What’s the Beef with COVID-19?

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By Catherine Carstairs and Philip Rich

As restaurants across the country closed in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19, fast-food chains stayed open. In the first quarter of 2020, McDonald’s Corp global sales decreased by only 3.4%. This is remarkable given that McDonald’s had to close over 300 stores in China as well as restaurants in France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. In Canada, according to research from Ipsos Foodservice monitor, drive-through dining was up by 17% in April. Apparently, the explosion in sourdough bread-making barely made a dent in the demand for burgers.

Photo by Amirali Mirhashemian, Unsplash

As Andrew F. Smith explains in his book, Hamburger: A Global History, the hamburger started as a sandwich. As factories mushroomed in American cities, lunch wagons fed the workers easy-to-eat meals including sausages and hamburger steaks, served in a bun. In the 1920s, the first hamburger chain, The White Castle, began opening in the United States. After World War II, the McDonald brothers who had long operated a drive-in burger bar in California began to standardize and speed-up their processes. Ray Croc, who had formerly sold multimixers for milkshakes, stepped in to expand their franchising operations, subsequently turning McDonald’s into a global brand.

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Remember/Resist/Redraw #23: All Eyes on Wet’suwet’en – Shut Down Canada

Earlier this month, the Graphic History Collective released Remember/Resist/Redraw poster #23 by Gord Hill and Sean Carleton.

The poster looks at the Shut Down Canada movement and the long history of police violence and Indigenous resistance in what is currently Canada.

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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History Slam Episode 154: War Junk

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By Sean Graham

During the Second World War, Canada, along with all combatant countries engaged in a massive mobilization effort that included shifting industrial production to supply the war efforts. During the six year conflict, Canadian factories transitioned from consumer products to military production. For instance, the Canadian Cycle and Co. Ltd. in Weston, ON, a company that manufactured skates and bikes in the 1930s started to produce items for guns, including tri-pods and pivots. In Quebec, the Liquid Carbonic Canadian Corporation had its soda fountain division build parts for new tanks. Across the country, the total production of war goods was nearly $10 billion.

Once the war ended, though, countries including Canada not only had to shift back towards consumer production, but also had to account for all the military goods they had. While the majority of the 800 ships, 800,000 vehicles, and 4 billion rounds of ammunition were used during the war, there was still a mountain of stuff left over. After the First World War, nations struggled with what to do with the excess material, with some economists and politicians citing that as a contributing factor to the Great Depression. As a result, properly dealing with the excess stuff became a priority.

That effort is the subject of the new book War Junk: Munitions Disposal and Postwar Reconstruction in Canada. In the book Souchen explores how the Canadian government approached its excess of goods in the years after the war. From partnering with organizations to recycling to disposal, a variety of options were considered. An incredibly challenging logistical project further complicated by the fear of deflating markets with excess goods, the book examines how the process was an integral part of Canadian postwar reconstruction.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Alex Souchen about the book. We talk about the amount of goods Canada produced during the war, the influence of the First World War on Canada’s disposal efforts, and the environmental issues that ensued. We also talk about the impact on the economy, the shift in industrial production, and the unintended consequences of disposal.

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From ME to WE to the CYC – Liberals and the Controversial History of Youth Volunteerism

Kevin Brushett

On June 25, 2020 Justin Trudeau announced the creation of Canada Student Service Grant, a program that encouraged young Canadians to volunteer in their communities while paying them up to $5000 to do so. Within days however, Trudeau’s feel good announcement began to turn sour as questions arose over the program’s links to the ME to WE charity, the NGO chosen to administer the program. Some of the controversy stemmed from stories about abusive behaviour by the Kielburger brothers who run it, while others have pointed to the “white saviour complex” and “voluntourism” that WE fosters in its approach to its work in the Global South. But the biggest part of the controversy stemmed from the intimate links between the charity and the Trudeau family, including his wife, Sophie, his mother, Margaret, and his brother, Alexandre. Though it turns out that the charity has fostered relationships across the political spectrum in Ottawa, somehow the controversy seems to have stuck to Trudeau and the Liberals.

Youth volunteer programs have a long Liberal history, particularly during the reign of Justin’s father Pierre in Ottawa in the 1960s and 1970s. Links between volunteer programs and Canadian governments got their start in in the early 1960s with the formation of Canada’s version of the American Peace Corps – Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO). Though CUSO’s activities were largely ignored by the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker, they captured the attention of the Liberals when they returned to office. Minister of External Affairs Paul Martin, in particular, found ways to support its work and volunteers, including using the airlift functions of the Canadian Forces to deliver CUSO volunteers to their destination projects. The founders of CUSO, such as Dr Francis Leddy had strong links to the Liberal Party, as did the first president of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Maurice Strong. During Strong’s leadership at CIDA he hired CUSO founder Lewis Perinbam to develop the agency’s NGO Division, which provided matching grants to help fund community development work overseas.

