Listening to History: Correcting the Toronto Metis Land Acknowledgement

By Jesse Thistle

Map ascribed to Louis Jolliet after 1673 showing ganatchakiagon and the rouge trail the eastern arm of the Toronto carrying place

Map ascribed to Louis Jolliet after 1673 showing ganatchakiagon and the rouge trail the eastern arm of the Toronto carrying place

One of my friends is a teacher for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). She recently asked me for help regarding their traditional land acknowledgement recognizing the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Wendat, and the Metis. She told me that the board was facing considerable resistance from the community regarding the acknowledgment of the Metis. The blow back is understandable, and here’s why.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the Metis wars on Twitter raging amongst our scholarly friends. They rail on about who is and who is not Metis; where the historic Metis homeland is and where it is not. Well if you’re wondering, Toronto isn’t Metis, nor are its historic mixed-bloods. But beyond the contested lines drawn in the scholarly sandbox, here is some actual history to break down why Toronto sits outside of the western Metis homeland and thus should not be included in the TDSB Indigenous land acknowledgement. Continue reading

Quarrelsome cannabis in the UK: evidence from Canada and elsewhere

By Lucas Richert

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-8-40-26-pmIn September the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform in the UK stated there was “good evidence” cannabis could help alleviate the symptoms of several health conditions, including chronic pain and anxiety. According to Professor Mike Barnes, a leading consultant neurologist who contributed to the report, “We must legalise access to medical cannabis as a matter of urgency.”

The co-chair of the Group, Baroness Molly Meacher, stated:

“The evidence has been strong enough to persuade a growing number of countries and US states to legalise access to medical cannabis. Against this background, the UK scheduling of cannabis as a substance that has no medical value is irrational.”

The All Party Group obtained evidence from 623 patients, representatives of the medical professions and people with knowledge of how medical cannabis is regulated around the world. It reviewed over 20,000 reports and suggested cannabis could be used for multiple health problems.

By contrast, a Home Office spokesman noted: Continue reading

Queen’s Goes Viral

Scott Rutherford

unnamedEach year at Halloween my partner and I hand out candy to a couple of dozen neighbourhood kids. We live in a working/middle class neighbourhood in Kingston where most of the children are white, as are their parents. I’m always anxious before opening the door to that first trick-or-treater. Who’s going to be the first Osama Bin Laden or any number of other racialized caricatures? But it hasn’t happened, not once in four years. That doesn’t mean it won’t next year, but I’ve yet to have a “wtf” moment at my front door—save for the non-costumed twenty something year old who asked for candy this year.

So, I have a stock of WTFs in the bank. It’s a good thing, too, because I need them for when I go to my job as an adjunct instructor at Queen’s University–especially around Halloween. This year a bunch of what-appears-to-be-mostly-white students have made national headlines (yet again) for dressing up in various racist costumes. Once again, Queen’s administration is scrambling the PR department to spin away from the familiar tale of this university, to quote an old friend, being not a haven for the “best and the brightest, but the richest and whitest.” I remember that line well, it comes not from 2016, but from late 2005 in response to a young white Queen’s student who wore blackface and called herself “Miss Ethiopia.” Ten years at Queen’s provides some powerful entries (the “Cowboys and Indians Kegger,” for example)[1] into what some of us might call its race archive. My WTF moments are much fewer and much farther apart than for my colleagues who do not inhabit my same identities—straight, white, and male. But racist Halloween costumes have a way of not passing you by easily. For those of us who have been around this campus a while, this moment should not be “a shocker.”[2] Continue reading

Before Mifegymiso: A History of Rural Women’s Access to Abortion

Katrina Ackerman

Tourism PEI / John Silvester, CC 2.0 Attribution

Tourism PEI / John Silvester, CC 2.0 Attribution

Women in the Atlantic Provinces have long struggled to access reproductive health care services due to the rural nature of the region. Whereas Canada’s rural population declined from 24 percent in 1971 to 19 percent in 2011, the Atlantic region’s rural population only declined from 47 percent to 46 percent rural in the same period. Christabelle Sethna and Marion Doull’s research on Canadian women’s access to freestanding abortion clinics in the 2000s demonstrates that the Atlantic Provinces have the lowest access to abortion services in the country.[1] Many researchers argue that medical abortions would ensure access for women in the Atlantic, northern, and remote regions of Canada.

