The Home Archivist – Making Arrangements

Home Archivist LogoBy Jess Dunkin

In February, I shared two posts on the subject of conservation. The first post introduced readers of the Home Archivist to institutions and individuals working to preserve Canada’s documentary heritage, and described the safety equipment and tools that paper conservators use to process historical records. The second post saw those tools being put to use in the preservation of paper documents like those in the MacKendrick collection that are affected by dust, mold, soot, adhesives, and other accretions.

Now that (most of) the MacKendrick letters have been opened and the contents cleaned and flattened, we can turn our attention to thinking about how archival documents are readied for public consultation. In particular, we’ll explore why documents are catalogued the way that they are.  Continue reading

Terry Fox Was a Rock Star

This is the third of four posts marking the 35th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope.

By Jenny Ellison

Scrivener and Fox, 1980. Toronto Star

Journalist Leslie Scrivener and Fox, 1980. Toronto Star

Terry Fox had character, and Canadians picked up on this right away. He was courageous, perseverant, pure at heart and youthful. Fox’s decision to run across Canada was a sign, as MP Stanley Knowles said in a 1981 speech in the House of Commons, that “our land is in good hands” and that, far from being the “me generation…our young people really have got something.” During the Greatest Canadian television series in 2004 Fox was described as “the best of who we are, or at least who we hope we might become.” Newspaper editorialists also praised Fox as a “doer,” who was “in a very special class,” who set a “new pace for the human spirit” and showed “that there is in young Canadians the same grit that enabled their forebears to tackle and tame this land.”

For many of his admirers, Fox also seemed to embody a particularly attractive vision of Canada. Leslie Scrivener, a Toronto Star journalist who befriended Fox, described him as “better looking that most with a well-scrubbed, intelligent face, straight teeth, and an Adonis-like profile…” Scrivener observed that “young women were intensely attracted” to Terry. Scrivener alludes to some romances with women who “might join the Marathon of Hope for a day or two along the road,” but reports that Terry said “he never fell in love.” Perhaps contributing to his appeal – for some – was Fox’s Christianity. Fox began attending a Baptist church with his (former) girlfriend Rika Noda prior to the run. Apparently his family wasn’t thrilled with this path but he continued during the run, where Fox read the bible to reflect on the meaning of life. Whether it was his articulateness, his looks, his values, or a combination of the three, Fox achieved “rock star” status as he ran across Canada. Continue reading

Public Spaces and Indigenous Land: Whitefish Island

by Krista McCracken

Fishing at the rapids on St. Mary's River circa 1885.

Fishing at the rapids on St. Mary’s River circa 1885.

Whitefish Island is tucked in near the northern bank of the St. Mary’s River that runs between Sault Ste Marie Ontario and Sault Ste Marie Michigan. The island is minutes from downtown Sault Ste Marie but is devoid of development and has rural feeling.  It is tear shaped, approximately 1 km long, and home to many species of flora and fauna. In the warmer months the island is frequently used by walkers, bird watchers, bikers, and those seeking an escape from the city.

After crossing the Sault Ste Marie Canal onto Whitefish Island visitors are greeted by a sign welcoming them to Batchewana First Nation. If it wasn’t for the large welcome sign many visitors might not realize that the land doesn’t belong to the City of Sault Ste Marie. This sign is the first indication of the complex history of the site and the familiar narrative of Indigenous and settler relationships that has played out on the small island.

Whitefish Island was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1981 because of its rich history.  The island’s past includes serving as a place of permanent Anishinaabe settlement, a fishing base, and later a important trade location. The earliest written accounts of the island date back to Jesuit reports from the 1600s describing the fishery at the rapids, and the use of the land by the Anishinaabe from spring until winter while they net fished whitefish. The island itself is a historic meeting place and traditional burial grounds for the Anishinaabe people.

In recent years Batchewana First Nation has often held Aboriginal Day celebrations, traditional teachings, and educational workshops on the island.  The First Nation has also begun to recreate some of the structures that would have appeared therein the 1900s and hopes to continue to educate people about the rich Anishinaabe history and culture associated with the island.

