Waffling over the Leap Manifesto

By Jonathan McQuarrie

Sneers extinguish far-reaching ideas. Such was the fate of the recent Leap Manifesto, a document that emerges from the conviction that “Canada is facing the deepest crisis in recent memory.” It’s easier to dismiss an idea that calls for a radical rethinking of Canada and energy regimes, indigenous policy, and social programs than it is to actually engage with the ideas, to actually develop criticisms that explain precisely why radical rethinking isn’t necessary. Banal dismissal is all the easier when one writes for the Globe and Mail, a paper that, for all its considerable merits, tends to slant towards the complacent and comfortable, to people with money and influence. (This is hardly a criticism—we all enjoy being comfortable. But comfort tends not to encourage substantial risk).

Of course, it is too early to write a post-mortem on the Leap Manifesto. It was released just over two weeks ago, and signed by well-known people who will, in all likelihood, continue to advocate for clean, community-based energy regimes. Naomi Klein, David Suzuki, Charles Taylor, and Thomas King are hardly people without audiences. However, like most radical documents, it begins at a disadvantage. Some disadvantages come from economic context—globally orientated trade governed by privately-orientated capitalism has, for all its flaws, created staggering wealth and prompted unparalleled growth in incomes and goods (distinct, of course, from distribution). Frankly, too many people do well by the revenues produced from global capitalism to seriously consider locally orientated alternatives.

The reception of the Leap Manifesto brought to my mind reception of the Manifesto for an Independent Socialist Canada. The latter manifesto, issued by the so-called Waffle Movement in 1969, was spearheaded by Mel Watkins and James Laxer. The Waffle Manifesto, emerging as it did from a Cold War context where the United States loomed large and Canadians of various national stripes fretted about their national identity (cf. Grant’s Lament for a Nation), called for total divestment from the “American Empire.” For the authors, the United States essentially was capitalism, a point the manifesto made clear when it claimed that Canadian capitalists were simply dependent on Americans and that “Capitalism must be replaced with socialism.” Pointing to the “alienating” nature of capitalism, the Waffle Manifesto asserted that a socialist economy would contribute to healing the rift between English and French Canada (indigenous people are conspicuously absent for the modern reader, a flaw common for older socialist critiques that foregrounded class as the terrain of politics). Statist planning of a national economy was presented as a viable alternative to capitalism.
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‘Tomorrow: Sunny': The Rise and Fall of Solar Heating in 1970s Canada, part 2

By Henry (Hank) Trim

In this installment of my four part series on solar energy in Canada, I examine how small numbers of environmentalists introduced solar technology to North Americans and successfully championed it as the centerpiece of the first sustainable development strategies. (Click here to read part one)

Solar energy has a long history. The first efforts to use solar energy occurred in 19th century France where Augustin Monchot experimented with a solar steam engine. In the early 20th century, American engineer and inventor Frank Schulman built a series of “sun engines.” His experiments culminated in a solar thermal power plant used for irrigation in Maadi, Egypt in 1913. Unfortunately for Schulman, the First World War, improvements in the internal combustion engine, and falling oil prices largely ended interest in solar power.

NASA’s space program rekindled interest in solar energy in the 1950s. Continue reading

Conscientious Objectors: Fitting Dissent into a Coming of Age Story

By Amy Shaw

A First World War era postcard. Credit: unattributed, but fair use

A First World War era postcard. Credit: unattributed, but fair use

With the centennials of the events of the First World War and the sesquicentennial of those leading to Confederation this is a busy time in terms of commemoration. And, as both are presented as different kinds of birth of a nation, we’re paying a lot of attention right now to questions of identity. The trouble is the two narratives fit awkwardly together. The debates and accommodations of the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences seem a world away from the bloody (and more exciting) fields of war. How do we remember who we are? Continue reading

New Directions in Active History: A Retrospective

By Beth A. Robertson, Ph.D 

Created by Shawn Graham, Carleton University, through Voyant using #ActiveHist2015 twitter feed

