Historical Pedagogies & the Colonial Past at Huron University College – Part 1

On October 24, 2019, Active History commenced a series on education “after” residential schools with an article written by Clinton Debogorski, Magdalena Milosz, Martha Walls and Karen Bridget Murray. The series is open-ended. Active History welcomes additional contributions on related themes.

By Amy Bell, Scott Cameron, and Thomas Peace

The filing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Final Report marked a watershed moment when Canadian universities began to respond to calls for recognition and reconciliation. Land acknowledgements recognizing the link between Indigenous peoples and their traditional territories have gradually spread to universities across Canada, and university administrations have begun processes of self-auditing and consultation with Indigenous communities and nations.

Three weeks after the TRC report, Universities Canada, which represents the leadership of 96 universities across Canada, published a set of thirteen principles on Indigenous post-secondary education to advance opportunities for Indigenous students in post secondary institutions and integrate Indigenous themes and topics throughout the academy. In 2017, eighty percent of their member universities self-reported that they were conducting activities to promote intercultural engagement through cultural activities, events and forums, talking circles, competency or reconciliation training; just under seventy percent were developing strategic plans for advancing reconciliation; and two-thirds were working to incorporate Indigenous knowledge and methods into research projects and classrooms on campus.

These initiatives range from teach-ins on Indigenous law and practice at the University of Waterloo, to University of Toronto’s hiring of an outreach librarian to work with Indigenous students, communities and collections, to the University of Alberta’s Massive Open Online Course [MOOC], Indigenous Canada, which explores contemporary issues and Canadian history from Indigenous perspectives and can be audited for free.

Broader initiatives include greater outreach and recruitment within Indigenous communities, developing curricula specific to Indigenous cultures, hiring more Indigenous faculty positions and incorporating Indigenous representation in university governance. Both Ryerson University and Acadia University have, for example, committed to long-term decolonization strategies that will incorporate these types of systemic changes (Acadia Launches, 2018, Truth and Reconciliation, 2018). They require a long-term financial and resource commitment, a willingness to consult and listen to Indigenous communities, and an openness to structural change.

But what happens when your home university is not able to, or is unwilling, to engage institutionally with the Calls to Action? Continue reading

History Slam Episode 140: Brotherhood

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By Sean Graham

Brotherhood opens for a week-long engagement at the Cineplex Yonge & Dundas in Toronto starting December 6. It will also be shown at the Sudbury Indie Cinema on December 13.

In the summer of 1926, a group of young men were attending a camp along the shores of Balsam Lake in Ontario. Part of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew leadership group out of Toronto’s St. James Cathedral, they had come to the lake for two weeks outside their daily lives in the city. Led by First World War veterans, the experience turned into a nightmare when they were caught on the lake in the midst of a major storm. What followed was a struggle for survival.

That real-world story is the subject of Brotherhood, a new historical drama written and directed by Richard Bell. In telling the story of the young men, both that lived and died during that fateful trip, Bell explores issues that not only shaped their lives, but also continue to influence life in the 21st century. From the impact of war to questions about masculinity to navigating adolescence, the film explores questions that, 100 years later, still confront young people as they transition to adulthood. Beautifully shot in northern Ontario, Brotherhood both tells a fascinating and captivating story in a visually striking manner.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Richard Bell about the movie. We talk about his research into the story, masculinity in 2019, and the First World War’s role in the story. We also talk about the challenges of shooting on location, taking artistic liberty with historical events, and writing dialogue for real people who left no record.

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Tenth Anniversary Repost: Listening to History: Correcting the Toronto Metis Land Acknowledgement

Active History is celebrating its tenth anniversary! As part of our anniversary celebrations we are sharing glimpses of how Active History developed and showcasing our favourite and most popular posts from the past ten years. 

In 2016 we ran a number of thematic series including the Indigenous Histories series edited by Crystal Fraser and the Confederation Debates series in partnership with Canada Watch.

Today we are re-posting Jesse Thistle’s 2016 post titled “Listening to History: Correcting the Toronto Metis Land Acknowledgment.” 

