Treaty Talks: Engaging Non-Indigenous Canadians with the Past and Present of Treaties

This is the second post in a series featuring short descriptions of papers and panels that will be presented at the Canadian Historical Association’s annual meeting being held at the University of British Columbia June 3-5.

The last call to action of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission suggests the statement “I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including treaties with Indigenous peoples” be included as part of Canada’s oath of citizenship.[1] This revised oath reflects decades of work by Indigenous leaders to restore the vision of treaty-as-relationship and echoes similar calls for recognition of treaty relationships in the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP).[2] But how and where do non-Indigenous Canadians, new and old, learn about treaties?  Treaty education and awareness is uneven across the country. Saskatchewan, for example, has had a Treaty Commissioner since 1989, and has been integrating treaty education into school curricular for more than 20 years.[3]

But in central and eastern Canada, RCAP fell on deaf ears. Until the TRC report again brought the question of treaties forward, knowledge about treaties in central and eastern Canada was concentrated in Indigenous nations, specifically with Elders and knowledge keepers, some federal employees and a few academics and lawyers. While the reanimation of public awareness of treaties has happened across the country, it is perhaps especially notable in those provinces where pre-Confederation treaties were sometimes (conveniently) forgotten by settler governments within decades of their making.

The panel is comprised of three settler scholars working to increase the knowledge and learning about treaties and treaty relationships among non-Indigenous people in the province of Ontario. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 131: Newfoundland’s Rocky Road Towards Confederation

By Sean Graham

From airport kitchen parties to This Hour Has 22 Minutes to one of the greatest moments in Canadian curling history, Newfoundland and Labrador has become a vital component of Canadian culture. That position wasn’t a given, however, when it joined Confederation in the spring of 1949 after a contentious campaign. As Canada’s youngest province, there are many people still living whose nationality at birth was Newfoundlander and not Canadian, a fact which many hold dear.

The process through which Newfoundland rejected Confederation in the 19th century before joining in the 20th is a unique story where the divide between urban and rural populations and their voting priorities was clearly on display. In both cases, a refrain has emerged that many voters were duped, or didn’t fully comprehend, when casting their ballots. For some historians, these were not people voting in their own best interests, but rather an uneducated group that had been sold a bill of goods.

There are many parallels in how people have written about these people in Newfoundland during the Confederation debates and some members of the electorate today. As part of what seems to be increased tribalism in North American politics, the rush to cast those with whom we disagree as uneducated or foolish is clear when scrolling through Twitter during any election campaign. But what if people aren’t necessarily being fooled, but rather examining the available options are voting in their best interests?

In their new book Where They Once Stood: Newfoundland’s Rock Road Towards Confederation Raymond Blake and Melvin Baker examine the gulf between pro- and anti-Confederation voters in Newfoundland during the process that ultimately led to Canada’s 10th province joining Confederation. By challenging the popular notion that those who voted against Confederation in 1869, and for Confederation in 1948, were gullible and/or uninformed, Blake and Baker have explored a historical issue that not only informs our understanding on Newfoundland and Canadian politics, but also contemporary political discussion.
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No Home without History

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By Arpita Bajpeyi and Sinead Cox

Home is where much of the drama of identity is enacted. Home is where we learn our histories, and it is from these that our concept and connection to a ‘home’ is shaped.

This was one of the themes that emerged during New Histories / Old Roots at the Livery Theatre in Goderich, Ontario on March 23rd 2019 through four diverse performances staged over the course of one evening — all touching on histories of homes lost, found, stolen, divided, and remembered. Each performance approached ‘home’ in a distinct way: through singing and drumming, dramatic reading, film and poetry, and theatre. And from each artist we learned that there is no home, in any sense of the word, without history.

Performers at Staging our Histories 2019

New Histories / Old Roots was the fourth such performance Staging Our Histories has organized Continue reading

Conversations About Inequality and Homelessness in Canada: A Session at the CHA

This is the first post in a series featuring short descriptions of papers and panels that will be presented at the Canadian Historical Association`s annual meeting being held at the University of British Columbia June 3-5.

