A Reluctant Steward: Alberta and Its Parks

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By Jessica DeWitt

[We are publishing this in partnership with the Network in Canadian History & Environment.]

Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park’s Tolman Bridge Campgrounds will be closed as part of the “Optimizing Alberta Parks” plan. Photo Credit: Jessica DeWitt, August 2015.

This past week the Alberta Provincial Government announced it’s plan to ‘optimize’ its park system. This includes:

  • The full or partial closure of twenty parks.
  • Shortened operating seasons.
  • Fewer groomed cross-country tracks
  • Closures of a few visitor information centres
  • Service fee increases
  • A proposal to partner with public, non-profit, and Indigenous organizations to co-manage 164 parks.

Unsurprisingly this news has caused an uproar from Alberta residents and park-goers. People mourn the closure of their favourite parks. They fear for a possible future for-profit park system and what that will mean for recreation and preservation in the province. For the general public parks are more than a line on a balance sheet. They are places where we relax, create memories, and find ourselves. They are something we can be proud of. They are good.

As someone who has immersed myself in the history of provincial park development and studied Alberta’s park system in detail, I am not as distressed by this news as one may expect. One reason for this lack of anxiety on my part is that I know that parks are dynamic, colonial institutions that have always existed in a for-profit, capitalist system. Parks are pieces of land whose borders are designated by settler governments As Leslie Bella noted in Parks for Profit, the creation of a park is inherently exploitative. Parks reside on occupied land. The boundaries of a park are created by settler governments in order to control and economically benefit from the activities that take place within them.

“Parklands are often positioned as apolitical, as ‘common’ or public land that somehow eludes examination amidst the grit of property markets and land-use battles, but it is critical to understand parks as a central feature of colonial land logics, as aggressively regulating and disciplining the land and its occupations.” – Matt Hern, On This Patch of Grass: City Parks on Occupied Land

We may wrap our parks in a shroud of preservation, but ultimately they exist because they are useful to us. Any claim that parks are not about making money (at least partially) is false. There is no magical time in the past when provincial park systems acted solely altruistically.

My initial reaction upon hearing about the optimization plan was: “yeah, that sounds about right.” If there is anything that sets Alberta’s park history apart from other provinces and US states, it is its repeated regret at creating them. Throughout its history the province has tried to close and offload its parks onto other public governing bodies and private institutions. When they have not directly tried to do this, they have whispered internally about a desire to do so. Alberta has always been a reluctant park steward. Continue reading

Remember/Resist/Redraw #22: We are Inuit – Not Arctic Flag Poles

Last month, the Graphic History Collective released Remember/Resist/Redraw poster #22 by Lianne Charlie and Siku Allooloo.

Through the lens of Allooloo’s family story, the poster (which is based on a photo of Allooloo’s grandparents) looks at the history of Inuit relocation. Between the 1920s and 1960s, Canadian officials relocated Inuit families to the high arctic as a means to establish an RCMP presence and protect Canada’s sovereignty against foreign interests. It is a difficult history but, as Allooloo argues in the poster’s essay, it is also a story of Inuit resilience.

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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What’s in a name? Thomas Scott and the curious case of the forgotten memorial

Matthew McRae

An image of a large grey stone building, built in a classical style.

The Thomas Scott Memorial Orange Hall in Winnipeg, 2019, about a year before its demolition. Photo by author.

The City of Winnipeg recently tore down the Thomas Scott Memorial Orange Hall, located in the city’s historic Exchange District. News coverage about the demolition has focused a lot on the loss of architectural heritage. This is important, but it’s only one part of the story. There’s also the story of who the building is named after: Thomas Scott.

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To NARA is Human; To Forgive, Divine

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Allana Mayer

Historically-minded folks will likely have seen the flare-up and fizzle-out of scandal around the USA’s National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in January. A Washington Post reporter noted that applique images on the walls of the NARA Museum lobby had blurred out words on signs held by Women’s March protesters in 2017. The blurred words included “pussy” as well as “Trump” on a “God Hates Trump” sign. 

tweet screenshots

Cher may have been one of the most vocal and famous critics, but she wasn’t the only one.

