In Conversation IV: Preserving and Passing-On the Legacies of Canada’s First World War

By Sarah Glassford and Jonathan Vance

Preamble
This post is the product of a Q&A email exchange between Dr. Jonathan Vance, a professor in the Department of History at The University of Western Ontario, and Dr. Sarah Glassford, an archivist at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. We met at Western as student and professor in the autumn of 1997; our paths crossed again two decades later when Sarah returned to Western and volunteered to help organize the diverse ephemera Jonathan had acquired for his collection of world war-related material.

This post draws no broad conclusions, but instead attempts to shed light on the roles of scholars and collectors in preserving and passing on the legacy of Canada’s First World War, as seen through the work of one academic historian.

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The 1934 British Columbia Penitentiary Strike and Prisoners’ Wages in Canada    

By Jordan House

The early 1930s were marked by considerable labour unrest in Canada. Over this period, workers developed new, more expansive forms of trade unionism, as well as new tactics such as sit-down strikes and flying pickets. In the context of the great depression, this unrest was not only evident in the country’s factories, mines, and ports; workers and their unions also began organizing outside of these traditional workplaces. Perhaps most famously, this organizing included unemployed workers and those toiling in Canada’s relief camps. Less well known, however, are the ways in which Canadian prisoners participated in this labour upsurge, adopting trade union tactics to suit their particular situations, and demanding improved conditions, political representation, and wages.

 

On 1 September 1934, seven prisoners working in the mailbag shop of the BC Penitentiary began a work refusal. The strikers were quickly escorted back to their cells and locked up. A week later, two prisoners replacing windows in the penitentiary died when the scaffolding they were working on collapsed, while a third prisoner was seriously injured. In the wake of the accident, renewed strike activity spread through the institution, and by 11 September, around 100 prisoners were refusing to work. The prisoners had a number of grievances, but their main demands were for the recognition of a prisoners’ committee to represent their interests vis- à-vis the prison administration, and the implementation of wages for work. Chants of “wages, wages, wages” could be heard over the prison walls.[1]

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Cards Against Environmental History: Rethinking Undergraduate Review Exercises

Hailey Venn

This post has been cross-posted with the Network in Canadian History & Environment

Jeopardy is a popular request from students who want an in-class review activity, but Jeopardy has some critical drawbacks. First and foremost, it asserts that there are right and wrong answers which can be condensed into minimal words. Jeopardy, by its very foundation, discourages nuance and critical thinking. It also prioritizes knowledge which is traditionally pale, male, and stale. Second, from a labour stand point, the game demands a tremendous amount of work from the professor or TA who creates it, while those who answer the questions are not compelled to demonstrate significant knowledge. There must be a better way.

Cards Against Humanity pile
The original Cards Against Humanity game is simple. Each round, one player asks a question from a black card, and everyone else answers with their funniest white card. Cards Against Environmental History (CAEH) follows this same format.

Origins

A few years ago, Leah Wiener, a PhD candidate of SFU’s Department of History, assigned Cards Against Environmental History (CAEH) to the third year class she TA’d. The basic rules exactly followed those of the original Cards Against Humanity.

As a student in that course, I really appreciated the creativity of the exercise and how the structure demanded that students go back and look over their materials. Wiener’s format demanded that we all contribute [x] number of black and white cards on cue cards. To this day, that is one of the few review exercises of my undergrad which I distinctly remember, and quite fondly at that.

During my first TAship in fall of 2017, I was assigned to the same course. Naturally, CAEH seemed like a perfect fit. To modify that version, I assigned each student to review the readings and lecture from one week of the course. While it narrowed the focus of each students’ review, it did ensure that there was little to no repetition of the cards and that the tutorial’s collective batch covered the range of reading and lecture materials. I did not conduct a survey at that point, though students seemed to appreciate the exercise and they performed well on the final exam. Continue reading

Remember/Resist/Redraw #19: Revisiting the Workers’ Revolt in Winnipeg

2019 marks the centenary of the Winnipeg General Strike, which took place between 15 May and 26 June 1919. In anticipation of the centenary, the Graphic History Collective released RRR poster #19 this week by David Lester and the GHC. The poster critically examines the strike’s important lessons and legacy.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for social change. Learn more about how you can support the project on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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We need to stop talking about Vimy

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Jonathan Weier

As a historian of Canada’s involvement in the First World War I get awfully tired of talking and writing about the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Especially tiresome is the intellectual work of critiquing the reification of Vimy’s nationalist mythology, a topic that seems to come up annually when its anniversary rolls around. The Vimy mythology has an enduring power.

