History for a Sustainable Future

Riksdagshuset. Wikipedia Commons.

Swedish Riksdagshuset. Wikipedia Commons.

By Dolly Jørgensen, Luleå University of Technology, Sweden

(based on an address given on October 14, 2015, and originally posted here)

Today I had the opportunity to speak before a group of parliamentary representatives and researchers on the topic of the environmental humanities at Riksdagen, the Swedish parliament. The event, put on by the Sällskapet Riksdagsledamöter och Forskare (RIFO), featured presentations by four Swedish researchers: an environmental scientist, an environmental philosopher, a professor of gender studies, and me as the environmental historian. The description of the event stressed the Anthropocene as a new era and asked us to consider what humanities research could contribute to new modes of thinking. My talk was titled “History for a Sustainable Future” — a title I unabashedly borrowed from fellow environmental historian Michael Egan who has a book series at MIT Press with that name. I wanted to stress the role that history needs to play in environmental policymaking and the real ways that knowledge of the past helps us understand our present, which is how we can get to a better future.

Here is the text I shared with the audience: Continue reading

New Archives of Ontario Online Exhibit: Ontario’s WWI Hospital Overseas

By Mackenzie Warner

Ontario Military Hospital ward, [ca. 1916-1917] Ontario Military Hospital photographs, F 4386, Archives of Ontario, I0007454

Ontario Military Hospital ward, [ca. 1916-1917]
Ontario Military Hospital photographs, F 4386, Archives of Ontario, I0007454

One hundred years ago – November 1915 – Canada had passed the one year mark in the Great War that would continue for another three long years. In Orpington, England, a hospital commissioned by the Government of Ontario was under construction, and applications were flowing in from Ontario doctors and nurses who hoped to serve at their new military hospital overseas.

Earlier that year, Ontario Minister of Education, R. A. Pyne, had sent a telegram to Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden stating that “the Government of Ontario has decided to offer to establish and maintain a hospital of 1,000 beds in England for Canadians.” The government paid $2 million for the construction of the Ontario Military Hospital, which officially opened in Orpington on February 19, 1916. The hospital was staffed solely by Ontario medical professionals, who treated over 25,000 soldiers there between 1916 and 1919.

In 1917, the hospital was renamed the 16th Canadian General Hospital. The original facility was torn down in the 1960s and replaced by the Orpington General Hospital, which now honours its heritage by featuring a Canada Wing and Ontario Ward.

The Archives of Ontario is commemorating the centenary of this unique Ontario Government contribution to the WWI effort by highlighting the Ontario Military Hospital in its new online exhibit. This exhibit is being launched for Remembrance Day and features the story of Dr. L. Bruce Robertson, a surgeon from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, who pioneered blood transfusions for wounded soldiers while serving in the Canadian Army Medical Corps.

To view the exhibit, please visit http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/explore/online/Robertson/index.aspx.

This past summer, Mackenzie Warner was a Project & Communications Assistant at the Archives of Ontario.


ActiveHistory.ca is featuring this post as part of  “Canada’s First World War: A Centennial Series on ActiveHistory.ca”, a multi-year series of regular posts about the history and centennial of the First World War. 

World War One: A Fight for Freedom?

By Geoff Read

If one looks at Veterans’ Affairs’ website one will find a page dedicated to the National War Memorial. The opening paragraph of the text on the page reads,

RoyalVisitNationalWarMemorialThe National War Memorial, also known as “The Response,” is a cenotaph symbolizing the sacrifice of all Canadian Armed Forces personnel who have served Canada in time of war in the cause of peace and freedom–past, present and future. The memorial is the site of the national Remembrance Day Ceremony on November 11.

This National War Memorial began life in the interwar years as a tribute to the fallen of World War One. His Majesty King George V, the website informs us, unveiled it on 21 May 1939, with the words, “One sees at a glance the answer made by Canada when the world’s peace was broken and freedom threatened in the fateful years of the Great War.”

That Canada stood in defense of freedom is thus central both to George V’s 1939 message, and to that offered by Veterans Affairs in 2015. Further, the assertion that the cenotaph symbolizes all Canadians who have sacrificed “in the cause of peace and freedom—past, present, and future,” serves to legitimate not just Canadian participation in World War One, but all Canadian military actions since then. Accordingly, it behooves us to think critically about the notion that the over 66,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who died in the Great War sacrificed themselves for the cause of freedom.