NARA, in its apology after the public backlash, noted that the photograph was a purchased stock image they used as part of the hallway exhibit, not an official NARA archival record, and that they would never alter their own archival holdings. The word “pussy” was removed to keep the display “family-friendly” and “Trump” was blurred “so as not to engage in current political controversy.” 

screenshot of tweetScreenshot of tweet

This story only came to light because the WaPo reporter noticed it by chance while there to research another story about the Archives and tourism.  Let’s consider the odds that a major news outlet journalist would have noticed a blurred patch on a sign in a photograph of a protest, versus the odds that a conservative visitor would have noticed the word “pussy” or gotten offended about “God hates Trump.” I would guess the odds of the former were way lower than the latter, and that the latter seems like it would draw significantly more ire, from significantly more volatile people. The design and communications staff of the exhibits part of the Museum part of NARA probably hedged the right bet.  Continue reading

Transformations in the Canadian History Classroom

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This is part of an ongoing series of reflections from the Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute (MISHI)

By Catherine Carstairs

I am a Canadian historian, and I teach the Canadian survey course.

Lately, this seems a lot more complicated than it did when I trained as a historian. Much of what we call Canada today rests on the unceded territories of Indigenous peoples.  What does that mean for how we teach Canadian history?

No one would think of me as a historian of Indigenous peoples.  I think of myself as a historian of health and medicine and a gender historian.  While Ian Mosby and I have been collaborating recently on two articles on Indigenous people and oral health , I am not an expert in Indigenous history, or even of settler colonialism.  But fortunately, I am being drawn into what feels like a significant change in how we do Canadian history. Continue reading

Vladimir Putin’s Proposed Constitutional Changes: A Post-Putin Succession Plan?

By Andrea Chandler

On 15 January 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise announcement in his annual address to Russia’s Parliament. Following a recitation of the country’s recent successes and near-term goals, Putin devoted a sizeable portion of his speech to a plan to introduce significant changes to the Russian constitution. On its face, the proposed changes seemed to expand the role of the government and to link the government more closely to the lower house of Parliament, the State Duma. The language used by Putin suggested a proposal to strengthen the political system’s checks and balances. Debate immediately arose about the speech’s significance: was it paving the way to a greater diffusion of political power, or a path to creating an even more hierarchical system? It is difficult to evaluate Putin’s intentions until more details become apparent about the constitutional reform. But the evidence suggests that this is an effort to further concentrate presidential power and to move even further away from liberal democracy.

To provide context, let us examine the essential existing features of the Russian constitution. It was adopted in 1993, having narrowly passed a referendum during the presidency of Boris Yeltsin. The document is, in many respects, a very democratic constitution. The citizenry are to choose the president in elections and there is a bicameral parliament that contains elected representatives of the people as well as an upper house (the Federation Council) where regions are represented. The constitution contains an extensive list of citizen rights and a Constitutional Court that rules on the constitutionality of laws and government decisions. On its face, then, the president’s power is checked by parliament and an independent judiciary; regions and localities also have self-government bodies in what is purportedly a federal system.

If the system is so democratic, what has enabled Putin to amass so much personal power?

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We’tsuwet’en Sovereignty Stands Against Canadian Supremacy

By Catherine Murton Stoehr

There is a hard disconnect between the actual treaties that the Mi’kmaq, Great Lakes Nations, and Metis forced through strength of arms and today’s “reconciliation moment.”  And it is this: no Indigenous person in the history of this place ever wanted large numbers of non-Indigenous Canadians to live here.  Not out of dislike or insularity but because they knew then, as now, that an element of the non-Indigenous Canadians would steal from, assault, and murder their people with predictable, chronic regularity.