Created by Shawn Graham, Carleton University, through Voyant using #ActiveHist2015 twitter feed

New Directions in Active History was not your ordinary academic conference. This weekend scholars, students, private and public sector workers, local community members, archivists and more conceived of new ways to communicate the complex issues of the past to larger audiences. Discussions weaved between public policy and public history programs, to the meaning of community-engaged research and the role of technology. We watched the pilot of Ronald Rudin’s Lost Stories that sought to uncover the forgotten legacy of Thomas Widd and how artist Lalie Douglas made his story come alive. Poster sessions featured the work of the Graphic History Collective and the web-based documentary project on the London Dominion Public Building. Moving performances by indigenous activist and radio-show host Mary Lou Smoke[1], as well as Staging Our Histories made the past few days at Huron University College truly unforgettable. The New Directions conference was a regenerative moment for not only the website ActiveHistory.ca, but for all those invested in active history as a practice. Indeed, the conference was a rich opportunity to gather, share, and make connections in order to re-envision the place of history within Canada and our broader world. Continue reading

Old Stock Canadians: Arab Settlers in Western Canada

By Sarah Carter

Carter 2

“King Ganam,” The Raymond Recorder 20 Aug. 1954: 3

Syrians have a long history in Canada. Paul Anka is perhaps the best known Canadian of Syrian ancestry. But there were others; many of whom we must consider “Old Stock Canadians.” Somewhat less well known, for example, but still very popular in his day, was “Canada’s King of the Fiddle,” Ameen “King” Ganam, born in Swift Current in 1914. He entertained from a young age in Saskatchewan and then in Edmonton starting in the 1940s, later moving to Toronto where he had his own radio program the “King Ganam Show.” His band the Sons of the West included Tommy Hunter. Ganam was one of the first inductees into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. A 1954 article about him began “With his dark good looks, flashing brown eyes and Syrian background, King Ganam looks as if he’d be most at home dashing across the desert on an Arabian steed. But says he, the only plains he has ever dashed across are those in Southern Saskatchewan where he was born and grew up.”[1]

The southern Saskatchewan plains where Ganam was born and dashed across was home to many Arab settlers. Continue reading

History Slam Episode Seventy-One: Race, Gender, and Rap

By Sean Graham

When teaching courses on the history of popular culture, one of my favourite exercises is to play a song and then ask the class what the song is about. With certain songs, students come up with answers pretty quickly, while in other cases, it takes a little more prodding. In all cases, though, it’s a lot of fun to examine the music in an effort to understand its cultural significance and the artists’ expression of identity.

As a relatively new style of music in the mainstream, rap has not received the same scholarly attention as other genres. Jazz of the interwar period and folk of the Vietnam era have been studied extensively, but rap is just now coming into focus for historians. This is a critical development as it’s a style ripe with material for study.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Francesca D’Amico about her research on rap in North America. We chat about the differences between Canadian and American artists, gender representations, and race construction. Continue reading

Facing Down R.B. Bennett

By Karen Bridget Murray

Richard B. Bennett accepts a gift from Indigenous children (1932). Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3362410

Richard B. Bennett accepts a gift from Indigenous children (1932). Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3362410

A growing chorus is calling for a statue to honour R. B. Bennett on Parliament Hill. An eight-foot high sculpture has already been made and reportedly held in storage in Ottawa. It has been suggested Bennett be placed facing east, towards his childhood home of New Brunswick. The renewed interest in Bennett’s place in Canadian history reached a crescendo just as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was winding down its important work. This opportune moment invites us to ponder the 11th prime minister’s role in the “national crime” that was the residential school system.[1]  Bennett’s response to reports of the mass flogging of children at a residential school in Nova Scotia is a good place to start. Continue reading

Racist Propaganda and the Shaping of Boys’ Attitudes toward War

By Stephen Dale

Inspired by images from Young Canada, Fernwood Books created this image for the cover of Stephen Dale’s book, Noble Illusions.  It is inspired by content from the Young Canada magazine.