First, who were Canadians and Newfoundlanders fighting alongside? Continue reading

Tomorrow: Sunny’: The Rise and Fall of Solar Heating in 1970s Canada, part 3

By Hank Trim

In the third part of this four part series on solar energy we will continue to examine an integral part of energy history: computer simulation. Faced with the combined uncertainty of a unstable oil market and a desire for new solar technologies, the government searched for and a means of managing these risks. In this situation, computer models provided policy makers with a foundation, albeit a shaky one, for their decisions.

The Meadowvale Solar Home in the winter of 1977. This experimental home was built to test the application of solar heating technology in Canada. While a success, it provided heat far less efficiency than the WATSUN model calculated and experienced many more technical problems than the model projected.   Picture Provided by: B. E. Sibbett and H. Jung, Performance of the Meadowvale Solar System (Ottawa: Division of Building Research, National Research Council, 1981)

The Meadowvale Solar Home in the winter of 1977. This experimental home was built to test the application of solar heating technology in Canada. While a success, it provided heat far less efficiently than the WATSUN model calculated and experienced many more technical problems than the model projected.
Picture Provided by: B. E. Sibbett and H. Jung, Performance of the Meadowvale Solar System (Ottawa: Division of Building Research, National Research Council, 1981)

Two engineers, K.G.T Hollands and J.F. Orgill from the University of Waterloo devised the computer simulations that determined Canada’s plans. The work of these two engineers highlights the diverse support that solar technology and environmentalists’ calls for alternative development received in the 1970s. The two were members of the Canadian Solar Energy Society, which formed in 1975 to support solar development. Intrigued by solar technology’s bright future, this group of scientists, engineers, and business people studied the technology, shared information, and generated interest in solar and other renewables. The society had a substantial impact on solar development. It counted a number of ministers among its supporters and attracted a stream of government analysts and advisors to its annual meetings and workshops throughout the 1970s. Continue reading

New Directions in Public History

By Kaleigh Bradley

What is public history? I remember being asked this question on my first day in the “Intro to Public History” M.A. seminar at Carleton University. I knew why I wanted to study Public History (please give me a job in history?), but I found myself struggling to define it on the spot. I quickly learned that public history is not just doing history for the public outside of academia, although this is part of what it is.

Public history is about the ways in which history is created, contested, disseminated, and presented to us all. It’s a way of practicing history, but it’s also a field of study in itself. Public history forces us to think about notions of authority and power, identity, collective memory, audience(s), and narrative. Usually, public history is practiced in traditional sites like museums, archives, and memorials, but it can also be found in more subtle places in every day life; it’s the narrative in your grandmother’s carefully crafted photo album, the oral histories that we hear from elders, the nationalistic tone in a political ad, the historical video game we play, and the erasure and absence of histories in a quickly-gentrifying neighbourhood.

At last month’s Active History Conference, I attended a panel on the Future of Public History programs in Canada. In this panel were representatives from Public History (PH) programs and employers from government institutions. It was interesting to have employers, students, and representatives from programs all in the same room. What emerged was an interesting discussion about what students are being taught, what employers want, and what employers think about PH programs and their graduates.

Why do students need to specialize in public history? This post will explore this question and will discuss what history departments across Canada are up to, what employers want, and what public history programs offer. This might be helpful for undergraduate students thinking of specializing in public history, or for high school students who are thinking about post-secondary education in history.

Continue reading

The “Canadian Revolution,” the Early American Republic, and … Slavery?

As part of our partnership with the new early Canadian history blog Borealia, we’ll be posting highlights from that website here every Saturday in November.

By Maxime Dagenais

caroline-rmgWe all know the story of the Upper and Lower Canadian Rebellions: we know about the patriotes of Lower Canada and the reformers of Upper Canada; we know about the victories and defeats, expulsions and executions; we know about the social, political, and economic implications in Canada, and their consequences on our history. In general, in Canada, we view the Rebellions as an important Canadian event. However, the Rebellions were also an American event, with major consequences in the United States.

