Wisdom Sits in Places: Reflections on MISHI 2017

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By C. Elizabeth Best

This post is part of a monthly series of reflections from the Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute coordinated by the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation and Carolyn Podruchny in the Department of History at York University.

Over the past five years, I have been grappling with identity. As a young Indigenous woman, I have been trying to find my place in the world and come to terms with the life experience I have accumulated. I was raised in foster care from shortly after my birth until I was adopted by a non-Indigenous family when I was seven. I grew up spending my summers on Manitoulin Island and I went off to University when I was 18. When people ask “where are you from” I have a hard time answering.

Where am I from? For the past few years I have been saying I am from Manitoulin Island because my summers there are the most connected to place that I have ever felt. In addition, I recently married a Haweater and his family accepted me as one of their own.

Nico Williams, “Bandolier” from the exhibit “Spirit Transformations” Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, 2017.

Family has been an elusive concept to me for most of my life. Until I was 12 years old, I expected my family to send me back. I wasn’t sure where ‘back’ was but my understanding of family was that it was constantly traumatic and unstable for everyone. I lived in fear that I would be sent back. It is safe to say that my adoption was not successful. However, my marriage has afforded me a real taste of unconditional support, something that I had not expected from falling in love with my partner.

I now consider myself from Manitoulin Island, even though my roots there are tenuous at best. I think this conundrum that I have been living aligns nicely with this year’s theme for the Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute. Does wisdom sit in places? Yes. Yes wisdom sits in place. Continue reading

Remember / Resist / Redraw #11: The Most Dangerous Woman in the World Lived in Canada

In January, the Graphic History Collective (GHC) launched Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical History Poster Project as a year-long artistic intervention in the Canada 150 conversation.

Earlier this week we released Poster #11 by David Lester, which focuses on the life of anarchist Emma Goldman. In particular, Lester discusses Goldman’s activism in Toronto towards the end of her life.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for radical change in 2017 and beyond. 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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Remembering Colville: Genius and the Politics of Art History

By Andrew Nurse

By all accounts the 2014-5 Alex Colville retrospective — staged first by the AGO — was a monumental success. From its beginning, the exhibition appears to have been conceived as a “blockbuster”: a large-scale exhibition that attracts a viewing public far beyond that which normally visits art galleries. Such exhibitions are reserved for the “superstars” of the art world and, in Canada, Colville has come to fit this bill precisely.

Alex Colville painting during WWII

In the Maritimes, specifically, but in Canada, more generally, his work is iconic and, depending on whom you read, mysterious or dark, reminiscent of quiet Maritime life, “hyper-organized” or reflective of holidays and the small-towns that dot the region. The retrospective did nothing to settle these disagreements nor, one supposes, was it supposed to. Instead, a retrospective such as this is better seen as an intervention into history. It is an effort to craft a particular narrative of art, artistry, and culture. And, in this way, it constituted part of an interesting reinscription of a particularly conservative narrative of art history and culture. It is on this level that I will address it. What I seek to argue is that commemorations of Colville have as much to do with how we think about art and its history as they do with the artist himself. Continue reading

More than Canada150: The New Canadian History Hall at the Canadian Museum of History

By Christoph Laugs

On July 1st 2017, the Canadian Museum of History (CMH) opened the doors of its new permanent exhibit – the Canadian History Hall – to the public. When the museum’s name was changed from Canadian Museum of Civilization to CMH and a remodelling of the Canada Hall was announced in 2013, concerns grew among historians and museum curators that the then Conservative government would implement a narrow vision of the past. Fears that the new exhibit would erase the broad social history narratives of the old museum, however, did not come to pass. Quite the contrary, the exhibit now features an even broader approach and includes more perspectives from Indigenous peoples and visible minorities. Continue reading

Selling the Sixties Scoop: Saskatchewan’s Adopt Indian and Métis Project

Newspaper advertisements for the Adopt Indian and Métis Program, late 1960s, Saskatchewan.