Lewis Perinbam, founder of CUSO and Director of CIDA NGO Program 1969-1991. LAC e999919838-u.

The most infamous link between the Liberals and youth volunteerism was the creation of the Company of Young Canadians in 1965. Continue reading

That Other Time the Toronto Police Tried to Solve the Race Problem: The Ethnic Relations Unit, 1970s-1980s

Metropolitan Police officers, 1976. Kevin Beaty/Toronto Star Archives tspa_0114223f

David M. K. Sheinin

In the early 1970s, to gain insights into the Italian immigrant community in Toronto, the police set up an Ethnic Relations Unit. In 1975 the unit created a “Black Section” followed by Jewish, Southeast Asian, and other sections. The experiment in building bridges to ethnic communities failed because this solution to growing police-community tensions reinforced rather than challenged police assumptions about ethnic and racial differences in the city. The unit blurred the meaning of racial violence; rejected the criticisms of dozens of community leaders, politicians, and civil rights organizations; and reasserted a police position that they, along with “white” Torontonians, were often key victims of the tumult.

Tensions Rising

Through the 1970s, many Torontonians clamoured for reform in light of discriminatory police violence against LGBTQ, African Canadian, Southeast Asian, and other communities. But police-community tensions persisted through the early 1980s, reaching horrific apogees in the police killings of African Canadians Buddy Evans (1978) and Albert Johnson (1979). By and large the police weren’t listening to community complaints.

The Ethnic Relations Unit may well have been a dinosaur from the outset. In early 1970s multicultural Toronto, the notion that the police had to do outreach to gain insight into longstanding ethnic and racialized communities underlined the growing distance between the police and the people they served. In 1977, the president of Ryerson Polytechnic Institute, Walter Pitman, submitted a report to the Council of Metropolitan Toronto on behalf of the city Task Force on Human Relations. Now is Not too Late urged dramatic change in police conduct to end frictions with Toronto communities.

The report challenged the flawed notion of an Ethnic Relations Unit structured to reinforce, rather than break down, an old Toronto dividing line; a police force still largely made up of officers whose ancestors hailed from the United Kingdom felt it had to reach out through the unit to other Torontonians as though they were foreigners. Continue reading

In memory of Greg Donaghy (1961 – 2020)

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Greg Donaghy, speaking at McGill University in 2016.

Jill Campbell – Miller

“I just hope he’s at a cottage without a cell signal and wi-fi.”

I said that to my mother-in-law several times during a recent visit to Cape Breton. After all, I told her, the book project that Greg Donaghy was co-editing with myself and fellow historian Stacey Barker had recently been progressing ahead of schedule (Breaking Barriers, Shaping Worlds: Canadian Women and the Search for Global Order, UBC Press, 2021). Perhaps he felt no need to respond to my texts and emails quickly. But even as I said it, I knew it was not right. If Greg was anything, he was conscientious and dedicated to his work. Emails, texts, and phone calls rarely went unanswered. The thought of him lounging at a cottage while his inbox filled up was, in fact, patently un-Greg-like, but I did not let myself think about alternative explanations. I had been waiting to hear from him for some guidance before I undertook a few revisions to our introduction. On July 5, we all learned the terrible truth – a heart attack left Greg in a coma, which led to his death on Canada Day.

Greg had recently retired from a career in the civil service as the head of the historical section of Global Affairs. There, his achievements were many, including editing six volumes of the Documents on Canadian External Relations (DCER) and serving as General Editor for the series. In “retirement,” he became Director of the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History at Trinity College, a perfect fit for his interests. He was well known as an prolific writer. Often, in researching a paper, I wished for information on some particular nook or cranny of post-war Canadian foreign policy, only to find out that Greg had already published a paper on it, or co-written a paper on it, or it was the subject of a chapter within a collection he had edited or co-edited. His writing was not only voluminous, it was eloquent. As I write this now, I am thinking about how Greg might edit it, trying to avoid the cumbersome style he disdained.

Others who knew him longer can better speak to his long career as a civil servant and academic. How I, and many other scholars of foreign policy will remember him best, is by his unofficial career as a mentor. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 153: Canada Day in the Capital During Covid

By Sean Graham

In a normal year, July 1 has a very distinct feeling in Ottawa. In the same way that Fridays can have a feeling, you don’t need a calendar to know that it’s Canada Day in the capital. Streets downtown are closed, thousands of people flood Parliament Hill, and the city is awash in red and white. There are live musical performances, national museums offer free admission, and the crush of people leaving after the evening fireworks is a sight to behold.

