A Fish Box and a Folk Festival

By David Frank

The fish box in 2015. Author's photo.

The fish box in 2015. Author’s photo.

I keep my camping gear in an old wooden box that sits neatly in the back of my car. Nothing unusual about that. But when I packed up to go Canso for the Stan Rogers Folk Festival this summer, I realized this would be a kind of homecoming — for the box.

Let me explain. The box is about thirty-two inches long, twenty inches wide and maybe ten inches deep. Just a few boards nailed together, and an opening for your hands at each end so you can get a good grip. It’s what they call a fish box, standard equipment on fishing boats a generation or two ago. You needed them to load and carry fish.

I’ve had that box ever since I was a student in Halifax in the 1970s. There were at least a dozen of them in the old garage behind the house where I lived, and the reason they were there is the story that takes us all the way back to Canso. Continue reading

Remembering and Forgetting Canada in Cape Breton

By Tina Loo

“The bigger-is-better approach to art is best left to Stalinist tyrants, theme-park entrepreneurs and insecure municipalities hoping to waylay bored drive-by tourists…. A brutal megalith doesn’t prompt individual introspection – it mocks it. And by defiling a quiet beauty spot with its grandiose bulk, Mother Canada will only diminish the heritage it claims to honour.”

Globe and Mail editorial, 23 June 2015

“It’s great. It’s good. We need it. Maybe we can get the frigging highway fixed.”

Glenn Warren, Ingonish, 7 March 2014

In the last few months, the media has been filled with reports and opinions about “Mother Canada,” the twenty-four metre high statue proposed by the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation (NFNMF) to commemorate the country’s war dead. Part of the reaction has focused on the site of the statue, at Green Cove, in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, an area whose natural beauty and ecological integrity some feel would be severely compromised by the memorial. To them, Mother Canada is “hubristic, ugly, and just plain wrong.”

Continue reading

Heritage vs. History in the Commemoration of War in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

By David Campbell, Jonathan Roberts, Corey Slumkoski, and Martha Walls

This is an expanded version of an op-ed piece originally published in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. See David Campbell, Jonathan Roberts, Corey Slumkoski and Martha Walls, “‘Mother Canada’ elevates bombastic heritage over subtlety of history,” Halifax Chronicle-Herald, 5 June 2015.

The proposed statue. Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

The proposed statue. Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

We are well into the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Having observed the centenary of the war’s outbreak last year, we have now begun to mark the anniversaries of Canada’s first major battles in Belgium and France. Over the next few years, we will be inundated with laments for the blood spilled and the lives lost during this “War to End All Wars.”

This is to be expected; new military technologies meant that the First World War saw death and destruction on a scale like never before. Canada was not immune from the horrors of the conflict; approximately 60,000 Canadian lives were lost during the war, or roughly one percent of our population. Shockingly, Canadian sacrifices paled in comparison to those made by some of our European allies. France, for example, saw over four percent of its citizens killed. Clearly, the story of the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform is something that we mustn’t forget.

Recently, a proposal has come forth calling on Parks Canada to allow a private foundation, led by businessman Tony Trigiani, to build a memorial in Cape Breton Highland National Park Continue reading

A Monument to the Past? The Never Forgotten National War Memorial Project

By Jill Campbell-Miller

The proposed statue. Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

The proposed statue. Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

Over this past winter and spring, the controversy around the proposed Never Forgotten National War Memorial Project has become increasingly intense, even reaching the pages of the Guardian. The project, sponsored by the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation, and specifically, Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani, intends to honour fallen soldiers who served abroad. Positioned overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Green Cove in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park (CBHNP), the idea has drawn support from those who see the attraction as having potential economic benefits for the area. Local supporters even held a rally to show their enthusiasm. However, it has also caused a furor among others, who worry that the magnitude of the monument, which currently includes a 25-metre statue of “Mother Canada,” a parking lot, two interpretive centres, and other amenities, will have serious environmental and cultural consequences for the scenic area. Twenty-eight former Parks Canada managers wrote an open letter to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq to oppose it.

I should start by saying that I am not neutral on this issue. I grew up in Cape North, a village situated in the middle of the CBHNP. As a kid, Green Cove was one of the many spectacular views that I passed on the way to dentist appointments and Christmas shopping trips. The Never Forgotten project has no appeal to me. As much as I appreciate the sentiment of those who wish to honour Canadian soldiers who died overseas – including my uncle, Donald Campbell, whose plane went missing during WWII – the oversized scale of the project strikes me as inappropriate both to particular area of Green Cove and the Park in general. Continue reading

Planting the Seeds of Citizenship

Undated Photo, Richmond, ON. From the Spring 1905 issue of the Queen's Quarterly. (Reproduced with permission).

Undated Photo, Richmond, ON. From the Spring 1905 issue of the Queen’s Quarterly. (Reproduced with permission).