Over the course of the last five years, four collaborators (Mary Chaktsiris, Sarah Glassford, Christopher Schultz, Nathan Smith) and I curated the “Canada’s First World War” series for ActiveHistory.ca that sought to problematize and expand our understanding of Canada’s experience of the First World War. We wanted to give voice to stories that had been lost in more monolithic narratives, to question accepted mythologies and to lift up subaltern histories that had been ignored. One of those narratives that most dominate this history and most obscure others is the Vimy mythology, and one of our primary goals was to finally expose Canadians to the problems associated with viewing Canadian identity and nation building through a Vimy-hued lens. We did publish one article on Vimy, by Canadian War Museum historian Nic Clark, but the article’s critique of Vimy’s place in Canada’s mythology supported this goal.

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The limits of tax privacy

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By Shirley Tillotson

Party politics made the privacy of the prime minister’s income tax return a sensitive topic in mid-July 1931. On July 16, Prime Minister R.B. Bennett stood up in parliament and declared that the income tax measures proposed in his budget would not benefit him personally, as his Liberal opponents had alleged. If that were so, he bridled ostentatiously, he would be unworthy to occupy his office.[1]

R.B. Bennett, Prime Minister of Canada, 1930-1935. Unconventionally, Bennett was his own minister of finance until February 1932.

It seemed that Canadians would have to take his word for that. Unlike U.S. Presidents today, Prime Ministers then did not disclose their income tax returns. The federal taxman would never tell creditors or fundraisers or mooching relatives how a tax filer was really fixed. And no one would have a chance to see if people who were living large were contributing little.

And yet Bennett’s critics had some kind of information about his tax bill, and they also had a strangely precise count of how many other wealthy Canadians – sixty – would supposedly benefit from the “millionaire’s budget.” Where did they get these numbers, if tax returns were not public records? Continue reading

Confronting Canadian Migration History

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Daniel Ross

Today we are pleased to announce the publication of the second volume in the Active History ebook series, Confronting Canadian Migration History. This open-access ebook collects some of the best writing on the topics of refugees, immigration, and nativism published on the site over the last four years. Although they vary in form and respond to different contexts and research agendas, all fifteen essays included in the collection share a common goal of bringing an engaged historical perspective to today’s migration debates. We hope that you will download, read, teach with, and share this open-access educational resource, which joins the Beyond the Lecture ebook and the Open Canadian History Seminar on our new Publications page.

Click on the cover image to read the ebook. To download a high-quality .pdf with covers, click here.

This volume, like all of Active History’s activities over the past decade, would not have been possible without the support of a network of contributors and allies across the country. It was prepared with Stephanie Bangarth, Sonya de Laat, Andrea Eidinger, Laura Madokoro, Jan Raska, Benjamin Hoy, Ryan McKenney, Benjamin Bryce, Michael Akladios, Sarah Carter, Edward Dunsworth, Laura Ishiguro, David Atkinson, Aitana Guia, Franca Iacovetta, and Karen Dubinsky. Marie-Laurence Rho provided editorial assistance, and Camille Robert designed the cover. Krista McCracken and eCampus Ontario provided inspiration and technical assistance.

The essays in this collection speak to the broad range of research being done in Canadian migration history; they also highlight the commitment of their authors to a public-facing scholarly practice. Read together, we believe they offer a much-needed historical perspective on contemporary discussions of immigration and refuge, questions that cut to the heart of who we are as a society.

Please share widely!

Daniel Ross is an assistant professor of history at UQÀM and a member of the Active History editorial collective.

