Third History Matters series lecture uncovers Toronto’s subway past

Jay Young, a PhD student in history and steering committee member, recently gave a talk called “A Public Technology: Building Toronto’s Yonge Street Subway”.  The lecture is part of the Toronto Public Library’s History Matters series.

The lecture discussed various episodes surrounding the building of Toronto’s original Yonge Street subway line during the late 1940s and early 1950s, with particular attention paid to the impacts of construction on local merchants and residents, and the immediate reactions of Torontonians towards the subway after it opened in 1954.

Young’s talk is available here for audio download.

The next History Matters lecture take place Thursday, October 21st, when Susana Miranda delivers a talk titled “Keeping the City Clean: Portuguese Women in Toronto’s Cleaning Industry, 1970-1990”. Click here for more details.

“Come On Over”: Call-In Collaborative History in Northeastern Ontario

The 'Come on Over' Website

When up in the Sudbury and Manitoulin areas for a quick research trip in mid-September, driving several hundred kilometres, I became well-acquainted with CBC Sudbury. On Morning North, there was a regular program by two Laurentian University professors conducting research for their upcoming book Come on Over: Northeastern Ontario A-Z. In what sounds like a cross between an encyclopedia and a guidebook, the community really seemed engaged in its production. Continue reading

A Forgotten Story: The Race Against Time to Unearth the Holocaust by Bullets – 1941-1944

When you think of the Holocaust, what images immediately come to mind?  Perhaps you see the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei sign above the gated entry to Auschwitz I, emaciated bodies, crowded conditions, barracks in concentrations camps, yellow stars, victims forced to board trains, or tattoos that branded prisoners and slave labourers. For most people, images of gas chambers and of emaciated bodies of Jews, Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals and others in concentration camps like Auschwitz first come to mind when the Holocaust is mentioned.  The systematic murder of 2.25 million Jews during the “Holocaust by bullets” in present day Ukraine and Bella Russia between 1941 and 1944 is often forgotten, or simply overlooked.

These images reflect that more personal form of killing (editors note: some of these images are graphic): Continue reading

Is Wikipedia Worth the Trouble?

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Formally launched by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in 2001, Wikipedia — the “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” — has become the first (and often only) stop in Internet fact-finding.

With well over ten million articles to date, Wikipedia has evaded overt corporate influence through a non-profit structure and currently ranks among the top ten most visited sites on all of the web.  Or so it would seem.

Of course, all of that sounds about right; but, since the above information is entirely derived from Wikipedia itself we can’t really be too sure, can we? Continue reading

Craig Heron distills Toronto’s booze-soaked past at second History Matters series lecture

"Fermenting Room", 1916. Image from City of Toronto Archives

Canadian historian Craig Heron recently presented an entertaining talk at the second event of the History Matters lecture series, sponsored by the Toronto Public Library.

Heron discussed a number of aspects in the social history of alcohol in Toronto, from the public importance of nineteenth-century taverns to the imposition of prohibition in the early twentieth century.  The Annette Street library was an appropriate locale for the talk, since the Junction neighbourhood in which the library is located was the last remaining dry district in Toronto.

Heron’s talk is available here for audio download.

The next History Matters lectures take place Thursday, October 14th, when Jennifer Bonnell talks about prisons, pollution and homelessness in Toronto’s Don Valley, while Jay Young analyzes the building of Canada’s first subway under Yonge Street.  Click here for more details.

Kill the “Indian” and Save the “Wild”: Vocabularies with Political Consequences in Indigenous Studies

How is it that we know the importance of words in shaping our perceptions, but forget to examine our naming practices beyond the naming of Indigenous peoples?

Photo by Carl G. Linde, provided by Lake of the Woods District Museum, Kenora, Ontario

How is it that we perceive images like this as Indians hunting among or in the “wild” rice?  What exactly presents us from reading the visual as “Crop Maitenance” or “Pest Control”?

As Indigenous historians, we debate the use of “Indian” in reference to law or colonial parlance.  We know it is a misnomer, a combination of geographical error and personal folly.  We suggest “First Nations” is best because it implies sovereignty and long-term presence.  Specific Tribal names like Migmaq, Haundenosaunee, Nehilawe, and Anishinaabe, wow us because we think that they represent a people as they would represent themselves.

We write books about representation.  We have a field called “Identity Studies.”  We know what it means to be labelled and how a label, in shaping lives, becomes real.  We write to create awareness and to challenge stereotypes.

And yet, we focus on the names of peoples.  We neglect renaming the very things that sustain Indigenous populations.  I ask you, what assumption do the names for material things, tangible things carry?  I believe we need to revisit our most basic assumptions in Indigenous studies, in identity studies.  We cannot create a positive image of Indigenous populations unless we create positive images for the objects that they encounter, consume, and create. Continue reading

Learning new lessons from old lessons learned: why Canadian immigration policy should heed caution to Australia’s precedents

by Laura Madokoro

Recently, the Canadian Immigration Minister travelled around the world to consult with foreign governments on global migration issues. Jason Kenney’s meetings with his Australian counterparts drew special media interest given Australia’s well-known “tough stance” on would-be asylum seekers. Kenney made it clear that Canada and Australia would be working together on human smuggling issues in particular. He declared, “Canada intends to work domestically and internationally to combat the crime and fraud associated with the treacherous journey some immigrants make to Canada. At the same time, we need to ensure that those in need of protection have access to it, and we look forward to working with partners such as Australia.” Continue reading

South Yorkshire and the Nickel Belt: Parallels to Avoid

Lake in Canada's Nickel Belt near Sudbury

David Zylberberg

From at least 1929, the Nickel Belt region around Sudbury was the main operation of two large and generally successful mining companies, INCO and Falconbridge. Although there were a number of labour disputes, periodic layoffs and major expansions, the situation largely continued until the commodity boom of the mid 2000s. There was a spate of acquisitions and mergers in the international mining sector and the world’s second and third largest nickel companies received global interest. In 2006, Falconbridge was acquired by a Swiss Company, XSTRATA, while INCO became part of Brazilian VALE in a $19 billion dollar sale. Since these both involved the sale of Canadian companies to foreign investors, they fell under the regulation of the Investment Canada Act, which states that such takeovers must be a net benefit to Canada. The recently elected Harper government agreed to both sales with a list of conditions that have never been made public, although it is widely understood that both companies promised not to layoff any Canadian employees for 3 years.

Continue reading

‘All the world’s a stage’: Performance in the Classroom

Performance is an important theoretical concept in the history classroom.  It has been deployed in various contexts, from a social historian’s concern with the ‘public transcript’ of the theatre of the dominant classes, and its counter-theatre of resistance, to cultural and gender historians’ readings of ‘performativity,’ wherein the cultural fictions of collectively performed gender produce and reinforce prevailing notions of normalcy.  E.P. Thomspon and Judith Butler have influenced a number of historians with their respective conceptualizations of theatre and performance, and so have had a significant impact on the production of historical scholarship.  These ideas, inspiring as they are, can be heavy theoretical baggage to unpack in the undergraduate history classroom. Continue reading

Active History Announcements: Oct 3-9

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The following upcoming events may be of interest to our readers (click on ‘continue reading’ below for full descriptions):

1)  Call for Participants: Teaching History in Diverse Venues: Toronto, Nov. 4 – submission deadline Oct 4.

2) Thought Exchange (History Matters) – Oct 14

3) CFP: History 2.0: Active History Roundtable on new media

4) This week in the Active History blogosphere!

If you have an announcement that you would like included in this weekly dispatch, please e-mail Continue reading