repost – Slavery in Canada? I Never Learned That!

As part of Black History Month every Friday in February we’re featuring some of our most popular posts and podcasts on Black History.

The following post was originally featured on October 23, 2013.

Slavery advertisement from Upper Canada Gazette, 10 February 1806.

Slavery advertisement from Upper Canada Gazette, 10 February 1806.

By Natasha Henry

The highly anticipated soon-to-be-released film, 12 Years a Slave, has garnered lots of attention following its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film provides a shocking but realistic depiction of American slavery. It is based on the life of Solomon Northrup, a free man, who was kidnapped from his hometown in New York and sold south into slavery. Northup is able to regain his freedom after Canadian Samuel Bass, a carpenter from Prescott, Upper Canada, writes several letters to authorities in New York on his behalf. No doubt, Canadians are proud of the usual portrayal of us as crusaders against American slavery and wear the badge of “Canadians as abolitionists” with honour. Canadians readily embrace the notion of Canada as a haven for American freedom-seekers, who were escaping the same conditions that Solomon Northup endured. Once he was freed, Northrup himself helped fugitives flee to Canada, the “Promised Land.”

But what about Canadian slavery?

Click here to read more.


Setting an agenda for new directions in Active History Editor Krista McCracken introduces the concluding roundtable at New Directions in Active History Editor Krista McCracken introduces the concluding roundtable at New Directions in Active History

It has been four months since New Directions in Active History: Institutions, Communication, and Technologies concluded. The event left many of us rejuvenated and excited for the future possibilities for this project and related projects shared during the conference. In fact, both the new exhibits and features sections were developed out of ideas initially addressed at the event. We’ve also heard from many of our readers regretting their inability to attend and present their research and projects.

Over the coming months, we are planning to create a dedicated section of the site where visitors will find short blog posts of ideas presented at the conference, videos recorded during the event (which we are posting every Saturday until April), and other ideas that might not have been presented in October but fit well with the conference themes. With this announcement we’d like to put out a call for short 800-1200 word blog posts that either reflect on the conference, propose new directions for, or challenge our readers to critically engage with the broader ideas of active history. Submissions or inquiries can be sent to

Christopher Moore delivering the keynote address during the pre-conference for high school and undergraduate students

Christopher Moore delivering the keynote address during the pre-conference for high school and undergraduate students

If you presented a paper or poster at the conference, we have already been in touch (or will be shortly), but we’d also like this resource to expand on these discussions by including perspectives that might not have been present in October. To get a better sense of what took place at the conference, take a look at the following blog posts:

New Paper: Truth, Reconciliation, and the Politics of the Body in Indian Residential School History is pleased to announce the publication of Evan Habkirk and Janice Forsyth’s paper Truth, Reconciliation, and the Politics of the Body in Indian Residential School History

Students playing hockey at school, Circa. 1951, “Pelican Lake Indian Residential School: Photo Album,” File. no. 130, Shelf location 2010-007-001, Algoma University Archives

Students playing hockey at school, Circa. 1951, “Pelican Lake Indian Residential School: Photo Album,” File. no. 130, Shelf location 2010-007-001, Algoma University Archives

In March 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada completed its six-year investigation into the experiences of Indian residential school students who had survived years of neglect, abuse, and trauma at these institutions. More than 6,000 witnesses testified at hearings held throughout the country. The purpose of the Commission was to collect and document the history of these schools from the perspectives of former students, bringing a voice to a group of people whose issues and concerns had long been neglected by the federal government and religious organizations, the two main institutions responsible for the establishment and maintenance of the schools. The 527-page Executive Summary was clear in its aim to help Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians move forward from a traumatic past by starting another, somewhat different, conversation: “Now that we know about residential schools and their legacies, what do we do about it?”[1]

From our perspective, as researchers who study the physically active body at Indian residential schools, the Executive Summary brought much needed attention to sport and recreation as important elements of the residential school experience, as well as the reconciliation process. Indeed, sport and recreation are discussed in three distinct sections of the Summary: “Sports and culture: It was a relief”; “Public memory: Dialogue, the arts, and commemoration”; and “Sport: Inspiring lives, healthy communities.” Each section makes it clear that attempts to address the legacies of the school system must include detailed examinations of the different types of sport and recreation opportunities that were provided at specific institutions, as well as how former students understood those opportunities. It was exciting to see an official document acknowledge the significance of this part of Indian residential school history – a history that has affected the lives of so many, across multiple generations.

But having said this, we also found the discussion somewhat inadequate. Our concern stems primarily from the lack of a theoretical approach to understanding the role of physical activity culture in the residential school system. [Read More]

Editors Note: This is the final essay published as part of our Papers Section. We will continue to run longer form essays as part of our new “Features Section.” This section shares many similarities with the former Papers Section (including hosting all of the papers we’ve published over the years) while accommodating additional resources such as our series and theme weeks.

