The lives of historic women (or wearing a big dress on a hot day)

by Anne Marie Lane Jonah
This essay has been jointly posted with the Acadiensis Blog

Mid-summer 2016 Nova Scotia visitor numbers at Historic Sites are anecdotally reported to be up from last year. Once again tourists and locals wander in rebuilt towns and fortifications, watch, try their hand at demonstrations, and meet people in costume who share information about “their lives,” say being a 19th century soldier’s wife. Generations of seasonal workers and students have taken these roles. Some have made them their own, and over the decades the changing presenters have changed the presentation. The popularity of living history sites has fluctuated over the years and they have in recent years suffered under restrained budgets and difficult economic times. Nonetheless, they retain an undeniable appeal. As the work of public history goes on this summer, it is an opportune moment to reflect on how this work has been changed by the many actors involved in its creation and dissemination, and by its audience.

It is also a good time to reflect as “national” public history is 99 years old in Canada this year. In the summer of 1917 a small temporary museum in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia and a tidied up “Fort Anne” opened to the public as the first “National Historic Park,” (later changed to “Site”). In the summer of 2017 Parks Canada National Historic Sites will celebrate their centenary as the country celebrates its sesquicentenary. What Canada’s historic sites represent, the stories they tell or don’t tell, and how they have evolved, have been the subject of many studies. From Ian McKay’s ground-breaking work to the Pasts Collective’s recent study of Canadians’ relationship to history we have become more conscious and critical of how the past is constructed, used, experienced, and valued. The role of the researchers, presenters, administrators, and the audience all come to bear on what we collectively call public history. We recognise the inherit conservatism and bias of the form, but it remains a vital aspect of our communities, both economically and culturally.


Cassie Deveaux Cohoon’s Jeanne Dugas of Acadia

In reflecting on decades of work in public history, mine and my colleagues’, I have recently focussed on the evolution of the presentation of women’s and non-elite history at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. In “Everywoman’s Biography: The Stories of Marie Marguerite Rose and Jeanne Dugas at Louisbourg,” Acadiensis XLV, N. 1, I explored how the lives of two women, one African and enslaved, the other Acadian, came to represent the stories and struggles of subaltern 18th century French-colonial women at Louisbourg. The study of these women, their inclusion as a part of the presentation of Louisbourg, their eventual recommendation for designation as persons of national historic significance by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, and their representation in histories beyond the walls of Louisbourg were the result of many years of work. The change they represent was the product of research, discussion and planning, and sharing information and ideas with communities and with visitors to historic sites. [Read the rest of this essay at Acadiensis]

Coups in Brazil: What’s In a Name?

Sean Purdy

Brasília - A presidenta Dilma Rousseff during an anti-impeachment rally, March 2016. Wikipedia Commons

Dilma Rousseff, March 2016. Wikimedia Commons

2016: In April and May, a large majority of federal deputies and senators in Brazil voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) for state accounting misdeeds. The ex-Vice-President, Michel Temer, of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), is now interim President while the Senate conducts further investigations. In August, if two-thirds of senators once again vote in favour of impeachment, considered extremely likely by most commentators, Temer will remain president until the next elections in 2018.

The interim government is supported by all the conservative political parties, industrial, mining and agro-business employers’ federations, the financial sector and the corporate media. The Temer government has already announced sweeping neoliberal reforms, gutting social programs and diminishing labour, social and environmental rights.

João Goulart shortly before the 1964 coup. Wikimedia Commons

João Goulart shortly before the 1964 coup. Wikimedia Commons

1964: A clique of generals, backed by American imperialism in the context of the Cold War, forcibly deposed President João Goulart in 1964 to prevent the further radicalization of working-class struggles that, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, had increasingly threatened capitalist order. It then governed with an iron fist for twenty-one years in the interest of key sectors of multinational and national capital, using repressive legal and police measures, including summary arrests, torture and murder of unionists, social movement activists and political oppositionists.

The military coup and the ensuing dictatorial regime was supported by all the conservative political parties, business associations and the mass media. It launched far-reaching economic and social reforms in favour of big business, drastically reducing basic labour, social and civil rights.