Given the proximity to Sault Ste Marie, and the usage of the island by the general population, it isn’t all that surprising that the ownership of the land, usage rights, and general policies around the island have been contested. Continue reading

Ten books to contextualize the history of infectious diseases and vaccinations

By Kate Barker

[Editors Note: This is the first in a number of follow up posts from the Infectious Disease, Contagion and the History of Vaccines theme week edited by Ian Mosby, Erika Dyck and Jim Clifford. We would like to thank Sean Kheraj for putting us in contact with Kate Barker for this post.]

As a journalist, I am sometimes accused of being a relativist, or worse, a “presentist” because I look to the past to make sense of today. I haven’t got a problem with that. Here’s a case in point. Consider the parallels between these two primary sources:


Don’t permit your precious little ones to be vaccinated.

Vaccination is not only unnatural, filthy and unclean,

but positively dangerous to health and life.[1]

An emerging body of evidence indicates that vaccines can damage a child’s developing immune system and brain, leading to life-threatening or debilitating disorders like autism, ADHD, asthma, peanut allergy, juvenile diabetes, etc, or to SIDS – death itself.[2]

The first is an excerpt from an 1885 pamphlet distributed in Montreal during a smallpox outbreak. The second comes from the website of the national Canadian not-for-profit organization Vaccine Choice Canada.

It is important to work as historians without occluding our vision of the past with the cultural accretions of our own time—to a point. True objectivity is impossible, but we can signpost our peculiar biases in time and space along the way. Many of the scholars considered here do just that while drawing direct links between their work and contemporary events. Perhaps that isn’t surprising. After all, history and journalism share the same core—a quest for truth and great story telling. Continue reading

Burrard Inlet, Beaches, and Oil Spills: A Historical Perspective

by Sean Kheraj

Last week, British Columbians once again witnessed the effects of oil on Burrard Inlet. Local authorities cautioned residents to avoid the water along the shores in Vancouver and West Vancouver after a large slick of bunker fuel oil appeared on the surface of Burrard Inlet. Around 5pm Wednesday, April 8, 2015, a boater notified Port Metro Vancouver that an oil slick was visible and likely leaking from from one of the numerous freighters moored in the inlet. By Friday morning, the Coast Guard estimated that the leak was at least 2,700 litres.

Twitter users posted dozens of photos of globs of oil washed up along the shoreline. They took selfies of their hands dipped in the shiny black residue.

It was a beautiful sunny day, but one that many residents of the Lower Mainland agreed was a sad reminder of the ever-present risks involved with the transportation and use of oil on the harbour.

Of course, this was not the first time that Vancouver’s beaches were coated with oil. Off-shore oil spills on Canada’s Pacific coast and Burrard Inlet have happened before. While they have not been frequent occurrences, these spills have been one of the historical consequences of increased shipping in the harbour, expanded refining activity, and the transportation and use of petroleum products in post-war Canadian energy history. Oily messes are signatures of Canada’s oil-based economy of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Continue reading

History Slam Episode Sixty: Studying Professional Wrestling

By Sean Graham

Between the ages of 5 and 12 I spent many Saturday mornings scanning the television channels looking for the wrestling shows. Whether WWF (now WWE) or WCW, I loved watching the matches and seeing how the storylines unfolded from week to week. As I slowly discovered that the outcomes were pre-determined I gradually lost interest, but over time I have come to appreciate the ways in which professional wrestling promoters are able to tell stories. Of course there are issues with the ways in which professional wrestling depicts women and minorities and the industry’s issues with substance abuse are well documented, but at its core professional wrestling is about telling stories.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with A.J. Ortega from the University of Houston-Victoria about studying professional wrestling in an academic setting. We chat about the challenges of legitimizing the industry in the eyes of academics, problems associated with the use of stereotypes, and his experience as a professional wrestling referee. In addition to his work on wrestling, you can find his writing at
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Terry Fox: A Unifying Influence on Canada?

This post is the second in a series of four marking the 35th anniversary of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope.

