The Acknowledgments Project; or, The Girl with the Chocolate-Dipped Cone

Image from PEI Visitors Guide (2005), p. 18.

By Alan MacEachern

Once in a while, historians come up with an idea, do some research, analyze it, write that up, and find we have something resembling a book. Or maybe it turns out to be an article. Or a blog post. In those cases, we attach our name to it and send it out into the world. But what about those stray and idiosyncratic findings that don’t even rise to the status of a blog post, and deserve a longer life than a tweet?

So here’s my idea: The Acknowledgments Project. You post stuff you’ve found that you know you can’t use as well as someone else probably can. If someone can use it, great. If when they write it up they acknowledge your little contribution, great. Whatevs. Continue reading

Wanted: Book Reviewers for

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Enjoy reading about the experiences of people who lived in the past?  Love learning about the history of places that mean something to you?  If so, then you might want to review a book for us at We are looking for new book reviewers – people who are currently outside of university history departments who will read and comment on recent history books.  These reviews will be added to our book review section.

Please continue reading to see a short list of some of the history books published in Canada recently: Continue reading

Communities of Interest and Electoral Redistricting

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By David Zylberberg

Following the census, Canada’s federal electoral districts are redrawn every decade. On Monday, Ontario’s proposed new ridings were announced, the last province to do so. You can look at the details of the proposed new ridings or the process of consultation, here. The proposed changes have led me to think about the origins and rationale for electoral districts. In particular, I will be discussing the importance of communities of interest for designing effective ridings in our particular system and how these priorities are reflected in proposed ridings for Saskatchewan and northeastern Ontario. Continue reading

Finding History on the French River

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French River Rapids, field sketch by Paul Kane, 1845.

By Andrew Watson and Jim Clifford

You really can’t go camping in Ontario without encountering the past. Especially not in a provincial park. Certainly not along the French River. The past is everywhere, around every bend in the river, next to every campsite, layered across every scenic landscape. Moreover, it is a really interesting history for two environmental historians. We’ve read and written about the problems with the concept of ‘wilderness‘, as human history influences even the most remote landscapes. The scenery of the Lower French River brings these theories to life, as it was clearly created by both natural forces and past human activities.  Glaciers and thousands of years erosion shaped the beautifully worn rocks, while loggers left us with forests with few trees more than a hundred years old.

Located roughly 300 kilometers north of Toronto, connecting Lake Nipissing to Georgian Bay, the French River was designated Canada’s first Heritage River in 1986, three years before it also became a provincial park. The Canadian Heritage Rivers System, which includes 37 rivers in every province and territory except Quebec, was established in order “to conserve rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational heritage, to give them national recognition, and to encourage the public to enjoy and appreciate them.” After a week camping and canoeing here, it’s easy to understand why the French became the country’s first Heritage River. Continue reading

The Raccoons

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Image used under fair use terms. Copyright of Skywriter Media & Entertainment Groups.

By Daniel Macfarlane

The Raccoons “Run with us – we got everything you need!” Does that line from a certain theme song jog any memories for Canadians between the ages of about 20 to 40? What about Ralph, Melissa, Cedric? If not those names, then surely Bert or Cyril Sneer?

The theme song, and the aforementioned characters, are from The Raccoons. This cartoon staring the eponymous anthropomorphized scavengers appeared on CBC for over a decade between 1980-91. This piece of Canadiana started as four specials, and then became a syndicated half-hour series. Cyril Sneer (an aardvark, by the way) was the corporate tree-cutting, money-grubbing villain who served as the foil to main protagonist, the bumbling but lovable Bert and the rest of his crew in Evergreen Forest (apparently somewhere in B.C.).

Continue reading

History Slam Episode Four with Emily Harrington, “Publishing Guru”

By Sean Graham

It’s the History Slam Fall Book Preview! Emily Harrington, the podcast’s official ‘publishing guru,’ stops by to talk about some of the new books coming out in the next few months. We also talk about what we’d like to see in new history books and give a bit of insight in the production of the podcast.

