Being Part of Something Larger: A Review of Imprinting Britain

As part of our partnership with the new early Canadian history blog Borealia, we’ll be posting highlights from that website here every Saturday in November.

By Keith Grant

Michael Eamon, Imprinting Britain: Newspapers, Sociability, and the Shaping of British North America (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015).

Grant image“Were I to name the most striking peculiarity of our neighbours in the United States, I would say that they are set apart from the rest of mankind by a certain littleness.” So wrote the pseudonymous Verax to the Nova-Scotia Magazine in 1789. Yet for the colonial print community of Halifax and Quebec City, being British meant “being part of something larger” (19).

One of the pressing questions for provincial Britons was how to be “British” despite their distance from London, the centre of imperial power. Michael Eamon argues in Imprinting Britain that eighteenth-century residents of Quebec City and Halifax used the press and various forms of sociability to fashion a distinctive British identity. At a time when British Americans in the Thirteen Colonies were wrestling with the same questions with strikingly different results, the colonists of these two cities chose to express their commitment to British liberties alongside propriety, civility, and monarchy. While affirming their place in the British Empire, elites in Halifax and Quebec also participated in the British Enlightenment, that cultural and intellectual movement that emphasized reason, practical scientific knowledge, and the improvement of society—the British Enlightenment tending to be more moderate than some of its more radical, republican expressions. The colonial print community of Quebec and Halifax, then, managed to express their liberty while remaining part of “something larger”—the British Empire and its moderate Enlightenment.

Imprinting Britain is a meticulous study of every extant English-language newspaper printed in eighteenth-century Quebec City and Halifax (among other printed and manuscript sources). But it is not only a study of texts or readers in isolation: this is a book about print as sociability, as well as print and sociability. That is, Eamon explores how print facilitated a communal identity, and how print interacted with other sites of sociability—clubs, lodges, coffeehouses, and theatre—to define Britishness in these colonial capitals. [Continue Reading]

New Archives of Ontario Online Exhibit: Ontario’s WWI Hospital Overseas

By Mackenzie Warner

Ontario Military Hospital ward, [ca. 1916-1917] Ontario Military Hospital photographs, F 4386, Archives of Ontario, I0007454

Ontario Military Hospital ward, [ca. 1916-1917]
Ontario Military Hospital photographs, F 4386, Archives of Ontario, I0007454

One hundred years ago – November 1915 – Canada had passed the one year mark in the Great War that would continue for another three long years. In Orpington, England, a hospital commissioned by the Government of Ontario was under construction, and applications were flowing in from Ontario doctors and nurses who hoped to serve at their new military hospital overseas.

Earlier that year, Ontario Minister of Education, R. A. Pyne, had sent a telegram to Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden stating that “the Government of Ontario has decided to offer to establish and maintain a hospital of 1,000 beds in England for Canadians.” The government paid $2 million for the construction of the Ontario Military Hospital, which officially opened in Orpington on February 19, 1916. The hospital was staffed solely by Ontario medical professionals, who treated over 25,000 soldiers there between 1916 and 1919.

In 1917, the hospital was renamed the 16th Canadian General Hospital. The original facility was torn down in the 1960s and replaced by the Orpington General Hospital, which now honours its heritage by featuring a Canada Wing and Ontario Ward.

The Archives of Ontario is commemorating the centenary of this unique Ontario Government contribution to the WWI effort by highlighting the Ontario Military Hospital in its new online exhibit. This exhibit is being launched for Remembrance Day and features the story of Dr. L. Bruce Robertson, a surgeon from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, who pioneered blood transfusions for wounded soldiers while serving in the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

To view the exhibit, please visit

This past summer, Mackenzie Warner was a Project & Communications Assistant at the Archives of Ontario. is featuring this post as part of  “Canada’s First World War: A Centennial Series on”, a multi-year series of regular posts about the history and centennial of the First World War. 

The “Canadian Revolution,” the Early American Republic, and … Slavery?

As part of our partnership with the new early Canadian history blog Borealia, we’ll be posting highlights from that website here every Saturday in November.

By Maxime Dagenais

caroline-rmgWe all know the story of the Upper and Lower Canadian Rebellions: we know about the patriotes of Lower Canada and the reformers of Upper Canada; we know about the victories and defeats, expulsions and executions; we know about the social, political, and economic implications in Canada, and their consequences on our history. In general, in Canada, we view the Rebellions as an important Canadian event. However, the Rebellions were also an American event, with major consequences in the United States.

In this post, I will briefly explain the research that I am currently conducting as a postdoctoral fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and how my time in Philadelphia has changed the overall aim of my project.

