One form of remembrance: mapping Toronto’s World War II casualties

Today, Canadians across the country will observe Remembrance Day.  The tradition of remembering the casualties of war on November 11 first began in 1919, following the end of the First World War.  Through public commemorations or more private ways, citizens will think about the sacrifices of thousands of men and women who have risked their lives for country, faith, and a multitude of other reasons.  Moreover, Canadians will also consider the meaning of war and its impact on society, an issue particularly important because of the country’s long involvement in Afghanistan.

OpenFile, a website that connects community members with journalists, has created a timely “Poppy File”.  OpenFile urges the public to suggest story topics that then undergo a process of collaboration.  The Poppy File includes a number of items that use digital media forms to present the experiences of war remembrance related to the Second World War.

One of the Poppy File’s most interesting items is an article and accompanying map that uses typed index cards – created by the Toronto city clerk’s office and now housed in the city archives – to trace the residential location of the city’s war casualties from 1942 to 1945 on a contemporary map of Toronto.  These index cards formed the basis of the city’s Book of Remembrance, located at City Hall.  Patrick Cain, who coded the more than 3,300 cards, notes that this form of mapping “joins two kinds of knowledge: our existing picture of the familiar city and some new knowledge superimposed on it.”  Combining the card data with the present map of Toronto is, to Cain, “an exercise in recovered local memory.”  Many viewers of the map will surely go to areas of personal importance in Toronto to see the number of poppies – residences of the war dead – located near their own places of meaning.  In line with the collaborative intentions of OpenFile, readers have already begun to contribute the addresses of individuals close to them who died during the war but are left off the map.

Archival Activism: from House of Amnesia to House of Memory

This post was also published on the NiCHE website
I am a new arrival to Kingston, Ontario. I have been tossed into the ‘gown’ tribe, mingling with the many curious and creative folks at Queen’s University. Every day I walk from my home on the ‘north’ side, across the central town artery known as Princess Street, to the university campus. My head is often down and the pace is quick, as I am struggling to develop new strategies as a fresh doctoral student confronted by a rigorous schedule. I have been wondering how and when I will find the time to get to know this town, and the vibrant current of community movements and grassroots initiatives that course through it. In several ways, I walk a ‘town-gown’ divide daily yet still do not really know what is underfoot. And I have been curious. Continue reading

Does a History Education Matter?

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John Henry Newman

In late September the Pope traveled to England and beatified Cardinal Newman.  One month later the British government’s 40% funding cuts demonstrated the limited influence of sainthood in the politics of higher education. (See Glen O’Hare for a review of the cuts).

Newman has a similar status among humanities professors and graduate students as he does among the faithful.  He remains a guiding light for the ideal of a liberal arts education a century and a half after he gave the inaugural lectures at the Catholic University of Ireland in Dublin.  These lectures argued for the inherent value of a liberal education in the arts in the creation of citizens.  John Morgan explains in his article in Inside Higher Ed “Newman described the university as a place for the teaching of “universal knowledge” rather than vocational training or research, where students pursued a broad-based liberal education.” Continue reading

History Matters Podcast: Susana Miranda on Portuguese Women in Toronto’s Cleaning Industry, 1970-1990

Last Thursday, historian Susana Miranda gave a talk called “Keeping the City Clean: Portuguese Women in Toronto’s Cleaning Industry, 1970-1990”  at the Bloor/Gladstone branch of the Toronto Public Library.   The lecture is part of the Toronto Public Library’s History Matters series.

As you can see in the image to the left, she started her presentation with a shot of the downtown office towers that grew to dominate the Toronto skyline by the late 1960s.  Miranda proceeded to examine the labour struggles of the women who cleaned these skyscrapers and other buildings across the growing metropolis.

Her talk is available here for audio download.  The lecture is based on research for Miranda’s PhD dissertation, completed earlier this year.

The last of this year’s History Matters talks takes place tomorrow, November 4th, when Megan Davies and David Reville present “Locating Parkdale’s Mad History: Back Wards to Back Streets, 1980-2010” at Toronto’s Parkdale library.    Click here for more details.

Remembering Francis: Sharing life and sharing the past

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On Friday night I sat down at my computer to write out a post for this morning and nothing came.  Last week was a busy week for me and it was filled with a number of surprises (some pleasant, some less so).  One of the major events of the week was the death of my friend Francis.

