Podcast: Commemorations in the National Capital Region: Evolution and Findings

During the Canadian Historical Association Annual Meeting, a roundtable was held discussing commemorations in and around Ottawa, including the planned memorial to the victims of communism.

The roundtable was chaired by Yves Frenette (Université de Saint-Boniface) and featured Alain Roy (Library and Archives Canada), Nadine Blumer (Concordia), Alan Gordon (Guelph), David Akin (Post Media).

Activehistory.ca is pleased to present a bilingual recording of this roundtable.

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The 2015 Election and the Trans Pacific Partnership: A View from 1988

By Jonathan McQuarrie

Via cbc.ca

John Turner and Brian Mulroney during the 1988 election debate. Photo via cbc.ca

Intensive negotiations in Maui over the last few days of July failed to finalize the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). However, the discussions continue. The negotiations for this comprehensive framework, which would incorporate twelve national economies[1] into an agreement with harmonized standards on tariffs, labour and environmental regulations, are to continue over the Canadian election period. Regardless of whether or not one supports the free-trade ambitions of the TPP, it is imperative that this agreement become a major issue during the current election, as it has far-reaching implications. To give three examples, dairy supply management might be reduced or even eliminated, investor-state dispute resolution mechanisms will challenge national programs, and access to generic drugs could be limited. Proponents of the partnership, such as the recently dissolved Conservative government, point to the potential benefit of access to new markets for an economy that relies heavily on exports.

In 1988, free trade was a relatively new concept, and one endorsed only by the Progressive Conservatives. The Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States, signed by Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney on 2 January 1988, prompted fierce debate between the three major parties during the November election. Subsequent scholarship has largely cast the 1988 election as a referendum on the agreement, whose implementation had been stalled by the Liberal-dominated Senate. Liberal leader John Turner justified using the (then, as now) unpopular Senate to stall the bill by insisting that such an important issue demanded public input.

The 1988 election debate, particularly an exchange between Turner and Mulroney, is justifiably famous in Canadian politics. Turner and Mulroney hotly debated the implications of the agreement, with Turner accusing Mulroney of selling Canada out, of yielding Canada’s control of its energy and agriculture, and of reducing Canada to an American colony. Mulroney countered with his own nationalist rhetoric, contending that the deal made the Canadian economy stronger, and contributed to the Canadian national project. Ed Broadbent, the NDP leader, is conspicuously absent from the clip, but his party also opposed the FTA. According to political scientist Robert Malcolm Campbell, the dramatic debate refocused the entire election into a referendum on free trade.

Compared to current discussions of free trade, the nationalist tone of the 1988 debate is quite remarkable. While emphasizing the potential risk for national sovereignty was undoubtedly a strategic decision, it is noteworthy that both the Liberals and the NDP felt that the nationalist appeal would work. Post-debate polls indicate that the discussion did spark an increase in anti-FTA sentiment, though the PCs retained enough support for the agreement to secure their majority. Despite the fact that the election was reasonably close, with just under sixty percent of the vote going to anti-FTA parties, the FTA became a fait accompli and a normalized feature of the Canadian economy. Most people in their twenties have lived their entire lives in a free trade Canada.

Political attention to the TPP reflects this normalization. In terms of the rhetoric about free trade and its implications for the nation-state, the 1988 election has more in common with the 1911 rejection of Laurier’s Liberals over the issue of reciprocity with the United States than it does with our current campaign. Aside from some comments on the need to protect farmers and the need for more transparency during the negotiations, the Liberal party supports the TPP. Likewise, the NDP have also come out in favour of the TPP, only criticizing the Conservative negotiators and likewise emphasising the need to defend farmers. Substantive criticism of the TPP has largely been confined to groups such as the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Given the magnitude of the deal, this is insufficient.
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History Slam Episode Sixty-Six: Worth Fighting For

By Sean Graham

WorthThe United States has a long history of war resistance and war resistors. From the Quakers resisting the Revolutionary War to Muhammad Ali’s famous refusal to go to Vietnam, American history is replete with examples of people who did not support the nation’s military goals. Depending on who you talk to, these people are heroes, traitors, or somewhere in between, but regardless of the perception, war resistance in the United States has received plenty of attention from historians south of the border.

With a shorter history and fewer armed conflicts, the same cannot be said of Canada. The narrative of war – in particular the two world wars – serving as universally unifying endeavours is particularly strong (as noted during this roundtable from the CHA). There is an emerging literature challenging that view, however, and giving voice to the thousands of Canadians who have openly challenged and questioned the country’s military actions.

