The New Abortion Caravan

 York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC04612.

York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC04612.

By Karissa Patton

The Abortion Caravan of 1970 brought an issue that was primarily confined to letters and opinion pieces in newspapers, magazines, and to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, to the streets of Canadian cities and towns.[1] Caravaners were successful in raising awareness about, and building support for, the notion that women must have a choice in accessing abortion services regardless of opposition to abortion. In 2012 the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform (CCBR) began a campaign calling for a “New Abortion Caravan.” This campaign mimicked not just the original Caravan’s name and route but also its narrative of risk-taking in the name of social justice and human rights. Furthermore, the CCBR Caravan sought to change the historical meaning of the original Caravan, portraying abortion as genocide. Consequently, fetuses—which are referred to as the “pre-born”—are identified as needing legal protections. Its website states: “Using historical precedent while exposing an undeniable injustice, the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform’s New Abortion Caravan will save lives.” Continue reading

Bodies of Water, Not Bodies of Women: Canadian Media Images of the Idle No More Movement

This article is a commemoration of the late Myra Rutherdale, Associate Professor of History at York University, who presented a version of this essay at a Canadian Studies conference in Jerusalem in the spring of 2013. Her graduate student Erin Dolmage and colleague Carolyn Podruchny extended and completed the essay to honour Myra’s dedication to scholarship and social justice. Erin and Carolyn thank Robert Rutherdale and members of the History of Indigenous Peoples (HIP) Network at York for their helpful feedback.

Water is political. It nourishes us, connects us, and separates us. Water is especially political in Canada: almost nine percent of Canada is covered by fresh water, annually Canada’s rivers discharge seven percent of the world’s renewable water supply, and Canada holds 25 percent of the world’s wetlands.[1] But we forget the power of water sometimes when stories about water become stirred into other stories, especially about Indigenous women’s bodies. The mingling of stories about water and about Indigenous women seems obvious. Indigenous women in Canada have long had special connections to water. In the Haudenosaunee tradition, Sky Woman built the world as we know it out of a primordial sea on the back of a turtle. Four women (three of them Indigenous and the fourth an ally) founded the Idle No More Movement to protect Canada’s waters, as well as Indigenous rights, from Stephen Harper’s government. The mainstream English Canadian media, however, began to conflate the Idle No More movement with Indigenous women’s bodies, focusing on objectification, discrimination, and violence. The desiccated imagery in newspaper reports of scorched Indigenous women’s bodies left us wondering what happened to the water that the Idle No More Movement set out to protect? [continue reading…]

Podcast: Pride and Prejudice: Anti-Americanism Among Canada’s Intellectuals, 1891-1945 is pleased to present a recording of Damien-Claude Bélanger’s talk ‘Pride and Prejudice: Anti-Americanism Among Canada’s Intellectuals, 1891-1945′. The talk was delivered as part of the Ottawa Historical Association Lecture Series on February 17, 2015.

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Who built Toronto’s St Lawrence Neighbourhood?

(adapted from an earlier post on

By Richard White

1974 conceptual sketch of St Lawrence. City of Toronto

The first known depiction of St Lawrence Neighbourhood – a conceptual sketch included in the City Housing Department report “St. Lawrence: A New Neighbourhood for Toronto”, 22 May 1974.

Earlier this month, it was Jane’s Walk time again in Toronto, and thousands were out this past touring various urban locales under the guidance of local experts. It is a remarkable success story, this concept, and a fitting legacy for someone who conceived one of the most influential books of the twentieth century on the basis of what she observed walking about the city.

Among the options this year was a tour led by former city councillor and now Liberal Member of Parliament Adam Vaughan titled “Lessons from a Great Neighbourhood” that began in the celebrated St Lawrence Neighbourhood, an area that, the promotional blurb tells us, “was built in the 1970s by some of our City’s greatest visionaries including Jane Jacobs”. This assertion prompted an eye-roll, from me at least – an eye-roll I have done before and am likely to do again. Jane Jacobs did not build St Lawrence Neighbourhood anymore than Frank Lloyd Wright designed my suburban childhood home. Continue reading

OpenTextbooks in Canadian History: Part II

By John Belshaw

There are three reasons why anyone teaching or studying introductory history ought to be excited – or at least curious – about OpenTextbooks. First and foremost – and most likely to appeal to us cheapskate Canucks – is that they are free to use, order, assign, etc.

By “free,” I mean, um, free. There is no charge to use them. They don’t come cheaper in a bundle , there’s no special password that you’ll have to buy, no account info you have to submit, there’s no clock ticking in the background and there’s no best-before date. They’re free. Free of charge. Anytime, anywhere. I just looked at one on my smartphone. I paid for the electricity, yes, okay, that’s true. You got me there.

It’s the two extraordinary things one can do with OpenTextbooks, however, that make them most appealing. Continue reading

Preserving Canada’s Sporting Past with the Jackie MacDonald Scrapbooks

By Adrienne Coffey and Danielle Manning

Jackie MacDonald scrapbooks (F 4662), Volume 1.

Jackie MacDonald scrapbooks (F 4662), Volume 1. Archives of Ontario

Jackie MacDonald is an athlete who gives Canadians good reason to be proud of their sports heritage. She has competed in a multitude of sports, first attracting attention as the star player on a Toronto city league basketball team that won two Junior National Championships. She has also participated in competitive swimming and diving, followed by a prestigious career in shot put and discus during the 1950s, when she represented Canada in international events, including the 1954 Commonwealth Games, the 1955 Pan American Games, the 1956 Olympics, the 1957 World Youth Games, and the 1958 Commonwealth Games. Jackie ranked first in the Western Hemisphere and second in the Commonwealth for shot put in 1954 and 1955. By 1956, she was ranked 26th in the world.

