A Fish Box and a Folk Festival

By David Frank

The fish box in 2015. Author's photo.

The fish box in 2015. Author’s photo.

I keep my camping gear in an old wooden box that sits neatly in the back of my car. Nothing unusual about that. But when I packed up to go Canso for the Stan Rogers Folk Festival this summer, I realized this would be a kind of homecoming — for the box.

Let me explain. The box is about thirty-two inches long, twenty inches wide and maybe ten inches deep. Just a few boards nailed together, and an opening for your hands at each end so you can get a good grip. It’s what they call a fish box, standard equipment on fishing boats a generation or two ago. You needed them to load and carry fish.

I’ve had that box ever since I was a student in Halifax in the 1970s. There were at least a dozen of them in the old garage behind the house where I lived, and the reason they were there is the story that takes us all the way back to Canso. Continue reading

When writing the First World War comes home: Remembering Pvt. Harold Carter

By Dimitry Anastakis

Private Harold Carter

Private Harold Carter

I am not, by any stretch, a specialist in the First World War, but I did have an experience in lecturing and writing about the war that really brought home to me the importance of how we treat history. Though as historians we often think, write, and teach about history at a distance – it is the past, after all – history can reach through the expanse of time to teach us an important lesson in taking care of history. Continue reading

Let’s Stand Up and Be Counted: Gender and the Need for a Better Understanding of the Profession

By Thomas Peace

Since January I’ve developed a bad habit of becoming completely enveloped by the live concerts on the Apple TV Station Qello. I just can’t stop watching them. A couple of months ago my partner (who wisely goes to bed rather than getting sucked into hours of concert watching) decided to join me. After a few tunes she turned to me and asked if the channel ever played any women artists (they do, periodically). Then she said: “Come to think of it, the music industry is dominated by male artists. Can you think of a musical group where there is a gender balance?” I couldn’t and I still can’t.

Not long after that conversation, I found myself at this year’s annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association where Lori Chambers, Elise Chenier and Anne Toews released some of the preliminary results from their analysis of the sex distribution in publications and prizes. The details of that study are really for them to share (though Active History would be happy to serve as a forum for this discussion). Suffice it to say, that their study demonstrates that publishing history in Canada continues to be a highly gendered practice. Since then I’ve been part of a number of conversations (with significantly different groups of people and without me directing the topic of discussion) where similar trends have been suggested in recent hires into tenure track jobs. The argument being that currently men are more likely to get hired than women.

Those of you who read Active History regularly will know that I like to reflect on the nature of the profession. So all of this talk about the gendered nature of the historical discipline got me counting. Over the last few nights I’ve gone through 47 departmental websites counting male and female faculty members in order to get a better understanding of the gendered dynamics of the profession. Like most of my posts written in this vein, this one is not so much a rigorous study as it is an initial impression. I offer it more to spark discussion and further study than as conclusive evidence about our professional culture. Continue reading

Remembering and Forgetting Canada in Cape Breton

By Tina Loo

“The bigger-is-better approach to art is best left to Stalinist tyrants, theme-park entrepreneurs and insecure municipalities hoping to waylay bored drive-by tourists…. A brutal megalith doesn’t prompt individual introspection – it mocks it. And by defiling a quiet beauty spot with its grandiose bulk, Mother Canada will only diminish the heritage it claims to honour.”

Globe and Mail editorial, 23 June 2015

“It’s great. It’s good. We need it. Maybe we can get the frigging highway fixed.”

Glenn Warren, Ingonish, 7 March 2014

In the last few months, the media has been filled with reports and opinions about “Mother Canada,” the twenty-four metre high statue proposed by the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation (NFNMF) to commemorate the country’s war dead. Part of the reaction has focused on the site of the statue, at Green Cove, in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, an area whose natural beauty and ecological integrity some feel would be severely compromised by the memorial. To them, Mother Canada is “hubristic, ugly, and just plain wrong.”

Continue reading

History Slam Episode Sixty-Five: Canadian Mysteries

By Sean Graham

logo-site_enEmbedded in the seemingly endless hand-wringing about why people are no longer interested in history or, at least, how historians can better disseminate the past in an increasingly digital world, is how history is taught to students in the 21st century. I once had a professor tell me that the most effective ways for university historians to create an interest in history is through their teaching because, in a world where articles in peer-reviewed journals get marginal readership, their classes represent the biggest audience for their work. When you talk to students, however, many lament that their history classes are boring or that they do not see the relevance of studying the past.

For as much as those of us who are tasked with teaching these courses like to complain about the lack of attention spans and poor writing skills of today’s undergraduate students, ultimately the responsibility does fall on instructors to create an engaging classroom environment. As Chad Gaffield has pointed out, the days of the traditional lecture format are likely coming to an end as digital and multimedia tools make it easier to experiment with various pedagogical techniques.