One example of this is Worth Fighting For: Canada’s Tradition of War Resistance from 1812 to the War on Terror. The book is an edited collection that traces the history of those who resisted war throughout Canadian history. The book includes every major conflict in which Canada has been involved as well chapters on the Canadian reaction to and reception of Vietnam war resistors and draft dodgers.
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Disappearing into White Space: Indigenous Toronto, 1900-1914

ActiveHistory.ca is pleased to announce the publication of Jasmine Chorley’s new paper: “Disappearing into White Space: Indigenous Toronto, 1900-1914″


There is an empty space in the written history of Canada. In monographs, textbooks, and articles alike, narratives of Indigenous peoples fade out following the Indian Act (1876) and the Numbered Treaties (1871-1921). Coll Thrush expressed this as a phenomenon where Indigenous peoples “exit stage left after treaty or battle.” [1] With the exception of residential schools and the decades of the World Wars, Indigenous peoples do not re-enter the Canadian historical narrative until the 1960s civil rights era.

This empty space is especially stark in histories of urban spaces, despite their rich Indigenous histories. With a few recent exceptions, greater historical memories of urban spaces across Canada remain largely confined by colonial ideologies.

European settlers in the growing towns of 18th and 19th century British North America believed their use of space to be superior. They thought that European-style cities would inevitably replace Indigenous land use. The “conceptual and physical removal of Indigenous people from urban spaces that accompanied colonial urbanization,” Peters and Andersen argue, “reinforced perceptions about the incompatibility of urban and Indigenous identities.” [2] This is reflected in Canadian historiography by the outright omission of Indigenous lives from histories of cities, assuming that ‘real Indians’ and urban life are irreconcilable.

This paper challenges this colonial silence by probing the history of Indigenous life in Toronto between 1900 and 1914. [READ MORE]

Editors Note: In addition to our group blog, ActiveHistory.ca strives to provide timely, well-written and thoroughly researched papers on a variety of history-related topics.  Expanded conference papers or short essays that introduce an upcoming book project are great starting points for the type of paper we publish. With a current readership of more than 20,000 visits per month we can assure that you will find an interested audience through our site. For more information visit our Papers Section or contact papers@activehistory.ca. All of our papers are peer reviewed to ensure that they are accurate and up-to-date. 

Remote Silvertown Transforms Again

By Jim Clifford

Industrial Silvertown is not a standard tourist attraction in London, though in recent years thousands of people have peered down on the remaining factories from the Emirates Air Line cable cars as they descend toward Victoria Dock and the ExCel convention centre. It was nonetheless a really important region of heavy industrial development during the late nineteenth century and is again on the frontline of rapid development. Most waterfront property in East London, from the banks of the Thames to the Limehouse Cut canal and the Lower Lea, are undergoing redevelopment as glass towers transform urban landscape. This is not the first time waterfront property underwent rapid transformation, as many of London’s nineteenth century factories required access to rivers or canals to carry coal and other raw materials.

At the start of the nineteenth century Silvertown did not exist. It was simply the southern edge of Plaistow Level, a large marsh on the Essex side of the Lea River and well beyond the eastern edge of London’s outskirts in Poplar. The first Ordnance Survey for the region, from 1805, shows extensive marshlands from the Redriff Marsh that later became the Surrey Docks through to the Roding river and beyond. Industrial development, more docks and working class residential districts spread throughout much of these wetlands in the century that followed.

Ordnance Survey First Series, 1805

Ordnance Survey First Series, 1805

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The Second Battle of Ypres and the Creation of a YMCA Hero

ActiveHistory.ca is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 12 May 2015

 By Jonathan Weier

Weier, Second Ypres and YMCA Hero - image 1Among the approximately 2000 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force killed at the Second Battle of Ypres in late April and early May 1915 was the only Canadian YMCA worker killed in combat during the First World War. YMCA Honourary Captain Oscar Irwin, attached to the 10th Battalion of the CEF, was killed when he joined the battalion as it set out to retake St. Julien from the Germans in the early morning of April 23rd.[1] Irwin appears frequently in the YMCA’s commemoration of its First World War service, as the heroic embodiment of the YMCA’s masculine ideals, its message of service, and as a symbol of Christian sacrifice. Irwin’s example, both in life and in death, provided a venue by which the YMCA and its workers could address the tensions and challenges faced by many men involved in non-combatant service during the First World War. Continue reading