Inspired by images from Young Canada, Fernwood Books created this image for the cover of Stephen Dale’s book, Noble Illusions. It is inspired by content from the Young Canada magazine.

What ideas and convictions motivated the legions of young men who so eagerly headed off to the trenches of the First World War? What were the boys who stayed home told about the events of that war as the carnage escalated? And what sort of patriotic stories could be peddled after the war to youngsters who had lost fathers, uncles, brothers and neighbours mostly in Europe’s killing fields, but also in Asia, Africa and the waters between?

Some answers to these questions can be found in the pages of Young Canada: An Illustrated Magazine for Boys. The National Library in Ottawa has a collection of hardbound Young Canada annuals, each consisting of over 500 small-print pages and adorned with elaborate illustrations, including various editions published between 1913 and 1920. Read in succession, they provide fascinating insight into youth culture and the tenor of the times during the confident years that anticipated the First World War, through the war years themselves, and into their sullen, sorrowful aftermath. Continue reading

Exploring New Directions in Active History

Tom Peace & Daniel Ross

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 2.25.33 PMSeven years in, it’s time to take stock of the Active History project. Since our founding symposium in 2008, Active History has branched off in a number of directions. Those include–but are not limited to–an annual lecture series (History Matters), a long-running podcast (History Slam), and a working group within the Canadian Historical Association. And then there is the website. Today, ActiveHistory.ca is home to well over 1,000 blog posts, papers, podcasts, and videos, and more and more people (between 20,000 – 25,000) are reading them every month. Not bad for a wordpress site run by a small group of volunteers.

Most of all, these activities reflect the fact that Active History is comprised of a growing community of people who believe history should be collaborative, relevant, and accessible to a wide audience. Many are practicing that kind of history every day, as community members, scholars, heritage professionals, or teachers. From the start, the project has been as much about building and strengthening connections within that community as putting forward any particular vision of what Active History is, or could be. That’s the spirit behind the New Directions in Active History Conference, taking place next week (October 2-4) at Huron University College in London, ON. Continue reading

Everybody Can Play: Avoiding Soft Constructionism when Teaching History

By Mark Abraham

Swift accepts her award. TaylorSwift.com

Swift accepts her Video of the Year award during the 2015 MVAs. TaylorSwift.com

Accepting her Video of the Year award at the 2015 VMAs, pop singer Taylor Swift, surrounded by the women who appear as weapon-toting warriors in her victorious video “Bad Blood,” said she was grateful that “we live in a world where boys can play princesses and girls can play soldiers.” That same night, writer Adam Fleischer posted a review of the awards titled, “Taylor Swift said F—k Gender Norms with Her Video of the Year Speech” to MTV.com.

But did she? Twenty-five years after Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble and the queer turn, and smack dab in the middle of a rapid cultural reassessment of gender as trans celebrities become more visible, Swift’s post-essentialist but not-quite-unessential lip service that girls can do “boy” things and vice versa seems fairly quaint. It’s what many constructionists would call “modified essentialism”: the “girl” and “boy” things we can play at are socially constructed, but the majority of bodies—even the potentially subversive ones Swift is valorizing—still belong to “girls” and “boys.”

Serendipitously, Swift’s speech was followed by a performance by pop singer Miley Cyrus, who was surrounded by thirty drag, burlesque, and trans performers. This was, in a way, a constructionist response to Swift’s soft constructionism: that the lines between “girl” and “boy” things are especially porous, and so girls and boys and everybody can play, period. Cyrus’s performance suggested that there are girls, boys, and individuals who reject that binary in part or in whole, but bodies don’t define an identity, and the things that we can play at are a wide range of activities that aren’t rooted in much beyond historically-changing ideas about how “girls” and “boys” should act. Intentionally or not, Cyrus took Swift’s identity politics and threw them down a constructionist rabbit hole. Continue reading