The Role of Canada’s Museums and Archives in Reconciliation

Royal Ontario Museum's Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples

Royal Ontario Museum’s Daphne Cockwell Gallery of Canada: First Peoples

by Krista McCracken

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) held its closing events in Ottawa from May 31 – June 3, 2015. The event included the release of an executive summary of the TRC findings and Calls to Action made by the Commission.  The 388 pages of the summary highlight the work of the Commission and the material which will be included in the final six volume final report.

Though this post focuses on the TRC’s discussion of museums and archives I urge everyone to read the full executive summary as it provides crucial context and historical background. Chelsea Vowel’s call to read the entirety of the report highlights why it is so important to read the report before commenting on the work of the TRC.  For those looking for a more accessible version of the summary Zoe Todd, Erica Lee, and Joseph Murdoch-Flowers are crowd-sourcing readings of the report on Youtube and the summary has been converted into a Kindle format and epub formats.

The report features 94 recommendations to facilitate reconciliation and address the legacy of residential schools, including a set of recommendations relating specifically to museums and archives. Given the challenging past relationship between the TRC and archival institutions these recommendations are perhaps not surprising.

The TRC went to court in 2012 and 2013 to gain access to archival records relating to residential schools held by Library and Archives Canada. The Commission’s recommendations go beyond the issue of access.  It also includes calls to action relating to best practices, commemorative projects, public education, and compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In terms of public education and commemorative projects the Commission urges the federal government to work with Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian Museums Association to establish funding for commemoration projects for the 150th anniversary of Canada relating to reconciliation. It also calls for Library and Archives Canada to commit additional resources to education and programming on residential schools.

The executive summary pointedly notes that museums and archives “have interpreted the past in ways that have excluded or marginalized Aboriginal peoples’ cultural perspectives and historical experience….as history that had formerly been silenced was revealed, it became evident that Canada’s museums had told only part of the story.” (p. 303) Continue reading

New Paper: The Social Democracy Question is pleased to announce the publication of Kenneth Dewar’s new paper: “The Social Democracy Question”


Over the past twenty years, the fate of social democracy has been the subject of numerous inquiries by intellectuals, academics, journalists, and politicians. These have frequently taken the form of questioning whether there is any life left in the movement at all, or alternatively, of asking what needs to be done to revive it. “What happened to the European left?” asked American political scientist Sheri Berman in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, when (counter-intuitively) support for the left declined rather than rose. At the same time, in the same magazine (Dissent) a journalist asked whether European social democracy had a future, while two years earlier in another venue two other writers had asked, like relatives at a bedside, “Is the left alright?” More recently, in 2013, former NDP leader Ed Broadbent delivered the Jack Layton Memorial Lecture at Ryerson University, choosing as his title, “Social democracy: dead as the dodo, or the only option?” It’s not giving too much away to say that he inclined toward the latter.1

Almost all of these discussions assume an identification of social democracy and particular political parties; they are really asking, in other words, why support for social democratic parties has declined in the states in which they operate. Broadbent’s lecture was an interesting exception to this, not because his party had made unprecedented gains in the federal election two years earlier, but because his view of social democracy was more expansive. [see more]

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History Slam Episode Sixty-Two: Congress Recap 2015

By Sean Graham

300px-UOttawa-Tabaret_Hall-2008-05-05Every year the Canadian Historical Association holds its Annual Meeting as part of the Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences. This year the event was held at the University of Ottawa which, as an Ottawa denizen, was quite nice. I didn’t spend any time looking at maps, figuring out where the book fair was, or trying to find restaurants.

This year the CHA welcomed a record number of participants (605) to its annual meeting. That number was likely buoyed by the representatives of the national capital region’s numerous museums and historical research firms, but it does demonstrate that, despite the public hand-wringing, history is not dead.

Over the next couple of months, we will have a wide variety of podcasts from the CHA Annual Meeting. In addition to new episodes of the History Slam, there will be recordings of conference sessions and the keynote and presidential addresses.

For the first of these podcasts, I decided to continue what has become an annual tradition for the History Slam. As we did for Victoria and St. Catharines, we decided to use the opportunity presented by Congress to reflect on the week that was as well as address the utility of conferences.

