Podcast: The 1860s and the Origins of Canada’s Transitions to Fossil Fuels

On April 22, 2017, Ruth Sandwell delivered her talk “The 1860s and the Origins of Canada’s Transition to Fossil Fuels.” The talk was part of ‘The Other 60s: A Decade that Shaped Canada and the World,” a symposium hosted by the Department of History at the University of Toronto as part of its Canada 150 events.

This talk is part of our History Chats podcast series. You can subscribe to the History Chats feed wherever you get your podcasts.

Fake News Canada 1922: Designed to Diminish and Deceive

By Veronica Strong-Boag

Canada’s official and popular histories supply their share of well-told lies. Think of the representation of the Northwest Rebellions as proof positive of Métis and Indian barbarism or the story of the Canadian sergeant crucified by blood-thirsty Huns during World War One.

Nellie L. McClung was not immune to those deceptions but she understood the assault on truth when it came to suffragists. Her classic volume In Times Likes These (1915) skewered “hardy perennials,” her term for fake news, those “prejudices regarding women that have been exploded and blown to pieces many, many times and yet walk among us today in the fullness of life and vigor.”

Enfranchisement during and after World War One and the appearance of the first female legislators did not halt anti-suffrage propaganda. Even as misogyny genuflected before women’s patriotic sacrifices, its Conservative, Liberal, and left-wing champions maintained their defense of men’s right to rule.

Like Donald Trump’s 21st century resort to the distraction of a female press secretary (in effect making women complicit in their own victimization), early Canadian reactionaries enjoyed pitting women against one another. In the process, they celebrated their preferred version of ‘real women,’ a type less flatteringly summed up by McClung as “selfish women who have no more thought for the underprivileged women than a pussy cat in a sunny window for the starving kitten in the street.”[1]

Such was the case in June 1922, when MacLean’s, self-titled ‘Canada’s National Magazine’ and would-be arbiter of mainstream Anglo-Canadian culture, published “The Confessions of a She-Politician.” Continue reading

Can Prison Farms Be Saved?

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Cameron Willis

On February 27, 2018, the federal Liberal government announced the gradual reopening of two prison farms in Kingston, Ontario, at the Joyceville and Collins Bay institutions. This announcement marked the successful culmination of a local grassroots campaign which began soon after the initial closure was announced in 2009, and aimed first to save, then later restore, the farms.  Dianne Dowling, a key figure in the campaign as a member of the Save Our Prison Farms (SOPF) committee, concluded that success came from the diversity of the cause’s supporters: “Some people liked the idea that inmates were contributing food to the prison system. Others saw it as good employment training, or as a rehabilitation program, particularly through working with animals.” Although many other issues – from public land use to food security – galvanized members of SOPF, the rehabilitative nature of farming has remained central to the local support for the prison farms.

Perhaps best summarized on the now-defunct Save Our Prison Farms website, this support suggested that “farming provides rehabilitation and therapy through working with and caring for plants and animals.” There is a long history to this view. In fact, claims that prison farming rehabilitates inmates have remained remarkably consistent over more than a century. The reopening of these prison farms provides a necessary opportunity to reflect on where these continuing claims come from, and why, if farming can rehabilitate criminals, it has not succeeded even when part of widespread official policy. More importantly, can prison farming be relevant today, when it is historically rooted in fears of the urban population, an assumption that farms are inherent repositories of moral virtue, and a reliance on coerced labour?

The conviction that farm labour could effectively produce reformed citizens from convicted criminals has, historically, been widespread. Continue reading

Indigenous Veterans, the Indian Act, and the Origins of National Aboriginal Veterans Day

Eric Story

The inaugural National Aboriginal Veterans Day took place on 8 November 1993, and the monument of the same name was unveiled in Ottawa the following year. Since its inauguration, National Aboriginal Veterans Day has grown, as ceremonies are now being held in various cities across Canada with larger crowds each year. With that growth, however, disagreement has arisen. There are competing beliefs amongst those participating in National Aboriginal Veterans Day about what it is meant to represent. Some believe it should be a day devoted solely to remembrance, while others think it should also be about the Indigenous veterans who “fell through the cracks” after the war, being denied benefits that other (non-Indigenous) veterans received.[1] The roots of those who support the latter vision of National Aboriginal Veterans Day can be traced back to the aftermath of the Great War in Canada. It was then that Indigenous ex-servicemen, for the first time in such large numbers, encountered the reality of being first and foremost, an “Indian,” while at the same time, a veteran.

The National Aboriginal Veterans Monument in Ottawa, Ontario. It was unveiled on National Aboriginal Day––21 June 2001. From Wikipedia.

