In Conversation: Teaching and Learning Canada’s First World War

By Sarah Glassford and Ruby Madigan


During the winter 2014 semester, we (the authors) experienced HIST 309A “Canada and the First World War” from opposite sides of the teaching-and-learning equation. Sarah was teaching the course, offered by the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) Department of History, while Ruby was a student taking the course as an elective.

We came at the course from very different angles: Sarah pursued a traditional “straight-through” path from high school through undergraduate and graduate education to the professoriate; Ruby followed a more circuitous route, returning to university as a mature student. Sarah was a single working woman; Ruby was a wife and mother of a young child, attending school full-time. Sarah was a Canadian citizen teaching Canadian history she had learned within Canada; Ruby was an American citizen, now encountering the Canadian version of the First World War for the first time.

We talked outside of class about many things, including the fact that we were uniquely positioned to think together about what it means to teach and learn the history of Canada’s First World War in the early twenty-first century. This post is the product of several conversations and a more formal Q&A email exchange over the two years since the class ended. We draw no broad conclusions, but hope to spark further conversations about what and how we teach, and how that teaching is received and experienced by students.

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The (im)possibility of raceless equality: blacks as workers and thieves in the Big Hole experience

510rTYM-RuL._UY250_By Rachel Hatcher

[This is the third post in the Learning and unlearning history in South Africa’s public spaces series.]

South Africa and its universities have been working for over two decades to eliminate racism from their midst and become metaphoric rainbows of inclusion and equality. This project faces serious challenges from various quarters, some unexpected.

Briefly imagine, if you will, growing up in a conservative Afrikaner family and community. Though apartheid had ended a dozen years before, you encounter few black South Africans in your daily existence. There are no black students or teachers at the Afrikaans school you attend, just as there are no black congregants or priests in the Dutch Reformed Church which has such an important impact on how you see the world. You have no black neighbours in the gated, suburban community you live in. Those blacks who do appear in your life have peripheral, and subordinate, roles—they clean your house and tend your mother’s garden. Outside the home, they perform similar functions. You have never been explicitly told blacks are inferior or can and should only have a secondary place in society, but nor have you ever been told blacks are equal.

Now imagine entering university, even a traditionally conservative and Afrikaner one like the University of Pretoria (UP), and suddenly being confronted with the reality that blacks are, in fact, your equals. Indeed, they might even be in positions of power over you and be able to control your future. The experience, according to then Dean of Education at UP, Jonathan Jansen, is jarring, to say the least. In his auto-biographical work, Knowledge in the blood: Confronting race and the apartheid past, Jansen credits this kind of culture shock, and the normalization of blacks as subordinate that lies behind it, as being at the root of South Africa’s and South African universities’ difficult journey toward “transformation,” a journey punctuated by physically and non-physically violent incidents of racial (i.e., anti-black) hatred. Continue reading

Reports from New Directions in Active History: Digitising Childhood Evacuation: A Serendipitous Pursuit of Active History

By Claire L. Halstead

As historians, we are increasingly under pressure to make our research “active” and relate to a public audience. This spurs us to discover new methods of engagement and innovative ways to present our findings. The digital revolution or “turn” has encouraged historians not only to use sources available online, but also to adopt digital tools and methods to analyse traditional sources and, in some cases, create entirely new digital sources for research. Using digital methods allows us to extract more from our sources, while increasing the potential of appealing to and engaging with the wider public. Using the study of the evacuation of British children to Canada in the Second World War as an example, this post is intended to be a source of encouragement; while digital history can appear daunting, the rewards can far outweigh the costs.