Homelessness and inequality are at the forefront of public discussions and policy debates. In this panel discussion we argue that a deeper historical perspective on this subject is urgently needed. Our conversation begins with specific times and places, but in bringing these papers together we expect the panel to connect to broader horizons and current public policy issues. Continue reading

Harry Hardy and Recovering the Ghosts of the Tiffy Boys

This is the first of several posts marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the end of the Second World War as part of a partnership between Active History and the Juno Beach Centre. If you would like to contribute, contact series coordinator Alex Fitzgerald-Black at

By Anne Gafiuk

Flight Lieutenant Harry Hardy, 440 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, is proud of his experience as a Second World War Typhoon pilot.  Harry took a pen and marked another ‘X’ on a list of nineteen names. Dated January 17, 2015, this list showed only nine living Typhoon pilots in Canada remaining.

After visiting with him at his home in Burnaby, BC, Harry pressed me to interview all nine. “You have to talk to us before we are all gone.  Combine our stories into a true picture of a Typhooner’s life and how the Typhoons contributed to the success of the Allied armies as we fought from Normandy to Germany during World War Two.”

Harry is a man on a mission. At 97, he is still spreading the word about the importance of the Typhoons from D-Day to VE-Day. He has spoken to numerous groups over the years with slide presentations generously illustrated by personal photographs and infused with his own first-hand accounts (see the video below). Continue reading

Reflections on the First World War

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By Eric Story, Brittany Dunn and Alexander Maavara

Anniversaries invite reflection. Regardless of historians’ tendency to hastily dismiss commemorations or celebrations of the past as pesky purveyors of myth, these events nonetheless generate discussion––sometimes informed, other times less so––about history. The centenary of the First World War was no different. Between 2014 and 2018, people around the world engaged in a wide array of commemorative activities reflecting on the First World War and its legacies. These activities ranged from the modest to the immense, from digital memorials to colourized documentary film to vast public art displays.[1] At the very least––and putting aside the historically-based criticisms they may engender––they reveal an ongoing interest in the history of the First World War and an unspoken impulse among the participating nations to commemorate it.

The Boots of the Fallen public art display on the slopes of Vimy Ridge at the Vimy 100 ceremony in April 2017. The boots represent the 3,598 Canadian soldiers who died fighting at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. Courtesy: Katrina Pasierbek.

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Canada’s First Medical Malpractice Crisis

By R. Blake Brown

Two CBC journalists, Habiba Nosheen and Andrew Culbert, recently reported on the challenges faced by patients trying to sue doctors for medical malpractice. Their story adopts the tone of an exposé. They note that several factors make securing compensation for serious errors difficult, including that most doctors are members of the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), an organization possessing more than four billion dollars in assets that it can use to defend physicians and, if necessary, pay compensation to patients.

The authors, however, leave unanswered how we got to this situation. That story is long and complicated, but it is worth noting that the CMPA emerged as a solution to Canada’s first medical malpractice crisis.[1]

Canadian Doctor, 4, no. 5 (May 1938), 24.

Prior to the last third of the nineteenth century, medical journals, law journals, and newspapers only sporadically mentioned malpractice cases. Continue reading

Trees as Historical Markers and Holders of Memory

Two pine trees and a chapel building in the distance

Pine trees on the front lawn of the Algoma/Shingwauk site. Photo by author.

Krista McCracken

There are two pines trees on the front lawn of Algoma University. The trees sit off centre on the east side of the lawn, partially hidden behind the historical Chapel building from the road. To the casual observer these trees might seem relatively ordinary, perhaps a bit oddly placed, but not of any clear significance. The pine trees blend into the landscape of the University and don’t have any distinguishing characteristics in terms of size and shape.  

Algoma University is located on the site that housed the Shingwauk Indian Residential School from 1874-1970. The Shingwauk School was named after Ojibway Chief Shingwaukonse, who was a leader in Anishinaabe thought and advocacy. The Anishinaabemowin word Shingwaukonse translates to Little Pine and the word Shingwauk means pine tree.

The two pine trees situated on the front lawn of Algoma/Shingwauk were planted during the 1991 Shingwauk Reunion as a way to commemoration the history of the Shingwauk Residential School and the Shingwauk/Algoma site. [1] The trees were planted next to a monument marking the location of the original Shingwauk School building, which was torn down in 1935 when new Shingwauk Hall opened. The trees represent the work of Shingwauk Survivors to ensure that their experiences and the legacy of the Residential School System is never forgotten. These trees are also part of an ongoing effort to reclaim the Shingwauk site as a space of cross-cultural learning and healing.