Sexing Up Canada’s First World War

ActiveHistory.ca is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 3 March 2015

By Zachary Abram

VD Poster 1Canadian cultural memory of the First World War is conspicuously asexual considering Canadians had among the highest rates for venereal disease in the British Expeditionary Force, with an infection rate that reached as high as 28.7%. [1] Anyone with a passing interest in the First World War is familiar with Trench Foot and its symptoms are synonymous with the squalor of trench warfare. Yet, only 74,711 cases of Trench Foot were treated during the entire war.[2] Venereal Disease accounted for 416,891 hospital admissions in the British Army.[3] A soldier was five times more likely to be admitted to hospital for syphilis and gonorrhea but in the popular imagination it is Trench Foot that persists. There is a reticence, perhaps the result of inherited Victorian prudery or the unwillingness to “sully the reputations” of the war dead, to discuss soldiers’ sex lives. As a result, discussions of the First World War tend to elide the bedroom in favour of the trench. Continue reading

Promises Broken, or Politics as Usual?

ActiveHistory.ca is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 27 January 2015

By Jonathan Scotland

Despite the Conservative Party of Canada’s fondness for promoting its support for Canada’s military, since assuming government in 2006 the federal government’s relationship with veterans has been rocky at best. By the close of last year’s parliament it seemed that new criticisms were being leveled at Julian Fantino, Minister of Veterans Affairs, on a daily basis. His department’s handling of the New Veterans Charter (NVC) and treatment of soldiers’ mental health came in for special criticism. Critics also added neglected war graves, unspent funds, cuts to the Veterans’ Affairs’ disability awards branch, and inadequate access to a growing list of complaints. Fantino, at least, was struck off that list early in the new year when he was replaced as Minister by Erin O’Toole, a sign the government is trying to repair its reputation with veterans.

In British Columbia wounded veterans have taken Ottawa to court over the change from life-long pensions to one-time, lump-sum payments. This shift, the veterans argue, amounts to a breach of trust between soldiers and the crown, a social contract that dates to at least the First World War.

Their suit builds on Aboriginal case law by invoking the honour of the crown. If it succeeds, it will be precedent setting. Veterans’ benefits will henceforth be enshrined as a permanent fiduciary responsibility.

With parliamentary sovereignty at stake, government lawyers are vigorously seeking to have the suit thrown out.

At the heart of the case are Prime Minister Robert Borden’s wartime commitments to Canada’s troops. Continue reading

1864 vs. 1914: A Commemorative Showdown

ActiveHistory.ca is on a three-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in next week. This week, we’ve asked the editors of Canada’s First World War to select some of their most popular and favourite posts. 

This essay was originally posted on 11 November 2014

By Sarah Glassford


As I sat by the window of a popular coffee shop in downtown Charlottetown on a warm afternoon in September 2014, two student actors from the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) appeared on the street corner opposite, heading toward nearby Province House, seat of the provincial legislature.  He wore a three-piece suit and top hat; she sported a shirtwaist, hoop skirt, elaborate hat, and shawl.  This is a common sight near Province House during the summer tourist season,[i] but it struck me as noteworthy because I happened to be brainstorming thoughts for a post on Prince Edward Island (PEI) and the First World War centenary.  The sight of 1860s-style citizens promenading down the street in 2014 reminded me that all commemoration takes place in a crowded landscape of competing commemorations, even when the subject is as globally game-changing as the First World War.

PEI, Canada’s smallest province, has been celebrating 2014 in grand style all year long, but not because of anything to do with the First World War centenary.  Instead, the island is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the 1864 Charlottetown Conference, when the then-colony of PEI hosted the first serious discussions of a confederation of British North American colonies – a union that eventually became the Dominion of Canada.  Continue reading

Series @ ActiveHistory.ca: 2014-2015

As part of our summer hiatus, ActiveHistory.ca is featuring summaries of the papers and series we’ve run over the past year. Today, we provide a list of the series we’ve published since September 2014:

The Home Archivist (by Jess Dunkin) – Ongoing

Anishinaabeg in the War of 1812 (by Alan Corbiere)

200 Years of the Old Chieftain – January 2015

Infectious Disease, Contagion and the History of Vaccines – March/April 2015

Commemorating 35 years of the Marathon of Hope (Jenny Ellison) – April 2015

Thirty Five Years after the Abortion Caravan – May 2015