Whether they wanted it or not, Americans were dragged into this conflict. In the wake of the failed 1837 Canadian Rebellions, several rebel leaders sought refuge in American border towns like Burlington and Watertown, where they sought assistance from Americans. They met with local leaders and politicians and travelled to major cities such as Boston and Philadelphia seeking financial and military support. Though they failed to secure the assistance of the Federal government—which even sent troops to the border to ensure “American neutrality”—they had more success at the local level. Throughout Michigan, Vermont, and New York, Americans living in the borderland expressed sympathy for the Canadian rebels and joined secret societies, known as Hunter’s Lodges. By the thousands, they pledged to free Canada from the yoke of British imperialism and assist the rebels in a “Canadian Revolution.”

The Rebellions were especially important since they coincided with a momentous period in American history. [Read More]

Trafalgar Days in Nova Scotia

In case you missed it or were swept up in ‘Back to the Future Day’, Wednesday once marked Trafalgar Day in Nova Scotia. As part of our partnership with the new early Canadian history blog Borealia, we’ve reposted Keith Mercer’s recognition of the day and what it once meant.

By Keith Mercer


Clarkson Frederick Stanfield, The Battle of Trafalgar, 1836

The Royal Canadian Navy recently named October 21 “Niobe Day,” in honour of HMCS Niobe, one of Canada’s first two warships. It was bought from the British in 1910, shortly after the Naval Service of Canada was established that spring, and served in the First World War before being seriously damaged in the Halifax Explosion in 1917.

But for an older generation of Nova Scotians – and Canadians, growing up in a more British-centred school system and society – October 21 was once called “Trafalgar Day.” As children, they learned that on this day in 1805 a British fleet commanded by Lord Nelson in HMS Victory won the Battle of Trafalgar against the combined armadas of France and Spain. The most famous naval battle in history and the most decisive military engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, Trafalgar cemented Britain’s supremacy on the high seas. With the enemy decimated, Britons no longer worried about a French invasion. Of 33 enemy ships, the British captured or destroyed 18, while not losing any of their own. Unfortunately, Nelson, “Britannia’s God of War” and her most famous son and celebrity, died in the battle. He went out in the blaze of glory, during his crowning achievement.

Known for his bold fighting style and leadership, Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson rose to prominence during the Battle of Cape St. Vincent in 1797. However, he is best known for three signature victories: the Battle of the Nile in 1798, in which he led the British in the destruction of a large French fleet off Egypt; the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, which saw Nelson’s squadron capture or sink the bulk of the Danish navy; and Trafalgar in 1805.

Like Britons everywhere, Nova Scotians followed Nelson’s career closely and celebrated his triumphs, particularly Trafalgar. This allowed them to express nationalistic sentiment and to show their support for the British war effort.

At Halifax in 1805, they celebrated Trafalgar in the streets…[Read More]

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, 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

New Directions in Active History: Update #2

Conference planning for October’s event is going well and we have a handful of updates for you.

First and most importantly, if you have not yet registered, the rate is going up on 1 September (Tuesday).  You can access the registration form here:

Also, our preferred rate at the Delta ends on 4 September. The Delta is in downtown London, just blocks from major London Transit hubs and the VIA rail station. The college can be easily accessed on London Transit.  To book one of these rooms call 519-640-5004 or 1-800-236-2427 and quote “New Directions in Active History – Public.” Grad student accommodation will remain available until full.

If you are presenting at the conference, we have posted abstracts here: Please review them for accuracy and let Daniel Ross <> know ASAP if there needs to be any modifications.

If you are on Twitter, we will be using the hashtag: #ActiveHist2015 for all conference events. Feel free to use it to promote the conference, your session or poster.

Finally, for those of you coming from out of town (and of course locals who want a night out!), we have been able to arrange history-based walking tours of downtown London. Both tours will begin at 7:30 p.m. downtown (about 10 minutes on the bus from Huron). One tour will be led by Kym Wolfe, author of Barhopping into History and Hopping into History, and will focus on London’s oldest surviving taverns and bars in heritage buildings (as well as local brewing etc…). The other tour will be led by the London branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and will focus on the history and architecture of downtown London. Both tours will cost $15 and include a complementary drink at the end. If you have already registered, please contact me in order to be added to the list.  You can pay when you arrive at the conference. If you have not registered, we have modified the registration form in order for you to pay for the tours with your registration fee. Spaces are limited.

Disappearing into White Space: Indigenous Toronto, 1900-1914 is pleased to announce the publication of Jasmine Chorley’s new paper: “Disappearing into White Space: Indigenous Toronto, 1900-1914″


There is an empty space in the written history of Canada. In monographs, textbooks, and articles alike, narratives of Indigenous peoples fade out following the Indian Act (1876) and the Numbered Treaties (1871-1921). Coll Thrush expressed this as a phenomenon where Indigenous peoples “exit stage left after treaty or battle.” [1] With the exception of residential schools and the decades of the World Wars, Indigenous peoples do not re-enter the Canadian historical narrative until the 1960s civil rights era.