The Roots of Evacuation Continue reading

‘It Might Have Been Us’: 70 Years since the Windsor to Tecumseh Tornado

By Katrina Ackerman  

Windsor Star Photograph, 1946

Windsor Star Photo, c.1946

At the age of ten, my father, two sisters, and I were driving through Alberta when a tornado struck. We were traveling from Trail, British Columbia to Saskatchewan for a relative’s wedding when a storm materialized in High River, a few hours from our hotel. We saw the aftermath of the storm on the news from the safety of our hotel, and the memory of that moment remains imprinted on my mind.[1] This experience led to a much longer fascination of mine with tornadoes — an interest that is not unique. As Kevin Rozario argues in The Culture of Calamity: Disaster and the Making of Modern America,Spectacles of calamity command our attention because they present an occasion for processing, intellectually and emotionally, the experience of living in a world of systematic ruin and renewal, destruction and reconstruction, where technological and environmental disasters always loom.” I’ve witnessed several severe storms across Canada since that first childhood encounter, but nothing to the effect of the devastating storm that touched down in the borderland region of Detroit-Windsor seventy years ago. Continue reading

“Deeply regret to inform you”: War and Loss in the Trapp Family

By Mike Bechthold

The loss of a loved one during the First World War was often conveyed by a telegram beginning with the life-altering preamble, “Deeply regret to inform you….” This simple piece of paper heralded the deaths of sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers leaving families to pick up the pieces.  Rudyard Kipling, writing of the loss of his son Jack, who was killed on the Western Front in September 1915, captured the sentiments of parents everywhere:

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,…[1]

The Trapp family of New Westminster, British Columbia knew the feeling of loss better than most.  Four Trapp sons went off to the First World War and only one returned.  Such terrible loss speaks to us when we look back at the war, but we should not give Kipling the last word.  In some cases comfort could be found, and for the Trapp family it came from Raymond Collishaw, one of the great aces over the Western Front, and a fellow British Columbian.

CFWW Bechtold 1

Raymond Collishaw, 1918. All images from the Raymond Collishaw Fonds, Library and Archives Canada, MG 30-E280, R2492-0-5-E.

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Reports from New Directions in Active History: Memory, Museums, and the Politics of the Past

By Jodi Giesbrecht

One of the many important conversations held during the ‘New Directions in Active History’ conference considered the evolving ways in which historical knowledge is represented and contested in public spaces and how, as historians, we might participate in such discourses and actively engage with broader audiences. My panel, “Histories, Memories and Museums,” examined the role of museums in particular as sites of mobilization and encounter, as places in which diverse publics encounter history and historiography.

In response to such ideas, my paper suggested that many museums are mapping out ‘new directions in active history’ by examining challenging and sometimes controversial subjects that bridge past and present in a dialogue geared toward social change. Using the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR), located in Winnipeg MB, as a case study, I wanted to draw connections between the role of curatorial practice as a form of active history, and the broader social and political role of museums in fostering historiographical knowledge. Continue reading

Enforcing Wildlife Conservation in Maine: The Lasting Legacy of the Nineteenth Century

By Ian J. Jesse


Image from In Pine Tree Jungles (Bangor and Aroostook Railroad Company, 1902)

Many are familiar with the show North Woods Law. The show first aired in 2012 and has been popular ever since. If you have not seen the show the premise is simple: camera crews follow Maine game wardens as they do their work. In an episode wardens could be chasing down poachers one minute and searching for missing hikers along the Appalachian Trail the next. Recently, however, the actions of game wardens in an episode have come under fire.

In February of 2014 the Maine Warden Service followed by television cameras concluded a two-year undercover operation in Allagash, Maine, near the Canadian border, and brought some three hundred charges against twenty-three individuals ranging from night hunting and improperly tagging deer to possession of marijuana and taking more trout than the limit allows. While many can generally agree that protecting wildlife is a good goal, Mainers are upset about the tactics used by wardens during this operation. On May 8, 2016 Colin Woodard with the Portland Press Herald ran a lengthy article that criticized the actions of the Maine Warden Service during this operation (click here to read the full article).