Map ascribed to Louis Jolliet after 1673 showing ganatchakiagon and the rouge trail the eastern arm of the Toronto carrying place

Map ascribed to Louis Jolliet after 1673 showing ganatchakiagon and the rouge trail the eastern arm of the Toronto carrying place

One of my friends is a teacher for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). She recently asked me for help regarding their traditional land acknowledgement recognizing the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Wendat, and the Metis. She told me that the board was facing considerable resistance from the community regarding the acknowledgment of the Metis. The blow back is understandable, and here’s why.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the Metis wars on Twitter raging amongst our scholarly friends. They rail on about who is and who is not Metis; where the historic Metis homeland is and where it is not. Well if you’re wondering, Toronto isn’t Metis, nor are its historic mixed-bloods. But beyond the contested lines drawn in the scholarly sandbox, here is some actual history to break down why Toronto sits outside of the western Metis homeland and thus should not be included in the TDSB Indigenous land acknowledgement. Continue reading

Poppies, Cherries, and the mis-Meaning of Remembrance Day

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By Owen Griffiths

As most everyone knows by now, Don Cherry was fired recently for saying that “you people” should wear a poppy on Remembrance Day. Love him or hate him, and with Cherry there is no middle ground, he has been known throughout his broadcasting career for his unequivocal championing of Canadian players and his denigration of those foreign born. From “face mask wearing Swede” to “Hockey night in Russia” to “you people,” Cherry bombs became an accepted part of his on-air persona: an old-fashioned, rock ‘em, sock ‘em, Canadian patriot.

Lost in the controversy over Cherry’s bigoted reference to immigrants is the reason he claimed “you people” should wear the poppy. “These guys paid [the biggest price] for your way of life that you enjoy in Canada,” he said, referring to the consequences of our (male) soldiers’ sacrificial death. Here, we confront a commonplace that the soldiers who fought in Canada’s wars (especially WWI and WWII) did so for us and that without this greatest of sacrifices we would not enjoy the life we have today. These claims are not just Cherry bombast but are regularly expressed throughout Canada: from the Moncton Times Transcript’s statement that “they gave their lives so that we may live in peace” and Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan’s assertion that our soldiers sacrifices “allow[ed] us to have the wonderful life that we have in Canada” to my son’s elementary school song teaching that our “soldiers, sailors, and airmen… fought across the sea… keeping Canada free.” These stories are comforting. They reassure us that sacrifice was not in vain. And they ground our identities as Canadians by reminding us of our debt: There but for the grace of “they” go “we.”

However, such statements are deeply problematic for many reasons, four of which I will address here. Continue reading

REJECTED: Border Crossing Records and Histories of Exclusion

By Edward Dunsworth

Mollee West’s weekend was a total disaster.

On a Saturday afternoon late in the summer of 1929, the 25-year old New Yorker put the finishing touches on preparations for the trip she and her two young sons were about to embark on. Kids dressed, bags packed, and train tickets tripled-checked, Mollee, her husband Jack, and the boys set off for Grand Central Station. There, Mollee and the children bid farewell to Jack, who could not afford the time off work, and boarded an overnight train to Toronto, where they were headed to visit Mollee’s cousin and extended family.

Just three weeks after giving birth to her youngest, Mollee was glad to be back on her feet and thrilled to introduce her newborn, Herbert, to the Canadian wing of her family, Jewish émigrés from Russia.

Mollee knew the trip would be a challenge – what with nursing Herbert while trying to keep four-year old Phillip under wraps – but she was sure she could manage and took comfort in the knowledge that once she arrived in Toronto there would plenty of family members eager to help with the children.

On Sunday morning, however, when the train crossed the Niagara River from Buffalo and ground to a halt at the Canadian immigration checkpoint at Bridgeburg, Mollee’s plans were suddenly and unceremoniously dashed.

Continue reading

Settler Colonialism, Residential Schools, and Architectural History

On October 24, 2019, Active History commenced a series on education “after” residential schools with an article written by Clinton Debogorski, Magdalena Milosz, Martha Walls and Karen Bridget Murray. The series is open-ended. Active History welcomes additional contributions on related themes.

By Magdalena Milosz

I remind

Until I fall.

