The Conservative Working Class in Canada

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By Adam Coombs

Both the Brexit Referendum in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 American Presidential election have resulted in a number of think-pieces analyzing the voting patterns and intentions of the white working class in both countries. While large cities like London and New York overwhelmingly supported the European Union (EU) and Hilary Clinton respectively, traditional bastions of the white working class, such as Erie, Pennsylvania and the North-West of England voted for Brexit and Donald Trump. Explaining why a majority of those in these demographic groups voted, often times against their economic interest, for conservative and reactionary ideas while abandoning the “traditional” parties of the working class has been one of the main themes of recent political and historical analysis of these two votes.

One answer that has seemed to gain particular currency is that the progressive parties of the left have moved to the centre and abandoned the working class. In late March, in Le Devoir and here on, historian Steven High called this process the “gentrification of progressive politics.” While I certainly agree with the general contention High and others advance, I’d like to suggest that in order to truly understand these voting patterns we need to first consider white working class conservatism not as an historical aberration but rather, if we take Canada as a case study, as a phenomenon with a long history. Continue reading

Mudeater: An American Buffalo Hunter and the Surrender of Louis Riel

By John D. Pihach

Robert Armstrong, celebrated as a Canadian hero in 1885, is largely forgotten today. That transition from national hero to obscure historical figure is challenged in Mudeater: An American Buffalo Hunter and the Surrender of Louis Riel, (University of Regina Press, 2017) which puts him in the spotlight for the second time.

Born in Kansas in 1849, Armstrong spent two decades on the American frontier. He accompanied wagon trains, drove a stagecoach, and dodged arrows and bullets, but for much of that time he was a buffalo hunter. In 1882, to avoid the law, he moved to Canada and changed not only his name, but his entire life. Before he could settle down into a more conventional life in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, however, more adventures came his way. In 1885, he became a scout for General Middleton and after the fall of Batoche, he joined his fellows scouts, Tom Hourie and William Diehl, in searching for and making Louis Riel a prisoner.

Thirty-five years later, while living in Calgary, Armstrong looked back on his life and put down his recollections in a memoir. Handed down to his descendants, the memoir was dormant for a century before being roused and published, for the first time, in Mudeater. The memoir is presented in the book’s second section, after the reader has the opportunity to explore his life in greater detail. This includes investigating his claims, providing a broad account of his life, confronting unresolved controversies surrounding Riel’s apprehension, and exposing his double life.

Though this story is of long ago, it is of tremendous importance in an era when historians, and the country as a whole, continue to work towards reconciliation. In that process, historians have a new primary source that can illuminate contemporary questions.  Issues facing First Nations today partly have their roots in Armstrong’s occupation, and the dilemma of identity confronts many today, as it had Armstrong.

History informs contemporary life. Much has been written about the past, but it is often from the perspective of a different era. A good example comes from the  scholarly treatises examining features of Plains history. That’s why Armstrong’s story is different. His memoir, like a message in a bottle, allows us to travel back in time and have a first-hand account of life and events–not yet history–in the Wild West and of the events of 1885. Armstrong’s plain talk also reveals attitudes and behaviours of the latter quarter of the nineteenth century.

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Feet of Clay? Canada’s Vimy Ridge

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Nic Clarke

The Battle of Vimy Ridge (9-12 April 1917) is held by many Canadians as a pivotal moment in the formation of a distinct Canadian identity, and, indeed, Canada’s transformation from British dominion to independent state.  At first glance this belief is not hard to understand.  Fighting together for the first time, the four divisions of the Canadian Corps achieved an emphatic victory over the Germans where French units had failed, at great cost, multiple times before.  Moreover, in the immediate aftermath, the Canadian victory was lauded both in Canada and abroad, and was proffered as evidence of certain special characteristics that differentiated Canadians from other peoples.   The supposed importance of the battle for Canada’s evolution towards nationhood was (and remains) further reinforced in the minds of Canadians by the placement of the nation’s largest, and most important, overseas memorial to its First World War dead – the Canadian National Vimy Memorial – on the highest point of the ridge.  Intended to highlight Canadian valour and sacrifice, the memorial – which dominates the surrounding French countryside – also acts to remind people of Canada’s victory.

