History Slam 189: Historians’ Road Trip Playlists

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By Sean Graham

After a year of lockdowns and staying at home, more and more Canadians are taking advantage of the summer to get out explore some of the amazing places across the country. The pandemic certainly isn’t over, but national and provincial parks have been booked solid as people look to get outside. To get to these sites, many are taking road trips.

One of summer’s great traditions, road trips come with soundtracks. One of my favourite in-car activities is belting out a song rolling down the highway. But what makes a good road trip soundtrack? Everyone has their own tastes, to be sure, but are their universal qualities of music that works best on a road trip?

In this episode of the History Slam, I’m joined by historian of hip hop culture and Black music in the Americas Francesca D’Amico-Cuthbert to try and answer this question. We talk about the connection between playlists and mixed tapes, the art of creating a playlist, and what makes a good playlist for a road trip. We then share with each other playlists that we put together for the show, respond to each other’s choices, and discuss the commonalities between our choices. And be sure to listen to our playlists, which are embedded below.

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Historia Nostra: How History has Changed on Ministers Island

By Laura Oland and Erin Isaac

When Ministers Island (known to the Passamaquoddy for centuries as Consquamcook, before the “Minister,” Reverend Samuel Andrews, took up residence there in the 1790s) became a National Historic Site in 1996, the designating body’s main interest was in the island’s association with Sir William Van Horne.

William Van Horne

Van Horne, the Canadian Pacific Railway president who oversaw the transcontinental railway’s construction, purchased 150 acres of the island’s over 500 acres on which to build a summer home in 1891. Over time his family came to own the entire island.

Van Horne’s summer home, called Covenhoven, had previously been submitted to, and rejected by, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1958. It is not shocking, then, that early interpretation of the island was dominated by interest in Van Horne’s estate and the personal history of this purportedly great man.[1]

The island’s history is inextricably bound up in Van Horne’s story. He designed Covenhoven himself, its many rooms and grounds reflect his interests in, and passion for, antique collecting, painting, and gardening, and the several buildings constructed as the farm grew attest to his careful management of the estate. While older structures—mainly the minister’s house built in 1788—still stand on the island, it is unsurprising that the first building restored and opened to the public was Covenhoven. Even in Van Horne’s lifetime, the house and its grounds drew visitors and tourists to the island and his presence in St. Andrews helped make the small seaside community a summer retreat for his peers by the end of the 19th century.

But, since the island first opened to the public as a National Historic Site, the stories we expect from our heritage sites and museums have changed—what we’ll call the “Downton Abbey Effect.”

Where previously visitors may have been satisfied coming away from a museum like Ministers Island with a wealth of knowledge about its patriarch and, perhaps, a few anecdotes about his wife and children, we now expect more. For grand estates like Covenhoven, there is an appetite for information about the women, children, and staff who lived and worked there, and in Canada, we also hope to learn about the land’s past and present ties to Indigenous communities.

While the focus of tours offered at Ministers Island still gives much more detail about Van Horne than the others who lived and worked there, the museum has been expanding its interpretation as resources become available.

On Thursday July 22, Erin had the pleasure of spending the day with the Ministers Island’s Museum Intern Laura Oland and Susan Goertzen, who has worked on the Island since 1998.

In this month’s episode of Historia Nostra, Erin considers how and why the history told at Ministers Island is changing as well as why change in museums like this is slow.

And, in our bonus episode, Erin lets Susan and Laura do the talking and takes you along on our private tour of the Island.

Laura Oland (PhD Student, Concordia University) is an art historian currently working as the Museum Intern at Ministers Island. Oland graduated from Acadia University in 2017 with a Bachelor or Arts Honours in History with a minor in Classics, and later from the University of Glasgow in 2018 with a Masters in Letters: Art History Dress and Textiles. Currently, Oland’s research is on Alice Lusk Webster, the woman who founded the art department at the New Brunswick Museum in the 1920s and 1930s.

Historia Nostra is on Facebook (@historianostrayoutube), Twitter (@historia_nostra) and Instagram (@historianostrayoutube). Follow us there to get updates on what we’re working on and to get notified when new videos go live. Erin Isaac (PhD student, Western University) is Historia Nostra’s creator, writer, and producer. Suggestions, collaboration pitches, or feedback should be directed to erin@historianostra.ca.