Community Engaged History

Active history is proud to present a video each week from New Directions in Active History. The conference took place at Huron University College on October 2-4, 2015 and brought together scholars, students, professionals and community members to discuss a wide range of topics pertaining to active history.

Completing the opening presentations is Keith Carlson, professor of History and Research Chair in Aboriginal Community- engaged History at the University of Saskatchewan. In this video, Carlson explores the meaning of “community engaged history” by carefully probing each term. He begins by expanding upon Peter Sexias’ ten principals or benchmarks of history. Carlson stresses the negative impact that “bad history” has on people’s lives and asserts that historians have the power to give voice to the oppressed through community engaged scholarship and projects. He explains that successful community projects occur when the activity, community needs and involvement, and benefits all inform one and other. Lastly, he confronts critics who argue that community engagement of any kind is inherently colonial in nature because it is predicated on the process of “othering” a peoples. Carlson argues that humility and knowing that histories are always incomplete and can always be made better in the future is what allows for the historian and a community to build trust.



The University of Victoria History Department’s Refugee Campaign

Over the past few days the History Department at the University of Victoria has been circulating the following opportunity and challenge among historians in Canada. We have reprinted it here for the interest of our readers and as a great illustration of what we envision as Active History. 


Dear Fellow Historians,

No group can better appreciate the historical significance of the current refugee crisis in the Middle East and its implications than historians. We know that this is a crisis unprecedented in our lifetimes and of a proportion rarely seen in world history.

I am sure that many of you, like a group of us at UVic, watched the growing crisis over the past summer and fall with horror and a feeling of helplessness. Recently we decided that we did not have to sit idle as the crisis deepens, and we would like to invite you to join us.

As a group of faculty, staff and students in our History Department we decided to take on the responsibility to sponsor and host a Syrian refugee family. We would like to invite you to join us and, if you can, either 1) make a contribution towards our project or 2) consider organizing among your colleagues and communities to sponsor a refugee family or, 3) both!

Through this process we have learned that we are not really helpless — that we as individuals and as a group of historians can make a real difference in the lives of suffering people, today. Now. We have also learned that these acts of generosity are bringing us closer as a community of scholars.

We invite you to join us in sponsoring a refugee family. Please go to our website where you can learn more about this project and make a donation. Through the Intercultural Association we can offer tax receipts. We are working to raise $50,000 and are half-way there.

This week one of our emeritus faculty has offered to double new contributions up to a ceiling of $5,000 so your donation will mean twice as much.

Our website:

On Facebook:

We also have the option of a gift card which will allow you to make a donation in lieu of another kind of gift to a family member or friend who perhaps has less need of your support.

Should you wish to start a group to sponsor refugees or bring a group of your colleagues/students together to support this initiative, we would be very happy to share what we have learned about the process and how we have proceeded.

Please join us in making the new year a much brighter one for a desperate family, and then, hopefully, another and another. Together we can light a candle, and in time, a bonfire, against the darkness.

With thanks and best wishes…

John Lutz, chair
On behalf of the UVic Department of History

The Future of Loyalist Studies

As part of our partnership with the new early Canadian history blog Borealia, we’ll be posting highlights from that website here every Saturday in November.

By Christopher F. Minty

benjamin-west-john-eardley-wilmot-1812-yale-center-for-british-art-paul-mellon-collection“Intractable issues vex loyalist studies.” These were the words Ruma Chopra used in an essay, published in History Compass, in 2013. She’s right. As of mid-2015, loyalist studies has come to an important juncture, and the paths historians, researchers, and students go down in choosing their approaches to loyalist studies, within the next decade or so, will affect scholarship for well over a generation.[1]

To be sure, in recent years loyalist studies has made considerable strides. Scholarship by Chopra, Maya Jasanoff, Judith Van Buskirk, Phillip Papas, Keith Mason, Christopher Sparshott, and the writers and editors of The Loyal Atlantic and Loyalism and the Formation of the British World, among others, have pushed loyalist studies forward into new, exciting areas. Above all, they have placed it within an Atlantic framework and questioned what it meant to be a “loyalist.”

This scholarship, in turn, is being driven forward by a number of graduate students and junior faculty. The likes of Kimberly Nath (Delaware), Pete Walker (Columbia), Sophie Jones (Liverpool), Christina Carrick (BU), Justin Clement (UC, Davis), Rachel Hermann (Southampton), and Don Johnson (North Dakota State), among others, are bringing new methodologies and outlooks to loyalist studies or aspects of it. But with this upturn in scholarship, where are we to go from here? [Read More]

Being Part of Something Larger: A Review of Imprinting Britain

As part of our partnership with the new early Canadian history blog Borealia, we’ll be posting highlights from that website here every Saturday in November.

By Keith Grant

Michael Eamon, Imprinting Britain: Newspapers, Sociability, and the Shaping of British North America (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015).

Grant image“Were I to name the most striking peculiarity of our neighbours in the United States, I would say that they are set apart from the rest of mankind by a certain littleness.” So wrote the pseudonymous Verax to the Nova-Scotia Magazine in 1789. Yet for the colonial print community of Halifax and Quebec City, being British meant “being part of something larger” (19).