Canada’s memorial to the battle, on Vimy Ridge in France, in a 2010 image from Wikipedia:

The reality of the Battle of Vimy Ridge is, however, much more complex. Despite what most Canadians have come to believe, the battle was not won by the feat of Canadian arms alone. The Canadian units that stormed the ridge were amply supported in their assault by British Imperial forces.  Over half of the artillery that paved the way for the assaulting Canadian infantry was either British or Australian.  Moreover, the Canadians were aided before, during, and after the assault by troops from a variety of Allied nations.  Operating on the Canadians’ right, the British 51st Highland Division, for example, captured the southern shoulder of the ridge. In the air, support was provided, in part, by Royal Flying Corps’ No. 16 Squadron and Nos. 1 and 2 Balloon Companies.  Likewise, much of the underground system of galleries and tunnels that famously hid and protected the Canadian troops before the assault had been either dug or improved by New Zealand and British tunnellers.  Most importantly, it was the Canadian Corps’ higher formation, the British First Army, which provided the Corps with the extensive logistical support it needed to successfully prosecute its mission.

Nor was the Canadian Corps a purely Canadian formation.  In addition to containing the Canadian divisions, the Corps also included the British 5th Division in its order of battle.  Moreover, all four Canadian divisions had British units attached to them.  In the case of the 2nd Canadian Division the units attached – and directly involved in the assault – included the 5th Division’s 13th Infantry Brigade and eight tanks.   If this were not enough, the Canadian Corps’ commander – and one of the major architects of the “Canadian” victory at Vimy – was a British officer, Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng.  In fact, of the 172,486 men attached to Canadian Corps for the assault on Vimy Ridge 75,302 (43.7%) did not come from Canadian formations.

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Hip-Hop History: An Interview with Webster

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This interview originally between Christine Chevalier-Caron and Webster appeared in French on Histoire Engagée. Translated by Thomas Peace.

A few months ago, I had the chance to interview the inspirational Aly Ndiaye, better known as Webster. Growing up in the Quebec City neighbourhood of Limoilou, this Sénéquéb métis pure laine began to rap in 1995. Passionate about history, Webster’s work has fuelled historiographical renewal in Quebec by emphasizing the importance of its minority populations, specifically the histories of Black Québecois and slavery. As part of Black History month (in February), we present a transcript of this interview, tackling questions focused on activism, rap, history and inequality.

Christine Chevalier-Caron: What encouraged you to become an activist?

Webster: I come from a family of activists. Even in our youth, my mother and father were very active in the labour movement and immigration issues. I recall that during Apartheid we were never allowed to eat food from South Africa. My parents took us to many protests. I grew up with models like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and the Black Panthers. This is what I became interested in and they played a formative role in my life. As I grew up, I decided to develop this – to invest a bit – by denouncing inequalities, the events taking place around me, and the inaccuracies of history. I embedded myself into the vein of history and it is there where I found my activism.

Aly Ndiaye, AKA Webster

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Remember / Resist / Redraw #03: Caregiving Work in Canada

In January, the Graphic History Collective (GHC) launched Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical History Poster Project to intervene in the Canada 150 conversation.

We have released four posters. Poster #00 by Kara Sievewright and the GHC introduced and explained the goals of the project. Poster #01 by Lianne Charlie, which was showcased on and CBC, kicked off the series with a critical examination of 150 years of colonialism in the Yukon. Poster #02 by Naomi Moyer and Funké Aladejebi looked at Chloe Cooley, Black history, and the legacy of slavery in Canada.

Earlier this month, for International Women’s Day, we released Poster #03, which looks at the 150+ years of care work performed by racialized women in Canada and features the amazing work of the Kwentong Bayen Collective and Erin Tungohan.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for radical change in 2017 and beyond. Learn more about the project on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Continue reading

She’s Hot: Female Sessional Instructors, Gender Bias, and Student Evaluations

Girl Sitting at Desk

Girl sitting at desk flipping through textbook pages at Putnam School. 1961. Gar Lunney. Canada. National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque. Library and Archives Canada, e010976007. CC by 2.0. Source:

by Andrea Eidinger [1]

I would like to acknowledge and thank the many female instructors who got in touch with me over the past week, not only for their bravery in sharing their experiences with me, but for their strength in continuing in their dedication to the field of history and education. I am profoundly grateful and honoured.

“I think your feminist stances are slightly overcorrecting reality. I’m sure minorities had a harsher experience than women, ESPECIALLY today, a point you seem to overlook. You’re a really nice person though.”