With the impending release of Mifegymiso in Canada—a prescription drug that can terminate a pregnancy in the first 49 days of gestational age—there is much debate over the requirement that women receive the drug under the supervision of a doctor. Physician-only dispensing would create an additional barrier to accessing Mifegymiso in rural areas, particularly in regions without surgical abortion services.[2] In defence of the criticism that the federal government is limiting rural women’s access to the drug, Health Canada argues in Mifegymiso: Myths vs. Facts that medical abortions require physician oversight because approximately 1 in 20 women will require surgery for unsuccessful terminations.

The urban-rural divide surrounding access to reproductive health care services is nothing new and the role of physicians in delivering services have often been at the center of these disputes. Continue reading

Dusting off the history of drought on the Canadian Prairies in the 1930s

Image credit: Glenbow Archives NA-2496-1

Image credit: Glenbow Archives NA-2496-1

By George Colpitts, Shannon Stunden Bower and Bill Waiser

[Editors note: this post was prepared for both our website and where it was published on Monday, November 28, 2016].

The dustbowl years on the Canadian prairies live on in the imaginations and landscapes of Western Canadians.

Elderly survivors might still leave teacups upside down on saucers, as they did in the 1930s when dust settled everywhere in a household. Treebelts hastily planted on farms to reduce wind erosion have now become mature stands. In southern Saskatchewan, when a dry spell stretches over two seasons, farmers begin to scour again their holdings.  Well aware of what happened in the 1930s, they look for the “hardpan” emerging from soils starting to shift and blow on their land.

The dustbowl of the 1930s might have ended over eighty years ago, but many western Canadians still watch for its return.

blog-screen-shot2-jpgThe multi-media website, Climate and Change: Making Sense of the Dustbowl Years on the Canadian Prairies was launched in September 2016 to provide a more robust explanation for one of the most significant episodes in the environmental history of Canada in the twentieth century.  Environmental history examines the ongoing relationships between humans and their environments. The 1930s dustbowl years can be viewed as both a relatively short-term event, as well as a part of the longue-durée climate history of the Great Plains. Normal and abnormal at once, the drought can be studied for dustbowl social and economic outcomes; the ways western science hastily adapted itself to solve perceived problems; or how humans responded emotionally — rationally and irrationally — to an environmental crisis. Continue reading

There’s a Historian Born Every Minute

Alan MacEachern

unnamedA while back I noticed that Active History had published a post citing a satirical political website as fact. It was an easy mistake to make: the site looked real enough, and its article only mildly ridiculous in the current news climate. I contacted the Active History contributor and editor, and the quote was quickly removed. Case closed. But it got me thinking about the challenge that historians face in recognizing fact from fiction, and how we respond when we are fooled.

It was a matter I had faced myself recently. One strand of my research into the Miramichi Fire, a forest fire that swept across Maine and New Brunswick on 7 October 1825, was finding evidence of the thick smoke that enveloped all of northeastern North America in the days that followed. So I was happy to come across the following from a published Toronto-area diary for that year:

October 9 — … Last evening there was to us a marvelous display of northern lights. When daylight faded pink clouds appeared in the sky mixed with long shooting rays of white light. The clouds changed shape continually, but the color was always a shade of red. At times the clouds filled the entire northeastern sky.

Nice! The fire had presumably affected the atmosphere as far away as Upper Canada, and in a manner I had not read elsewhere. The author was an Andrew Anderson, and his diary was included within the 1915 book The Narrative of Gordon Sellar Who Emigrated to Canada in 1825. I incorporated Anderson’s description into the text.

The only problem? You guessed it. The diary and the memoir that surrounded it weren’t real primary sources, they were “fictional history” Continue reading

Peacekeeping – Pax Canadiana?

By Ian McKay and Jamie Swift

“Canada is back.” Back on global climate change. Engaging China. Talking nice to all and sundry. And peacekeeping, where the Liberals have their eye on new missions — especially in Africa.

This year marks the 130th anniversary of Canadian peacekeeping in Africa. The first Canadian peacekeeper in Africa was the fair-haired William Grant Stairs. He was a Victorian celebrity—in part because he was associated with an even more famous American celebrity, H.M. Stanley. Many still remember his “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” as a key moment in European penetration of what Stanley called “Darkest Africa.”

Stairs remains a hero at Kingston’s the Royal Military College, where is name adorns two plaques. The official College history praises him as the winner of “bloodless battles.”


