History Slam Repost: Decoding Monuments and Memorials

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By Sean Graham

Last month in Montreal, protesters toppled a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald. In response, Quebec Premier François Legault said that “We must fight racism, but destroying parts of our history is not the solution.” This refrain that removing statues is an effort to erase history is common from those who argue in favour of statues. That leads to the questions, though – what is the connection between a statue and history?

As someone who doesn’t particularly like statues to individuals, I wanted to re-visit a conversation I had a couple years ago with Tonya Davidson, a sociologist for Carleton. We talked about why communities commission statues, how the public interact with them, and debate their value in encouraging historical thinking. We also walked through downtown Ottawa to look at some of the city’s monuments and talk about their place within the community.

This discussion was recorded in 2018 and released as part of Episode 120.

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History Slam Episode 161: Identity, Race, & Sports

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By Sean Graham

On August 26, as the scheduled start time of the Milwaukee Bucks-Orlando Magic playoff game approached, word started to circulate that Bucks players would not be taking to the floor. Three days earlier in Kenosha, WI, about 40 miles from Milwaukee, Jacob Blake was shot 7 times in the back by police. In the hours that followed, all NBA and WNBA game were postponed and two MLB games were not played. Over the next couple of days, all MLB teams postponed at least one of their games and the NHL stopped play for a couple nights.

Prior to agreeing to enter the NBA’s return to play bubble in Orlando, players wanted to ensure that their social activism efforts would not be interrupted and that team owners would increase their support for social justice. In the days following the Bucks players’ strike, players again used their power to push for further concrete action, which included teams using their arenas as polling places and increased financial contributions by team owners.

As players used their platform, the response from some in the media was predictable. Calls for sports to be free from politics or misplaced nostalgia for days where athletes were apolitical were not hard to find. In looking through sports history, however, it becomes clear that there has always been a political side to sports. From protests over Jack Johnson’s Heavyweight Title win to Jackie Robinson breaking the colour bar in baseball to the 1980 American Men’s Olympic Hockey gold medal, sports has always been tied to political and social movements.

In addition to the History Slam, I also host the Game of Stones Podcast, which covers the world of curling. Over the past few months, we’ve hosted a couple of roundtables discussing diversity in the sport. We are committed to furthering these discussions and are pleased to present today’s episode, which is a collaboration between the two podcasts.

In this episode, I talk with Ornella Nzindukiyimana of St.Francis Xavier University about identity, race, and sports. We talk about the politics of sport, how athletes have used their platforms, and how race has influenced sports media. We also talk about boxer Larry Gains, race and amateur sport in early 20th century Canada, and how recreational sports can be more inclusive.

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Advice for Planning and Conducting Archival Research

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This is what my archival research gear looks like (plus tissues as it can be dusty!). Image by author.

(This post by Katrin Kleemann is published as part of a collaboration with Environmental History Now)

Do you remember when the only thing keeping you from conducting research in an archive in a different city or country was simply a lack of money? It turns out, those were the good old days! In memory of the pre-pandemic world, when historians were still able to conduct archival research, I created a checklist based on my own experience.

During archival research trips in Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, I’ve learned a lot, found valuable sources, and came up with ideas on how to develop my projects further. With each trip, I developed new methods for planning and making the next trip more productive and efficient—not only in the archive itself but also when analyzing the sources once I returned. I wish I had developed these methods even earlier. Let’s hope that (international) travel will be possible and safe again soon, and this advice will be of use to you when you finally will be able to embark on your next research trip.

Before you go:  Continue reading

History Slam Episode 160: The Kissing Fence

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By Sean Graham

New Denver is a small town in southeastern British Columbia. With its population of around 500 along the shores of Slocan Lake, the community attracts people looking to escape urban centres in search of nature. In addition to the campsites and trails listed among the village’s attractions, it is also home to Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, a National Historic Site dedicated to telling the stories and preserving the artifacts associated with the internment of over 22,000 Japanese Canadians during the Second World War.