  • Rita Joe, “Hated Structure”[1]

Throughout my undergraduate education in architecture, I was unaware that the beautiful river outside our light-filled studios wound its way through stolen lands. From its headwaters roughly forty kilometres south of Georgian Bay, the Grand River flows past the University of Waterloo’s architecture school in Cambridge, Ontario, skirting the edge of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory before eventually reaching Lake Erie. In 1784, land abutting the river’s entire length, “six miles deep from each side,”[2] was set aside for the Six Nations through the Haldimand Treaty. By 1851, a succession of sales, leases, and illegal occupations by waves of incoming settlers had reduced this territory to five per cent of its original 950,000 acres – roughly its size today.[3]

The river also courses through Brantford – named after Kanyen’kehà:ka leader Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) – where the longest-running residential school in Canada still stands. The federal government and Anglican Church took children to the Mohawk Institute from the nearby Six Nations, and other First Nations as far away as Quebec, until it closed in 1969. While my classmates and I drew old stone houses and designed pavilions for a riverfront park, this history remained opaque to us. We spent six hours a week in our first term learning about the Holocaust from one of the world’s foremost experts on Auschwitz, even as a powerfully tangible reminder of Canada’s own genocidal history stood, silently, a half-hour away. I’d visited Auschwitz, or Oswiecim, as it’s known in Polish, the summer before starting university. It wouldn’t be until graduate school that I would walk through the doors of the Mohawk Institute. Continue reading

The Evolution of a History: Examining Commemorative Markers at the Oro African Methodist Episcopal Church National Historic Site

Mark T. S. Currie

At the corner of Old Barrie Road West and Line 3 in the Township of Oro-Medonte, Ontario, Canada sits the Oro African Methodist Episcopal Church (OAMEC). Now open for tourists, special ceremonies, and celebrations, the church was originally built in 1849. Along with the plot of land on which it sits, it is a designated national historic site.

The site is surrounded mostly by farmland. But where there is a church, there is (or was) community. And with community comes history.

Continue reading

Tenth Anniversary Repost: Baba Wore a Burqa, and Nona wore a Niqab

Active History is celebrating its tenth anniversary! As part of our anniversary celebrations we are sharing glimpses of how Active History developed and showcasing our favourite and most popular posts from the past ten years. 

In 2015 we celebrated seven years of Active History by hosting the New Directions in Active History: Institutions, Communication, and Technologies conference to further conversations about Active History and engaged historical practice. A set of reports and videos from this conference still live on our website.

Some highlights from the blog in 2015 included: Lazy Historians, Disengaged Academics, and Over Paid Professors?, Jenny Ellison’s series marking the 35th anniversary of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope, Canada’s Complicated History of Refugee Reception, and “Old Stock Canadians: Arab Settlers in Western Canada

Karen Dubinsky and Franca Iacovetta’s “Baba Wore a Burqa, and Nona wore a Niqab” is a post from 2015 that continues to spark conversation.

Doukhobor women are shown breaking the prairie sod by pulling a plough themselves, Thunder Hill Colony, Manitoba (Library and Archives Canada, Creative Commons)

Doukhobor women are shown breaking the prairie sod by pulling a plough themselves, Thunder Hill Colony, Manitoba (Library and Archives Canada, Creative Commons)

By Karen Dubinsky and Franca Iacovetta

Last week two high profile Canadian Muslim women, writer Sheema Khan and Zunera Ishaq (the woman at the centre of the niqab controversy) publically questioned the safety of Muslims here.   Khan lived here in the aftermath of 9/11; she says it’s worse now. These admissions amount to a tragic statement about the use of the niqab as an election issue. Yet as Canadian women’s historians, we have heard it before. Intolerant Canadians, from political elites to ordinary citizens, have long attempted to impose their notions of what it means to be a Canadian on the bodies of immigrant women. Today’s veiled Muslim woman joins a long line of immigrant women whom this country has feared or pitied, but always stereotyped, for at least a century.