One of those tools is the Canadian Mysteries website. The site features a variety of events from Canadian history and provides students with the tools and materials required to investigate the matter. Ahead of its time when it was first conceived in the 1990s, one of the keys to the site is that it doesn’t simply give students answers, but rather invites them to engage with primary material in order to experience the historian’s role in examining past events. The site includes a great diversity of material, ranging anywhere from Klondike Gold Rush to Herbert Norman to the most recent mystery focusing on the Franklin Exhibition.
Continue reading

Heritage vs. History in the Commemoration of War in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

By David Campbell, Jonathan Roberts, Corey Slumkoski, and Martha Walls

This is an expanded version of an op-ed piece originally published in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. See David Campbell, Jonathan Roberts, Corey Slumkoski and Martha Walls, “‘Mother Canada’ elevates bombastic heritage over subtlety of history,” Halifax Chronicle-Herald, 5 June 2015.

The proposed statue. Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

The proposed statue. Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

We are well into the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Having observed the centenary of the war’s outbreak last year, we have now begun to mark the anniversaries of Canada’s first major battles in Belgium and France. Over the next few years, we will be inundated with laments for the blood spilled and the lives lost during this “War to End All Wars.”

This is to be expected; new military technologies meant that the First World War saw death and destruction on a scale like never before. Canada was not immune from the horrors of the conflict; approximately 60,000 Canadian lives were lost during the war, or roughly one percent of our population. Shockingly, Canadian sacrifices paled in comparison to those made by some of our European allies. France, for example, saw over four percent of its citizens killed. Clearly, the story of the sacrifices made by men and women in uniform is something that we mustn’t forget.

Recently, a proposal has come forth calling on Parks Canada to allow a private foundation, led by businessman Tony Trigiani, to build a memorial in Cape Breton Highland National Park Continue reading

A Monument to the Past? The Never Forgotten National War Memorial Project

By Jill Campbell-Miller

The proposed statue. Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

The proposed statue. Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation

Over this past winter and spring, the controversy around the proposed Never Forgotten National War Memorial Project has become increasingly intense, even reaching the pages of the Guardian. The project, sponsored by the Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation, and specifically, Toronto businessman Tony Trigiani, intends to honour fallen soldiers who served abroad. Positioned overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Green Cove in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park (CBHNP), the idea has drawn support from those who see the attraction as having potential economic benefits for the area. Local supporters even held a rally to show their enthusiasm. However, it has also caused a furor among others, who worry that the magnitude of the monument, which currently includes a 25-metre statue of “Mother Canada,” a parking lot, two interpretive centres, and other amenities, will have serious environmental and cultural consequences for the scenic area. Twenty-eight former Parks Canada managers wrote an open letter to Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq to oppose it.

I should start by saying that I am not neutral on this issue. I grew up in Cape North, a village situated in the middle of the CBHNP. As a kid, Green Cove was one of the many spectacular views that I passed on the way to dentist appointments and Christmas shopping trips. The Never Forgotten project has no appeal to me. As much as I appreciate the sentiment of those who wish to honour Canadian soldiers who died overseas – including my uncle, Donald Campbell, whose plane went missing during WWII – the oversized scale of the project strikes me as inappropriate both to particular area of Green Cove and the Park in general. Continue reading

Podcast: Public, Private, Political: Charitable Organizations and Citizen Engagement

On June 2, 2015, a roundtable was held as part of the CHA Annual Meeting that examined the Canadian politics of charity through the history of citizen engagement and the historical relationships between state and charity and public and private.

Chaired by Lara Campbell (SFU), the roundtable featured Sarah Glassford (UPEI), Ian Mosby (McMaster), Will Tait (Carleton), Shirley Tillotson (Dalhousie), and Jonathan Weier (Western).

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

Continue reading

History Slam Episode Sixty-Four: Canada Day & National Symbols

By Sean Graham

Maple LeafIt’s Canada Day up Canada way on the first day of July.
And we’re shoutin’ “hooray” up Canada way, when the maple leaf flies high.
When the silver jets from east to west go streaming through our sky.
We’ll be shoutin’ “hooray” up Canada way when the great parade goes by.

O Canada, standing tall together!
We raise our hands and hail our flag;
The maple leaf forever!

-Stompin’ Tom Connors

In this episode of the History Slam I talk with Joel Girourd, the Director of State Ceremonial and Protocol and at the Department of Heritage. We chat about how things become official national symbols, the protocols that surround national symbols, and policies surrounding the flag. Have a safe and fun Canada Day!
Continue reading

The Die-In: A Short History

By Daniel Ross

Cycle Toronto Die-in, June 2015. Jesse Milns

Cycle Toronto Die-in, June 2015. Jesse Milns

On June 19th, City of Toronto officials on their way to work had to step over the bodies of hundreds of cyclists lying in front of the entrance to City Hall. A week later, the busy intersection in front of the Bank of England in central London was shut down by a similar spectacle. And in January, business on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. was briefly interrupted by several dozen people of various religious backgrounds spontaneously dying in line for lunch.

Thankfully, the people involved in these incidents didn’t stay dead for long. Just a few minutes, in fact, long enough to create some visually arresting photo-ops, and to make their point. In London and Toronto, it was that cyclists are being killed by cars; in Washington, that young black men are targets for police violence. Different places, different causes, but the same tactic: the die-in. When did playing dead become a way of speaking out? Continue reading