From Tragic Little Boys to Unwanted Young Men

By Veronica Strong-Boag

Canadians are easily sentimental about babies and toddlers. Look at the ready adoption of global infants or September 2015’s outpouring of grief for the three-year-old Syrian Alan Kurdi. Once victims of poverty, exploitation, and conflict reach adolescence and beyond, however, sympathy frequently evaporates.

Refugees are a case in point and gender consorts with age to matter. Girls and women suffer recurring abuse and stigmatization (Dauvergne, Angeles & Huang) but boys and men have a special place in the hierarchy of the demonized. Males beyond childhood are only too readily branded rapists, drug-dealers and addicts, thieves, lay-abouts, and, increasingly, terrorists. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that male teenagers and twenty somethings are somehow less worthy. The image of one drowned little boy cannot redeem his elder brothers. Continue reading

‘Tomorrow: Sunny': The Rise and Fall of Solar Heating in 1970s Canada, part 2

By Henry (Hank) Trim

In this installment of my four part series on solar energy in Canada, I examine how small numbers of environmentalists introduced solar technology to North Americans and successfully championed it as the centerpiece of the first sustainable development strategies. (Click here to read part one)

Solar energy has a long history. The first efforts to use solar energy occurred in 19th century France where Augustin Monchot experimented with a solar steam engine. In the early 20th century, American engineer and inventor Frank Schulman built a series of “sun engines.” His experiments culminated in a solar thermal power plant used for irrigation in Maadi, Egypt in 1913. Unfortunately for Schulman, the First World War, improvements in the internal combustion engine, and falling oil prices largely ended interest in solar power.

NASA’s space program rekindled interest in solar energy in the 1950s. Continue reading

Conscientious Objectors: Fitting Dissent into a Coming of Age Story

By Amy Shaw

A First World War era postcard. Credit: unattributed, but fair use

A First World War era postcard. Credit: unattributed, but fair use

With the centennials of the events of the First World War and the sesquicentennial of those leading to Confederation this is a busy time in terms of commemoration. And, as both are presented as different kinds of birth of a nation, we’re paying a lot of attention right now to questions of identity. The trouble is the two narratives fit awkwardly together. The debates and accommodations of the Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences seem a world away from the bloody (and more exciting) fields of war. How do we remember who we are? Continue reading

Old Stock Canadians: Arab Settlers in Western Canada

By Sarah Carter

Carter 2

“King Ganam,” The Raymond Recorder 20 Aug. 1954: 3

Syrians have a long history in Canada. Paul Anka is perhaps the best known Canadian of Syrian ancestry. But there were others; many of whom we must consider “Old Stock Canadians.” Somewhat less well known, for example, but still very popular in his day, was “Canada’s King of the Fiddle,” Ameen “King” Ganam, born in Swift Current in 1914. He entertained from a young age in Saskatchewan and then in Edmonton starting in the 1940s, later moving to Toronto where he had his own radio program the “King Ganam Show.” His band the Sons of the West included Tommy Hunter. Ganam was one of the first inductees into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. A 1954 article about him began “With his dark good looks, flashing brown eyes and Syrian background, King Ganam looks as if he’d be most at home dashing across the desert on an Arabian steed. But says he, the only plains he has ever dashed across are those in Southern Saskatchewan where he was born and grew up.”[1]

The southern Saskatchewan plains where Ganam was born and dashed across was home to many Arab settlers. Continue reading

Facing Down R.B. Bennett

By Karen Bridget Murray

Richard B. Bennett accepts a gift from Indigenous children (1932). Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3362410

Richard B. Bennett accepts a gift from Indigenous children (1932). Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3362410

A growing chorus is calling for a statue to honour R. B. Bennett on Parliament Hill. An eight-foot high sculpture has already been made and reportedly held in storage in Ottawa. It has been suggested Bennett be placed facing east, towards his childhood home of New Brunswick. The renewed interest in Bennett’s place in Canadian history reached a crescendo just as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was winding down its important work. This opportune moment invites us to ponder the 11th prime minister’s role in the “national crime” that was the residential school system.[1]  Bennett’s response to reports of the mass flogging of children at a residential school in Nova Scotia is a good place to start. Continue reading

Racist Propaganda and the Shaping of Boys’ Attitudes toward War

By Stephen Dale

Inspired by images from Young Canada, Fernwood Books created this image for the cover of Stephen Dale’s book, Noble Illusions.  It is inspired by content from the Young Canada magazine.

Inspired by images from Young Canada, Fernwood Books created this image for the cover of Stephen Dale’s book, Noble Illusions. It is inspired by content from the Young Canada magazine.

What ideas and convictions motivated the legions of young men who so eagerly headed off to the trenches of the First World War? What were the boys who stayed home told about the events of that war as the carnage escalated? And what sort of patriotic stories could be peddled after the war to youngsters who had lost fathers, uncles, brothers and neighbours mostly in Europe’s killing fields, but also in Asia, Africa and the waters between?

Some answers to these questions can be found in the pages of Young Canada: An Illustrated Magazine for Boys. The National Library in Ottawa has a collection of hardbound Young Canada annuals, each consisting of over 500 small-print pages and adorned with elaborate illustrations, including various editions published between 1913 and 1920. Read in succession, they provide fascinating insight into youth culture and the tenor of the times during the confident years that anticipated the First World War, through the war years themselves, and into their sullen, sorrowful aftermath. Continue reading

Introducing Borealia

By Keith Grant and Denis McKim

borealiaIt was a packed house in Ottawa this summer for a Canadian Historical Association session entitled, “Who Killed Pre-Confederation Canadian History?” The large turnout and energetic Q & A period seemed to belie the title’s sense of demise: the history of early “Canada” appears to be alive and kicking.