In this episode of the History Slam, I chat with Michel Duquet, executive director of the Canadian Historical Association, about his experience at Congress. We also discuss the CHA’s role in promoting history as well as its efforts to address the linguistic imbalance at the annual meeting and the lack of papers looking at non-Canadian issues. I also talk to Benoit Longval, a graduate student at the University of Ottawa, about the graduate student experience at Congress, the pros and cons of roundtables, and the logistics of the CHA.
Continue reading

Why Change Happens?

PHOTO: Sir Jonathon Porritt reflects on the day’s events

Friends of the Earth in the UK and History & Policy organized a conference last Wednesday at King’s College in London to bring together historians and campaigners to discuss what we can learn from the past. The format of the conference was fantastic. In each of the four panels, three historians presented short 15-minute papers and a campaigner or journalist then commented on the papers. Instead of a question and answer session, the audience, who were carefully distributed in tables with a mix of participants, discussed the lessons of each session (note takers collected ideas from each table). At lunch we switched tables and engaged in a conversation with a new group.

The questions addressed by the different panels were difficult and any hopes for simple answers from the past were dashed by the end of the first session, which focused on: Why do norms change? Historians discussed what can we learn from the history of abolitionism, nineteenth-century gender dynamics, or the development of industrial-scale animal husbandry. These diverse papers were tied together by the commentator, Sarah Wootton, from Dignity in Dying. Wootton made it clear that her organization wants to learn all that they can from successful past campaigns, such as the growing cultural acceptance of homosexuality and the expansion of LGBTQ legal rights. This panel led to an engaging conversation at my table about what we can and cannot learn from these kinds of historical examples. We also ran into a core question: what is a norm and how is it different from an ideology? This was not an easy question to answer with two minutes left in our allotted conversation time. Continue reading

Planting the Seeds of Citizenship

Undated Photo, Richmond, ON. From the Spring 1905 issue of the Queen's Quarterly. (Reproduced with permission).

Undated Photo, Richmond, ON. From the Spring 1905 issue of the Queen’s Quarterly. (Reproduced with permission).

By Conrad McCallum,

A school garden in Bowesville, Ontario established by the Mcdonald-Robertson movement, from the Spring 1905 issue of the Queen's Quarterly. (Reproduced with permission).

A school garden in Bowesville, Ontario established by the Mcdonald-Robertson movement, from the Spring 1905 issue of the Queen’s Quarterly. (Reproduced with permission).

A sample of Canadian headlines about school gardens from the past few months: A two-year school garden project in Vancouver will contribute to fresher produce in the cafeteria and food literacy skills. Students at an ethnically diverse school in Windsor, Ontario will use a new community garden as a “living classroom” for discussions on healthy eating and plant science. Students went to work planting at a school in Pickering, Ontario that has been named ‘the greenest school on earth’.

School gardens have made a recent comeback, tapping into environmental consciousness and community-mindedness. But their roots belong to a much earlier period, when they appeared to offer a grab bag of pedagogical benefits. Continue reading

“If Stephen Harper doesn’t support Canadian Studies, why should we?”

By Colin Coates

“If Stephen Harper doesn’t support Canadian Studies, why should we?”

So said the vice-provost of Duke University to Jane Moss, the director of the university’s Center for Canadian Studies, as he recommended “re-purposing” the endowment that had funded the Centre. This long-lasting centre closed as of 2014, turned into a “Council for North American Studies.” The place of Canada in this new structure has been reduced, and the funds originally intended for the study of Canada now will be used in different ways.[1]

Some Canadians may be surprised to learn the Duke University, located in North Carolina, had a Center for Canadian Studies. Even before the formal establishment of the centre in 1974, Duke was one of the most important universities in advancing the knowledge of Canada. A specialist in the history of the British Commonwealth, Richard Preston was appointed in 1965 as the William K. Boyd Professor of History. Preston directed a number of PhD dissertations on Canadian topics, including those of leading scholars like Andrée Lévesque and J.L. Granatstein. In the late 1960s, only a few universities in Canada offered the PhD in History, and given the climate of the time, it often proved difficult to justify pursuing a Canadian topic even in Canada. Many Canadians travelled abroad, to the United Kingdom, the United States or France to pursue their degrees. Anglophone scholars studied under specialists in the history of the British Commonwealth and Empire, one of the few ways that Canadian history could find its historiographical niche. Distinguished scholars like Richard Preston at Duke played key roles in developing the nascent field of Canadian Studies around the globe. Continue reading

