New Directions in Active History: Update #2

Conference planning for October’s event is going well and we have a handful of updates for you.

First and most importantly, if you have not yet registered, the rate is going up on 1 September (Tuesday).  You can access the registration form here:

Also, our preferred rate at the Delta ends on 4 September. The Delta is in downtown London, just blocks from major London Transit hubs and the VIA rail station. The college can be easily accessed on London Transit.  To book one of these rooms call 519-640-5004 or 1-800-236-2427 and quote “New Directions in Active History – Public.” Grad student accommodation will remain available until full.

If you are presenting at the conference, we have posted abstracts here: Please review them for accuracy and let Daniel Ross <> know ASAP if there needs to be any modifications.

If you are on Twitter, we will be using the hashtag: #ActiveHist2015 for all conference events. Feel free to use it to promote the conference, your session or poster.

Finally, for those of you coming from out of town (and of course locals who want a night out!), we have been able to arrange history-based walking tours of downtown London. Both tours will begin at 7:30 p.m. downtown (about 10 minutes on the bus from Huron). One tour will be led by Kym Wolfe, author of Barhopping into History and Hopping into History, and will focus on London’s oldest surviving taverns and bars in heritage buildings (as well as local brewing etc…). The other tour will be led by the London branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and will focus on the history and architecture of downtown London. Both tours will cost $15 and include a complementary drink at the end. If you have already registered, please contact me in order to be added to the list.  You can pay when you arrive at the conference. If you have not registered, we have modified the registration form in order for you to pay for the tours with your registration fee. Spaces are limited.

Our Bodies and Inescapable Ecologies: A Look at the Mining Community of Sudbury, Ontario

By Kaleigh Bradley

“Where does the body end and ‘non-human nature’ begin? When we recognize that human bodies are directly affected by their environments, we are forced to acknowledge that humans are not simply agents of environmental change, but objects of that change” – Linda Nash, Inescpable Ecologies

Last week I was surprised to hear about the toxic leak of nitrous oxide at Vale’s Copper Cliff Mine in my hometown of Sudbury, Ontario. Residents near the mine were told to leave or stay inside with their windows and doors shut until the toxic leak had cleared. Air quality readings showed levels of nitrous oxide that were about fifteen to twenty times higher than usual. A high-ranking mine employee told the CBC that the leak posed “no risk to the community,” although exposure to nitrous oxide is known to cause respiratory issues and it can be lethal in high doses. I wonder if after the gas had dissipated, and the residents and workers returned to their regular activities in the area, if they were completely safe from exposure? And what about the150 kilotonnes of sulphur dioxide that Vale’s Copper Cliff mine continues to release every year, despite its promise to reduce emissions? Is Sudbury a safe place to live today, even if it is a little greener?


Typical blackened rocks and stunted trees in Sudbury, ON. Source: Wikipedia.

Growing up in Sudbury, I didn’t think much of the industrial landscape that surrounded me. A
mining town with its black rocks, stunted trees, slag hills, and iconic Superstack, Sudbury was home. It was not until I began to venture outside of the Sudbury region that I realized something was very unnerving about my hometown. Trees growing in other cities, like Ottawa or Toronto were much taller and healthier. There were also several different species of trees besides birch or spruce lining the forests along the highways just outside of Sudbury. Rocks outside of town were any colour but black, and as far as I could tell, there were no slag hills, orange streams, or green-ish tailings ponds at our family’s cottage, about a 40 minute drive away. These other environments that I visited were not pristine because most ecosystems have been manipulated by humans. But why was Sudbury so different?

Continue reading

The Second Battle of Ypres and the Creation of a YMCA Hero is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 12 May 2015

 By Jonathan Weier

Weier, Second Ypres and YMCA Hero - image 1Among the approximately 2000 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force killed at the Second Battle of Ypres in late April and early May 1915 was the only Canadian YMCA worker killed in combat during the First World War. YMCA Honourary Captain Oscar Irwin, attached to the 10th Battalion of the CEF, was killed when he joined the battalion as it set out to retake St. Julien from the Germans in the early morning of April 23rd.[1] Irwin appears frequently in the YMCA’s commemoration of its First World War service, as the heroic embodiment of the YMCA’s masculine ideals, its message of service, and as a symbol of Christian sacrifice. Irwin’s example, both in life and in death, provided a venue by which the YMCA and its workers could address the tensions and challenges faced by many men involved in non-combatant service during the First World War. Continue reading

Sexing Up Canada’s First World War is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 3 March 2015

By Zachary Abram

VD Poster 1Canadian cultural memory of the First World War is conspicuously asexual considering Canadians had among the highest rates for venereal disease in the British Expeditionary Force, with an infection rate that reached as high as 28.7%. [1] Anyone with a passing interest in the First World War is familiar with Trench Foot and its symptoms are synonymous with the squalor of trench warfare. Yet, only 74,711 cases of Trench Foot were treated during the entire war.[2] Venereal Disease accounted for 416,891 hospital admissions in the British Army.[3] A soldier was five times more likely to be admitted to hospital for syphilis and gonorrhea but in the popular imagination it is Trench Foot that persists. There is a reticence, perhaps the result of inherited Victorian prudery or the unwillingness to “sully the reputations” of the war dead, to discuss soldiers’ sex lives. As a result, discussions of the First World War tend to elide the bedroom in favour of the trench. Continue reading

