overpaid, and basically a general waste. Beyond my initial confusion that a fellow history graduate student would have such low esteem of his profession and peers, I think its a trenchant criticism that needs to be dealt with. This echoed the recent discussion begun by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail about lazy professors, and rebutted by Clifford Orwin.

The teaching debate was played out between Wente and Orwin, and I think its an important one. But another important issue is the role of historical monographs.

The largest criticism is that many monographs are not widely read and are not accessible. This is true, in some ways. Part of the rationale of ActiveHistory.ca, for example, is to take research and analysis from these academic works and turn them into easily digestible pieces for public consumption. Print runs are short at academic presses, a few make their way to book stores, the rest to university libraries. Few make their way into the majority of Chapters/Indigos, for example, although recent works by Steve Penfold and Bryan Palmer have certainly had quite a bit of shelf space. Between the Lines Press has also been doing a spectacular job in marketing academic books to a mass market (Congrats to Ian McKay who was honoured by the Governor General a little over a week ago!). Continue reading

Why Blackface Persists and What Historians Can Do to Change It

Still image from a 2013 scene from Mad Men, in which Roger Sterling (John Slattery) wears blackface.

Cheryl Thompson 

Years ago, my former Banting-postdoctoral supervisor Stephen Johnson, Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Theatre, Drama and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto was to appear on a radio talk show to explore the question, “Why has there been a resurgence in the use of blackface in contemporary society?” The interview never took place because seemingly more newsworthy events took precedence at the time.

Now that I’ve taken up the mantle of doing this work, and reflecting on conversations I’ve had with Stephen about such questions, the reality is, blackface has never gone away.

Films like Tropic Thunder (2008), starring Robert Downey Jr. in blackface as Kirk Lazarus, to a 2013 scene from Mad Men (set in the 1960s), in which Roger Sterling (John Slattery) wears blackface to serenade his fiancée with My Old Kentucky Home (a minstrel song written by Stephen Foster in 1853) at a public gathering. It is always there. And Canadians have never stopped consuming its imagery.

Then, last month, in response to Canadian Lilly Singh’s late-night talk show, writer McKensie Mack told Teen Vogue that the ways in which Singh, as a brown woman, performs Blackness is akin to a minstrel show. “It’s the blackface without the actual painting of the face,” McKensie said, adding, “Black culture is many things, but one thing it’s not is a joke.”

These examples are not from one hundred years ago. They point to the persistence of blackface in the contemporary, and help to contextualize Justin Trudeau’s brownface, a variation on blackface, performed at an Arabian Nights’ themed party in 2001, and the subsequent photographs of him in blackface.

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Hacking History 3.0: Writing History One Wikipedia Page At A Time

Jessica Knapp and Krista McCracken 

Image of a woman yelling with the word [edit] For the past two years we have hosted a Canada Wide Wikipedia Edit-a-thon for Canadian history. This national event has encouraged folks from across Canada to join us in editing Canadian history content on Wikipedia. As of 21 August 2013, there were 113,554 articles on Wikipedia relating to Canada, a mere 1.92% of the articles on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a place so many Canadians turn to for information but there are so many parts of Canadian History that are not covered on Wikipedia. 

Creating new articles and improving existing content on Wikipedia has the potential to impact what the general public knows about historical events, improves learning experiences, and shapes historical narratives.

As historians and educators, we have skills that can be directly applied to editing Wikipedia. We know how to write clearly and concisely, we know how to do solid secondary source research, and we know how to build citations. All of these skills can be used to improve Wikipedia content.

On October 23, 2019 we will be hosting the third annual Canada Wide Canadian History edit-a-thon. We’re inviting folks from throughout Canada to join us in editing Canadian history content on Wikipedia.  Continue reading

History Slam Episode 136: Why I Like History & Being a Historian

By Sean Graham

A cartoon that a colleague sent me depicting a historian.

For the past couple of years, it has become really easy for us historians to be pessimistic. Whether its the job market, shrinking enrolments, or very partisan debates surrounding commemoration, the news surrounding historians has not always been positive. As a result, it can be tough to remember why we got into history in the first place. I have definitely been guilty of this, despite my best efforts to avoid it.

In this episode of the History Slam, I try to feed the positive and talk about the main reasons I love history and being a historian. I talk about the fun struggle of research, the discovery of new stories, and the humanity of studying the past. I also talk about the opportunities that I have been fortunate enough to have from studying history and the relationship between mortality and history.

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The Historical Reality of Queer Families

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Erin Gallagher-Cohoon

In this morning’s post, I focused on how parliamentarians were invoking a sense of history and nationalism to argue both for and against legalizing same-sex marriage. In this post, I explore the history that is often left unsaid in this debate: the history of queer parenting.

By 2005, when many parliamentarians were arguing that marriage rights should not be extended to same-sex couples because they could not “naturally” procreate and raise children, researchers had been studying children raised in same-sex households for decades. The consensus among social scientists was, and remains, that such children are not negatively affected. Children may, in fact, benefit from being raised in non-heteronormative families, with some studies reporting findings of greater empathy and open-mindedness.[1]

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