The “War on the Car” has a long history

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Looking north on Toronto's Bay Street in 1924. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1116

Last week, newly-elected Toronto Mayor Rob Ford continued his campaign rhetoric by proclaiming that “the war on the car is over.” On the first day of his mayoralty, Ford announced he intends to halt construction of a light rail transit line on Sheppard Avenue.  The mayor says a subway under Sheppard Avenue should be built instead of the surface light rail line running in its own right of way on the suburban thoroughfare.  Placing transit along Sheppard Avenue underground, with its massive cost increases and unsure future, falls in line with Ford’s conception of streets as primarily conduits for car and truck traffic.

The Sheppard light rail project is the first line under construction to build Transit City, a plan introduced in 2007 to crisscross under-serviced areas with light rapid transit.  Ford’s announcement puts the Transit City plan in limbo.  The province, who is paying for the project, has suggested it will look at Ford’s emphasis on subways, but its final decision is unclear.  Queen’s Park has indicated the city would be forced to cover the millions of dollars in contract cancellation penalties and construction costs, which runs counter to Ford’s mantra against “wasteful spending” and “respect for the taxpayer.”

If the “war on the car” in Toronto is apparently now over, when exactly did it begin? Continue reading

Memento Mori On the Web: What Happens When Photos are Digitized?

Does anything about this photo seem unusual? It looks like a typical family photo from the Victorian era. What if I told you the woman in the middle was dead when the photo was taken? Did that change your reaction to the photo? I came across post-mortem photography a few years ago and became fascinated with it.  As I began searching for images and histories of these photos, I was led to several websites and digital collections dedicated to the display of these photographs. It was during my research that I noticed a pattern; many of the same photos were being used on different websites.

I remember my first reaction to these photographs. Such images made me very uncomfortable. Yet, how we view and deal with death and deceased bodies today is much different from the Victorian era. Today, death for the most part is a private affair and is not something we are exposed to on a regular basis. Post-mortem photography was common in the Victorian era after the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839. It was an affordable and suitable method for middle-class families to commemorate a loved one.  Bodies were usually staged as though the deceased were still alive or in a deep sleep and it is rare to see the deceased displayed in a coffin or funerary setting. Continue reading

Step-by-Step: Looking Up an Ancestor’s First World War Record

This is part of a new series, ‘Step-by-Step,’ which aims to guide users through on-line research tools. If you want to suggest further guides, please contact us or put it in the comments section.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised that an off-the-cuff reference to looking up an ancestor’s military record spurred such a gaggle after my undergraduate tutorial last week. I’d repeated an observation that I’d read on H-Canada a few years ago about being prepared to learn about an ancestor’s sexual misadventures (our class was on sex education). The reaction was astounding – they wanted to learn about their family history, or that of a partner, or friend, or expressed general genealogical interest.

Simply pointing them to Library and Archives Canada website might not be enough, however. A few students had already been to the website, actually, but didn’t find it terribly intuitive or straight forward. This year, I’ve been captivated with helping students navigate the technological options available to them (Zotero, DeeperWeb, WorldCat, Google Scholar/Books, etc.), and have realized that we need to think more about how we teach this. In one of my classes, I adapted Bill Turkel’s work in quickly going digital into a screen-by-screen discussion. This post provides a screen-by-screen dissection of how you can find military records from the First World War at Library and Archives Canada. Continue reading

Canadian Folk Music Heritage

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When someone says folk music what comes to mind? Gordon Lightfoot? Mariposa? Natalie McMaster? A sense of confusion as to what is actually classified as folk? Traditional folk music has existed in Canada since the 16th century.  Canadian folk music is rooted in oral tradition, Canadian heritage, and the struggles of the common people.  Today, Canadian folk music is still strongly linked to a uniquely Canadian past.  Anglo-Canadian folk songs often relate stories about the sea, fishing, lumbering, mining, and other activities which Canada was built upon.  Additionally, folk music often reflects the diversity of the original settlers of Canada.  The various sub genres of folk are frequently linked to a particular culture such as Franco-Canadian, Gaelic, Ukrainian,  and many others. Folk music often acts as a form of oral tradition and is directly linked to Canada’s past. Continue reading

