Lay-offs at the Sulpician Archives – An Open Letter

The following letter was published in Le Devoir on Saturday. Coordinated by the Institute d’Histoire de l’Amérique Française, and signed by nearly 700 historians (698 at last count), the letter responds to the dismissal of the team caring for the Sulpician’s historic collections. It is addressed to Quebec’s Minister of Culture and Communication, Nathalie Roy. The Sulpician archives holds about 1 km of records related to the religious organization’s work in and around Montreal, dating as far back as the 1650s. If you would like to add your name to the letter, you can sign it on our francophone partner site: Histoire Engagée.

A book plate from the Sulpician library collection (Wikimedia Commons)

Dear Minister,

As you know, in the August 19th edition of Le Devoir, Jean-François Nadeau announced that the Society of the Priests of Saint Sulpice in Montreal had dismissed their staff responsible for the preservation and development of the society’s collections, library and archives.

We are disappointed and concerned by this deplorable news. Moreover, we wonder how the Sulpicians plan to preserve, and make accessible, their archives and collections without qualified personnel to care for them? What do the Sulpicians and their managers intend to do with them? Faced with these worrisome questions, the community of historians, archivists, museum and literary professionals have come together to collectively signify the value of this institution and its collections. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 158: White Appropriations of Black Masculinities in the Civil Rights Era

By Sean Graham

The years following the Second World War saw major changes to American society, from the rise of suburbs to powerful social movements to shifting international priorities. Within that change, popular culture took on a new significance in American life as television spread across the country and radio stations increasingly shifted to music-only formats. With that expansion, there were opportunities for more Americans to be represented within the culture. At the same time, however, there were also more opportunities for the appropriation or misrepresentation of some Americans.

In her new book He Thinks He’s Down: White Appropriations of Black Masculinities in the Civil Rights Era Katharine Bausch of Carleton University examines how black men were represented within popular culture. Using case studies of the literature of Norman Mailer and Jack Kerouac, fashion articles during the early years of Playboy, and Blaxploitation films, Bausch looks at how white male artists used ideas of black masculinity in their efforts to understand what it meant to be an American man.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Professor Bausch about the book. We talk about Norman Mailer and Jack Kerouac’s writing, Playboy‘s fashion pages, and blaxploitation films. We also discuss the historical roots of appropriation, the contemporary responses to these cultural outlets, and the lasting legacy within popular culture.

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The Canadian Mosaic, Archival Silences, and an Indigenous Presence in Banff

[John Murray Gibbon – Head of C.P.R. publicity], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Jean A. Hembroff McDonald fonds (V797/I/PA-29).

Daniel R. Meister

Given that Canada is a settler colonial society, it is unsurprising that the lasting metaphor used to describe sociological diversity in the country – that of a mosaic – was popularized by a settler and child of empire: John Murray Gibbon (1875-1952). Gibbon was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to parents of Scottish descent. Prior to moving to Canada, he was educated in Scotland and England, lived in London, and spent some time in Algeria recovering from scrofula. Working as a Publicist for the Canadian Pacific Railway, Gibbon traveled extensively throughout North America. From his first visits to the region, Gibbon felt that something unique was happening on the Canadian prairies, which he described as “Europe transplanted.” In the late 1930s he began using the term “mosaic” to describe the pattern that he saw there. The title first appeared in a radio series he created for the CBC (“Canadian Mosaic: Songs of Many Races”), which he then expanded into a book entitled Canadian Mosaic: The Making of a Northern Nation (1938).

Gibbon’s famous mosaic was shaped by his colonial gaze: it not only excluded all Canadians of non-European descent but also excluded Indigenous Peoples. In his words, “The Canadian race of the future is being superimposed on the original native Indian races and is being made up of over thirty European racial groups…” But he had long been guided on his trail rides by local Nakoda guides, and had even been made an honorary chief in 1944, with the title “Man-of-Many-Sides.” So what was the nature of Gibbon’s relationship with Nakoda peoples? Continue reading

History Slam Episode 157: Crown Ditch and the Prairie Castle

By Sean Graham

An image of a grain elevator from Kyler Zeleny’s Crown Ditch & the Prairie Castle.

Full disclosure: I love the Prairies. I used to live in Regina and always found the Prairies an extremely powerful space. As Saskatchewan license plates say, it is the “Land of the Living Skies” and, for as much as people love the vistas offered by mountains, I’ll take a day on the Prairies watching the sky. The communities that once dotted the landscape, however, are shrinking. Rural depopulation has been a trend across the region as young people increasing head to urban centres. This has been coupled with increases in corporate agriculture reducing the number of family-owned and operated farms, a change that influences not only the Prairie economy, but also local culture, national food chains, and international trade.

The result is that small Prairie communities are facing great uncertainty, which is the focus of Kyler Zeleny‘s new book Crown Ditch and the Prairie Castle: Bedlam in the West. Over the course of four years, Zeleny traveled across the Prairies and documented the region through photography. The images included in the book powerfully represent a region and a population that is out of sight for a majority of Canadians. In a place where the landscape shapes the industry which shapes the people, the book offers a unique look into an understudied region in the midst of significant social, economic, and environmental changes.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Kyler Zeleny about the book. We talk about the changing face of the Prairies, the economic challenges facing small-scale farmers, and the role of agritourism. We also talk about the urban/rural political divide, the majesty of the sky, and Reconciliation in the Prairies.

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Pity and Destiny: An Indigenous Student at the Manitoba School for the Deaf, 1904-1916

Manitoba School for the Deaf Building (1891 – 1914), Winnipeg Public Library.

