EHTV Episode 09: A Town Called Asbestos Part IV

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The fourth part in a NiCHE EHTV mini-series, by Dr. Jessica Van Horssen, on the history of asbestos mining in Quebec investigates the decades after the Second World War when global awareness of the adverse health effects of asbestos led to import bans and ultimately the decline of the industry. As medical science unequivocally linked a variety of cancers and lung diseases to inhalation of and exposure to asbestos fibers, the industry suffered. By the 1970s, Quebec asbestos miners, asbestos corporations, and the federal government stood alone as defenders of the fireproof mineral.

Viewers should also visit the website for Asbestos, QC: The Graphic Novel to further explore Dr. Van Horssen’s work on this topic.

Visit the full EHTV website at:

Active History in an Age of Austerity

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by Sean Kheraj

Montgomery’s Inn, Toronto, ON. Photo by loreth_ni_Balor.

Tom Peace recently published a post on Active History calling attention to the emergence of another round of the History Wars, but the more pressing forthcoming history war may be one between the historical community and the politics of austerity. Budget cuts at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels of government across the country have targeted cultural and heritage institutions, threatening the integrity of the capacity of Canada to maintain an adequate understanding of its collective past.

Reckless tax-cuts combined with a global economic crisis have conspired at all levels of government across Canada to persuade the country’s political leadership to use ballooning budget deficits to justify substantial service cuts with very little public debate and a tenuous political mandate. During the 2011 federal election, the Conservative Party of Canada made a commitment to balance the federal budget by 2014-15 (one which it recently abandoned), “[t]hrough accelerated reductions in government spending” without raising any taxes. Unfortunately, the promise to balance the budget through spending cuts offered no details except that a Conservative government would continue “specific measures to restrain the growth of program spending” and complete, “within one year, a comprehensive review of government spending” [1]. The most detail on these “specific measures” that the Prime Minister offered to voters during the campaign was that “We know there is fat to be saved.” Continue reading

New Review of Perceptions of Cuba: Canadian and American Policies in Comparative Perspective

Perceptions of Cuba: Canadian and American Policies in Comparative Perspective

By Lana Wylie

Reviewed by Mary Stanik, a communications consultant and opinion writer who has been published in a number of major Canadian and American newspapers. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

These are interesting times for anyone in Canada or the United States who takes a serious interest in Cuba.  Since Raúl Castro became Cuba’s acting president in 2006 (and president in his own right in 2008), Cuba watchers in both countries have looked at the changes Castro, brother of former President Fidel Castro, has and has not made to the country’s governing structure or political culture.  Within the past six years, leadership changes in Canada (with Stephen Harper becoming prime minister in 2006) and the United States (with Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009), also have brought about new thoughts and policies regarding Cuba. In Canada, there has been a cooling of relations, while there has been somewhat of a thaw in the United States.  These changes might have been nearly unimaginable in either country just a few years earlier.

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Cold War Memorial Event in Ottawa: November 16th

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As part of the celebrations dedicated to its 50th anniversary, the Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum invites you to the fourth annual Cold War Memorial Event on Wednesday, November 16, from 5:00 pm – 8:30 pm.

David Monteyne, Associate Professor in Architecture at the University of Calgary, will deliver a public lecture to officially launch his new book Fallout Shelter: Designing for Civil Defense in the Cold War (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). Please continue reading for more information on the lecture and the program: Continue reading

Population Control and the Environment

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by Ryan O’Connor

On October 31st the United Nations announced the birth of the seven billionth person. Many stories were published on this event, but to me the most revealing was by David Suzuki, the venerable leader of Canada’s environmental movement. As Suzuki pointed out, the human population has increased three-fold during his lifetime. Nonetheless, he refused to blame population growth for our ecological malaise. As Suzuki argues, “most environmental devastation is not directly caused by individuals or households, but by corporations driven more by profits than human needs.” According to his line of thinking, it is overconsumption by the wealthy, not the ever-increasing population, that is causing the problem.

There was a time when population size was a central concern within the environmental movement. Stanford biologist Paul R. Ehrlich’s 1968 treatise, The Population Bomb, sat alongside Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring on environmentalists’ “must read” list. Full of doom and gloom, this book linked exponential growth of the human population with ecological destruction, resource exhaustion, mass starvation, and political instability. The only solution, according to Ehrlich, was to reduce the rate of population growth to zero percent. A variety of solutions were prescribed, including tax incentives to men that voluntarily underwent sterilization, luxury taxes on children’s goods, the promotion of abortion and other forms of birth control for women, and an end to foreign aid to countries that did not put a check on their population growth. The Population Bomb sold millions of copies, Ehrlich became a media darling, and the goal of reducing the global population became standard within the American environmental movement. Continue reading

Blowing Your Mind with Chronozoom (or how we can wrap our minds around ‘Big History’)

Surveying all of cosmic history using ChronoZoom: you can't even see human history up there in the upper right corner.