For their part the British, later Canadian, governments never wanted to live in peaceful reciprocity with First Nations, Metis and Inuit people.  We tried over and over again to assert political and legal supremacy over them. It is Canada’s unrelenting, insistent will to erase all Indigenous rights and land holdings that the We’tsuwet’en face today.

Because their violent origins have been forgotten, Canadian treaties’ diplomatic language of “peace and friendship” and shared economic benefits have created a false narrative about the historic relationship between Canada and First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people. Continue reading

End of the Line? The History of Canada’s Precarious Passenger Rail Network

By Thomas Blampied

The saying goes that we don’t really see infrastructure until it fails.

Union Station departure board from last night, showing the cancellations. (Photo by author, 13 Feb 2020)

Over the past week, thousands of Canadians have seen their travel plans disrupted by Indigenous demonstrations blocking both Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP) railway tracks in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec. The actions are in support of the Wet’suwet’en fight against the Coastal GasLink pipeline project that crosses their territory in Northern British Columbia, as well as the RCMP response to their demonstrations. While many elected band councils have approved the pipeline, the hereditary chiefs have not, laying bare the complexities of the colonial relationship between the Crown and Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Several sympathy protests across Canada have blocked railway tracks.[1]

The most significant of the blockades is at Wymans Road, east of Belleville, Ontario. This level crossing, known to railroaders as Marysville, sits on the edge of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. Since February 6, a camp has been set up at the crossing, making it unsafe for trains to pass.[2]

Photo of a VIA train at Marysville on August 24, 2019. This is the site of the blockade and I was standing right where the camp is now. (Photo by author)

Not only is Marysville on the CN mainline between Toronto and Montreal, but it is also the route used by all VIA Rail passenger trains on the Toronto-Ottawa and Toronto-Montreal routes. On February 13, CN announced it was shutting down the eastern portion of its national network because the blockade had caused a week’s worth of freight trains to clog its yards and tracks.[3] Around dinner time, VIA Rail announced that CN was “no longer in a position to fulfill their obligations under the Train Service Agreement” and that all VIA trains across the country were cancelled.[4]

That railway tracks were chosen as protest sites highlights the strong colonial symbolism attached to railway development in Canada, but the blockades also show how precarious passenger rail is in Canada today. While passenger trains once crossed the country, many parts of Canada haven’t seen a passenger train in years. How did this happen? Continue reading

Precarious Historical Instructors’ Manifesto

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We are caught in a cycle where a large chunk of historians in the field are precariously employed. Tenured faculty and university administrators often ask about solutions to precarity from the people who are facing it during faculty meetings or when our professional associations meet, but they rarely act on suggestions. Precarity and those who face it are ignored as a problem of their own doing or, simply, as the state of the field in 2020.

Last year, a group of historians who, in some way, have or continue to experience precarity in the field organized themselves to pull together shared concerns and possible solutions. Speaking about precarity publicly can, and has, put careers at risk. Releasing this document on Active History anonymously is an attempt to move the conversation about precarity forward and push the field at large towards some concrete solutions. Continue reading

Debating Hate Speech Regulations in Canada: A History

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News story from the Globe and Mail, 28 February 1981, p.5.

Jennifer Tunnicliffe

On December 13, 2019, Justin Trudeau sent out a series of mandate letters to his newly appointed Cabinet ministers, outlining their policy objectives for the upcoming session of Parliament. In several of these letters, Trudeau urged initiatives to combat online hate and counter hate speech.[1] Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault was instructed to develop new social media guidelines requiring all platforms to remove hate speech within 24 hours, and Minister of Justice David Lametti was told to look into measures to support victims.

The letters were sent amidst global concerns over the growth of alt-right extremism and fears over the potential of the Internet as a tool to promote hatred. Last year the United Nations launched its Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech, which argued: “Hate speech is a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace.”[2] Canada’s Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights conducted its own study on online hate, and its June 2019 report recommended that Ottawa formulate a clearer definition of what constitutes “hate,” work to better track its spread online, and develop a legal remedy for victims of hate speech.[3]

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