Sandy Barron

Historians of deaf communities and disability can no longer take for granted that our field cuts across those of race, class, and gender in consistent ways. Although in recent years scholarship and activism have begun to redraw and trouble these distinctions, deaf and disability histories in Canada have only begun to wrestle with the nation’s colonial past and present, and how disabled experiences and politics can be refracted and intensified by white supremacy. In reflecting upon this necessary “colonial turn,” I offer the story and commemorative reconstruction of an Indigenous student at the Manitoba School for the Deaf in the early twentieth-century.

Judy Wilson[1] spent her first six years in a Woods Cree community, living with her parents and brother on the land near what is now Carcross, Yukon Territory. In 1903, Judy and her brother were found by a prospector with her deceased parents. Sent to Whitehorse, the children were adopted by an Anglican priest who then relocated with his family to Vancouver in 1904. That year, Judy became the first of four identifiably Indigenous children to attend the Manitoba School for the Deaf (MSD) between 1889 and 1940. Like the others, she had been adopted and was on the path to “citizenship” and had lost status under the 1876 Indian Act as a member of a white settler family. Accompanied by a B.C. Department of Education official, she arrived in Winnipeg in late 1904.

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In Praise of Peter Green(baum)

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By James Cullingham

Peter Green’s death was announced by a British law firm on July 25, 2020.  The news elicited an outpouring of grief and admiring statements from his musical peers. Like Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys or Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, Peter Green is viewed alternatively as a prime musical casualty of the psychedelic moment, or as a trailblazer who produced shape-shifting and era-defining work before he was thirty years of age.

Peter Green c. 1970 (Wikimedia Commons)

Without question Green was one of the most accomplished and fascinating composers, guitarists and bandleaders among the great swell of British musicians who emerged in the 1960s.

Born in 1946 as Peter Greenbaum, the son of a Jewish butcher in London, Peter Green became a professional musician as a teenager. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 156: For Home and Empire

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By Sean Graham

When we talk about the First World War, it is usually in national terms. In Canada, there is discussion of national mobilization efforts and the federal government’s implementation of programs and policies to support the war effort. These efforts, though, took place at a local level. Battalions within the Canadian Expeditionary Force, for instance, were typically distinguished by where they were from – The Nova Scotia Highlanders, the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, or the Saskatchewan Dragoons come immediately to mind. There were similar localized efforts when it came to raising money, rationing, and wartime production.

These local efforts within national programs were not unique to Canada, as Australia and New Zealand saw similar distribution of wartime mobilization. This is the subject of Steve Marti’s new book For Home and Empire: Voluntary Mobilization in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand During the First World War. In the book, Marti explores how federal governments relied on local, voluntary efforts to support national military operations. In doing so, communal bonds were strengthened, but so too were class, race, and gender boundaries.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Steve Marti about the book. We talk about the similarities between Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, why federal governments relied on local efforts, and the impact on local communities. We also chat about those who were excluded from local programs, the impact on fundraising, and how communities commemorated their war efforts.

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The Sounds of Solidarity: An Oral History of Rhythm Activism’s Oka and Oka II

Sean Carleton 

To mark the 30th anniversary of the siege of Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawá:ke, commonly known as the 1990 “Oka Crisis,” I have been interviewing a number of non-Indigenous musicians about the music they made in solidarity with the Mohawk land struggle.

I’ve spoken with Chris Hannah from the thrash punk band Propagandhi and hip hop artist Maestro Fresh-Wes about their musical contributions in the years after the standoff. But what did solidarity sound like during the summer of 1990?

I recently spoke with Norman Nawrocki of the Montreal band Rhythm Activism. The band put out two underground cassette tapes Oka (1990) and Oka II (1992). In particular, Rhythm Activism’s song “Oka Polka” was released in September 1990 and was actually played behind the Mohawk barricades as part of the resistance that summer. My conversation with Norman sheds light on the extent of anti-Indigenous racism in Quebec in 1990 as well as the importance of non-Indigenous solidarity efforts to counter that racism, then and now.

All photos provided by Norman Nawrocki.

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Remember/Resist/Redraw #24: 30 Years Since the Siege of Kanehsatà:ke

Earlier this month, to mark the 30th anniversary of the so-called “Oka Crisis,” the Graphic History Collective released Remember/Resist/Redraw poster #24 by Ellen Gabriel and Sean Carleton.

The poster depicts the start of the police siege of Kanehsatà:ke on 11 July 1990 from a Mohawk perspective and makes clear that the fight against colonial land fraud in the community continues today.

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

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History Slam Episode 155: Cataloguing Culture

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By Sean Graham

The Smithsonian Institute bills itself as “the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex.” In an average year, 22 million people visit the 19 Smithsonian museums, galleries, and gardens. The portfolio even includes the National Zoo. These sites can make for great days exploring the history of the United States, but it’s likely that not many visitors ask about how the Institute collects artifacts. And even fewer think about how the information is cataloged and whether that influences the way in which exhibits are presented.

Fortunately, there is Cataloguing Culture: Legacies of Colonialism in Museum Documentation, a new book by Hannah Turner that explores how categories were used in sorting material culture and the way in which the Smithsonian’s process came to be the standard in national collecting organizations. In doing so, the Institution imposed a colonial structure of classifying, organizing, and naming the millions of artifacts from Indigenous peoples in its collection. As a result, incorrect classifications and terminology made its way into its database and, because of the Institution’s status, that colonial process was replicated in other influential museums.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Professor Turner about the book. We discuss the Smithsonian’s collection process, its relationships with the communities from which it took objects, and how its database was built. We also chat about the importance of terminology, the repatriation of objects from the collection, and how museum guests benefit from learning about the museum’s history.

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