Historians aren’t always the best at crossing the hall to the sociologists across the way, let alone the astronomers, physicians, or geologists across campus. Scientists who study the Big Bang, however, are engaged in history – just a (very) different kind. Similarly, those who study the very long-term geographical forces that have shaped Earth, those who study evolutionary processes across flora and fauna, even those who study broader, galactic or universal phenomena, are often seen as very distinct from historians.

Big History, a new and emerging field, seeks to bridge these very real but also occasionally artificial disciplinary boundaries. It can be hard, however, to really establish how we can go forward and what a Big History approach might look like in real, deliverable terms (Bill Gates and David Christian have a great project also looking at how to teach these concepts to classrooms). Look no further: ChronoZoom, from the University of California-Berkeley’s Department of Earth and Planetary Science, has a working model that gives us a sense of what this might look like. Continue reading

Announcement: Parler Fort Series The Monarchy in Canada – Why?

In the wake of this summer’s highly successful royal tour by Prince William and his new wife, Catherine – the future King and Queen of Canada – we pause to reflect on what it’s all about.

On Monday November 14th Arthur Bousfield and Garry Toffoli, co-authors of Royal Tours 1786-2010 (Dundurn, 2010) will place this most recent royal tour in the context of those that preceded it, going back to 1786! Nathan Tidridge author of Canada’s Constitutional Monarchy (Dundurn, 2011) believes there’s a crisis in our understanding of the role the Crown plays in our government. He argues that the monarchy is a rich institution integral to our ideals of democracy and parliamentary government. What do you think?

Parler Fort is a series of themed discussions that examines the impacts of past events on our lives today. Featuring novelists, historians, artists and city planners among others, each session explores a topic in a way that sparks dialogue and provides insight into issues that matter today. Fort York National Historic Site is an apt setting in which to enrich our understanding of our city and fortify our connections with one another.

Admission Price $10 ($8.85 plus tax)
Free for students compliments of Dundurn Press
R.S.V.P. to 416-392-6907 ext. 221
Fort York, Blue Barracks. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Complimentary Refreshments provided by Fort York Volunteer Historic Cooks
Presented in partnership with The Friends of Fort York ? ? Twitter @fortyork ?


A Town Called Asbestos Part III

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In the third installment of this five-part NiCHE EHTV series, Dr. Jessica Van Horssen explores the growth of the asbestos mining industry in Quebec during the Second World War and the post-war period. In particular, she unearths the history of the adverse health effects of exposure to asbestos and the corporate and Canadian government initiatives to keep this information secret, including an international propaganda campaign. She also discusses the impact of the 1949 strike in Asbestos, Quebec.

Viewers should also visit the website for Asbestos, QC: The Graphic Novel to further explore Dr. Van Horssen’s work on this topic.

Visit the full EHTV website at:

Issues and Artifacts at the British Museum

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Very recently I had the opportunity to visit the British Museum in London, England. It was a place that had long been on my “to do” list. From the scope of the building itself, to the individual objects and their imaginative presentations – the experience did not disappoint. The visit was awe inspiring and enlightening and fed my love of history and material culture. I don’t think I was alone – the faces of many of the school children there spoke volumes.

The vastness and variety of the collections of the British Museum speaks to more than just the objects themselves. These artifacts speak to how we as humans have evolved, survived, worshipped, expressed love and made war. A simple mortar and pestle tells of how we shaped the agricultural revolution and used food as a means of communion, while ancient but beautiful sculptures of people, gods, and animals show the very human impulse to create art not only for the sake of beauty, but in an earnest attempt to try to understand our environment and experiences. Continue reading

Active History on the Grand: the War of 1812 and the Six Nations

With the bicentennial of the War of 1812 quickly approaching local history and heritage organizations are busy planning events and exhibits to commemorate the war.  The Federal government recently announced funding to be administered through the Department of Canadian Heritage to assist in the commemoration.  For the Conservative government these plans fit into their larger intention of “restoring military exploits to a more central role in the country’s national identity.” 

However, just how the War of 1812 should be commemorated, and what this war actually meant to Canadian history, is being actively contended in the pages of the Globe and Mail.  According to the Department of Canadian Heritage, the War of 1812 was a pivotal event that ultimately shaped the nation that became Canada.  Many point to the “happy aftermath” of the war: the 200 years of peace with the United States, as well as the Rush-Bagot agreement of 1817 that limited military activities on the Great Lakes.  Others argue that the war “was among the dumbest ever fought,” and charge the Harper Government with attempting to use the bicentennial as “contemporary nationalistic propaganda.”  Alan Taylor’s recent book, The Civil War of 1812, also muddies the waters concerning why the war was fought and who was fighting it.  Taylor argues that “national” identities and borders were fluid, and the war shouldn’t be seen as simply an American invasion repelled by the British military and Canadian militia. Continue reading