In the 1950s, the New Denver sanitarium, which is where thousands of Japanese Canadians were interned, was again housing people who had been forcibly removed from their homes. This time, however, it was hundreds of Doukhobor children of the Sons of Freedom. Taken from their parents, they were placed into public schools while nights and weekends were spent in the sanitarium, which now served as their dormitory. Parents could go to see their children 2 Sundays a month, but were only allowed to visit through a chain link fence.

This is the subject The Kissing Fence by Brian Thomas-Peter. A historical fiction, the book follows two main characters. In 2018, William, who has rejected his Doukhobor heritage, suffers significant injuries in a biking accident, the first in a series of events that throws his life into disarray. In the 1950s, Pavel and Nina have been separated from their families and are struggling with life in the sanitarium. Unable to speak their first language, they focus on protecting younger children from the poor treatment to which they were subjected. As the two stories converge, the book explores how inter-generational trauma can shape family relationships and lead us to question our identity and place within our communities.  

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Brian Thomas-Peter about the book. We talk about his interviews with survivors, the legacy of internment within the local B.C. and Doukhobor communities, and the importance of telling difficult stories. We also talk about conveying forgotten stories through historical fiction, finding humanity in the past, and the damage caused by inter-generational trauma.

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A History of the Toronto Public Library in Four Buildings

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1. Toronto Central Library, 1920. The reading room was the heart of the library until it was renovated in 1930 to create a circulating library. Courtesy of Toronto Public Library.

Emily Macrae

As public buildings closed their doors in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, public libraries across Canada pivoted to strengthen connections with communities online, offering virtual story times and lending out wi-fi hotspots in addition to adapting ongoing work ranging from providing reading recommendations to supporting Indigenous language revitalization.

Toronto Public Library was no exception. In April, the library partnered with local foodbanks to distribute food from nine branches and, in June, curbside book pickup was introduced across the city. Today, the Toronto Public Library is the busiest urban library system in the world with 100 branches and nearly one million cardholders.

Yet when the Toronto Public Library was established in 1884 it had no home of its own. Two years previous, provincial legislation enabled municipalities to collect a levy in support of free public libraries. Although the Toronto Public Library opened in a former Mechanics’ Institute building downtown and soon expanded to communities including Parkdale, Islington and Highland Creek, for its first two decades the library lacked dedicated space and instead rented facilities.

Toronto’s Central Library

It was not until 1903 that a grant from the Carnegie Foundation enabled the construction of a central library and three branches. The Carnegie Foundation distributed the fortune of industrialist Andrew Carnegie to build libraries and supported the construction of more than 2,500 around the world and 125 in Canada. Of these, 111 Carnegie libraries were built in Ontario with ten in Toronto. There were three conditions for receiving a Carnegie grant: the community had to provide land, cover operating costs once the library was built and offer services for free. Continue reading

Miss Canadian History: An Archive Story

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Miss Canadian History and Friends. Norman James/Toronto Star, TPL Baldwin Collection, tspa_0055574f.

Donald Wright

Archive stories are stories about, well, archives, the things that we find in them, and the things that we know we will never find. They are also invitations to reflect on how and why archival evidence – from a routinely-generated source to a single photograph – was created and what it can and can’t tell us about the past.

This archive story begins with a text: “Look at what Erin Millions found.” A post-doctoral fellow at the University of Winnipeg, Erin had spent the evening preparing a lecture on Indigenous women’s activism. Searching for images of Kahn-Tineta Horn, an Indigenous rights activist from Kahnawà:ke, Quebec, she discovered what she described as an “amazing” photograph in the Toronto Public Library labeled “Kahn-Tineta Horn and Professors.” A few minutes later, she tweeted it. Texting me a screen shot of Erin’s tweet, Adele Perry added, “So much to say here.”

Indeed, there is, making this photograph a story about race, gender, Indigeneity, and the writing of Canadian history. Continue reading

The Museum Sector is in Crisis

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by Armando Perla

Soon after the killing of George Floyd on 25 May 2020, museums joined institutions around the world making public statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Most of the statements from museums were not backed up by a track record of anti-racist work; many were, in fact, covering up a culture of human rights abuses and discrimination that has plagued these institutions for far too long. Current and former museum employees, artists, and communities called out  institutions for creating an environment where racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and other forms of oppression did harm.