One of the pressing questions for provincial Britons was how to be “British” despite their distance from London, the centre of imperial power. Michael Eamon argues in Imprinting Britain that eighteenth-century residents of Quebec City and Halifax used the press and various forms of sociability to fashion a distinctive British identity. At a time when British Americans in the Thirteen Colonies were wrestling with the same questions with strikingly different results, the colonists of these two cities chose to express their commitment to British liberties alongside propriety, civility, and monarchy. While affirming their place in the British Empire, elites in Halifax and Quebec also participated in the British Enlightenment, that cultural and intellectual movement that emphasized reason, practical scientific knowledge, and the improvement of society—the British Enlightenment tending to be more moderate than some of its more radical, republican expressions. The colonial print community of Quebec and Halifax, then, managed to express their liberty while remaining part of “something larger”—the British Empire and its moderate Enlightenment.

Imprinting Britain is a meticulous study of every extant English-language newspaper printed in eighteenth-century Quebec City and Halifax (among other printed and manuscript sources). But it is not only a study of texts or readers in isolation: this is a book about print as sociability, as well as print and sociability. That is, Eamon explores how print facilitated a communal identity, and how print interacted with other sites of sociability—clubs, lodges, coffeehouses, and theatre—to define Britishness in these colonial capitals. [Continue Reading]

Unrest, Violence, and the Search for Social Order in British North America and Canada, 1749-1876

As part of our partnership with the new early Canadian history blog Borealia, we’ll be posting highlights from that website here every Saturday in November.

By Elizabeth Mancke

Mancke 1

Benjamin Sulte, Histoire de Jos. Montferrand, L’athlète de Canadien (Montreal: Beauchemin et Fils), 73; detail (Public Domain).

From the mid-eighteenth century to the early Confederation era, British North Americans and then Canadians confronted a wide range of phenomena that could engender disorder: imperial wars, rebellions, the arrival of immigrants, epidemics, political unrest, and relations with First Nations. All, directly or indirectly, presented challenges to maintaining social and political order. In response, British North Americans and then Canadians engaged in protracted discussions about the definition of order and experimented with strategies to confront and limit disorder when it broke out. These discussions and processes reinforced the pervasive belief, held by both Canadians and outsiders, that Canada developed historically distinct relations shaped by notions of “peace, order, and good government,” or, in the terms of this project, themes such as unrest, violence, and the search for order. Processes of negotiating order and disorder, however, varied dramatically across British North America. But despite distinct political, social, and cultural dynamics, the colonies shared enough practices and temperaments that something recognizably Canadian emerged as part of the national identity. Yet very little inter-colonial analysis has been done to comprehend what British North Americans understood by “peace, order, and good government.” Rather, scholars who study incidents of unrest and violence in Canadian history more often employ comparisons to events in Europe or the United States, often with the effect of highlighting the distinctiveness of British North American developments.

A group of approximately 25 historians is undertaking a SSHRC-funded project to re-examine “Unrest, Violence, and the Search for Social Order in British North America and Canada, 1749-1876.” Explicitly designed to encourage inter-colonial comparisons, this project attempts to analyze how unrest varied across colonial societies, and how provincial leaders sought accommodations to maintain or regain control when discord threatened. In this endeavour, we have set ourselves a challenge: to think critically about the ways in which political and social order were defined and refined in British North America and into the early years of Confederation. The provinces were not monolithic in ethnic, religious, or social composition, and British North Americans disagreed on what constituted political and social order. The current understanding of those processes has been overwhelmingly couched in evolutionist values of a positive and logical progression to achieve superior forms of political and social order. The positivist and nationalistic ideals that have dominated the historical scholarship of this period – often expressed as “colony-to-nation” – merit re-examination. [Continue Reading]

Exploring New Directions in Active History

Tom Peace & Daniel Ross

Screen Shot 2015-09-27 at 2.25.33 PMSeven years in, it’s time to take stock of the Active History project. Since our founding symposium in 2008, Active History has branched off in a number of directions. Those include–but are not limited to–an annual lecture series (History Matters), a long-running podcast (History Slam), and a working group within the Canadian Historical Association. And then there is the website. Today, is home to well over 1,000 blog posts, papers, podcasts, and videos, and more and more people (between 20,000 – 25,000) are reading them every month. Not bad for a wordpress site run by a small group of volunteers.

Most of all, these activities reflect the fact that Active History is comprised of a growing community of people who believe history should be collaborative, relevant, and accessible to a wide audience. Many are practicing that kind of history every day, as community members, scholars, heritage professionals, or teachers. From the start, the project has been as much about building and strengthening connections within that community as putting forward any particular vision of what Active History is, or could be. That’s the spirit behind the New Directions in Active History Conference, taking place next week (October 2-4) at Huron University College in London, ON. Continue reading