Her athletic achievements between 1947 and 1958, as well as those of her fellow athletes, are documented in a series of scrapbooks (Fonds 4662), which Jackie donated to the Archives of Ontario in 2012. These scrapbooks tell a compelling story of the history of amateur sport in Canada—particularly the challenges and accomplishments of female athletes at this time. Jackie is now over 80 years old and is still active, setting records with the Ottawa Bicycle Club. Her story is one of passion and inspiration. With 2015 being the “Year of Sport” in Canada, and with the upcoming Pan Am / Parapan Am Games coming to Toronto this summer, Archivist Adrienne Coffey and Outreach Officer Danielle Manning from the Archives of Ontario connected with Jackie to find out more about her personal experiences as an amateur Canadian athlete and as a donor of archival records. Continue reading

The Abortion Caravan and Anti-Vietnam War Activism

 York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC04612.

York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC04612.

[Editors Note: This is the second of a series of five posts on the Abortion Caravan that will be running this month.]


By Shannon Stettner

Often when we study activism surrounding an issue like abortion, we do so in isolation, paying little attention to the multiple protest identities of activists. While I hadn’t anticipated writing an article on connecting abortion rights to anti-war activism, my interviews with Abortion Caravan participants revealed particularly strong claims of attachment to or identification with opposition to the Vietnam War that demanded further exploration. Some of the Caravaners came to Canada with draft-resister relatives from the United States, while others lived in communal housing with draft resisters and deserters. The majority settled in Vancouver and Toronto, the two cities in which most of the Caravaners lived. Many women recalled their commitment to anti-war activities, including helping to smuggle deserters over the border into Canada and attending and organizing demonstrations and forums for peace. This post explores these linkages, drawing connections between the tactics used by activists in the pro-choice and anti-war movements as well as their competing interests.[1]
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The Women Are Coming; The Abortion Caravan of 1970

 York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC04612.

York University Libraries, Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections, Toronto Telegram fonds, ASC04612.

[Editors Note: This is the first of a series of five posts on the Abortion Caravan that will be running this month.]

By Christabelle Sethna and Shannon Stettner

On April 27, 1970, members of the Vancouver Women’s Caucus (VWC) set off on a journey to Ottawa in an “Abortion Caravan” to protest the new abortion law. Under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the Liberal government passed an Omnibus Bill in 1969 that reformed the Criminal Code, decriminalizing contraception and legalizing consensual homosexual sex as well as abortion. Legal abortion was now possible only when a doctor referred a pregnant woman to a Therapeutic Abortion Committee (TAC) made up of three to five doctors in an accredited hospital. The TAC determined on a case-by-case basis whether or not the abortion was necessary to save the life or health of a pregnant woman. Although intended to prevent illegal abortion and its potential negative health consequences for women, the new law was unevenly applied and created backlogs and delays. Nascent women’s liberation groups like the VWC denounced it as restrictive to women in general and unfair to poor women in particular and began organizing around repealing the abortion law. The Ottawa Citizen quoted VWC member Dawn Carrell Hemingway as saying: “The only way we can get abortion removed from the Criminal Code is not by letters to the government or pressure through channels.  The only way is if large numbers of women come together and do something.  Numbers and actions are more important than presenting briefs.”[1] Continue reading

Review of Bruno Ramirez’s Inside the Historical Film

By C.S. Ogden

What stake does historical research have in fictionalized cinematic productions? Does film offer another medium to convey this research effectively to new audiences? What role can the academic historian take within such endeavours? In his latest book Inside the Historical Film, Bruno Ramirez, a history professor and screenwriter at Université de Montréal, considers these issues by investigating the relationship between historical research and cinematic narratives.


McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014
238 pages, Paperback $29.95.

Acknowledging both the attraction to and the scepticism of historical film by historians, Ramirez traces the study of historical film. He does not focus solely on how various films have portrayed historical events. He also asks how fiction has been employed for these kinds of narrations: is it used primarily to increase a film’s commercial viability or does it have the potential to augment an audience’s understanding of the past? The manner in which historians and filmmakers engage with these notions inform the book’s chapters.

Ramirez explores the development and professionalization of the scholarly study of history and film during the twentieth century. He acknowledges the importance of film’s visual and technical components and more could be added here about the visuality of film but he is careful not to stray from the book’s major theme. He notes that the appeal and challenge of film is through its combination of the visual and the dramaturgical. The result is that the “filmic image, in other words, speaks through its own language” (33). Continue reading

OpenTextbooks in Canadian History: Part I

By John Belshaw

I had this ‘eureka’ moment in the barber’s chair.  Well, I thought, if a book is like a railway line, heading in one direction from west to east, then an e-book is more like a mine elevator, heading from the surface into the depths, from top to bottom or, perhaps, from north to south. If that’s the case, then an OpenTextbook is like a hive. It is living, fluid, with junctions that run up, down, outward in several horizons but also in three dimensions. It offers options rather than a singular pathway, complexity rather than guiderails, a little more risk but the possibility of greater rewards.

Moving from metaphor to practicality, the OpenTextbook is just plain different from conventional textbooks. For starters, it’s smart. It can evolve. Instead of waiting for the (inevitable) umpteenth edition, you (the prof) can refine and effectively create the newest edition. What if your textbook could be made to look more like something from Harry Potter, with moving images on the page? What if it could function differently?

What if it was available for free? Continue reading