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

File 20190430 136794 j6zxvt.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

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

In Conversation IV: Preserving and Passing-On the Legacies of Canada’s First World War

By Sarah Glassford and Jonathan Vance

This post is the product of a Q&A email exchange between Dr. Jonathan Vance, a professor in the Department of History at The University of Western Ontario, and Dr. Sarah Glassford, an archivist at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. We met at Western as student and professor in the autumn of 1997; our paths crossed again two decades later when Sarah returned to Western and volunteered to help organize the diverse ephemera Jonathan had acquired for his collection of world war-related material.

This post draws no broad conclusions, but instead attempts to shed light on the roles of scholars and collectors in preserving and passing on the legacy of Canada’s First World War, as seen through the work of one academic historian.

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The 1934 British Columbia Penitentiary Strike and Prisoners’ Wages in Canada    

By Jordan House

The early 1930s were marked by considerable labour unrest in Canada. Over this period, workers developed new, more expansive forms of trade unionism, as well as new tactics such as sit-down strikes and flying pickets. In the context of the great depression, this unrest was not only evident in the country’s factories, mines, and ports; workers and their unions also began organizing outside of these traditional workplaces. Perhaps most famously, this organizing included unemployed workers and those toiling in Canada’s relief camps. Less well known, however, are the ways in which Canadian prisoners participated in this labour upsurge, adopting trade union tactics to suit their particular situations, and demanding improved conditions, political representation, and wages.


On 1 September 1934, seven prisoners working in the mailbag shop of the BC Penitentiary began a work refusal. The strikers were quickly escorted back to their cells and locked up. A week later, two prisoners replacing windows in the penitentiary died when the scaffolding they were working on collapsed, while a third prisoner was seriously injured. In the wake of the accident, renewed strike activity spread through the institution, and by 11 September, around 100 prisoners were refusing to work. The prisoners had a number of grievances, but their main demands were for the recognition of a prisoners’ committee to represent their interests vis- à-vis the prison administration, and the implementation of wages for work. Chants of “wages, wages, wages” could be heard over the prison walls.[1]

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Cards Against Environmental History: Rethinking Undergraduate Review Exercises

Hailey Venn

This post has been cross-posted with the Network in Canadian History & Environment

Jeopardy is a popular request from students who want an in-class review activity, but Jeopardy has some critical drawbacks. First and foremost, it asserts that there are right and wrong answers which can be condensed into minimal words. Jeopardy, by its very foundation, discourages nuance and critical thinking. It also prioritizes knowledge which is traditionally pale, male, and stale. Second, from a labour stand point, the game demands a tremendous amount of work from the professor or TA who creates it, while those who answer the questions are not compelled to demonstrate significant knowledge. There must be a better way.

Cards Against Humanity pile
The original Cards Against Humanity game is simple. Each round, one player asks a question from a black card, and everyone else answers with their funniest white card. Cards Against Environmental History (CAEH) follows this same format.


A few years ago, Leah Wiener, a PhD candidate of SFU’s Department of History, assigned Cards Against Environmental History (CAEH) to the third year class she TA’d. The basic rules exactly followed those of the original Cards Against Humanity.

As a student in that course, I really appreciated the creativity of the exercise and how the structure demanded that students go back and look over their materials. Wiener’s format demanded that we all contribute [x] number of black and white cards on cue cards. To this day, that is one of the few review exercises of my undergrad which I distinctly remember, and quite fondly at that.

During my first TAship in fall of 2017, I was assigned to the same course. Naturally, CAEH seemed like a perfect fit. To modify that version, I assigned each student to review the readings and lecture from one week of the course. While it narrowed the focus of each students’ review, it did ensure that there was little to no repetition of the cards and that the tutorial’s collective batch covered the range of reading and lecture materials. I did not conduct a survey at that point, though students seemed to appreciate the exercise and they performed well on the final exam. Continue reading

Remember/Resist/Redraw #19: Revisiting the Workers’ Revolt in Winnipeg

2019 marks the centenary of the Winnipeg General Strike, which took place between 15 May and 26 June 1919. In anticipation of the centenary, the Graphic History Collective released RRR poster #19 this week by David Lester and the GHC. The poster critically examines the strike’s important lessons and legacy.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for social change. Learn more about how you can support the project on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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We need to stop talking about Vimy

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Jonathan Weier

As a historian of Canada’s involvement in the First World War I get awfully tired of talking and writing about the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Especially tiresome is the intellectual work of critiquing the reification of Vimy’s nationalist mythology, a topic that seems to come up annually when its anniversary rolls around. The Vimy mythology has an enduring power.

Over the course of the last five years, four collaborators (Mary Chaktsiris, Sarah Glassford, Christopher Schultz, Nathan Smith) and I curated the “Canada’s First World War” series for that sought to problematize and expand our understanding of Canada’s experience of the First World War. We wanted to give voice to stories that had been lost in more monolithic narratives, to question accepted mythologies and to lift up subaltern histories that had been ignored. One of those narratives that most dominate this history and most obscure others is the Vimy mythology, and one of our primary goals was to finally expose Canadians to the problems associated with viewing Canadian identity and nation building through a Vimy-hued lens. We did publish one article on Vimy, by Canadian War Museum historian Nic Clark, but the article’s critique of Vimy’s place in Canada’s mythology supported this goal.

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