Both these events in 1964 and 2016 were coup d’états, sharing the same violation of democratic norms and involving similar class forces, structures of power, intentions and (possible) outcomes. Continue reading

The Rites of Dionysus: Live Performance, Pleasure, and The Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip, Gord Downie centre, 1994. Credit unknown

The Tragically Hip, Gordon Downie centre, 1994. Credit unknown

Paul David Aikenhead

“Playing live is cool because it’s two hours of twenty-four that I can think about nothing,” Gordon Downie revealed in an interview from June 1991, with his signature rasp. “I have no worries, no insecurities; everything flows. It’s therapeutic every day to jump through that hatch in the roof and howl at the moon.”[1] For the lead singer and enigmatic frontman of The Tragically Hip – an upwardly mobile blues-rock quintet hailing from Kingston, Ontario – getting on stage and performing for a crowd was a beneficial release. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the band cemented its reputation in Canada as a righteous live act. Each show the group gave was a frenzied field of pleasure in and through which people could relish encountering liberation from the strains of life, if only fleetingly, while also enjoying the soothing confirmation of individuality. In essence, The Tragically Hip’s concerts were opportunities for both band and audience members to go beyond the ordinary limits of commonplace experiences, to enact their own brand of the rites of Dionysus.

The term “live” did not become a part of music appreciation vocabulary until the mid 1930s, nearly fifty years after the advent of viable commercial sound recording technologies. Continue reading

Forget snow days, these were smog days

Nelson’s Column during the Great Smog of 1952 (Wikipedia)

Mark Wilson

I have lived in Beijing since September 2015. You hear the stories about this city having bad air but until you’re actually here, you have no idea how bad it is.

I am an English teacher in a high school in the northwest of the city. My students know all about PM2.5, pollutants dangerous to health, and their answers to an exam question last year, ‘Should we put the environment ahead of all other concerns’, mostly included discussion of air pollution. Last December we even had three days off school because of the air pollution. Forget snow days, these were smog days. Continue reading

The Collaboratorium – University of Saskatchewan Launches Initiative in Community-Engaged History

By Colin Osmond

The University of Saskatchewan recently launched a unique and exciting initiative called the “Community-Engaged History Collaboratorium.” This is an extension of Prof. Keith Thor Carlson’s Research Chair in Indigenous and Community-engaged History, and is designed to be on the cutting edge of community-engaged scholarship (CES). In the Collaboratorium, faculty and students work in collaboration with First Nations, non-profit organizations, and community organizations to co-create knowledge that gives agency to historical voices, narratives, and interpretations that would otherwise remain submerged and eclipsed.

Building relationships with the community strengthens the position of the University in the broader communities in which they exist. But working collaboratively does much more – it helps give people whose history is contested by the interpretations emerging from powerful corporate and government institutions a voice to challenge these narratives. Collaboration helps reinforce for communities that Universities are important institutions that need to be protected and valued, for the simple reason that they can help serve community interests and provide meaningful scholarly services. It teaches students to think beyond the classroom, and of the real world implications of their work. It reminds universities that they are not institutions of their own and that they are part of the communities in which they exist.

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Working Collaboratively: From L to R: Zachary Carreiro, Katelyn Finlay, Kristin Enns-Kavanagh, Anthony Meyer, Courtney Bowman, Hannah Cooley, Jenna Casey.

Continue reading

Ramsay Cook, 1931-2016: Scholar and Friend

By Don Wright


In Montreal’s Place des Arts to accept the 1985 Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, Ramsay Cook said that he was honoured to be recognized alongside poets, playwrights, and novelists, “which is where a historian should be.” Indeed, it was one of his firmest convictions that history was also an art and that historians had an obligation to write well: “Unscientific as it may sound, language and style are part of the very essence of the historian’s craft.” After reading the first draft of an article I had written about him, he gave me two pieces of advice from his days as a cub reporter on the sports beat in the late 1940s: avoid jargon and don’t use a five dollar word when a five cent word will do the trick.

From his inauspicious start at the Morden Times, he became a prolific writer, a brilliant essayist, and a tough but fair critic with a distinctive and recognizable style marked by clarity, generosity, erudition, and the careful use of the epigraph. He also became a respected public intellectual, someone who could draw on the past to deepen our understanding of the present. Continue reading

Beyond the Bulldozer: Rejected Postwar Development in Toronto

(adapted from an earlier post on

Richard White

3 Map of Development Site CroppedAmong the most persistent myths – in the sense of widely-held but erroneous beliefs – about Toronto’s planning history, perhaps even about planning history generally, is that the modernist planners of the postwar generation wanted to “bulldoze” anything old and replace it with some lifeless, modern, tower-in-the-park sort of structure. Indeed, once sensitized to the pervasiveness of this mindset one begins to notice it in one form or other almost every day – as I did recently when questioned by a journalist. I even thought it myself, rather unthinkingly, until I began actually researching Toronto’s planning history.