In this post, I will briefly explain the research that I am currently conducting as a postdoctoral fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and how my time in Philadelphia has changed the overall aim of my project.

Whether they wanted it or not, Americans were dragged into this conflict. In the wake of the failed 1837 Canadian Rebellions, several rebel leaders sought refuge in American border towns like Burlington and Watertown, where they sought assistance from Americans. They met with local leaders and politicians and travelled to major cities such as Boston and Philadelphia seeking financial and military support. Though they failed to secure the assistance of the Federal government—which even sent troops to the border to ensure “American neutrality”—they had more success at the local level. Throughout Michigan, Vermont, and New York, Americans living in the borderland expressed sympathy for the Canadian rebels and joined secret societies, known as Hunter’s Lodges. By the thousands, they pledged to free Canada from the yoke of British imperialism and assist the rebels in a “Canadian Revolution.”

The Rebellions were especially important since they coincided with a momentous period in American history. [Read More]

Canada’s Conversation on Cultural Genocide

trcBy Cynthia Dawn Roy

The shocking final conclusion of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was that the residential school system was an act of “cultural genocide”. Aboriginal activists and organizations have stressed the importance of keeping TRC issues as part of a national conversation. This post will summarize various trends in Canada’s conversation on cultural genocide throughout June 2015.

The conversation began in earnest after Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin said Canada attempted “cultural genocide” against the aboriginal peoples five days before the TRC report was released.[1] Until this point, the term cultural genocide was only used by certain academics and radical activists. The next day, Sinclair told Canada’s CBC that he agreed with the Chief Justice’s declaration.[2] In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, former Prime Minister Paul Martin also stated that Canada’s attempt to assimilate aboriginals amounted to cultural genocide, and that Canadians should waste no time in taking concrete actions to improve relations with First Nations.[3] The use of the term by these three esteemed Canadians paved the way for the TRC to state cultural genocide as its main conclusion.

In the following weeks, the phrase escalated from obscurity to common Canadian jargon. Both Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Opposition leader Tom Mulcair also labeled Canada’s assimilation policies cultural genocide. The sudden wide-spread acceptance of the term signifies a shift in Canadian thinking towards aboriginal issues. Educators and activists like Kahente Horn-Miller and Jim Daschukbelieve the acceptance of this phrase is empowering. Horn-Miller, an assistant professor at Carleton University, avoided the term in the classroom for fear of being perceived as a radical. Hearing Justice Sinclair use the term cultural genocide at the release of the TRC report filled her with hope, “because now I can call it what it is.”[4] Likewise, Jim Daschuk, author of Clearing the Plains, said he didn’t use the term in his book because he thought the public wasn’t ready to accept it, but he has used the phrase in most of the 50 talks he’s given in the last year.[5] Continue reading

What about the People? Place, Memory, and Industrial Pollution in Sudbury

By Stacey Zembrzycki

A view of the slag storage area, from Gutcher Street in Gatchell, circa 1970. Anonymous local photographer.

A view of the slag storage area, from Gutcher Street in Gatchell, ca. 1970. Anonymous local photographer.

Much of the industrial ruins resulting from nearly 130 years of nickel mining in Sudbury, Ontario, are now hidden from plain sight, camouflaged under a successful re-greening program that has led to the planting of over nine million trees, and the clean-up of many area lakes and thousands of hectares of soil. And yet, despite this invisibility, vestiges of the industrial past continue to exist and do harm. “Making connections where they are hard to trace,” as Ann Laura Stoler reminds us, “is not designed to settle scores but rather to recognize that these are unfinished histories, not of victimized pasts but consequential histories that open to differential futures.”[1] Understanding the visible and invisible tolls that heavy industry has taken on residents’ bodies requires a willingness to explore these unfinished histories, a subject that is deeply implicated in an Environment Canada investigation in the region.