Allyson Stevenson

In 1962, at seven months of age, Robert Doucette, the former President of the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan, was removed from his home in the northern Saskatchewan community of Buffalo Narrows. He explained: “it was the priest that took me, the priest told social services my mother wasn’t fit, she was too young. She was 16 or 17, and they came and they took me, for no good reason. Because you know all about extended families in aboriginal communities, it’s not just one person.” Doucette learned later that his mushum (grandfather) swore at the social workers who removed him and threw rocks at the car. For the rest of his life, his mushum asked his daughters to find Robert, “his little man.” Doucette exclaimed: “When my grandfather came asking for me, why didn’t they tell him where I was? What were they afraid of for God’s sake? My cousin was living next door to me on 3rd St in East Flat (Prince Albert), the next house! Why? Why? Why is there such resistance to having those kinship ties?”[1]

Recently, the Sixties Scoop has been in the news. On October 6, 2017 Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Carolyn Bennett and Chief Marcia Brown Martel announced that an agreement-in-principle had been reached to settle the claims of Indigenous children removed from their families during the 1960s and 1970s. Status Indian and Inuit children from across Canada removed between the years 1951-1991 were eligible for compensation from the federal government for the loss of their culture during the time they spent in non-Indigenous foster and adoptive homes. One striking aspect of the agreement was the lack of recognition of Métis children who similarly experienced a loss of culture, family connection and sense of belonging. Ottawa asserts that during this period, it was the provinces that were responsible for the Métis, not the federal government.

The removal and subsequent adoption or fostering of Indigenous children in non-Indigenous homes was a result of increasing child welfare intervention into First Nations, Métis, Inuit families and communities. The “overrepresentation” of Indigenous children among those removed from their families reflected a complex mixture of historical factors: paternalistic professionalism of social welfare experts, provincial child welfare legislation that unfairly targeted Indigenous families, jurisdictional disputes between federal and provincial governments, gendered discrimination in the Indian Act, poverty and discrimination, the impact of residential schools, and Indigenous dispossession.

In 1969 Indian and Métis people made up 7.5 percent of the population of Saskatchewan, however 41.9 percent of all children in foster homes were Indian or Métis.[2] Continue reading

History Slam Episode 106: Hunting Nazi Treasure

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By Sean Graham

Adolf Hitler was a well-known lover of art and throughout his time as Chancellor of Germany, oversaw a large-scale program to create one of the largest art collections the world has ever known. Some of these pieces were purchased while others were stolen. But regardless of how they were acquired, they were prized possessions for the Third Reich. Some were on prominent display in places like Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest while a lot of the art was stored in an underground salt mine in Austria.

When the war ended, not everything that was catalogued as part of the collection was found. Certainly some was destroyed, some was in the possession of Nazi officials, and some was taken by Allied soldiers. Over 70 years later, there is still an on-going effort to reclaim these artistic pieces and return them to their rightful place. This effort was chronicled in Robert M. Edsel‘s 2009 book The Monuments Men, which inspired the 2014 film of the same name.

Debuting on Tuesday October 24 at 10 E/P on History Channel, Hunting Nazi Treasure explores how historians are finding these pieces and the painstaking efforts to get them back to their original homes. It’s an eight week investigative documentary series that takes the viewer from Dallas to Germany to Austria and points in between and is definitely worth checking out.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with two of the show’s central figures. First, I chat with Robert M. Edsel about The Monuments Men, the Monuments Men Foundation For the Preservation of Art, and the challenges of finding the art’s original home. I then talk with Series Producer Steve Gamester. We discuss the show’s investigative style, the production effort of shooting on location, and the difficulties in telling this story.

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Six Nations Soldiers and British Women’s Activism during and after the First World War

Alison Norman

Settler Canadians seem to be increasingly interested in acting as allies with Indigenous people, interested in reconciling and learning, in this post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission era.  The runaway success of Crystal Fraser and Sara Komarnisky’s recent post on 150 acts of reconciliation (over 25,000 views!), the popularity of the University of Alberta’s free online course on Indigenous history, and even the interest in classes in Indigenous history that I’ve been teaching for seniors in Toronto recently, all suggest to me that non-Indigenous Canadians are interested in building relationships and learning about the past, and from the past, more than ever before. As former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Matthew Coon Come recently wrote, “The tide has begun to turn as far as Canadians’ understanding of the history of Indigenous peoples in this country… And I sense, as never before, that the majority of Canadians wish to put their relationship with Indigenous peoples on a more honourable footing.”

While Canadians want to learn more about Indigenous history and culture, and the history of relationships between Indigenous people and settlers in what became Canada, we haven’t looked very much at the history of alliances and friendships between these same people.