Promises Broken, or Politics as Usual? is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 27 January 2015

By Jonathan Scotland

Despite the Conservative Party of Canada’s fondness for promoting its support for Canada’s military, since assuming government in 2006 the federal government’s relationship with veterans has been rocky at best. By the close of last year’s parliament it seemed that new criticisms were being leveled at Julian Fantino, Minister of Veterans Affairs, on a daily basis. His department’s handling of the New Veterans Charter (NVC) and treatment of soldiers’ mental health came in for special criticism. Critics also added neglected war graves, unspent funds, cuts to the Veterans’ Affairs’ disability awards branch, and inadequate access to a growing list of complaints. Fantino, at least, was struck off that list early in the new year when he was replaced as Minister by Erin O’Toole, a sign the government is trying to repair its reputation with veterans.

In British Columbia wounded veterans have taken Ottawa to court over the change from life-long pensions to one-time, lump-sum payments. This shift, the veterans argue, amounts to a breach of trust between soldiers and the crown, a social contract that dates to at least the First World War.

Their suit builds on Aboriginal case law by invoking the honour of the crown. If it succeeds, it will be precedent setting. Veterans’ benefits will henceforth be enshrined as a permanent fiduciary responsibility.

With parliamentary sovereignty at stake, government lawyers are vigorously seeking to have the suit thrown out.

At the heart of the case are Prime Minister Robert Borden’s wartime commitments to Canada’s troops. Continue reading

1864 vs. 1914: A Commemorative Showdown is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 11 November 2014

By Sarah Glassford


As I sat by the window of a popular coffee shop in downtown Charlottetown on a warm afternoon in September 2014, two student actors from the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) appeared on the street corner opposite, heading toward nearby Province House, seat of the provincial legislature.  He wore a three-piece suit and top hat; she sported a shirtwaist, hoop skirt, elaborate hat, and shawl.  This is a common sight near Province House during the summer tourist season,[i] but it struck me as noteworthy because I happened to be brainstorming thoughts for a post on Prince Edward Island (PEI) and the First World War centenary.  The sight of 1860s-style citizens promenading down the street in 2014 reminded me that all commemoration takes place in a crowded landscape of competing commemorations, even when the subject is as globally game-changing as the First World War.

PEI, Canada’s smallest province, has been celebrating 2014 in grand style all year long, but not because of anything to do with the First World War centenary.  Instead, the island is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, when the then-colony of PEI hosted the first serious discussions of a confederation of British North American colonies – a union that eventually became the Dominion of Canada.  Continue reading

Series @ 2014-2015

As part of our summer hiatus, is featuring summaries of the papers and series we’ve run over the past year. Today, we provide a list of the series we’ve published since September 2014:

The Home Archivist (by Jess Dunkin) – Ongoing

Anishinaabeg in the War of 1812 (by Alan Corbiere)

200 Years of the Old Chieftain – January 2015

Infectious Disease, Contagion and the History of Vaccines – March/April 2015

Commemorating 35 years of the Marathon of Hope (Jenny Ellison) – April 2015

Thirty Five Years after the Abortion Caravan – May 2015 repost – John A. Macdonald’s Aryan Canada: Aboriginal Genocide and Chinese Exclusion is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in mid-August. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year.  We will also be highlighting some of the special series and papers we’ve run this year. Thanks as always to our writers and readers.

The following post was originally featured on January 7, 2015.

By Timothy J. Stanley

Racisms are central to the creation of Canada through European dominance over the vast territories of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. A case in point is provided by John Alexander Macdonald and his enactment of Asian exclusion and the genocide of the people of the southern plains.[1]

Macdonald not only excluded the Chinese, he personally introduced biological racism as a defining characteristic of Canadianness. Biological racisms depart from older racisms by constructing allegedly natural, immutable and inescapable racial categories on the basis of supposed biological differences. Previous racisms had been based on alleged cultural characteristics that could change over time.[2] Macdonald’s fixing of difference was neither accidental nor simply the result of mere prejudice.

While debating the 1885 Electoral Franchise Act in the House of Commons, legislation he later called “my greatest triumph”,[3] Macdonald proposed that “Chinamen” should not have the right to vote on the grounds that they were “foreigners” and that “the Chinese has no British instincts or British feelings or aspirations.”[4]  When a member of the opposition asked whether naturalized Chinese ceased to be “Chinamen”, Macdonald amended his legislation to exclude “a person of Mongolian or Chinese race.”[5] The opposition object that the Chinese were “industrious people” who had “voted in the last election,” or had “as good a right [to] be allowed to vote as any other British subject of foreign extraction.”[6] This led Macdonald to make clear that Chinese exclusion was necessary to ensure European dominance.   He warned, “if [the Chinese] came in great numbers and settled on the Pacific coast they might control the vote of that whole Province, and they would send Chinese representative to sit here, who would represent Chinese eccentricities, Chinese immorality, Asiatic principles altogether opposite to our wishes; and, in the even balance of parties, they might enforce those Asiatic principles, those immoralities . . . , the eccentricities which are abhorrent to the Aryan race and Aryan principles, on this House.” He then claimed that the Chinese and Europeans were separate species: “the Aryan races will not wholesomely amalgamate with the Africans or the Asiatics” and that “the cross of those races, like the cross of the dog and the fox, is not successful; it cannot be, and never will be.” Chinese exclusion was necessary or, as he told the House, “the Aryan character of the future of British America should be destroyed . . .”[7]

Macdonald’s comments shocked his contemporaries in Parliament. He was the only member of the Canadian Parliament to use the term “Aryan” during the 1870s and 1880s, as well as the only member to argue that Asians and Europeans were separate species.