This empty space is especially stark in histories of urban spaces, despite their rich Indigenous histories. With a few recent exceptions, greater historical memories of urban spaces across Canada remain largely confined by colonial ideologies.

European settlers in the growing towns of 18th and 19th century British North America believed their use of space to be superior. They thought that European-style cities would inevitably replace Indigenous land use. The “conceptual and physical removal of Indigenous people from urban spaces that accompanied colonial urbanization,” Peters and Andersen argue, “reinforced perceptions about the incompatibility of urban and Indigenous identities.” [2] This is reflected in Canadian historiography by the outright omission of Indigenous lives from histories of cities, assuming that ‘real Indians’ and urban life are irreconcilable.

This paper challenges this colonial silence by probing the history of Indigenous life in Toronto between 1900 and 1914. [READ MORE]

Editors Note: In addition to our group blog, strives to provide timely, well-written and thoroughly researched papers on a variety of history-related topics.  Expanded conference papers or short essays that introduce an upcoming book project are great starting points for the type of paper we publish. With a current readership of more than 20,000 visits per month we can assure that you will find an interested audience through our site. For more information visit our Papers Section or contact All of our papers are peer reviewed to ensure that they are accurate and up-to-date. 

The Second Battle of Ypres and the Creation of a YMCA Hero is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 12 May 2015

 By Jonathan Weier

Weier, Second Ypres and YMCA Hero - image 1Among the approximately 2000 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force killed at the Second Battle of Ypres in late April and early May 1915 was the only Canadian YMCA worker killed in combat during the First World War. YMCA Honourary Captain Oscar Irwin, attached to the 10th Battalion of the CEF, was killed when he joined the battalion as it set out to retake St. Julien from the Germans in the early morning of April 23rd.[1] Irwin appears frequently in the YMCA’s commemoration of its First World War service, as the heroic embodiment of the YMCA’s masculine ideals, its message of service, and as a symbol of Christian sacrifice. Irwin’s example, both in life and in death, provided a venue by which the YMCA and its workers could address the tensions and challenges faced by many men involved in non-combatant service during the First World War. Continue reading

Sexing Up Canada’s First World War is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 3 March 2015

By Zachary Abram

VD Poster 1Canadian cultural memory of the First World War is conspicuously asexual considering Canadians had among the highest rates for venereal disease in the British Expeditionary Force, with an infection rate that reached as high as 28.7%. [1] Anyone with a passing interest in the First World War is familiar with Trench Foot and its symptoms are synonymous with the squalor of trench warfare. Yet, only 74,711 cases of Trench Foot were treated during the entire war.[2] Venereal Disease accounted for 416,891 hospital admissions in the British Army.[3] A soldier was five times more likely to be admitted to hospital for syphilis and gonorrhea but in the popular imagination it is Trench Foot that persists. There is a reticence, perhaps the result of inherited Victorian prudery or the unwillingness to “sully the reputations” of the war dead, to discuss soldiers’ sex lives. As a result, discussions of the First World War tend to elide the bedroom in favour of the trench. Continue reading

Promises Broken, or Politics as Usual? is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 27 January 2015

By Jonathan Scotland

Despite the Conservative Party of Canada’s fondness for promoting its support for Canada’s military, since assuming government in 2006 the federal government’s relationship with veterans has been rocky at best. By the close of last year’s parliament it seemed that new criticisms were being leveled at Julian Fantino, Minister of Veterans Affairs, on a daily basis. His department’s handling of the New Veterans Charter (NVC) and treatment of soldiers’ mental health came in for special criticism. Critics also added neglected war graves, unspent funds, cuts to the Veterans’ Affairs’ disability awards branch, and inadequate access to a growing list of complaints. Fantino, at least, was struck off that list early in the new year when he was replaced as Minister by Erin O’Toole, a sign the government is trying to repair its reputation with veterans.

In British Columbia wounded veterans have taken Ottawa to court over the change from life-long pensions to one-time, lump-sum payments. This shift, the veterans argue, amounts to a breach of trust between soldiers and the crown, a social contract that dates to at least the First World War.

Their suit builds on Aboriginal case law by invoking the honour of the crown. If it succeeds, it will be precedent setting. Veterans’ benefits will henceforth be enshrined as a permanent fiduciary responsibility.

With parliamentary sovereignty at stake, government lawyers are vigorously seeking to have the suit thrown out.

At the heart of the case are Prime Minister Robert Borden’s wartime commitments to Canada’s troops. Continue reading