The Politicization of History in Spain

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Bàrbara Molas and Adrian Shubert

On February 24, 2019, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez laid a wreath on the tomb of Manuel Azaña, the most important political figure of the Second Republic who had died in exile and was buried in France. He was the first Spanish leader since the restoration of democracy in 1978 to do so. In his remarks, and his tweet, Sánchez asked all Republican exiles for forgiveness for it having taken so long. “Many years have passed since you had to leave. But today, although very late, Spain pays homage to Manuel Azaña, to our fellow citizens of the exile. From the cemetery of Montauban, the eternal fatherland says to its children: Peace, Pity and Pardon”. Sánchez’s gesture, which coincided with the start of the campaign for national elections at the end of April, earned him a powerful rebuke from the leader of the opposition and the Spanish right in general.

Bikers for Independence, Barcelona, 10 October 2017 (Adrian Shubert photo)

This is a small incident, but it is symptomatic of the way in which the memory of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the Franco dictatorship (1939-1975) that emerged out of it remains hugely contentious and informs – even poisons – political debate in the country. Continue reading

Welcome to Canada: A Story from the First Year of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program

Edward Dunsworth

It started as the most mundane of requests.

One evening in late September, after a long day’s work, a light bulb flickered out in the dormitory that housed Carlton Robinson[i] and twelve other Jamaican men for the duration of their contract work on a farm in Vanessa, Ontario, about 65 kilometers southwest of Hamilton.

For unclear reasons, it fell to Carlton to report the faulty lightbulb to the farm owner, Vincent Geerts. Perhaps he thought nothing of approaching his employer about such a quotidian matter; or maybe he was anxious as he walked over to the farm house in the twilight hour. Regardless of what he expected, once Carlton reached the house and asked for a replacement bulb, things began to go very poorly, very fast. Though it was a Wednesday, Carlton found Geerts drinking with a friend. The friend, described in known archival sources only as a “French-Canadian” (and not named), quickly engaged Carlton in an argument and challenged the Jamaican man to a fight, a challenge Carlton declined to accept, instead returning to the bunkhouse.

The matter did not end there.

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More: Energy History and Energy Futures

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This is the sixth post in a collaborative series titled “Environmental Historians Debate: Can Nuclear Power Solve Climate Change?”. It is hosted by the Network in Canadian History & Environment, the Climate History Network, and ActiveHistory.ca.

By Sean Kheraj

If nuclear power is to be used as a stop-gap or transitional technology for the de-carbonization of industrial economies, what comes next? Energy history could offer new ways of imagining different energy futures. Current scholarship, unfortunately, mostly offers linear narratives of growth toward the development of high-energy economies, leaving little room to imagine low-energy futures. As a result, energy historians have rarely presented plausible ideas for low-energy futures and instead dwell on apocalyptic visions of poverty and the loss of precious, ill-defined “standards of living.”

The fossil fuel-based energy systems that wealthy, industrialized nation states developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries now threaten the habitability of the Earth for all people. Global warming lies at the heart of the debate over future energy transitions. While Nancy Langston makes a strong case for thinking about the use of nuclear power as a tool for addressing the immediate emergency of carbon pollution of the atmosphere, her arguments left me wondering what energy futures will look like after de-carbonization. Will industrialized economies continue with unconstrained growth in energy consumption, expand reliance on nuclear power, and press forward with new technological innovations to consume even more energy (Thorium reactors? Fusion reactors? Dilithium crystals?)? Or will profligate energy consumers finally lift their heads up from an empty trough and start to think about ways of living with less energy? Unfortunately, energy history has not been helpful in imagining low-energy possibilities.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been getting familiar with the field of energy history and, for the most part, it has been the story of more. [1] Energy history is a related field to environmental history, but also incorporates economic history, the history of capitalism, social history, cultural history and gender history (and probably more than that). My particular interest is in the history of hydrocarbons, but I’ve tried to take a wide view of the field and consider scholarship that examines energy history in deeper historical contexts. Continue reading