Click here to read more. repost – ‘It’s history, like it or not’: the Significance of Sudbury’s Superstack is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in mid-August. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year.  We will also be highlighting some of the special series and papers we’ve run this year. Thanks as always to our writers and readers.

The following post was originally featured on November 17, 2014.

By Mike Commito and Kaleigh Bradley

Standing at a height of 1,250 feet, the Sudbury Superstack is the second tallest chimney in the world and runner-up to the CN Tower for the tallest structure in Canada. Until 1987, Sudbury Ontario had the dubious honour of having the world’s tallest smokestack. Today, the Stack is seen by some as a marker for Sudbury’s rich mining heritage but for others, it is also part of a much larger history of health and environmental problems.


“Sudbury and the Beast.” Courtesy of local photographer Greta Clarke.

Since the nineteenth century, Sudbury’s landscape was ravaged by the effects of the mining industry; over the years the vegetation disappeared with acid rain, and farmers found themselves unable to grow crops in the highly acidic soil. The International Nickel Company (INCO) built the Superstack in 1972 to disperse sulphur dioxide (SO2) and other pollutants away from the area, thereby addressing health and environmental concerns. The Stack’s construction coincided with a community regreening movement, which has reversed some of the environmental damage. The Superstack reduced local emission rates in recent years, but one could argue that INCO simply passed the buck, and the dispersion of SO2 became somebody else’s problem. Moreover, the Sudbury area continues to have higher rates of asthma and lung cancer than other parts of Ontario. For better or for worse, the Superstack has been a landmark along the Sudbury skyline for over forty years. And when Vale (formerly INCO) recently proposed demolishing the Superstack in the local media, we watched as an interesting public debate about the significance, history, and future of the stack ensued.

On November 3rd 2014, Kelly Strong of Vale announced that the company considered demolishing the Superstack. This news is not surprising and is in keeping with Vale’s ongoing $1 billion Clean AER Project, designed to reduce SO2 emissions. If the Superstack is removed it will be replaced by a smaller chimney, but this will mark a big departure not only in the company’s operational history, but for local history as well. Continue reading repost – More than “Prisoners”: Discovering Welfare History in Holy Trinity Cemetery, Thornhill is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in mid-August. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year.  We will also be highlighting some of the special series and papers we’ve run this year. Thanks as always to our writers and readers.

The following post was originally featured on February 3, 2015.

By Danielle Terbenche

Five grave markers

Five grave markers

In 2012, I began attending Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Thornhill, Ontario. After learning I was a historian, some church members invited me to join the cemetery board. During my first visit to the church’s historic cemetery, I was intrigued by five concrete crosses marking the graves of eight men, dating from 1928 to 1931. In a poor state of repair, and inscribed only with the names and death dates of the men, they looked nothing like the more elaborate marker that surrounded them, both historic and modern. At the time, I had no idea that over the next year, these crosses would lead me to an investigative journey of the history of early twentieth-century welfare institutions, social policy, homelessness, and unemployment. It was a project that demonstrated the hidden stories and social histories that may be represented through small, seemingly inconsequential artefacts. This article documents my search for answers about these mysterious gravestones.

Built c. 1829-30 on Yonge Street, Trinity Church (as it was formerly known) is the oldest church building still in use in the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. In 1950, the church was moved to Brooke Street, southwest of the original location; however, the cemetery remains at the original site on Yonge. Still in active use, Holy Trinity Cemetery contains several graves of historical significance to the Thornhill and Richmond Hill areas, including the grave of Colonel Robert Moodie, killed on Yonge Street near Montgomery’s Tavern during the 1837 Rebellion.

Holy Trinity Church

Holy Trinity Church

This history made me wonder if the five “mystery” crosses occupying a small rectangular plot of land towards the rear of the cemetery were historically significant. Age, weathering, and inappropriate repairs over eighty years had left them in a deteriorated condition; the names and death dates on some were barely visible. I wondered: Why were these graves so different? Who were these men buried in these plots? What was significant about the period 1928-31? Who installed the markers? Why were they not as structurally sound as other markers in the cemetery?

I asked about the graves at a cemetery board meeting and was told the men were “prisoners” from the Langstaff Industrial Farm. The farm, which opened in 1913 as an adjunct facility to ease overcrowding at Toronto’s Don Jail, operated as a minimum-security men’s prison for inebriates and petty criminals until it closed in 1958.

Click here to read more.