Pension eligibility revolved around the concept of attributability. A veteran had to prove––through evidence derived from his official service record––that his (or her) disability was attributable to some injury incurred while on active duty.[2] The determination of eligibility for a veteran’s pension was also affected by the Pension Act’s “theatre of actual war” clause, creating differing levels of military service according to the theatre in which an ex-serviceman had served. For example, those who served in an active theatre such as France were eligible for a pension, while those in a non-active theatre like Canada, were not.[3] These conditions of eligibility reflect the state’s anxieties surrounding masculinity at the time. By limiting pensions to only those who had been injured in battle and had validated their masculinity as combat soldiers––those held in highest regard––the state could parry any challenge to manliness the pension system might have otherwise imposed.[4] Continue reading

Podcast – Uncomfortable Pews: British North America’s Religious Groups Ponder Confederation

On April 22, 2017, Mark McGowan delivered his talk “Uncomfortable Pews: British North America’s Religious Groups Ponder Confederation.” The talk was part of ‘The Other 60s: A Decade that Shaped Canada and the World,” a symposium hosted by the Department of History at the University of Toronto as part of its Canada 150 events.

This talk is part of our History Chats podcast series. You can subscribe to the History Chats feed wherever you get your podcasts.

On the Importance of Caribou Stories

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This essay is part of an ongoing series reflecting on this summer’s Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute (MISHI).

By Katherine MacDonald

My childhood summers were spent on the shores of Lake Huron, visiting my grandmother in Amberley.  Together with my brother, we would explore the woods and play by the water’s edge, collecting shells and feathers, and listen to the stories told by those around us.  We learned about the Clay Pond, and the Clam Pond and why they were important for us.  We learned how to watch, and respect the power of the Lake.  And we learned the names of important landscape features around us, becoming more familiar with them, having them become more a part of us, with every telling.  At the end of the summer, we would go back to the city, but the feathers and the shells in our pockets would continue to connect us to our place, and remind us of what we had learned, and of who we were.

But there are always new stories to hear and new places to learn about.

For while I had learned from my grandmother about the places and things we could see, the Ponds, the Lake, and sites in the landscape, she never shared stories with us about the places and things we couldn’t see, the spirits, the emotions, the presence of history, the myths that are real.  This cultural knowledge is not often shared.  When it is, it is usually quickly dismissed by western science. Continue reading

Brexit Ambiguities

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By Stephen Brooke

On Friday, 23 June 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union, with 51.89% in favour of leaving and 48.11% in favour of remaining.  And thus Britain embarked on what was certainly the most important political decision of the past forty years (going back to the 1975 referendum which approved membership in what was then called the European Economic Community by 67.2% to 32.7%) and just as certainly the most complicated political, economic and legal course taken by the nation since the Second World War.

There is a certain weary tone to British political commentators that one can discern with each passing week: “do we have to talk about Brexit this week?”  And, of course, they do, as they will be doing from now until 29 March 2019 (when the negotiation period formally ends) and well beyond.  The period of political and legal adjustment for Brexit is estimated to stretch into the next decade, and the economic cost will measure out even longer.

European Union Flag

The European Union Flag, missing one star for the UK

Before thinking about the relationship between history and Brexit, it’s worth remembering why the referendum even happened.  Given the scale of the decision, the immediate justification for the referendum seems criminally capricious at best.  In 2013, facing a Conservative Party that had long tortured itself with membership of the EU, often to the indifference of the general public, and with a threat from the right emerging from the United Kingdom Independence Party (a party led by a someone who was, coincidentally, a member of the European Parliament), the hapless Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron committed to an ‘in-out’ referendum on EU membership.  To be clear: it is likely in 2013 that no one outside the Conservative Party particularly cared about a referendum. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 112: Use and Abuse of Patriotism in Sports

By Sean Graham

The 2018 Paralympic Games came to a close on Sunday, thus completing another Olympic cycle. The next major international sporting event comes this summer when Russia hosts the FIFA World Cup. And right now, March Madness, one of the most bet-upon sporting events on the calendar, has the NCAA in the spotlight.

What’s interesting about these events is that, during the competitions, the athletes are at the forefront of the media attention. The stories that emerged from Pyeongchang over the past month have been remarkable. From Scott Moir and Tessa VIrtue’s triumph to the gut-wrenching semi-final loss of the Canadian wheelchair curling team, these sporting events are wrought with emotion. From the elation of winning to the pain of losing, people from around the world wave their countries’ flags in support of their athletes – and in the NCAA case, people root for their alma mater.