On October 8, 2015, Sudbury’s local media received an anonymous email stating that Environment Canada and the RCMP had spent the day “raiding” the headquarters of Vale (formerly Inco Limited) in Copper Cliff, a small nickel mining community just west of Sudbury, searching for files that pertained to a 2012 federal investigation into alleged Fisheries Act violations.[2] Nearly three weeks later, details about this investigation became public, revealing that the local mining company has been accused of allowing industrial effluents to leach into a number of local waterways since at least 1997, and perhaps even going as far back as 1963. The CBC reported that the Environment Canada warrant “accuses the company of allowing ‘acutely lethal’ seepage from the smelter waste piles into water frequented by fish, and of knowing about the leakage for years.” As an oral and public historian actively engaged in a SSHRC-funded project entitled Mining Immigrant Bodies: A Multi-Ethnic Oral History of Industry, Environment, and Health in the Sudbury Region, which examines the “inescapable ecological” relationships that have been forged between Sudburians and the landscape since the postwar period, I have spent the last year listening to stories that intersect in important ways to this latest investigation.[3] Continue reading

Is The Big Shift History?

By Colin Coates

bigshiftRecently, in teaching my first-year Canadian Studies course, I have used Bricker and Ibbitson’s The Big Shift as one of the required readings. It is an accessible account of current Canadian politics, and it has the advantage of having a strong (or at least a strongly argued) thesis. Few readers can finish the book without knowing precisely what the authors are arguing. Bricker and Ibbitson contend that a major, inexorable shift is underway in Canada due to enhanced migration flows into the country and within it, and Western Canada, particularly Alberta, will play key roles in the new Canada.

The old-style (i.e. post-1960s) “Laurentian elites” have had their day. Their obsession with Québec, bilingualism and the fragility of Canada is passé, and they cannot come to terms with the new thrust of Canadian politics: business-oriented, low tax, confident, Pacific-oriented, suburban. The new governing coalition links Western Canadians and suburban immigrants. For the authors, Canada will become an increasingly Conservative (and socially conservative) country. While they never predicted that one party would forever have a lock on power, they did believe that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives would win re-election. Their study is based on detailed polling and a deep understanding of political intrigue in Ottawa.

I find it enjoyable to use this book in teaching at Glendon College, York University’s bilingual campus. Continue reading

Vicarious Trauma: Collecting the Herd

By Jesse Thistle

Author’s Preface

“Vicarious Trauma: Collecting the Herd” is written in a first-person narrative style in line with Indigenous ways of knowing and disseminating knowledge, as seen in the works of Campbell (1974), Koebel (2007), and Devine (2010), among other Métis scholars, writers, and activists.

This piece opens with oral testimony from a Cree-Métis Elder Rose (pseudonym) recording during the SSHRC project “Tracing Métis History through Archives, Artefacts, Oral Histories, and Landscapes: Bison Brigades, Farming Families, and Road Allowance People,” and is one among hundreds of oral testimonies collected by me, Dr. Carolyn Podruchny, Yvonne Richer-Morrissette, and Blanche Morrissette during the summer of 2013. The tone and content of the interview has been kept in its original form, with some adjustments in style to make it readable in narrative form. Using a writing technique similar to anthropologist Paul Farmer’s article, “On Suffering and Structural Violence: A View from Below,” (2009) wherein he shares personal stories from Haitians who suffered trauma from state violence and grinding poverty, “Vicarious Trauma” similarly centers on impactful biography to reveal a deeper understanding of Indigenous history and research on historical trauma. This work demonstrates how researching historical trauma can adversely affect Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars alike.

The title “Collecting the Herd,” speaks to the decolonizing of Indigenous history implicit in the hearing of, documenting, making sense of, and healing of historical trauma within Indigenous populations. The listening of such traumatic narratives has been called the “hearing of the truth,” as it is known within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Residential School Survivor testimonies, but it certainly extends to unrecorded Indigenous histories, forgotten by orthodox Canadian history (Weiss, 2015). Moreover, the work of collecting oral history and attempting to heal through cultural reclamation (burning of sage, ceremony with ancestors—the bison skull, and the “re-righting” of history, referred in this piece as “collecting of the bison herd”), is a reversal of the Christianization of Indigenous peoples, deployed by church and state over the last four hundred years. This process was known historically as “collecting the [sheep] flock.” In reabsorbing Indigenous “souls” into the bison herd away from Christianity, the decolonization of history can take place.

Marcee for reading

Continue reading