Vaccinations and the Decline of Diphtheria



[Editors note: This is a second follow up post from our Infectious Disease, Contagion and the History of Vaccines theme week]

By Deborah Neill

In 1883, Bedford Brown read a paper before the Virginia State Medical Society, which was published two years later as Reminiscences of Personal Experience in the History of Diphtheria. It opened with a heart-breaking account of a consultation he was called to in 1856. The 10 year old patient, “an exceedingly bright, and interesting boy” lived “in a large airy residence, surrounded with grounds perfectly cleanly and well kept.” But the child was terribly ill, with an “enormously enlarged tonsil” covered in a “thick, tenacious, pearly white coating as if painted with a brush” and he “was suffering extreme distress from difficulty of breathing and deglutition.” After an agonizing few hours where the doctors could do little beyond watching his decline, the boy died.

Shortly after this heartbreaking death, Brown was called to see a family where six children were sick at once, including a small baby. “With the limited information then at hand, I was totally unprepared to act,” Brown said. He continued, “I know of but few more appalling scenes to the conscientious physician than that of an entire family prostrated with the malignant form of this disease.”[1] Continue reading

Where has pre-Confederation history gone? The CHA and the changing contours of a discipline.

By Robert Englebert

For years now I have talked with colleagues about the rather anaemic pre-Confederation history representation at the CHA.[1] Most of these conversations have been anecdotal in nature, the seemingly self-evident decline represented by the fact that most of us pre-Confed types could fit around a couple of tables at the beer tent. Then about two years ago Thomas Peace began looking for trends using basic word cloud compilations for previous CHA programs to show the distribution of presentations by century (see yesterday’s post for this year’s instalment). Though cursory in nature, Tom’s study confirmed what many of us had long suspected, that pre-Confederation history at the CHA was on the decline, if not on life support. Continue reading

What does Canadian History Look Like? The CHA in 2015

By Tom Peace

For the past two years I’ve written blog posts for the opening day of the Canadian Historical Association’s annual meeting (click here for 2013 and here for 2014). In those posts I created word clouds from the relevant paper and session titles in order to get a sense of what the field of Canadian history actually looks like. As historians gather today in Ottawa for three days of meetings (join us today at 5 pm for the Active History CHA group’s annual meeting), we have an ideal opportunity to take the pulse of Canadian history in order to get a broad sense of where the field is headed.

Today’s post is similar to those in the past. It is an overview (rather than a rigorous study) of the conference program (available here). Importantly, though, today’s post draws some slightly different conclusions than my earlier posts that are perhaps indicative of broader transitions in the field. This year’s program has some interesting things to say, I think, in terms of the place of Indigenous people, situating Canada in a global context, and the place of women in the past.[1] Continue reading

Film Friday: British Columbia’s Contact Zone Classrooms, 1849–1925

Film Fridays give active historians a chance to share their work in a new format. If you would like to submit a film about history, get in touch!

By Sean Carleton


Indigenous and settler children outside a public school in Prince George, Lheidli T’enneh Territory, BC, 1911. Royal BC Museum, BC Archives

Canada’s sordid history of colonial education has yet again become a topic of controversy and debate. While the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is coming to an end, new layers are still being added to Canada’s history of colonial schooling, including the horrific findings of abuse and torture and nutritional experiments in residential schools. The overall picture, of course, is disturbing. This is why many historians were confused and dismayed by Ken Coates’ recent suggestion that now is the time to move beyond this difficult past. In response, Crystal Fraser and Ian Mosby rightly reject such an assertion and argue that there is still much to learn about the complexities of colonialism and schooling in Canada, past and present.

My own research confirms this position, and, though I am still writing my PhD dissertation, I wanted to contribute to this important dialogue. Inspired by recent words of encouragement from award-winning filmmakers Alanis Obomsawin and Peter Raymont about the importance of history, activism, and film, I decided to make a short film to share part of my research that supports calls for the need to continue to critically examine Canada’s history of colonial schooling. Continue reading