This is Not About Cinnamon Toast

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This blog post began with cinnamon toast. This week, at home on a cool autumn night, I fixed myself a snack of cinnamon toast. I haven’t had it in years, but this particular night I craved it. When I bit into it, a flood of memories and associations long stored away rushed back to me. When I was a child, each time I was home sick from school, my mom would never fail to fix me hot tea with milk and cinnamon toast. She ‘d take care of me all day, pamper me, and typically buy me new a new colouring book or book of paper dolls to help me pass the afternoon at home. That ‘sick day’ ritual was familiar and comforting, and although I’ve never expressed this to my mom, those days at home are a nice memory from my childhood. Continue reading

Active History on the Grand: Brantford Up-date

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Demolition of forty buildings in Brantford's downtown - courtesy of Kalvin Clark

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll notice that I talk a lot about Brantford, Ontario.  Since completing my PhD in History from McMaster University I’ve been working as the Executive Director of the Canadian Industrial Heritage Centre (CIHC), a not-for-profit organization in Brantford dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Canadian industrial history and the establishment of a museum site in Brantford to do just that.  This experience has expanded my understanding of how local communities understand and experience history, and the challenges of being an active historian. Continue reading

Upcoming Talks

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On 23 November 2010, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., the Toronto Historical Society will be meeting at the Riverdale Library, where Jane Fairburn will deliver a talk on her recently completed manuscript which explores the history, landscape and people of Toronto’s waterfront.

The inaugural lecture of HertoriesCafeToronto will take place on 23 November 2010, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Centre for Social Innovation, 215 Spadina Ave., Toronto.  Nina Bascia will speak on “Women and Unions: History Matters.” Continue reading

Let’s talk about race, Canada

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By Shelly Chan

Talking about race in Canada is a lot like talking about sex in the old days. There is so much imposed silence on the subject. We skip around it, pretend that it is not there, and pray that it will go away.

Those who break the silence are often chastised, labelled as “racist” (“pervert”!), or hastily dismissed. Others who tout half-truths indulge in self-congratulatory glory. Because heaven forbid, we insist, only Americans do “it.”

None of this has ever prevented people from being cognizant of the centrality of race and ethnicity to Canadian life, given the history of immigration and indigenous peoples in this country. From time to time, we rehash age-old biases and re-ignite familiar debates about the dilemmas of diversity and integration. Nevertheless, the cycle of silence, missteps, and occasional foreshortened discussion has done little justice to a complex and longstanding issue in multicultural Canada. Continue reading

History Matters podcast: Megan Davies and David Reville on Parkdale’s mad history

Megan Davies and David Reville recently presented an engaging talk on the ways in which mental health deinstitutionalization impacted psychiatric survivors and the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto.  In front of a packed audience at the Parkdale library, “Locating Parkdale’s Mad History: Back Wards to Back Streets, 1980-2010” examined the motivations behind deinstitutionalization and showed how community members are remembering the important event in Canada’s madness history.

The talk is available here for audio download.

Davies, a professor at York University, is also part of The History of Madness in Canada website.  Launched in 2009, the site includes a number of resources on madness history.  It hosts a digital archive and research hub of historical materials going back to the 19th century, along with multi-media teaching material for educators at the secondary and post-secondary level.

Reville is a former city councillor, Ontario MPP, and chair of the Ontario Advocacy Commission.  A psychiatric survivor, he currently teaches the course “Mad People’s History” at Ryerson University.

The lecture was the last talk from the Toronto Public Library’s History Matters series, which showcased historical research on Toronto.

New Book Review: In the Province of History

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By Paul W. Bennett

Ian McKay and Robin Bates, In the Province of History: The Making of the Public Past in Twentieth Century Nova Scotia,  (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2010), Soft Cover, 481 pp.

Nova Scotia is known far and wide as “Canada’s Ocean Playground.” It’s emblazoned on the province’s licence plates, evoked in dreamy television commercials and trumpeted in colourful tourist guides. That popular image also comes packaged with an accessible, entertaining history for the consumption of tourists.

Scottish regalia, sourdough fishermen, sou’wester hats, rugged seascapes, Cape Breton fiddlers and the odd Acadian pastoral scene still populate the public, tourist-oriented version of Nova Scotia’s past. And these very images and symbols can be traced back to the 1930s when the province began developing its tourist promotion business.

Taking their cue from a rather hokey 1936 composite photograph, entitled Native Types, and intended to promote Nova Scotia tourism, Ian McKay and Robin Bates’s controversial new book, In the Province of History, contends that this iconology rests on an invented, largely fictional, historical tradition developed for the purpose of selling Nova Scotia to visitors. In the book, the authors demonstrate how the province’s public past was reconstructed and then turned into a marketable commodity.

Click here to finish reading this review