I pass by these trees every day and I’ve had the privilege of sitting with Survivors who were at the 1991 Reunion and hearing them speak about the planting of the pine trees. The location, story, and preservation of these trees matters. While engaged in historical tours of the Shingwauk site staff often stop at the two pine trees. This stop is used to explain the significance of a trees and is an opportunity to talk about language, honouring the past, and preserving the history of Shingwauk. Continue reading

What Doug Ford could learn from Wisconsin about higher education

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Doug Ford speaks during a campaign stop in Niagara Falls, Ont., in May 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tara Walton

Dan Guadagnolo

Buried within Ontario’s 2019 budget is a drastic change to how the province’s publicly funded universities and colleges will receive support.

Though Ontario’s post-secondary institutions are some of the most accessible in the world, the 2019 budget indicates that by 2024-2025, Ontario colleges and universities will receive 60 per cent of their public funding through yet-to-be determined performance metrics oriented to provincial workforce demands.

The budget makes Premier Doug Ford’s position clear: Ontario public education should serve workforce needs. It suggests public funding has no business supporting research or academic programs that do not have immediate commercial value to Ontario employers.

Though the Ford government’s budget marks a turn for Canadian universities, the workforce model of university education in conservative politics is nothing new. In the United States, proponents have aggressively rejected the value of a humanistic education. Their policies, however, have been wildly unpopular. The state of Wisconsin is perhaps the best example of this. Continue reading

‘The Best Version of the Liberal Party’: One Feminist Lineage

Minister of Health Jane Philpott (right) listens to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould respond to a question, Ottawa, April 14, 2016. CP/Adrian Wyld.

Veronica Strong-Boag[1]

Political parties are contested spaces. Few know this better than Canada’s Liberals. Regularly derided as the party that campaigns on the left and governs on the right, that aphorism captures a long-standing split in its zeitgeist and membership. Since at least the days of Laurier and Mackenzie King, the party’s ‘left’ and ‘right’ wings have been regularly at war.[2] Most recently, the contest manifests itself in the resignations of cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott. As Monique Bégin’s 2018 memoir, Ladies, Upstairs! My Life in Politics and After, similarly demonstrates, the feminist liberal left can be a force to be reckoned with. Philpott’s hopes, summed up in the phrase which provides the title for these observations, match those of many feminist liberals.

Feminists have a long history of trying to force liberalism, which is sometimes credited with a ‘radical feminist future,’[3] to the left. Just as Wilson-Raybould, Philpott, and Bégin struggled for reform in times of uncertainty and protest, so did their suffragist predecessors. Activists such as Ishbel and John Gordon (the Aberdeens), Nellie L. McClung, and Mary Ellen and Ralph Smith likewise counted on progressive liberalism to combat extremes of wealth and power.[4] While they largely failed to see racial oppression, they intended a modern liberal state to serve as an instrument of justice for white women and workers and as an alternative to sex and class war. Until at least WWII, left and right wing liberals alike largely ignored or endorsed the exclusion of Indigenous peoples and most non-Europeans from the ideal body politic. Both Smiths, in their determination to exclude Asian immigrants, offer a reminder of the failures of the left, feminist and otherwise, regarding race relations.[5]

The British vice-regal aristocrats, the prairie writer and politician, and the BC lib-lab and ‘lib-fem’ politicians relied on the emergence of a progressive alliance, which escaped “clear ideological cleavage between liberal individualism and socialist collectivism.”[6] To this end, they supported a ‘big tent’ politics, just the kind of putative alliance invoked by liberal suffragists in general and Canada’s ‘Parliament of Women,’ the National Council of Women (founded, not coincidentally, by Lady Aberdeen) in particular.

Divides of gender and class, and potentially of race and religion, were, ideally, in the National Council and the country at large, to be bridged by adherence to a supposed common set of ‘human’ or ‘universal’ liberal values, notably individual merit, industry, and compassion. The limits of such a creed in countering personal and collective investment in the structural inequalities of patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism did not, and do not, deter liberal left hopefuls.

Political pragmatism or, to employ their critics’ terminology, opportunism, encourages optimism. Continue reading