Tuition, Protest and Bill 78: A View from Quebec

Photo by Gerry Lauzon

At the end of last week, the Quebec government tabled Bill 78 in an effort to end the months of protest over planned hikes to university tuition. The bill sets restrictions on the freedom of assembly and expression, requiring those in protests over 50 people to ascertain that the protest has been officially sanctioned by police and government officials.  The bill also holds student associations, unions and their leaders accountable for the actions of their membership. The biggest problem with the law, like most draconian measures, is that it is vague in its definition of illegal activity and harsh on punishment.  Not surprisingly, countless groups – including some that disagree with the tuition-based protest – have voiced their opposition to it, culminating in a mass demonstration on Tuesday in Montreal.  Below is a translated version of an open letter, written by many of Quebec’s leading historians in reaction to the government’s bill.  It is followed by brief summaries of the posts related to this issue published by our francophone partner site, Continue reading

Call for Nominations – CHA Active History Committee Coordinator(s)

The CHA Active History Committee will be holding elections for one or more coordinators at its annual meeting at the Canadian Historical Association’s annual meeting, scheduled for noon on May 30, 2012 (see CHA programme for room location). Anyone interested in the position can contact the current co-coordinators at  for more information. Continue reading

Seizing Canada’s Past: Politics and the Reinvention of Canadian History

Former National Archives building, Ottawa

By Sean Kheraj

The conversation has been ongoing among Canadian historians for the past few years, especially since the federal government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, altered the contents of the official citizenship guide for new Canadians to place greater emphasis on military history and the monarchy while ignoring or downplaying the country’s history of progressive social policy, multiculturalism, and social justice movements. Many Canadian historians have been concerned that the Conservative Party of Canada is attempting to reinvent the narrative of the country’s past for its own political purposes. Continue reading

What’s Wrong With Celebrating the War of 1812?

This is the third in a weekly series of posts leading up to the mini-conference The War of 1812: Whose War was it Anyway? being held at the University of Waterloo on May 30th.

By Ian McKay and Jamie Swift

Warmonger politicians customarily indulge in high rhetoric, attempting to rally the citizenry round the flag and boost the bloodletting. Or when invoking the glories of past wars. The War of 1812 was no exception.

Those who witness war’s gruesome reality often remember things differently, as do many historians. Continue reading

McGill’s Conclusions on its Ties to the Asbestos Industry: A Historian’s Response

Image by Radha-Prema Pelletier

By Jessica Van Horssen

So the winter semester is over, and for those of us at Quebec universities, what a semester it’s been! Specifically, McGill University has had its share of drama this year, with strikes, occupations, computer hacking, and demonstrations against the Quebec government’s plans for tuition hikes. With all of these things going on, it’s no wonder one of McGill’s dirty little secrets has been quietly pushed aside.

Attached is the talk I gave at McGill in March about the historic connection between the university and the asbestos industry. University ties to massive, ethically-questionable corporations is nothing new, and certainly not McGill-specific. Quebec’s continued support of the asbestos industry, of which it was once a world leader, is also nothing new. Neither is the public’s general outrage when information on these ties emerges, nor is the public’s gradual loss of interest in this topic, which contributes to the perpetuation of the toxic legacy of asbestos in Quebec, Canada, and the world. Continue reading

Who Is A Founder? A Look at the Origins of the Canadian Environmental Movement

"Pollution" (2008) by Bob August. Licensed under Creative Commons.

By Ryan O’Connor

One of the challenges I confronted while researching my dissertation was figuring out who the founders were of Toronto’s pioneering environmentalist organizations. This might sound like a simple task, but records of this sort are often difficult to find.

Sometimes the records that exist present a one-sided story. In Front Row Centre: A Perspective on Life, Politics and the Environment, former alderman Tony O’Donohue makes reference to his founding of the Group Action to Stop Pollution (GASP) in 1967. While O’Donohue makes the organization sound like a solo creation, an ensuing conversation with James Bacque, the former chief editor at Macmillan Company of Canada, lawyer Joseph Sheard, and their spouses led to a claim that GASP’s genesis occurred during a meeting in Sheard’s living room. To the best of their knowledge, O’Donohue was not at this meeting. All of the aforementioned attended the group’s public launch in December 1967. The following month saw the creation of GASP as a legal entity. The accompanying document was signed by Bacque, Sheard, and three others. So, who are the founders? Would it be the people present when the idea of forming an anti-pollution group was first proposed? Would it be the people attached to the organization when it made its public debut? Or would it be the people who signed the group’s legal charter? Continue reading

Upper Canadian War Resisters in the War of 1812

This is the second in a weekly series of posts leading up to the mini-conference The War of 1812: Whose War was it Anyway? being held at the University of Waterloo on May 30th.

By Jonathan Seiling

It is widely recognized that many Upper Canadians did not demonstrate utmost loyalty toward the British Crown on the eve of the war, or even during the war. Some settlers objected to the war in communities on both sides of the border, whether on pragmatic grounds, or due to “disaffection” and political dissent. Others refused to participate on principle.

In the years leading up to the war economic migrants from the U.S., who had little fondness for British rule, settled amid the Loyalists and came to represent a strong majority of Upper Canadians. This created problems for the defense of the province, just as it now creates problems for those who wish to portray early settlers in Upper Canada as a patriotic collective. We might ask ourselves today: amid this national reflection upon the war, is there adequate public space to commemorate and even celebrate the diversity of political orientations in Upper Canada during the War of 1812? Or should the inconvenient legacy of disloyal settlers, and those who refused on other grounds to fight in the war be merely viewed askance? Continue reading

Approaching the Past: Historical Landscapes and Hauntings

Wednesday May 9th, 5pm meeting time, 5:30 start time

“Historical Landscapes and Hauntings:

Connecting place to the history and social studies curriculum”

Meet at the outside C5 entrance of the ROM (the ROM’s “crystal” overhang)

A spring walk around the University of Toronto campus

Talks by Helen Mills from Lost Rivers, Richard Fiennes-Clinton from Muddy York Walking Tours, and University of Toronto instructor Rose Fine-Meyer

RSVP now:

Mad Men and Wonder Years: history, nostalgia, and life in The Sixties

Promotional image for Season Five of Mad Men

By Jay Young

Like many people, I anticipated the return of Mad Men (AMC, Sundays, 10 pm EST), one of television’s most acclaimed series of the past decade.  Now in its fifth season, the show looks at the life of Don Draper and other workers in the New York advertising industry during the 1960s. At the same time that I became reunited with Don and his gang at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, I also began to re-watch The Wonder Years.  Running from 1988 to 1993, the series told the coming-of-age story of Kevin Arnold, a teenage boy living in an unnamed American suburb during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  What struck me as I watched Mad Men and The Wonder Years is the different ways in which both shows explore history, nostalgia, and life during the turbulent decade of the 1960s. Continue reading