That comment comes from my student evaluations from one of the first courses I ever taught, back when I was still a graduate student. At the time that I read that, I burst out laughing. I mean really, how else can you react to that kind of statement? But many courses and student evaluations later, I am starting to think that this is reflective of a larger problem in the world of academia, and history in particular, with respect to female sessional instructors and course evaluations.

Over the course of the past year or so, there have been a number of studies that have emerged detailing the gender bias against female instructors in student evaluations.  According to one study, male professors routinely ranked higher than female professors in many areas. [2] For instance, male professors received scores in the area of promptness (how quickly an assignment was returned) that were 16% higher than those of female instructors, even though the assignments were returned at the exact same time.  Another research project, which examined word usage in reviews of male and female professors on “Rate My Professor” found that male faculty members are more likely to be described as “funny,” “brilliant,” “genius,” and “arrogant,” while female faculty members are more likely to be described as “approachable,” “helpful,” “nice,” and “bossy.”[3]

While many of these studies discuss the negative impact that this bias has on tenure and promotion few consider how devastating they can be to sessional instructors, particularly given the overrepresentation of women at this academic rank. Continue reading

History Slam Episode Ninety-Six: Fake History

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By Sean Graham

Back in the fall of 2014, we had an idea for a podcast episode. The premise was that you were at a party, somebody finds out that you study history and asks a question to which you don’t know the answer. Normally, you might say that you weren’t sure, but in this setting you decide to have fun and make up an answer that sounds plausible. Perhaps not the most inspired idea we ever had, but we thought it was fun and recorded the show on November 27, 2014.

The decision was made, however, to not run the episode that fall, in part because we had a bunch of other material to post. Little did we know that the show was merely ahead of its time. Two years later the idea of Fake News has entered the political arena and there is more focus than ever on what constitutes ‘facts.’ In reading about ‘Fake News’ and the term’s changing meaning over the past few months, I constantly thought about this episode. In this episode we created fake history – everything was made up out of thin air. That’s fake. History that challenges your preconceived world view is not fake, however. Just as news that challenges your political perspective isn’t fake.

When we are too liberal in using the term fake news to describe stories based in fact that we disagree with, we distract from what truly constitutes fake news – like those conspiratorial stories that lead a person to a pizza place in Washington, D.C. with a gun. When CBS edits an interview that portrays Sean Hannity negatively, that’s not fake news. While Hannity has a legitimate argument about the context of the exchange and the need to make the entire interview available, the portion CBS aired isn’t fake. And when it’s called fake, it minimizes the damage done by ‘news’ stories that are complete fabrications.

That false equivalency between truly fake stories and stories that you may disagree with is dangerous. By using the term fake news as a partisan method to discredit political opponents, the term loses its significance when applied to stories that are legitimately fake.

This is ultimately why I decided to post this episode. We had a lot of fun recording this back in 2014 – there are a lot of laughs in this episodes. It is meant to entertain (whether we accomplish that is up to you), but in the current context, I think it shows just how easy it is to make things up that sound plausible. As we recorded, I was the only one who knew the topics ahead of time, the others were coming up with their answers off the top of their heads. That the answers sound plausible is evidence of how fake stories can sound real and how important it is to check the veracity of the content we consume on a daily basis.

In that spirit, I hope you enjoy this episode of the History Slam!

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The Politics of Personality and Abortion Access in Atlantic Canada

By Katrina Ackerman

While following the 2016 United States presidential election through social media and ‘fake news’ outlets, I was reminded of the significance of personality in creating social and political change. The personalities of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were constantly juxtaposed and used by opposition groups to discredit the presidential candidates. After Donald Trump was elected, other world leaders’ personalities were dissected based on their responses to Trump’s policies. When Trump released an executive order that suspended the “Issuance of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern”—seven nations with Islam as the dominant religion—the responses of world leaders created an important discussion about diplomacy and character. Some opposed to the Trump administration applauded German Chancellor Angela Merkel for censuring the Trump administration and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for tweeting that refugees were welcome in Canada, no matter their religion. Trudeau was also criticized by some for not denouncing the executive order, like Merkel, and was called on to show moral courage. Others suggested that Trudeau was walking a fine line by proclaiming Canada’s principles while maintaining workable diplomatic relations to protect the Canadian economy.