Joan Sangster, in her presidential address at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association at Ryerson University (“Confronting Colonial Pasts: Historicizing a Century of Canadian Political Alliances”), talked about historical alliances between non-Indigenous individuals and organizations, and Indigenous people, and how these alliances need further exploration. She gave several examples of non-Indigenous people working as friends and allies of Indigenous people, or at least, trying to, however problematic some of their efforts might have been. I have a particular interest in one of the women discussed in her address who is a fascinating example of people “with good intentions,” such as those that Celia Haig-Brown and David Nock wrote about several years ago.

Undated photo of Mary Pamela Milne-Home.  William Milne-Home, Sydney, Private Collection

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Found in Collection: Mining Community Museum Collections to Inform Historical Understanding

If you’ve visited a community museum anywhere in Ontario, chances are you will recognize many of the artifacts featured in this online exhibition, all of which are from Halton Region Heritage Services’ collection. In their early years, historical societies and community museums collected a relatively standardized and not particularly diverse set of pioneer and Victorian wares with abandon, which have had a heavy bearing on modern museum collections. Across the province, museum storage facilities are full of domestic wares like doilies, butter churns, apple peelers, tea sets and wood planes.

The impulse to preserve a rapidly disappearing past and recreate idealized scenes of ‘pioneer life’ saved many historical objects from oblivion (and started many a community history museum’s collection), but this impulse did not always extend to saving the histories and stories that accompanied these artifacts. We know what the items are, but not necessarily who made them, what they were used for or their geographic affiliation. The objects themselves sufficed for early community museum displays, largely consisting of historic room settings, designed to invoke reverence for a romanticized past. In these situations, the artifacts spoke for themselves and received little interpretation beyond a label identifying the object and its donor.

Stove, side table, and pots in a pioneer cabin.


A typical pioneer cabin display, Halton Region Museum, 2006.

As museum practices have evolved, striving for a more inclusive, diverse representation of history and local stories, we want to connect these singular objects to a wider historical narrative. This process can be challenging, both due to the lack of information about objects in our collections and the fact that the early collecting practices were uneven and excluded some communities. How can we use these objects, painstakingly saved and preserved by early historians and curators to inform today’s historical scholarship and learning in a more holistic and inclusive way? Continue reading

In Defence of (Canadian Academic) History

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Adam Coombs

Polemics by disgruntled academic outsiders have recently become a remarkably popular genre of writing. In the United States The Atlantic has published pieces discussing the “problems” of safe space and political correctness on campus, while in Canada we have Ron Srigley in The Walrus and Ted Rhodes in the Calgary Herald disparaging Canadian universities for their supposed embrace of mediocrity. One of the more recent entries in this genre comes from The Dorchester Review. In “What’s The Use of History?” Pepall, a lawyer by training, laments the supposed decline of history from a golden age of popularity and accessibility to a discipline that produces inaccessible and moralistic works written by and for academics. While making a variety of arguments, the overall thrust of Pepall’s essay is that Canadians need to take back history from the academy by producing works for the general reading public.

The problem with this argument is that Pepall relies on a series of assertions to create an image of historical scholarship that is more caricature than reality. Rather than engage meaningfully with the challenging and complex issues facing humanities scholarship in the 21st century, the author draws on anecdotal evidence to make claims his audience is already primed to accept at face value. The goal of the piece that follows is to challenge some of the arguments Pepall makes and present a different picture of academic history in Canada. Continue reading

Ontario History Curriculum: Many Questions to be Answered

By Samantha Cutrara

This academic year I’ll be writing a series of blog posts for Active History focused on history education in Canada. In these posts, I’ll be outlining the Canadian History and Social Studies curricula for each province and identifying some possible opportunities for collaboration between historians/archivists and teachers in elementary and secondary schools. As I mentioned in my introductory post, I am hoping that these posts can be interactive, with teachers and historians chatting in the comments about how they support each other in teaching the Canadian past.

To begin, I am going to start with the curriculum I know the best: Ontario. I have taught this curriculum, analyzed this curriculum, and supported this curriculum for over 15 years. After the 2013 revision, I worked with teachers on transitioning to the new curriculum, which had a heavy emphasis on primary source inquiry-based teaching and learning – a curricular turn that I will discuss throughout the whole series. Four years later, this 2013 version seems like the “new” curriculum to me and for this post I approached it analytically with a fresh set of eyes. Continue reading