Throughout this undercover operation many claim that undercover agents broke the game protection laws they were supposed to be enforcing such as killing deer at night to entice would-be poachers. Perhaps, even worse, the wardens were accused of seizing canned vegetables and fruit from an elderly woman they accused of illegally processing deer meat.[1] This news of the Maine Warden Service behaving badly seems to be the latest accusation on a growing list; Colin Woodard also published a list of controversies surrounding the Maine Warden Service over the past thirteen years (click here to see this list).

What is most surprising about these recent events is that no one has turned to history to help understand or contextualize them. I would like to turn the focus on this matter from the questionable actions of the wardens to consider reasons why rural Mainers may break laws that protect wildlife. Continue reading

Engaging the Past through a Community of Transcribers: The Rural Diary Archive

Erin Schuurs

John Harrington Ferguson Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives

John Harrington Ferguson
Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives

In September 2015, Professor Catharine Anne Wilson and the library at the University of Guelph, launched the Rural Diary Archive*, an online archive showcasing over 130 Ontario diarists writing from 1800 to 1960.  This digital archive collectively holds thousands of pages of handwritten diaries and the goal in placing these pages online is to engage volunteer transcribers. By fostering a transcriber community, those working behind the scenes of the Rural Diary Archive hope to make these hard-to-use but highly valuable documents more accessible.

With the launch of the website, I myself decided to try my hand at transcribing. My first task was actually choosing the diary I would transcribe from the wide variety of diaries available. I eagerly searched through my options. Should I choose a diarist who lived in a region of Ontario I was familiar with? Would I relate best with a female diarist? Perhaps a farmer? I eventually landed upon John Ferguson’s diary from 1869. After looking through some of the diaries, I admit that my initial attraction to Ferguson’s journal was based upon the highly prosaic reasoning that I found his handwriting the easiest to read. Continue reading

Creating the Canadian Mosaic

Ryan McKenney and Benjamin Bryce

John Murray Gibbon’s image of a Czechoslovakian immigrant in his Canadian Mosaic

John Murray Gibbon’s image of a Czechoslovakian immigrant in his Canadian Mosaic

Canadians often describe their country as a “mosaic.” This idea is present on government websites and in many contemporary articles in the media (on outlets such as The Globe and Mail, Macleans, and the Huffington Post), and most importantly in the minds of people across the country. Though used in different contexts and with different goals, the mosaic almost always describes Canada as a multicultural landscape and symbolizes a national ideology of inclusion and diversity. Canadians hold great pride in this idea, placing it on the progressive end of a spectrum opposite to the American melting pot. Yet Canadians rarely question where the term comes from.

Many Canadians would likely be astonished to find that the first person to use the term “mosaic” to discuss the national character of Canada was in fact an American. Continue reading

Arab-Canadian Foodscapes and Authenticity

Michael Akladios

Tabbouleh is a Mezzeh (appetizer) made of cracked wheat with parsley, tomato, lemon, cucumbers, onion, and olive oil. Variations exist throughout the Levant

Tabbouleh is a Mezzeh (appetizer) made of cracked wheat with parsley, tomato, lemon, cucumbers, onion, and olive oil. Variations exist throughout the Levant. Wikimedia Commons

Visiting diverse Middle Eastern restaurants across the Greater Toronto Area, one quickly discovers that they all feature Tabbouleh on the menu. As an Egyptian, I had never eaten Tabbouleh until I started my undergraduate degree at York University in Toronto. It is not part of the Egyptian tradition. Interestingly, while Syrian and Lebanese emigrants found their way to Egypt in large numbers throughout the mid- to late-nineteenth century, this side-dish never made its way into mainstream Egyptian cuisine, and especially, the average family kitchen. However, in North America it has come to be defined as “authentically” Middle Eastern.

The first time I tried Tabbouleh, I was with a group of friends from various ethno-cultural backgrounds. When I asked what kind of salad that “green dish” was, I was met with confused expressions. The person across the table asked me: “I thought you were Egyptian?” Somehow, not knowing what Tabbouleh was, made my very claim to “Egyptian-ness” questionable. Continue reading