In the midst of the pandemic, however, all that changed. There were no live performances, no fireworks, and the museums haven’t been open for months. In the final weeks of June, people in the city were wondering how the holiday would feel without the typical activities – and tourists – that mark July 1.

In this episode of the History Slam, I explore Ottawa on July 1. I talk with Aaron Boyes, Megan Reilly-Boyes, and Sarah E.K. Smith about Canada Day traditions before walking around the city to get a feel for a truly unique Canada Day. I visit Parliament Hill, Major Hill Park, the Rideau Canal, and the Museum of Nature and discuss what was different in the city this year.

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On the Bay’s 350th, let’s remember department stores’ contributions to colonialism and white supremacy

Hudson’s Bay Company Store, Toronto, Canada, 2015. Image credit: bargainmoose (bargainmoose.ca).

In this post, Dr. Donica Belisle, author of Retail Nation: Department Stores and the Making of Modern Canada, and Associate Professor of History at the University of Regina, discusses the ways that Canadian retailers have profited from anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism. She argues that capitalist enterprise has long profited from colonialism and white supremacy in Canada.

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Surprisingly, “the Bay” – as the famous department store is now known – is being fairly quiet about it. Apart from launching a few specially-themed blankets, and partnering with a few companies for some new products, the firm is keeping a low profile. Perhaps this discretion is due to COVID-19. Given the ravages the disease has brought, it seems untimely to celebrate an anniversary.

Yet other forces are also at play. As Andrew Smith and Daniel Simeone note, the Bay now treads cautiously in its treatment of its past. Whereas earlier anniversaries – including the 250th one, celebrated in 1920 – were marked with fanfare, the Bay’s shareholders are today more careful about their company’s long history. Incorporated in 1670 and given a charter by the King of England to develop an exclusive trading monopoly with Indigenous nations in the Hudson’s Bay watershed, this company once claimed sovereignty over 40 per cent of the area now known as Canada. In 1869 it sold that unceded land to the Dominion of Canada. Separating itself into three divisions at the turn of the 20th century (fur, land, and retail), it next established a string of department stores.

When considering the Bay’s involvement in imperialism and colonization, it is often the Bay’s fur trading past that is most mentioned. Here, the Bay’s retail division is considered. For the first half of the 20th century, not only the Bay but such other major retailers as Eaton’s and Simpson’s were involved in the Canadian colonization of northwestern North America. By remembering this history, we can see that not only the state, but also major Canadian enterprises, have long been central to colonialism and white supremacy. Continue reading

Snapshots of Canada-Timor solidarity

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Solidarity groups meeting, Geneva, 1989. Members from the Commission for the Rights of the Maubere People, Portugal; Free East Timor! Campaign, Japan, and Australian solidarity groups. ETAN/Canada collection, Timor International Solidarity Archive.

David Webster

Pictures are powerful. They can tell strong stories.

This post accompanies a new e-dossier that tells the history of a Canadian campaign for international human rights through images (http://historybeyondborders.ca/?p=220). While the full photo history looks at a range of groups that worked for human rights in Timor-Leste (East Timor) when it was under Indonesian military rule in 1975-99, this post zeroes in on one, the East Timor Alert Network (ETAN). Full disclosure: I am telling a history that I was also involved in, as an ETAN member from 1986 to 1996.

East Timor is not well known, but it matters for the study of transnational history. The international solidarity movement for East Timor may be the single most successful such movement in the late twentieth century. It was a transnational movement with a high degree of women’s leadership, and it proved highly effective.

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Could Covid Cure Classical Music?

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Playhouse Theatre, Vancouver, Canada, Photo by Jessi Gilchrist

By Jessi Gilchrist

With the onset of COVID-19, we have seen orchestras, operas, and small ensembles retreat from the concert stage and disperse into their lonely practice rooms. There is no doubt that COVID-19 is not being kind to Canada’s musicians or music institutions. Yet this time away from the spotlight also provides an opportunity for critical reflection on the issues that have plagued the classical music community long before the pandemic hit. It is well known that financial insecurity and the struggle to fill seats has challenged Canada’s orchestras and operas for decades.

The impending death of classical music has sparked heated debate among music critics over the past several decades. For more than a century, critics have claimed that classical music has lost its relevance in modern-day life. While cynics declare classical music’s “time of death,” enthusiasts point to sold-out concert halls to resurrect the significance of classical music in the public eye. Shockingly, concert pianists, orchestras, and chamber ensembles, clad in their pristine concert attire, continue to take the stage in front of awe-struck crowds. Even in our pandemic era there has been no shortage of interest in virtual performances, as operas and symphonies are among the first cultural institutions to reopen. Classical music is alive and well.

But should it be?

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