Thiané Diop during an interview with CBC Manitoba in front of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on 11 June 2020. Diop started the social media campaign #CMHRStopLying after some people started to share their experiences of anti-Black racism with the museum anonymously on Instagram. The campaign prompted the CMHR to acknowledge some abuses, to launch an independent investigation and for the CEO to step down. Photo credit Julie White

In Canada, several organizations have been exposed for their abuses and lack of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) representation: the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), the Art Gallery of Mississauga (AGM), the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG), Contemporary Calgary (CC), the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM), the Gardiner Museum (GM), and Lakeshore Arts (LSA).

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History Slam Episode 159: Ethical Hacking

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By Sean Graham

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Alana Maurushat about her new book Ethical Hacking. We talk about her background in cyber-security, the grey areas of hacking, and how protesters can protect themselves. We also discuss the ethics of hacking, how outcomes influence perceptions of hacking, and the resources companies put into cyber-security.

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Building a white Canada: gender, sexuality, race, and medicine

Source: The Way to Her House, George Metcalf Archival Collection , Canadian War Museum, 19760148-058. This booklet, produced by the YMCA, advised soldiers on issues of sex and morality.

By Allison Lynn Bennett

Sexual control is inherent to empire. Colonial authorities and doctors understood sexuality as key to maintaining white superiority. Reproduction and health were the focus of eugenic measures that played on gender, sexual, and racial stereotypes. As a settler colony, Canada imagined itself as “British”, or “white”, and therefore regulated the sexual lives and behaviour of both white and non-white subjects, especially women. Here, I explain how imperial desire for a white Canada centred on gender, sexuality, and race, was largely directed towards women through morality and health policies in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

Prostitution and the spread of venereal disease (VD), primarily syphilis and gonorrhoea, were major social problems gripping the British Empire in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The British military—who embodied the cause of empire—especially suffered from high rates of VD as troops were known to access prostitutes in garrison and port towns. Britain responded with the first Contagious Diseases (CD) Act in 1864 and subsequent amendments to include all of Britain. The CD Acts not only legalised prostitution to benefit servicemen and sailors but instituted a double standard by which women were blamed as the vectors of VD. In Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire, Philippa Levine states that from the 1850s to 1880s, similar CD legislation was enacted throughout the Empire to limit the spread of VD and its negative impact on military efficiency within the colonies; Canada was not exempt.[1]

In 1865, two years before confederation, the Province of Canada issued the The Contagious Diseases Prevention Act of 1885 to limit the spread of VD within naval and military bases in port and garrison towns such as Montreal, Toronto, and Kingston. Continue reading

Lay-offs at the Sulpician Archives – An Open Letter

The following letter was published in Le Devoir on Saturday. Coordinated by the Institute d’Histoire de l’Amérique Française, and signed by nearly 700 historians (698 at last count), the letter responds to the dismissal of the team caring for the Sulpician’s historic collections. It is addressed to Quebec’s Minister of Culture and Communication, Nathalie Roy. The Sulpician archives holds about 1 km of records related to the religious organization’s work in and around Montreal, dating as far back as the 1650s. If you would like to add your name to the letter, you can sign it on our francophone partner site: Histoire Engagée.

A book plate from the Sulpician library collection (Wikimedia Commons)

Dear Minister,

As you know, in the August 19th edition of Le Devoir, Jean-François Nadeau announced that the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice in Montreal had dismissed their staff responsible for the preservation and development of the society’s collections, library and archives.

We are disappointed and concerned by this deplorable news. Moreover, we wonder how the Sulpicians plan to preserve, and make accessible, their archives and collections without qualified personnel to care for them? What do the Sulpicians and their managers intend to do with them? Faced with these worrisome questions, the community of historians, archivists, museum and literary professionals have come together to collectively signify the value of this institution and its collections. Continue reading