Francis displaying his artwork

Over the past five years I have spent many Friday afternoons with Francis and the Club at L’Arche Daybreak in Richmond Hill.  Daybreak is a community that focuses on sharing life with people with different gifts and abilities; at its heart are men and women with intellectual disabilities.  On Friday afternoons at the Club, a program for retirees, we often gather around the television screen to look at old community photographs.  The members of the Club tell me stories about their past experiences, and I annotate the images in a digital database with the names of the people in the picture and the stories associated with them. Continue reading

Jennifer Bonnell on the history of prisons, pollution, and homelessness in Toronto’s Don River valley: History Matters series podcast

"Ice jam Don River looking southeast from north of Queen Street", 1901, from City of Toronto Archives

Historian Jennifer Bonnell recently gave a talk called “Isolating Undesirables: Prisons, Pollution and Homelessness in Toronto’s Don River Valley, 1860-1932” at the Berndale branch of the Toronto Public Library.   The lecture is part of the Toronto Public Library’s History Matters series.

The lecture is based on research for Bonnell’s PhD dissertation, which examined the social and environmental history of the lower Don River valley.

Her talk is available here for audio download.

Next week will post another recent History Matters talk, Susana Miranda’s discussion of Portuguese women in Toronto’s cleaning industry from 1970 to 1990.

The next History Matters talk takes place on Thursday, November 4th, when Megan Davies and David Reville present “Locating Parkdale’s Mad History: Back Wards to Back Streets, 1980-2010” at Toronto’s Parkdale library.    Click here for more details.

New Book Review – Canuck Rock: A History of Canadian Popular Music

Today we have a new book review by Carrie Schmidt, who is an archivist and librarian currently living in Vancouver, BC, via Montreal, QC, and originally from Edmonton, AB.  She has reviewed Ryan Edwardson’s Canuck Rock: A History of Canadian Popular Music (University of Toronto, 2009, $27.95).

Find the review here.

If you would like to review a book for and you are not a professional historian or graduate student, please get in touch: You can learn more about our book review section here.

The Return of the Narrative?

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The history curriculum in UK schools is to be overhauled with the help of Simon Schama, an announcement made five months after the controversy sparked by the alleged invitation extended to Niall Ferguson.  The concerns remain the same: that history is disappearing through falling demand, at least in state schools; that where it is taught, the topic-based approach of the national curriculum develops no sense of a coherent narrative of British history and necessarily omits important episodes and figures (such as Churchill).  ‘The trashing of our past has to stop,’ Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, insisted, echoing Ferguson’s call for a ‘campaign against junk history’ following recent, successful campaigns to improve school meals.

Geoffrey Alderman agreed.  He argued that pupils lack a grasp of the broad sweep of British history, as teaching has moved away from a survey approach to one focused on skills.  Proponents of the latter regard history’s major importance as lying in the discipline’s development of critical and evaluative faculties and the ability to construct a sound argument.  History does indeed develop these skills, Alderman argues, but that is not its purpose: ‘History is the collective memory of society. It is that memory which informs society’s attitude to itself and to the world around it.’ Continue reading

Telling the stories of a Toronto street through transit shelter panels

Torontonians go to the polls today to vote in the city’s municipal election.  Transportation, and plans for transit in particular, has been a prominent theme during the long election race.  Much of the debate has focused on whether the city should stick with Transit City (a plan already started that will criss-cross the metropolis with numerous light rail lines) or substitute the scheme with more subways.

A streetcar shelter on St. Clair West Avenue

One of the more controversial transit infrastructure projects of the last decade is the St. Clair Avenue West Transit Improvement Project, which has replaced an already existing but physically-deteriorating streetcar line with a rebuilt line traveling along its own lane.  Members of the local community, especially businesses, complained that the project would hurt the area, and even unsuccessfully tried to stop it in court.  Perhaps because of the controversy of the line, another interesting part of the project has been relatively overlooked.  The streetcar shelters for the new right-of-way include a series of interpretive panels: a fascinating example of one city using community involvement to collect and tell stories about a locality. Continue reading

Third History Matters series lecture uncovers Toronto’s subway past

Jay Young, a PhD student in history and steering committee member, recently gave a talk called “A Public Technology: Building Toronto’s Yonge Street Subway”.  The lecture is part of the Toronto Public Library’s History Matters series.

The lecture discussed various episodes surrounding the building of Toronto’s original Yonge Street subway line during the late 1940s and early 1950s, with particular attention paid to the impacts of construction on local merchants and residents, and the immediate reactions of Torontonians towards the subway after it opened in 1954.

Young’s talk is available here for audio download.

The next History Matters lecture take place Thursday, October 21st, when Susana Miranda delivers a talk titled “Keeping the City Clean: Portuguese Women in Toronto’s Cleaning Industry, 1970-1990”. Click here for more details.