It is simply not true. Admittedly, modernist planners often did want to replace aging structures with new high-rise apartment buildings, but only where and when they felt that doing so was warranted, that is to say where the condition of existing buildings, the land uses in adjacent areas, and the demographic and economic trends for the site made it for the best, not because they simply wanted the old to make way for the new. We value our existing urban fabric now more than most modernist planners of the 1950s did, intent as they were on renewing aging structures and increasing residential densities, so we are much less inclined to demolish and rebuild than they were, but the modernists were not the dogmatic ‘demolitionists’ they are often made out to be. They might have come to conclusions we no longer agree with, but they considered carefully before doing so. Continue reading

“Manna From Heaven” – A YMCA Physical Director at Valcartier and Salisbury Plain

By Robert Alldritt

Before he was a prisoner of war in Germany (a story explored in an earlier article), Sergeant William A. Alldritt served as a machine gunner with the 8th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). However, as documented in many of the letters he sent home and in letters written by his colleagues and fellow soldiers, he also used his experience as a pre-war YMCA Physical Director to contribute to the formation and training of his fellow soldiers at training camps in Valcartier and Salisbury Plain.

Alldritt 11 - YMCA Red Triangle

The symbol of the Young Men’s Christian Association, as it looked in the early 20th century. (This image is public domain. All other images in the post are from material in the author’s possession, unless otherwise credited.)

Since it was introduced to Canada in 1851, the goal of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was to provide boys and young men with healthy activities and sport, intended to improve their spiritual and moral condition. This philosophy was represented by the three sides of its triangle logo, signifying spirit, mind and body.

In 1906, the YMCA began to establish offices in Western Canada in partnership with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to support the growing network of railway workers stationed in remote locations across the country. By 1909, Alldritt was employed in one of the first of these offices in Revelstoke, B.C. The partnership with the CPR was considered to be a success when a visiting railway official declared “the YMCA made lambs out of the wild men of Revelstoke.”[i]

Alldritt 9 - Wheeler_Selkirk Mountains_orig_p38

Notice of Alldritt’s ascent on the South Albert Peak.

While in Revelstoke, Alldritt joined the Alpine Club of Canada, an amateur athletic association focused on mountaineering. On September 7, 1909, he completed one of the first ascents of South Albert Peak, as documented by club President, Arthur O. Wheeler,[ii] one of the highest peaks in British Columbia.

Continue reading

Vimy Ridge and Canadian Nationalism

By Walter Klaassen

Several weeks ago the CBC National News offered a film clip of the President of France, Francois Hollande, and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel standing together at the site commemorating the 1916 Battle of Verdun.  It has been called the biggest battle in history.  It lasted for 300 days and resulted in 300,000 French and German dead.  It was called a French victory because the Germans did not achieve the breakthrough they had intended to make.  The commemoration was not a celebration of victory.  As the modern representatives of the belligerents of a century ago met, Chancellor Merkel said that President Hollande’s invitation to the event was a great honour.  In his address the President said that now Verdun is a capital of peace, but also that “Verdun is a city that represents – at the same time – the worst, where Europe got lost.”  A French soldier wrote at the time: “People will read that the front line was Hell.  How can people begin to know what that one word – Hell – means?  Hell cannot be so terrible as this [battle].  Humanity is mad: it must be mad to do what it is doing.”  After a century the battle zone is still forbidden territory for housing and farming because of unexploded shells.  Available on the web are moving photographs of the two national leaders of those enemies of a century ago stretching their hands over a memorial wreath in sorrow and regret.  The visitors’ centre focuses on educating French and German youth about the horrors and consequences of war.

For several years now, in April, the media have been reminding us of the Battle of Vimy Ridge which, Prime Minister Trudeau said, “was the moment that defined our nation.”  In April of this year (2016) there was a commemoration event at Canada’s War Museum at which Canadian and French flags were flown.  There will be many more like it, culminating in a huge commemoration next April at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, on the site of the battle.  The gathering is expected to be the largest since the monument was erected in 1936.  A recent poll suggested that the anniversary of the battle will be one of the most important celebrations during Canada’s 150th anniversary.  We are also promised a 20$ bill with a Vimy Ridge theme. Continue reading

Visualizing the Past: Mapping, GIS, and Teaching Historical Consciousness

By Sasha Mullally and Siobhan Hanratty

In defining the new field of spatial history, Richard White makes the case that mapping can be more than a corollary to a historical narrative, it “is a means of doing research; it generates questions that might otherwise go unasked, it reveals historical relations that might otherwise go unnoticed, and it undermines, or substantiates, stories upon which we build our own versions of the past.” Over the winter and spring of 2014, we taught a digital history course to honours and graduate history students at the University of New Brunswick that built upon these ideas. Designed from a theoretical perspective, the course traced the evolving relationship between digital history, mapping and map-making. In so doing, the course asked students to reconsider their own research in light of the “spatial turn,” and explore/evaluate the tools of historical geographic information systems (H-GIS). Continue reading