A version of this post also appeared at All Aboard with Laura (https://allaboardwithlaura.ca/) on 18 August 2021.


[1] Though, should be acknowledged that the Island’s shell middens were recognised and protected as a National Historic Site in 1978.

It is Time to End the History Wars

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By Ian Milligan and Thomas Peace

We’ve been fighting about the same things for a quarter century. It’s time to call it quits.

Earlier this week, The Dorchester Review published an open letter under an inflammatory (and arguably misleading, as it did not appear on the version signatories signed) headline of “Historians Rally v. ‘Genocide Myth;” it also apparently appeared as a print advertisement in the Literary Review of Canada, absent the polarizing title.

The letter was signed by 51 historians from across Canada and lamented the “Canada Day Statement” issued by the Canadian Historical Association (and published here on ActiveHistory.ca). The concern brought forth in the letter is about how the CHA framed historians’ work on the question of genocide and the role that professional organizations should play within the public sphere.

This is the second letter of this nature this year. In January, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute issued a similar letter, this time focused on the “Defence of Sir John A. Macdonald’s Legacy.”

Both letters share a common critique (and substantial overlap in signatories). In Monday’s letter, the signatories argue that in issuing their statement, the CHA’s leadership was “insulting the basic standards of good scholarly conduct and violating the expectations that Canadians have of academia to engage in substantive, evidence-based debate.” For the signatories of the January letter, the concern – according to the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s press release – was that “those who see Canada’s history as little more than a shameful series of mistakes and failures have grown increasingly vocal in calling for the shunning of figures like our first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.”

The phrasing of these critiques are familiar to anyone following the politics of history. They are reminiscent of provocative arguments that now have a pedigree of a quarter century.

Their roots are found in Jack Granatstein’s 1998 polemic Who Killed Canadian History. Explaining his motivations for writing his book, Granatstein points to the school lessons of a young boy named Brad. About this boy’s history work, Granatstein laments that the curriculum’s aim was more “to teach a lesson about racism and sexism, not history. The history taught is that of the grievers among us, the present-day crusaders against public policy or discrimination. The history omitted is that of the Canadian nation and people.”

The message from Granatstein nearly twenty-five years ago, and from the scholars who signed these letters, is that the discipline of history in Canada is in a state of disarray and is perhaps even, by virtue of its ostensible activist leanings, somehow illegitimate.

They are wrong. Continue reading

Abandoning the Enterprise? Alberta’s 1936 and 2021 Social Studies Curricula Compared

Kirk Niergarth

Author’s Note:  Alberta’s new draft K-6 curriculum, released in the spring of 2021, has unleashed a flurry of criticism. The Jason Kenney-led United Conservative government has followed through on their 2019 election promise to scrap an ambitious curriculum re-development project initiated by a Progressive Conservative government in 2008 and continued by the NDP government after 2015.  The new draft curriculum was produced much more rapidly with aid of a panel of expert advisors, including, controversially, historian C.P. Champion

Since the draft was made public in March, it has drawn criticism from parents, teachers, and scholars. Carla Peck of the University of Alberta, in particular, has published several incisive critiques and others have argued that the curriculum is developmentally inappropriate and contains numerous factual errors. A number of analyses have been compiled here and news coverage here. On 28 June, the Calgary Public Library organized a panel of Mount Royal University faculty to comment on the draft curriculum. As the only historian on the panel, naturally, I looked to the past to recall a previous moment when Alberta curriculum experienced dramatic changes and became, briefly, a pedagogical outlier in Canada, leading all the provinces in its embrace of “progressive” education.  The text of my brief remarks follows:

In K-6 Social Studies, the new Alberta draft curriculum changes the existing program of study in terms of content, but more profoundly in terms of educational philosophy. It represents, in my estimation, the biggest shift of this kind since the traditional subjects of history, geography, and civics were merged to become “Social Studies” in 1936. The new curriculum, alberta.ca proclaims, will help students “develop gratitude for the sacrifices of those who came before…and a pride in the free, prosperous, peaceful and welcoming society that they built and that students have the responsibility to carry forward.” The key concepts here: gratitude, pride, and responsibility are not absent from the current curriculum nor from the original 1936 Social Studies version, but the degree to which they have eclipsed developing skills and fostering critical inquiry represents a significant change.