By Jenny Ellison

Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg Free Press

Just months before his death in June 1981, Fitness and Amateur Sport Canada (FAS) announced the first annual “Terry Fox Marathon of Hope Day.” A series of 10-kilometre runs in locations across Canada would “commemorate Terry’s great marathon achievement” and his “courage and unifying influence on our nation.” This announcement from FAS built on widespread national interest in commemorating Terry Fox. Letters poured into the offices of Ministry of Amateur Sport and Prime Ministers Office, calling for a national celebration in honour of Fox. In these letters Fox was described not only as a hero but also as a man who “joined Canada together at a time when” it “was growing farther and farther apart.”

Nationalism was a key part of the public conversation when Fox began his cross-Canada run on April 12, 1980. Six weeks later Quebecers would vote in a referendum on sovereignty-association. Even though 60 percent of voters in the province voted against transforming their relationship to Canada, the issue of Quebec separation loomed large in the minds of English Canadians. Commentators of the time described 1980 as a bleak year. For example, Globe and Mail editorialist John Fraser described Canada as a nation with fractures “as wide as they have every been.” And, in his in his 1981 Lament for a Nation-style polemical Canada Lost, Canada Found, journalist Peter Desbarats characterized this period as one with a “never-ending panorama of missed opportunities…and vast potentialities that never seem to be realized.” Terry Fox ran directly into this national malaise, a good news story at a time when Canada seemed to be in crisis.

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“What Next for WITH?”: A Scandalously Brief History of a Feminist Listerv

By Beth A. Robertson

In 1983, eminent historian of technology, Joan Rothschild wrote “the omission of the female affects how we know and what we know, and our very deepest beliefs and concerns about technology…” [1] Her words were one of many that began to challenge how women were strategically distanced from technology, science and empirical knowledge more broadly. Not one to leave revolution to chance, Joan Rothschild was also active in establishing a more prominent voice for women in the academic field of technological history. She briefly charts this development in the edited collection Machina Ex Dea. Here, Rothschild writes of the growing involvement of women in the Society for the History of Technology throughout the 1970s, as well as the founding of the special interest group Women in Technological History (WITH) in 1976. As Rothschild writes, WITH was formed with the aim of encouraging feminist analysis and research in the field of the history of technology. Although emerging from the American context, this feminist organization quickly gained an international membership, drawing scholars from Canada, Europe, Asia and beyond.  Continue reading

The Ideological Work of Commemoration

By Jamie Swift

In the 1985 Argentinian film, The Official Story, one of the characters, a student, angrily proclaims that his country’s history textbooks had been “written by assassins.” Stories, as we know, vary considerably in the telling. The dominant narrative – to use the now shopworn term – tends to be recounted by the loudest voices. Hardly assassins. But often people with only a passing acquaintance with evidence.

So it is with the Official Story of Canada’s wars.

Just as the Harper government’s spasm of bellicose patriotic storytelling got underway with the centenary of the War of 1812, Governor General David Johnson came up with a curious claim. “When we study our history and the wars in which we fought, the wars overseas, it has been to purchase our freedom, our liberties.” [1]

Such bloodletting would, presumably, include such noble struggles in buying Canadian liberty as the Boer War, fought to ensure British mining companies gained access to South Africa’s vast gold deposits. Tellingly, the government recently added the South African war to Ottawa’s National War Memorial, ignoring the civilian death toll in concentration camps run by the British that far exceeded the number of actual Boer fighters killed in combat. Continue reading

Terry Fox Was an Activist

This month, Active History is pleased to present a series of posts by Jenny Ellison marking the 35th anniversary of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope.

By Jenny Ellison


Winnipeg Free Press

A few years ago, I made a visit to Library and Archives Canada to pull files about Terry Fox. In a folder labeled “Terry Fox Marathon of Hope Day” I found forty letters to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Governor General Edward Schreyer and Minister of Sport Gerald Regan about the runner. Written during his lifetime and just after his death in June 1981, the letters were earnest, handwritten documentation of what most of us already know: many Canadians feel an emotional connection to Terry Fox.

I am a Terry Fox runner and have been, on and off, since I was a kid. Is there anything more Canadian than the annual fundraising runs for cancer research? Named one of the “greatest Canadians” in CBC’s 2004 TV show of the same name, and again in 2014, Fox is a go-to symbol in conversations about national heroes. But what else is there to say about him? What does studying his life add to our understanding of Canada today and in the past?
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