By Conrad McCallum,

A school garden in Bowesville, Ontario established by the Mcdonald-Robertson movement, from the Spring 1905 issue of the Queen's Quarterly. (Reproduced with permission).

A school garden in Bowesville, Ontario established by the Mcdonald-Robertson movement, from the Spring 1905 issue of the Queen’s Quarterly. (Reproduced with permission).

A sample of Canadian headlines about school gardens from the past few months: A two-year school garden project in Vancouver will contribute to fresher produce in the cafeteria and food literacy skills. Students at an ethnically diverse school in Windsor, Ontario will use a new community garden as a “living classroom” for discussions on healthy eating and plant science. Students went to work planting at a school in Pickering, Ontario that has been named ‘the greenest school on earth’.

School gardens have made a recent comeback, tapping into environmental consciousness and community-mindedness. But their roots belong to a much earlier period, when they appeared to offer a grab bag of pedagogical benefits. Continue reading

What does Canadian History Look Like? The CHA in 2015

By Tom Peace

For the past two years I’ve written blog posts for the opening day of the Canadian Historical Association’s annual meeting (click here for 2013 and here for 2014). In those posts I created word clouds from the relevant paper and session titles in order to get a sense of what the field of Canadian history actually looks like. As historians gather today in Ottawa for three days of meetings (join us today at 5 pm for the Active History CHA group’s annual meeting), we have an ideal opportunity to take the pulse of Canadian history in order to get a broad sense of where the field is headed.

Today’s post is similar to those in the past. It is an overview (rather than a rigorous study) of the conference program (available here). Importantly, though, today’s post draws some slightly different conclusions than my earlier posts that are perhaps indicative of broader transitions in the field. This year’s program has some interesting things to say, I think, in terms of the place of Indigenous people, situating Canada in a global context, and the place of women in the past.[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

Toronto vs. Montréal: A Short History

By Daniel Ross

Toronto Sun

Tory and Coderre, Toronto Sun

Last month, the mayors of Canada’s two largest cities met in Toronto, and the mood was positive. After discussing business partnerships, security, the upcoming federal election and—inevitably—hockey, Denis Coderre and John Tory announced a new era for relations between Montréal and Toronto. “The two solitudes are over,” stated the charismatic Coderre, who last made the news in Toronto for snubbing then-Mayor Rob Ford at the 2014 Big Cities Summit in Ottawa. Instead, he and Tory evoked a “strategic alliance” between the two metropolises, to be formalized with sister-city status sometime in the next few months.

What this new partnership will amount to is anyone’s guess. Both cities could use some good news, after four years of Rob Ford’s drug-addled behaviour and the revelations of corruption made by the Charbonneau Commission. The big issues that Tory and Coderre hope to raise together in the upcoming election—infrastructure, housing, transportation—are crucial ones; but Ottawa has proved very able in ignoring similar campaigns in the past. Rather than predicting where this mayoral love-in will lead, I’d like to use the occasion to look back at nearly two centuries of real (and imagined) rivalry. Continue reading

Starbucks: Welfare Capitalism, Public Education, and the History and Possibility of American Social Democracy

By Jason Ellis

starbucks college


Welfare capitalism is back in vogue. Earlier this month Starbucks announced that it will expand an existing company benefit program that offers university tuition coverage to Starbucks workers. The expansion of the program, a plan to extend these benefits to 23,000 workers over the next decade at a cost of $250 million, will target “opportunity youth,” i.e. unemployed 16- to 24-year olds. While this is an innovative move on Starbucks’ part, it is also a move that brings to mind and joins together interesting historical precedents in American working-class, corporate, welfare, and education histories. This small announcement by a big corporation is the spindle from which I will unravel threads of a discussion of the history and possibility of social democracy in the United States. My argument is that historic American commitments to welfare capitalism and to public education spending, and the revival of both in the Starbucks’ announcement, may hint at a dormant social democracy in US society and politics today. Continue reading

Literature and History: Michel Houellebecq’s Soumission and the Politics of Cultural Despair

By Alban BargainVilléger

864563Even today, literary fiction can still provide an ideal entry point into historical studies. Although this might seem like stating the obvious, one has to recognise that the increasing overspecialization of history as a discipline has hindered the ability and/or willingness of many historians to explore universes outside of their respective fields. Nonetheless, it is clear that some historians still consider themselves engaged intellectuals – Active History provides almost daily examples of such attempts to transcend the limits of historical study.

But in addition to reading and rereading classics (and non-classics), paying attention to present-day fiction can also help historicize the present. Now, for methodological and conceptual reasons, historians tend to let several decades pass before exploring a subject. These precautions stem from the unavailability of some archival materials and from the need for hindsight. That said, such precautions should not prevent historians thinking about our day and age, or engaging in intellectual exercises. In that regard, French author and contrarian intellectual Michel Houellebecq’s latest book, Soumission, constitutes an ideal guinea pig for an experiment of that type. Continue reading