Henry Morgentaler with Jack Layton, 2005, Wikipedia Commons, rabbleradio –

The current discourse on the personalities of world leaders coincides with my own interest in the role of personality in intergovernmental relations and between non-governmental and governmental actors. As recent scholarship by historian Raymond B. Blake demonstrates, the personalities of Canadian politicians can have a significant impact on personal relations between government officials, as well as on public policy decisions. Creating political and social change often depends “on relationships and a capacity for compromise.”[1] Drawing on this research, I have begun to consider how personality shaped abortion access in Atlantic Canada in the late twentieth century. In addition to diplomatic and intergovernmental relations, personalities also influenced the ability for state and non-state actors to reach a compromise. An inability to compromise came to the forefront during interactions between Henry Morgentaler, an abortion rights activist and doctor, and the premiers in the Atlantic region over freestanding abortion clinics.

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Donald Trump, Brexit, and the Gentrification of Progressive Politics

By Steven High

Note: This op-ed piece was published in French in Le Devoir on March 16, 2017.

FIRST BREXIT AND NOW THE ELECTION OF DONALD TRUMP as President of the United States have shocked many of us. Outrage and anguish seem to be the dominant reaction in my social media feeds. It is as though the world that we knew has been ripped away from us, leaving frayed nerves and raw emotions.

At some level, the working-class supporters of Brexit and Trump – who proved pivotal – would probably recognize these feelings of disorientation and moral outrage. After all, tens of millions of industrial workers have seen their own life-worlds stripped away from them with the closure of mills or factories and the export of their jobs to low-wage areas.

The US Democratic Party, and Bill Clinton in particular, was an architect of trade deals that resulted in massive job losses. And, more recently, it was President Obama who attempted to foist the Trans-Pacific Partnership on us.  It is a measure of how far “progressive” parties have failed working people that it was Trump, and not Trudeau, who killed it.  While white working-class anger at “cultural elites” is a lot about race, it is also about the gentrification of progressive politics.

Deindustrialization has marked a crucial rupture in the lives of tens of millions of working class families, including my own.  The scale of the body count is staggering. The US lost almost eight million manufacturing jobs between 1979 and 2010. Other countries did just as poorly. Between 1990 and 2003, manufacturing jobs declined 24% in Japan, 29% in the UK, and 14% in France. For our part, Canada lost 278,000 manufacturing jobs between 2000 to 2007. Trade unions have staggered from one tragedy to the next. Entire unions passed out of existence, part of a wider cultural and political defeat of working-people. Continue reading

Genealogical Entanglements of Animal Rights and Feminist Movements

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of posts from contributors to Animal Metropolis: Histories of Human-Animal Relations in Urban Canada (University of Calgary Press, 2017). In each entry, the contributors use their own chapters as the basis for wider discussions about contemporary developments that highlight the complex interactions between humans and animals. The editors of are pleased to publish these pieces that originally appeared in late February in The Otter, the blog of the Network in Canadian History & the Environment.  The first post in the series by Darcy Ingram spoke to strategies in the animal rights movement.  Christabelle Sethna followed, commenting upon the animalization and racialization of humans and nonhuman animals. Joanna Dean then discussed the use of guinea pigs in medical experiments. Today, Carla Hustak speaks to the visceral entanglements of women’s and animal bodies.

Feminism 2K14, idc collage,


My essay “Got Milk? Dirty Cows, Unfit Mothers, and Infant Mortality, 1880-1940,” in this edited volume grew out of a rich literature on the entanglements of feminism and animal ethics. At the same time, my attention to milk, both as a food source and as a lens for exploring the fluidity of women and animal bodies, suggests a possible new trajectory for capturing the viscerality of those entanglements.

It may seem that feminist and animal rights activists have very little to say to each other. However, the bodies of women and animals have been mutually affected by the cultural constructions of nature. Ecofeminists such as Karen Warren, Carol Adams, and Val Plumwood have shown that patriarchal and capitalist oppression of nature have snared together women and animals. Under patriarchy and capitalism, both share the material, discursive, and historical effects of being constituted as natural ungovernable bodies contrary to reason and culture, which continue to be perceived as human and masculine domains. Similarly, feminist science studies scholars have shown that putative scientific truths about nature have had significant negative consequences for the cultural, economic, and political treatment of women and animals. Their scholarly contributions have been marked by social and political activist movements. From vegan feminist dietary choices to public protests, feminist and animal rights activists have formed alliances that highlight the intersection of feminist and animal ethics. Continue reading