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The Sesquicentennial of Treaty 1

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Paul Burrows

Archives of Manitoba. Signing of Treaty #1 at Lower Fort Garry, Events 243/2, 1871, N13290.

On August 3, 1871 the negotiations that became known as the “Stone Fort” treaty, or Treaty 1, were wrapped up at Lower Fort Garry, north of present-day Winnipeg.  The treaty negotiations were a massive affair, even by today’s standards.  More than a thousand Cree and Anishinaabe from southern Manitoba had begun to gather at the Hudson’s Bay Company post in July, and the subsequent negotiations took nine days to complete.  Scores of colonial officials, settlers, missionaries, and journalists (including a newspaper delegation from the United States) were also present, many of whom wrote accounts of the proceedings.  A contingent of soldiers accompanied the colonial delegation, in part to demonstrate the power of the “Dominion.” In the words of Lieutenant-Governor Adams Archibald, the ranking colonial figure involved: “Military display has always a great effect on savages, and the presence, even of a few troops, will have a good tendency.”[1] In the wake of the suppression of the Riel resistance in 1869-70, the threat of coercion was real.

For most of post-Confederation history, Canadian historians and politicians have tended to view the written treaty document –– that was largely crafted in advance, slightly amended, and then signed on August 3rd –– as the first and last word on the meaning of the treaty.  Most accounts dutifully followed the narrative framing established by Alexander Morris (one of the salient colonial negotiators of treaties 3 through 6) in his 1880 publication.[2] But even for those who have sought a deeper understanding of the spirit and intent of the treaty since the 1980s, and sought to incorporate Cree and Anishinaabe perspectives, as well as against-the-grain readings of colonial texts into their evaluation of the negotiations and the agreement, there has often been a privileging of the colonial presumption that Treaty 1 was, in the last instance, a “land cession” agreement in which First Nations gave up their claims to most of what is now southern Manitoba (an area of some 43,000 square kilometres).[3]

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Remember/Resist/Redraw #32: Police Surveillance and Democratic Socialism in Cold War Canada

The Graphic History Collective recently released RRR #32, by historian and illustrator Frances Reilly, that looks at police surveillance and democratic socialism in Cold War Canada. In particular, the poster examines RCMP spying and the thirty-five year long covert program, Operation Profunc (PROminent FUNCtionaries of the Communist or Labor Progressive Party) that began in 1948. This program planned to arrest Canadians in the event of a Communist-led attack or a leftist insurgence from within Canada’s own borders.

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’re bringing picnic baskets, not water beds”: The 40th Anniversary of the Gay Picnic in Moncton, New Brunswick

RS418 – Moncton Community Services – Inter office memo about gay picnic

by Meredith J. Batt

On Wednesday, July 1st, 1981, Dominion Day, a group of 250 gays and lesbians met in Centennial Park, in Moncton, New Brunswick. All attending as individuals, some hanging out near the fringes of the park in case any trouble kicked-off, while police officers looked on, surveying the crowd. This gay picnic was the cause of huge consternation throughout the city in the days leading up to the event, resulting in a panicked city council enacting a by-law which prevented any group of over 40 people from holding an event in a city park without a permit, in an attempt to force the group to cancel. This summer marks the 40th anniversary of this, small, but significant event in Moncton, when instead of conceding to the City Council’s new by-law, gays and lesbians attended the picnic despite the threat of violence and arrest.

Moncton in the 1980s for the LGBT population was much like it was for other cities in the Maritimes: violence was rampant and “fag beatings” were frequent. There was a widespread hesitancy to be publicly identified as gay, and those who did faced dismissal at work and constant harassment. The picnic was also held in a year that saw lots of pushback from queer folks for the way they were being treated. The AIDS/HIV crisis was still in its infancy, as cases of pneumonia and cancers specifically affecting gay men were being reporting in the United States, first called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. In fact, the very first AIDS case in Canada was reported in March 1981.[1] Raids on Toronto Bathhouses by police on February 5th, 1981, as part of Operation SOAP, saw 286 men charged with being in a common bawdy house and 20 charged with keeping a common bawdy house. A massive protest against the actions of police began the following day in the Gay Village. Toronto also held its first pride parade in June in response to the raids.[2]