All the while, companies capitalize on the emotional attachment to the events to try to sell us stuff. The Olympics, World Cup, and March Madness all feature targeted ads based off our patriotism (most professional and collegiate teams refer to themselves as ‘nations’) while at the same time highlighting the amazing performances of the athletes.

What gets left out, however, is the backdrop against which these events take place. The International Olympic Committee has been known to have executives made outlandish demands of host committees while at the same time demonstrating a remarkable level of disinterest in the host cities’ financial state, so much so that they are having difficulty finding places that want to host the Games. FIFA has had plenty of examples of corruption and bribery, particularly when it comes to the next two World Cups. As for the NCAA, the highest paid employee in 39 of the 50 states is a men’s basketball or football coach. The players, however, don’t get paid and, in a lot of cases, are subject to tougher restrictions on movement and outside financial opportunities than the adults who are, allegedly, teaching them about responsibility.

But these things don’t get the same attention or scrutiny as the games and results. I’ve often wondered if that’s because these sports so effectively capitalize on patriotism to draw us in. By doing so, we are not watching somebody else. Instead, we are included in the action, which is why so many people talk about how many medals ‘we’ won when referring to their home country. By creating an environment in which the audience has a vested interest, it becomes much easier, if not a necessity, to ignore the seedy underside of these events.

Continue reading

Moscow Then and Now: A Virtual Tour In Search of Depression-Era Canadian Visitors to the Soviet Union

All accounts of returned travellers from strange lands and foreign shores are essentially self-disclosures and unwittingly autobiographical. – Norman Bethune

By Kirk Niergarth

I invite you on a virtual tour of the Depression-era Soviet Union, in part through the eyes of Canadians who traveled there and, in part, through my eyes as I attempted to retrace some of their steps during a trip to Russia in 2014. In a series of posts over coming months, I’ll try to point out some of the sights they saw, look at what remains of them today, and what they might signify now a generation after the fall of communism.

I’m sure that Bethune’s observation above, made at a speaking engagement after his return from the Soviet Union in 1935, applies to me. I have not spent sufficient time in self-reflection – or, as a Canadian Communist studying at the International Lenin School in the 1930s would have had it, engaged in an exercise of self-criticism – to discern exactly what my travels in search of Canadian interwar visitors to the Soviet Union unwittingly discloses about myself. Certainly, this ongoing journey has been a more complicated one than I imagined at its outset.

Studying Canadians who visited the USSR in the 1930s leads an historian across a broad sweep of Canadian society. Canadian visitors to the Soviet Union, who were far more numerous than I had anticipated, came from across the country, from farm and city. Some were rich and others poor. In age they ranged from high school students to retirees. They were men and women, reverends, rabbis, and atheists, and members of every political party. These diverse travellers visited the USSR for similarly diverse reasons, creating sharp difference in their field of vision. This virtual tour will bring us in contact with a fair number of them, from well-known figures such as Bethune, Agnes Macphail, Frederick Banting, and Hugh Maclennan to those whose lives are now more obscure in the historical record.

What did they hope to find in the Soviet Union and what did they find when they arrived there? The travelogues discussed in these posts – describing to Canadians the sites we will see on our virtual tour – were part of a public debate about the Soviet Union that was hotly contested in Canada over the course of the 1930s. Continue reading

“Classroom Practices”: Historians and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Andrew Nurse

Last fall I had the good fortune to attend a regional workshop and conference on post-secondary teaching and learning, or as it now increasingly called: the scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education (STLHE). For me, the highlight of my weekend was watching a fawn walk in front of my car — seemingly without a care in the world – as I left Mount Saint Vincent University for lunch and some reflection. However, James Lang, the keynote speaker, was a close second. His talk was organized around a series of suggestions that were intended to make for more effective university-level teaching. His thinking was empirically grounded and focused on steps that could be taken with a minimum of fuss. It was also mercifully free of the buzzwords (like “learning styles”) that, to my mind, have done more to muddy the waters in discussions about university-level teaching than anything else. The rest of the conference was good too. It was lively, participants were enthusiastic and generous, and the sense of common mission – taking steps to improve university-level teaching – was palpable. I left wanting more. Perhaps, the fawn was a good omen.

Fawn in a parking lot.

The good omen fawn. Photograph by author.

Later, as I drove home, I began to think about who had attended the conference. A broad range of disciplines were represented: literary critics, biologists, mathematicians, chemists, business professionals, kinesiologists, and a long list of others. Cognitive scientists and teaching centre staff were over represented, but as I thought about, that made sense. This was their gig. What struck me, as I thought about it, was that there were few historians in the room, at least in the sessions I attended. Why was this?   Continue reading