And a peacekeeper Stairs was – in his own eyes. He sailed on a steamer called Peace. He established a fort in central Africa called Peace. His remarkable diary describes how he brought peace to Africa.

But how “bloodless” were Stairs’s battles for peace? On his first expedition, over 40 percent of the African workers he enlisted in his first expedition died—of overwork, disease, starvation, and beatings – some of them at the hands of Stairs himself. Continue reading

“You want to put what, where?” Contesting Malpeque’s (Second) First World War Memorial

By Sarah Glassford

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains.
-from “Ozymandias,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I cannot think about the politics of commemoration without remembering a famous poem I read in one of my undergraduate English courses.  In “Ozymandias,” Romantic poet Percy Shelley reflects upon the transience of memory and the futility of commemoration by describing a ruined statue celebrating a ruler whose works are forgotten, the grandiose text on the remaining plinth at odds with the demise of the memory it was meant to inspire.

As Robert Rutherdale’s Hometown Horizons and David Macfarlane’s Danger Tree have demonstrated in different ways, the impact of the First World War was perhaps most profoundly felt by individuals at the community and family levels.[i]  The intensity of this intimate impact carried over into post-war memorial efforts, as shown by a wide array of scholars including Jonathan Vance, Joy Damousi, and Jay Winter.[ii]  It mattered very much where war memorials were placed, whom they honoured, what form they took, and who stood where at the dedication ceremonies; the process of commemoration was sometimes long, painful, and divisive, as each faction battled to assert its particular vision over those of others.  Canadians avoided much of this animosity after subsequent conflicts by simply adding new dates and names (the Second World War, Korea, Afghanistan) to Great War memorials.  One might be forgiven for assuming that the impulse to commemorate the Great War – as represented by the weathered stone memorials found at village crossroads, in town cemeteries, and on the lawns of provincial capitals across Canada – have long-since lost their ability to stir up discord.

CFWW Glassford 2016 10 27 malpeque-map-1

Location of Malpeque, PEI.  (Courtesy of Google Maps.)

Continue reading

From Memorials to Instagram: Twenty-first Century Commemoration of the First World War

Claire L. Halstead

Author's Photo

Author’s Photo

This summer, on August 26, 2016, a new First World War memorial was unveiled in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Titled The Last Steps, the memorial takes the shape of an arch and stands on the city’s harbour front; a gangplank purposefully leads the observer’s eye up the pier, through the arch, and right out to sea. Footprints (cast from an authentic soldier’s boot) burnt into the wooden pier conjure up impressions of souls from long ago. In this, Nancy Keating, the Nova Scotia artist who designed the memorial, succeeds in imparting on the observer the haunting emotion the memorial is intended to convey. The memorial stands as a testament to the last steps soldiers took in Halifax before departing for the Great War.[1]

The Last Steps memorial is just one of thousands of local and national memorials and acts of remembrance happening around the world between 2014 and 2018 to mark the centenary of the First World War. Making a new addition to the Halifax boardwalk, the memorial provides an opportunity to ponder the creation of sites of memory and twenty-first century centenary commemoration of the First World War, as it happens. This is an opportunity to observe how centenary commemorations take place; not only their modes and the messages contained within them, but the spaces, both physical and virtual, where they are placed. Continue reading

(Re)naming and (De)colonizing the (I?)ndigenous People(s) of North America – Part II

By Kathryn Labelle, Brittany Luby, and Alison Norman

Editors note: This is the second in an two part series on the politics and practices of naming Indigenous peoples. [Click here to read part 1]

The term “Indigenous” is not new to Canadians. “Indigenous peoples” was used by anthropologists and ethnographers in the 19th century to describe a people united by culture, traditions, and kinship; who have a common language and beliefs; and generally are politically organized. By the 1970s and 80s, the term began to be used specifically to describe groups affected by colonization, and it was a self-descriptor. Indigenous peoples from around the world began working together to demand recognition at the United Nations, and in 1982, the Working Group on Indigenous Populations was established. They began drafting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007. UNDRIP sets out the collective and individual rights of Indigenous peoples around the world, as well as their rights to culture, language, health, and identity. Canada only recently committed to fully implementing UNDRIP, and exactly how it will do so remains to be seen. Nonetheless, it is clear that the use of the term by international activists has influenced activists and academics in Canada. The term “Indigenous” is trending in Canada right now. Continue reading