Blacked Out History: An Open Letter to Premier Ford

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The letter below was sent to Premier Doug Ford’s office earlier this week by Natasha Henry, President of the Ontario Black History Society, on behalf of the OBHS board.

Dear Premier Ford,

The Ontario Black History Society is writing to demand the Ministry of Education of Ontario take immediate action to improve and update the current Ontario Social Studies, History, and Geography curricula by formally including explicit mandated learning expectations on Black history and experiences from K – 12.

For 42 years, it has been a crucial part of the mandate of the OBHS to support the inclusion of Black history in classroom instruction. In fact, our organization was established by Dr. Daniel Hill, the first Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and father of author Lawrence Hill, and other Black educators and community members precisely because they were concerned about the systemic absence and misrepresentation of Black history in schools. The past seven months have highlighted what Black people in Canada and worldwide have known for generations, that Ontario and the nation of Canada have perpetuated and failed to address anti-Black racism in any systemic way.

The social uprising against police brutality and systemic racism along with the calls to remove monuments, street names, and other historical markers that celebrate colonization, enslavement, violence, and displacement have elucidated why it is essential to teach young people in Ontario about the contributions and achievements of Black Canadians. They also provide a rationale on the importance of educating them about the ways that Black Canadians have faced systemic racism by various levels of government and racial discrimination in white-majority society throughout our history. Continue reading

History Slam 166: Radical Housewives

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By Sean Graham

The connection between political identity and consumer habits has received plenty of attention in recent years. I’ve wondered how much the landmark 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision in the United States, which determined that limiting independent political spending from corporations and other groups violated the First Amendment, has renewed interest in how individuals can use their role as consumer to voice to their political views. In a world where “Your Vote Almost Certainly Won’t Matter” is a real headline in a national newspaper, it is understandable that more and more people are exploring the impact of voting with their wallet.

The idea of political consumerism is not new, of course, as there have always been individuals and groups who have decided where to spend their money based on political motivations. During the ‘Jazz Age’ of the 1920s, for instance, plenty of consumers focused their energy on supporting the public good with their purchases. Over a decade later, Canada saw the emergence of community-based organizations that advocated for policies like price control.

This is the subject of Julie Guard’s book Radical Housewives: Price Wars and Food Politics in Mid-Twentieth Century Canada. Guard describes the Housewives Consumer Association and its local off-shoots as they pressured the government to implement policies and programs that provided greater protection to consumers. Leveraging their social position as mothers, the women who participated in this movement worked to popularize socialist economic policies. In tracing the movement from the late 1930s through the early 1950s, Guard demonstrates how the group used political consumerism and politicized materialism to navigate the changing social, political, and economic landscape of the mid-20th century.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Professor Guard about the book. We talk about the creation of the Housewives Consumer Association, who its members were, and what types of pressure they put on the government. We also discuss how public perception of them changed across the decades, the efficacy of political consumerism, and how these women’s stories can inform contemporary political discussions.

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History Slam Episode 165: Capital Punishment, Murder, & Sexual Violence in Canada

By Sean Graham

In 1967, the federal government placed a moratorium on the death penalty in Canada. Nine years later, Bill C-64 officially abolished capital punishment. Over the previous century, 710 people were executed in Canada, but the public reaction to each of these varied. Some generated plenty of media attention, while others fell beyond the public gaze. The responses to these cases were heavily influenced by broader societal factors, including the cultural status of perpetrators and victims, the details of the crime, and how the case fit into wider trends within criminal justice.

Cases involving capital punishment would typically lead to a renewed debate over the death penalty’s place within Canada’s criminal justice system. In particular, murder cases that also included sexual violence generated more attention and conflicting opinions on executions. This is just one of the areas of focus for Carolyn Strange in the new book The Death Penalty and Sex Murder in Canadian HistoryIn the book, Strange discusses how these convictions were more likely to result in executions, while also analyzing the role of discretionary justice in these cases. By offering a deep dive into the case files, Strange provides a fascinating history while also exploring how the death penalty still looms over criminal justice in Canada.

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Did you hear the One about the Cardinal, the Rabbi, and the Minister? Spiritual Leaders and Big Social Problems in 1970s Toronto

Emmett Cardinal Carter faces the media on the release of his report on police-community relations, 1979. Toronto Star/TPL.

David M. K. Sheinin

People sometimes do a double take when they learn that longtime Toronto city councilor Joe Mihevc holds a doctorate in theology. “How did you go from theology to politics?” they ask in mock opprobrium for the latter. Mihevc smiles: “It was easy to make the jump.”