Tom Peace and Robert Englebert, the organizers of that session, have rightly drawn attention to the relative underrepresentation of Pre-Confederation history at the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association, and wonder if this signals a wider crisis in the field. However, David Zylberberg has recently questioned this narrative of decline, observing that other measures—such as dissertations, faculty hires, or prestigious book prizes—suggest an enduring interest in early Canadian history. We might add, anecdotally, that for better or for worse, historians who work on New France, Indigenous peoples, or the British Empire often hang their academic hats at more specialized conferences or journals. Early Canadian sessions, for example, were a significant presence at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture (Halifax, June 2014), and at the American Society for Environmental History (Washington, March 2015). Or recall the lively pieces by Jeffers Lennox (on the geography of interactions in early Nova Scotia) and Nancy Christie (on families and authority in counterrevolutionary Montreal) in recent issues of the William and Mary Quarterly. Plenty of good work on early Canada is being done; it’s just that a good deal of it is being done in contexts that aren’t overtly Canadian. Continue reading

Reclaiming the People’s Memory

This essay originally appeared in the Fall 2015 edition of Canada Watch: The Politics of Evidence. 

By Karen Murray

Knowing our democratic selves, our democratic possibilities, and most crucially our democratic failings steers us toward greater freedom and justice in Canada and beyond. With these thoughts in mind, I offer a personal reflection on the erosion of the people’s memory at Library and Archives Canada under the government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington

Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington

When I began new research on democratic governance in 2001, 395 Wellington Street was the National Archives Canada and the National Library of Canada. It had remained as such when the latter two merged into Library and Archives Canada in 2004. Large auditoriums at the street-level housed exhibitions and public talks, allowing visitors to reflect upon different fragments of Canada’s past. On the fifth floor, there was a small café overlooking the Ottawa River. On the flagship research levels, sandwiched between the café and the downstairs exhibits, one would find numerous gifted librarians, archivists, and staff. With their assistance I gained access to materials impossible to find on my own. Down the road, I visited again and again. From across the planet, researchers took heavy advantage of the interlibrary loan program to access publications and microfilmed records. I did too. We were all part of a global democratic experience at the heart of which was Canada’s national memory.

An Institution’s Metamorphosis

Through Locked Doors at the East Side Exhibition Room

Through Locked Doors at the East Side Exhibition Room

I was not prepared for 395 Wellington’s metamorphosis when I returned in the spring of 2015, after several years away. Parts of the second floor, formerly alight with activity, stood eerily dark and silent. During the now much shorter time frames when it appears, a skeletal staff triages visitors toward or away from archivist consultations—mostly away, as far as I could tell. Evidently as a matter of policy, in the first instance, the staff directs researchers toward the computers, even though it is easy to see that Library and Archive Canada’s digital interface is a cumbersome and often useless creature. In any event, there is no substance to the as-much-as-possible-full-digitization-dream for the near future or ever. In 2014, the auditor general released a scathing report. It illustrated the weaknesses of the digital system, the incompleteness of finding aids, and the languishing of uncollected and unprocessed records. Continue reading

On Guard for Canadian Parochialism, Part Three

By Gilberto Fernandes

Whence they left

Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

Critics of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s citizenship, immigration and refugee reforms argue that they are grounded on lies, exaggerations, fear mongering, and narrow-mindedness. Their criticism boils down to the fact that Conservative policymakers have not been informed by reliable data, which is lacking on Canadian emigrants. Recognizing this problem, the Asian Pacific Foundation of Canada (APFC) – one of the leading voices calling on Ottawa to develop diaspora-building policies and institutions – conducted research on Canadians living abroad and published its results in 2011. Besides confirming that the speculations of nativist politicians are largely unfounded, their report uncovered a very large section of the Canadian population that was previously hidden in the statistics. Few Canadians realize that an estimated 2.8 million of their compatriots live abroad – the equivalent of 9% of the country’s total population. Continue reading

Back to Work: Revitalizing Labour and Working-Class History in Canada

By Christo Aivalis, Greg Kealey, Jeremy Milloy, and Julia Smith

North Vancouver Museum and Archives, Reference Number 8073

North Vancouver Museum and Archives, Reference Number 8073

Earlier this month, Statistics Canada confirmed what many people had known for months: Canada is in a recession. As the economy has been shrinking, unemployment has been increasing. Meanwhile, people who are fortunate enough to be employed are increasingly working precarious, part-time positions for low pay. Canada is not alone. The global crises of capitalism over the past decade are symptomatic of our current age of inequality and instability.

Understanding these ailments and imagining possible remedies requires a solid historical analysis of class relations and capitalism. The most recent meeting of the Canadian Historical Association, however, indicates that these issues are not central to our current historical conversations. Of the approximately 102 panels on the program, the titles of only five mention work, workers, class, labour, or capitalism. This number does not necessarily reflect the important and innovative work being done on these subjects by historians; however, it raises the questions: Why are fewer historians labeling their work as labour and working-class history? Why is it important to study the history of class relations and capitalism? What can we do to foster renewed interest in these topics? Continue reading