Consider those Doukhobor women harnessed to a plough, breaking the tough Prairie. Their photos, faces almost hidden by their babushkas, have graced Canadian history textbooks for decades. The widely shared image – reproduced as a postcard inviting everyone to get a look – struck many Canadians as the personification of a backward European peasant culture that treated its women like downtrodden beasts of burden. These women posed a striking contrast to the prevailing middle-class ideal of the Victorian woman – that morally superior angel in the home.   Consider too the distinctive dress of the women who completed the portrait of Immigration Minister Clifford Sifton’s ideal Eastern European peasant “in a sheepskin coat” with “a stout wife and a half-dozen children” grudgingly welcomed to Canada. Someone needed to do the backbreaking labour to settle what was portrayed as an empty Prairie, the original First Nations inhabitants having been shoved aside to a number of reserves. Even Icelandic pioneer women, easily assimilated, one might expect, into the Nordic race, were castigated for their typical headdress: a dark knitted skullcap with tassel. Such women may now be considered Old Stock Canadians, but not so long ago, their Anglo neighbours viewed them as second-class. According to historian Sarah Carter, Anglo women’s organization in Alberta thought Ukrainian girls so deficient in the standards of proper womanhood that they too should be sent to residential schools. Continue reading

An Anniversary, An Election, and Resurgent Regionalism: The Canadian Nation-State in 2019

By Shannon Conway

To mark Newfoundland’s 35th anniversary of confederation in 1984, Newfoundland philosopher F.L. Jackson, published Newfoundland in Canada: A People in Search of a Polity, wherein he laid forth a polemic on the paltry development of Newfoundland society after Confederation. Building his core argument around culture, the book concluded that the province was “simply not making a go of it.”[1]

This year marks Newfoundland and Labrador’s 70th anniversary of union with Canada. Newfoundland in Canada still reads as if it were a recent publication.[2]

Jackson’s take is not just relevant for Newfoundland and Labrador today, but for any province concerned about regional identities and economies. Last month’s election and its aftermath, for example, witnessed a rise in regional alienation, from the West (notably Alberta and Saskatchewan) and Quebec.

This resurgent regionalism is ‘nothing new’ in Canada, more cyclical than an aberration.[3] Nevertheless, it raises concerns of national unity and how to handle the perennial issue of regionalism within Canada.

While Newfoundland has not been a focus of current challenges, Newfoundland and Labrador are no strangers to tense regional politics. Jackson’s work from the 1980s speaks to this directly when raising what he believed to be the only political issue in Newfoundland: can the province make a go if it on its own.[4] Continue reading

The Complex Truth: Intersections between Day Schools and the Shubenacadie Residential School

On October 24, 2019, Active History commenced a series on education “after” residential schools with an article written by Clinton Debogorski, Magdalena Milosz, Martha Walls and Karen Bridget Murray. The series is open-ended. Active History welcomes additional contributions on related themes.

By Martha Walls

I am an historian who has studied the impact of Government of Canada policies and actions on Mi’kmaw and Wolastoqiyik communities in the Maritimes, including with respect to the region’s only formally-designated residential school, the Shubenacadie Residential School, which opened in 1930 on Mi’kmaw land at Sipekne’katik. Seeking to understand the nature and effects of state authority on the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik, especially in relation to education, is a fraught undertaking for a settler-colonial scholar. That I teach at Mount Saint Vincent University, home to the Sisters of Charity who helped found and operate the Shubenacadie Residential School, is an important part of my personal reckoning with how I have derived – and continue to derive – benefit from an educational system insidiously marked by white supremacy, settler-colonialism, and genocide.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has found that Canada committed genocide, which it defines as a series of ongoing interconnected legal and social truths about

state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies, built on the presumption of superiority [over Indigenous Peoples], and utilized to maintain power and control over the land and the people by oppression and, in many cases, by eliminating them.[1]

Today, my work is set in this context of the truth of genocide. It is also set against the backdrop of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) mandate to “reveal to Canadians the complex truth about the history and ongoing legacy of the church-run residential schools.”[2]

I have come to learn that my privilege has been built on genocide and the complex truth and legacy of residential schools, which hinged on the systemic exclusion of Indigenous and other marginalized peoples from educational systems, including academia. I understand my self-interrogation as obliging me to work with, and alongside, Indigenous Peoples to understand this “complex truth” of residential schools. This, it seems to me, must include critiquing and problematizing aspects of the TRC’s work. Continue reading