Though most active in post-1990 Toronto, Mihevc is a holdover from an earlier era when religion and politics often went hand in hand. As a Canadian Methodist missionary in China during the 1940s, for example, James Endicott backed communist revolutionaries. Silenced by the United Church of Canada in 1946, he resigned from the ministry. But he remained a powerful voice on the Canadian left for decades in the “Ban the Bomb” movement and additional progressive causes. Like others, however, who crossed from spiritual leadership to the political sphere he divided Canadians. His critics included Lester B. Pearson who called him a “Red Stooge.”

In the 1970s, for about fifteen years something changed in the Toronto of Mihevc’s young adulthood. Leaders from across the mainstream political spectrum (and the public) turned to well-known spiritual mentors to help solve big social problems. Unlike Endicott and others who had appealed to limited constituencies, a handful of 1970s spiritual leaders won adherents across religious and political divides. They played outsized roles in Toronto public life. Foremost among them were Gerald Emmett Carter (Archbishop of Toronto, 1978-90, Cardinal, 1979-90), W. Gunther Plaut (Rabbi, Holy Blossom Temple, 1961-77), and Lois Wilson (president, Canadian Council of Churches, 1976-79, Moderator, United Church of Canada, 1980-82).

By the mid-1980s, the era of these prodigious spiritual leaders as pervasive moral authorities had come to a close.

What ushered in the era, and why did it end? Continue reading

History Slam Episode 164: Words Have a Past

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By Sean Graham

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Jane Griffith about the book Words Have a Past: The English Language, Colonialism, and the Newspapers of Indian Boarding Schools. We talk about why schools published newspapers, who the intended audiences were, and the information they did not include. We also discuss the power of language, colonial efforts towards linguicide, and the legacy of how language was policed in residential schools.

If you’re experiencing trauma, a National Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former residential school students. You can access information on the website or access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-Hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

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Ontario Training Schools: State Violence and New Possibilities for Reconciliation

John Rose

My dad is a great storyteller. Exaggerating at the right moments and building an exciting narrative, he shares anecdotes of incarceration and survival that reflect a man who grew up in a post-World War II (WWII) working-class family in the rust belt of Ontario. When I was growing up, he would tell his stories to me and my brothers over and over. Many of his regular tales involve his time at the Pine Ridge Training School in Bowmanville.

The Training Schools were juvenile detention centres that operated from 1931 to 1984. My dad did two “stints” there between the ages of eight and fourteen in the late 1950s and early 1960s. One of the measures that the staff would use to discipline the young residents involved lining the kids up facing a brick wall, then forcing them to bend over with the top of their heads against the wall. The staff would either kick them or strike them with a broom handle to crack their heads against the wall. My dad called this event “colour TV” as it made him and his co-residents “see colours.” Though my dad sometimes tries to find the humour in his experiences, these kinds of stories (of which there are too many) paint a harsh picture of life for a young boy at a public institution designed to “reform” him.

As I became a scholar, I started wondering more about the history of the Ontario Training Schools: Who started them? What was their purpose? What historical truths remain hidden in the stories of these institutions? For the last 15 years, I have worked as a researcher and educator, spending much of my time interrogating 19th and early 20th century settler colonial institutions in Canada. Thinking about what I have learned from Elders over the years, from the Reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and from the many stories and books published by survivors, I could not help but make connections between Residential Schools and Training Schools. Although we should not equate the two institutions, incarceration and violence are systemic to the Canadian state and its historical treatment of youths. Does the history of Training Schools offer any potential to build on reconciliation efforts in Canada?

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History Slam Episode 163: Pier 21

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By Sean Graham

Between 1928 and 1971, around 1 million immigrants arrived in Canada at Halifax’s Pier 21. In the years since its closure as a reception centre for immigration, the site has taken on a symbolic role in representing mid-century Canadian immigration, embodying the policies, procedures, and attitudes of the immigration system. The site is now home to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, which aims to “inspire and enable Canadians to explore their relationships” with immigration and migration.

To achieve this, the museum encourages people to share their personal stories with immigration. This can be a challenge, though, as immigration history can be full of contradiction. For some migrants, Canada provided new opportunities not available elsewhere. For others, however, Canada was exclusionary and refused to protect them when their lives were threatened.