Sean Graham is a doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa where he is currently working on a project that examines the early years of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He has previously studied at Nipissing University, the University of the West Indies, and the University of Regina and like any red-blooded Canadian his ultimate dream is to be a curling champion while living on a diet of beer and poutine.

Reviving the Canadian Hero

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Portrait, Samuel Benfield Steele, 1891. Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, University of Alberta (2008.

By Lauren Wheeler

Sam Steele was the Forrest Gump of Canadian History.  He was involved in some way with the Fenian Raids, the Long March West, the 1870 Riel Uprising, the establishment of the North-West Mounted Police, the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the 1885 Northwest Uprising, the Klondike Gold Rush, the Second Boer War, the First World War, the Spanish Flu epidemic, and the Winnipeg General Strike. None of the first five Prime Ministers could make claims to have experienced that many of the key events of the country’s first fifty years!  Today Steele is a relatively unknown figure of Canadian history.  Aficionados of RCMP history know of him and there are corners of the country where his life is celebrated – like Fort Steele, BC, Fort Macleod, Alberta, and Dawson City, Yukon.  If you walked up to the average person on the street and asked “Who was Sam Steele?” they would probably give you a blank look and respond “Sam who?” Continue reading

What Counts as History in Toronto? Digitally Exploring Toronto’s Heritage Plaques

The locations of Toronto’s heritage plaques

By Ian Milligan

When professional historians think of heritage plaques, some have knee-jerk reactions (“dead white man history!”) while others may see it as an engaging way to bring people into contact with the past in places they might otherwise not. On a leisurely stroll through the city, I enjoy checking out the few plaques that I pass: learning about the history of a building, somebody famous who lived there, or even just being reminded of a historical event such as a rebellion, skirmish, or maybe even a tavern. I thus had a few general thoughts about them: mostly 19th century, perhaps, concentrated in older parts of cities, and maybe yes, disproportionately about political, economic, and military leaders. But since the plural of anecdote isn’t data, I figured I’d try to find out some systematic things about plaques in the City of Toronto.

Luckily, they’re all digitized online. From these text files, we can learn a few things: where they’re located (and make an interactive map!), what they’re about (through topics), and what time periods they cover. From this, a few conclusions can come: that yes, there’s some truth to the fact that they do deal with topics of political, economic, and well, elite importance. They do skew towards the 19th century, although a surprising number of plaques discuss the late 20th century. Why? Read on! Continue reading

Speak, Recipe: Reading Cookbooks as Life Stories

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By Ian Mosby

As a historian of food and nutrition, I’ve amassed a substantial collection of cookbooks, old and new, over the years. But one cookbook I often find myself coming back to amidst the hundred plus dusty volumes cluttering my office is a 1930 edition of the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Meals Tested, Tasted and Approved: Favorite Recipes and Menus From Our Kitchens to Yours. I purchased it for $12 from a Toronto vintage shop and consider it one of my favourite purchases to date.

On the surface, at least, the cookbook seems unremarkable. Good Housekeeping cookbooks from the period are common enough, and like many others in my collection it’s well worn and smells vaguely of mildew and decades-old flour. Its spine is broken and held together with clear tape. Its pages are stuffed with dozens of handwritten recipes on cards as well as a number of others cut from newspapers and magazines. These include a fading recipe for Dandelion Wine written in pencil on a piece of scrap paper and a Campbell’s Soup can label with a recipe for Oven Glazed Chicken. In other words, it’s a cookbook like hundreds of others that could be found in kitchen cupboards in households across the country, and my personal collection includes its own fair share of similarly well-worn, well-loved volumes.

But what makes this particular cookbook remarkable – to me at least – is the inscription in the front cover left by its original owner, Jean Stephenson.[1] Continue reading

Language Use on the Historical Playground

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On Monday afternoon Christopher Dummitt responded to my Active History post “Colonialism and the Words We Choose” on his blog Everyday History. In his critique Dummitt argues that Monday’s post is representative of how disconnected some academic historians are from everyday society. He suggests that the argument I make is fuelled by a drive to avoid talking about inequality in the past. Continue reading