Fredericton Lesbians and Gays (FLAG) had formed in 1979, but there wasn’t an organization for gays and lesbians of the Moncton area and the picnic organizers had hoped that by bringing the community together a group would be formed. In the week leading up to the picnic, organizers had attempted to reserve the park, but they were told by the Department of Community Services that the park was open on a first come, first served basis. The organizers did not tell the city department that it was a lesbian and gay event and when Moncton Police followed up a few days later, the city workers were shocked that a rumor was going around that it was a “gay picnic” that would be held on July 1st. The media did not help when it dramatically overstated the number of participants in an article, estimating around 500 people would be attending from the East Coast, perhaps from as far away as Toronto.[3] Continue reading

History Slam 188: Wagon Road North

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By Sean Graham

In 1960, Art Downs released Wagon Road North: The Saga of the Cariboo Gold Rush, which immediately became a best-seller. Relying primarily on photos to the tell the story of what happened after gold was found in the British Columbia interior, Wagon Road North was so popular that it was reprinted 5 different times through the 1960s. Updated in 1973 and again in 1993, it remains one of the province’s most sold history books. In looking at it in 2021, however, the absences in the narrative are apparent. As part of a colonial historiography, the book did not include Indigenous perspectives on the gold rush, nor did it explore the contributions of Chinese workers or the role of women in shaping life in the B.C. interior.

Over 60 years since its first edition, new additions by Ken Mather have sought to address these issues. With contemporary photos, revisions to the original text, and new sections to address the erasure that was clear in the original, this version takes the best of Art Downs’ research and brings it into the 21st century.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Ken Mather about the updates to the book. We talk about the gold rush in Barkerville, BC, the popularity of Wagon Road North, and the updates included in the new edition. We also chat about what makes for good popular history, the challenge of using photographs in books, and how working in interpretation at historic sites can improve historical writing.

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Saving Chinatown, 1971 to 2021

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Toronto Star, August 28, 1971 (courtesy of Jamie Bradburn).

Daniel Ross

2021 has been a difficult year for Chinatowns across Canada. In mid-April, a coalition of community leaders from six cities released a statement calling on the federal government to make it a “national priority” to support Chinatowns struggling with the fallout of the COVID-19 lockdown and a new spike in anti-Asian racism. In both Montreal and Toronto, local activists are working to protect a heritage and community-centred vision of their districts from the twin pressures of redevelopment and gentrification. As these examples suggest, both the problems faced by inner city Chinatowns and the solutions proposed for meeting them intersect with many of the key urban and social debates of our time.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone familiar with the last century of North American urban history. Saving Chinatown has been on the urban agenda in cities across the continent since the mid-twentieth century, whether in the context of community fights against urban renewal and infrastructure projects, or the longer-term transformation from a racially segregated enclave to a commercial and cultural hub for a dispersed diasporic community. In this post, I present one minor episode in that longer history: the Dragon Mall, a street festival organized by Toronto’s Chinese community in the 1970s, amid widespread concern that the city’s Chinatown was on the brink of erasure. By looking at this event through three lenses—as an ethnic celebration, as part of the political mobilization of Chinese Torontonians, and as one path for renewing the heart of the city—I hope to highlight how in the 1970s, as today, debates over saving Chinatown were entangled with larger discussions of the urban future and the nature of Canadian society.

The Dragon Mall was an annual event that transformed Toronto’s Elizabeth Street—a north-south downtown street lined with Chinese restaurants and shops—into a car-free festival of Chinese Canadian culture. Continue reading

Indigenous and Colonial Trackways: A New Historia Nostra Series

By Erin Isaac

Roads, hiking trails, rivers, train tracks, or any manner of routes we use to travel often feel like historically benign spaces (at least to me).

For myself, driving along the 401 between Kingston and Toronto has inspired more frustration about traffic and “Ontario Drivers” than curiosity about the road’s history. It feels like a space that exists to carry people between places of significance rather than one in and of itself.

That is, that’s how I felt until I first watched Tony Robinson’s series exploring Britain’s Ancient Tracks. Continue reading