Addressing these complexities is one of the challenges faced by Jan Raska and Steven Schwinghamer in their new book Pier 21: A History. Historians at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, they take first person accounts collected by the museum in crafting a larger narrative history of the facility. The book profiles Pier 21 from its role as an immigration facility to its military operations to its emergence as a site of commemoration.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Jan and Steven about the book. We talk about their interview process, who wanted to participate, and crafting a narrative from personal experiences. We also discuss the contradictions within immigration history, telling challenging stories in museums, and the mythology surrounding immigration to Canada.

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On Grieving the Finnish Labour Temple and the Promise of the Community Hall

Samira Saramo

The news crashed down on me like a tonne of red bricks: the Finnish Labour Temple had been sold. Since 1910, the Labour Temple in Thunder Bay, Ontario, has stood as the grandest symbol of Finnish immigrant presence in Canada. With its iconic cupola, it is also a beacon of Thunder Bay and the heart of the bustling Bay-Algoma neighbourhood. Now, removed from community ownership, the Labour Temple is slated to be turned into condos. As a historian of Finnish immigrant communities, and as someone whose life has featured the Labour Temple in many key moments, from our newborn’s naming ceremony to weddings to funerals and everything in between, the end of the Finnish Labour Temple as we know it has hit me hard. As I grieve this loss along with the community surrounding the “Finn Hall,” I would like to reflect on the history of the Finnish Labour Temple, particularly thinking on the legacy and promise of the community hall.

The Finlandia Association of Thunder Bay, an active community organization managing a popular restaurant and a unique event hall, had become burdened by significant financial difficulties. Continue reading

Treaty Education and Settler Relearning in Post Secondary Canadian History Classrooms

By Wren Shaman

Canadian history courses have the potential to create spaces to engage with processes of decolonization, but to date they still seem to reinforce the status quo.

The self-image of Canadians is closely tied to a brand of nationalism that reflects white prejudice, and the Eurocentric knowledge and traditions through its conception of Canada’s past. Too often this vision is ingrained in Canadian history classrooms and reinforced in many university-level Canadian history courses.[1] Ignorance and willful denial of Indigenous peoples’ lived realities and Settler relations to Indigenous peoples past and present, persists within Settler-Canadian society. How Canadian history is taught in post-secondary institutions needs to change if Settlers are to be active participants in the process of decolonization.[2] Without addressing this, decolonization remains impossible.

Watching Settlers’ responses to events on Wet’suwet’en lands, and their responses to solidarity actions across Canada, has brought the Canadian history I have been taught into question.[3] It also caused me to question my beliefs surrounding the decolonial possibility of Canadian history.

Over the past year, I have begun to address these concerns through my senior honours research at the University of Victoria. I conceived of this project because of my anxieties surrounding what it means to be a Settler working in the field of Indigenous-Settler relations and because of the unevenness with which Indigenous-Settler relations were addressed during my secondary and post-secondary studies. Continue reading

The Resonance of Almighty Voice (Kitchi-Manito-Waya)

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By James Cullingham

One Arrow First Nation Chief Tricia Sutherland says this “the right time for the story to be told.” The story concerns Almighty Voice (Kitchi-Manito-Waya) the young Cree man from One Arrow, a community near Batoche who became subject of one of the longest manhunts in Canadian history. Almost exactly 125 years ago, Almighty Voice slaughtered a settler’s cow. Months later, Almighty Voice was charged and briefly imprisoned before he escaped detention. As he set out on the lam, Almighty Voice killed a Mountie who was pursuing him. The manhunt was on in earnest and lasted more than a year.

Kitchi-Manito-Waya from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (click the image to read the biography).

These events occurred barely a decade after the North West Resistance as severe privation and hunger threatened Saskatchewan First Nations and paranoia of ‘savage Indians’ was rampant among newcomers. The tragedy ended in May 1897 when Almighty Voice and a couple of companions were shot and shelled to death by a contingent of North West Mounted Police. Settler townspeople gathered for the spectacle. One Arrow residents including Almighty Voice’s mother Spotted Calf were also witness to the carnage. Spotted Calf is reported to have sung a death song following the fatal cannon salvo.

It’s an epochal Indigenous – settler story. Like Louis Riel, Almighty Voice resisted and was then killed by the Canadian state. Unlike Riel, Almighty Voice, until now at least, has not been widely considered a heroic figure and his story is less well known. In this moment of proclaimed reconciliation, the violent saga of Almighty Voice, his family, his community, his wives and lovers has renewed currency. Continue reading