#Canada150 / #Colonialism150: An Advertising History

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Janis Thiessen

Government advertising for the sesquicentennial of Confederation began in 2013, “aimed at increasing Canadians’ knowledge and pride in Canada’s history and heritage.” The federal government promoted licensing agreements for commercial use of the “Canada 150” logo. A number of businesses in Canada took the opportunity to promote their products by connecting them to Canadian nationalism and Canadian history – though not always in logical or tasteful ways. KFC, for example, temporarily changed their logo to K’ehFC.

CBC News.

The Sobey’s grocery chain sold hamburger patties shaped like maple leaves.


And Tim Hortons promoted an abomination known as the poutine donut (which was, mercifully, only available in the United States and only on Canada Day).

CBC News

The use of nationalist images and historical events in advertising in Canada has a long history, though not a particularly varied one. Ira Wagman notes that Canadian ads that have used Canadian historical images or events “draw from a relatively small set of images and themes associated with unity, the use of technology to bind space, and ideas of national development” (Wagman, 560). He questions the effect such advertising has had “on Canadian historical consciousness, on the way Canadians recollect and understand their past” (Wagman, 559). These effects are particularly problematic when such ads draw on ahistorical, stereotypical, or racist images of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

The problematic depiction of Indigenous peoples in Canadian advertising is a consequence of settler colonialism and ongoing Indigenous dispossession. Continue reading

An illegal referendum?

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Photo of voters waiting to cast ballots by Carles Masats.

Ben Bryce

On October 1, the Government of Catalonia held a referendum over the question: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state and in the form of a republic?”

English Canadian coverage of the referendum has been thin compared to what you find in Quebec. The majority of English Canadians might not like referendums and they may not be eager to endorse the secession of an autonomous region from a federal state. But local filters should not blind us from overlooking the importance of this referendum nor should Canadians accept the Spanish government’s labelling of this vote as “unconstitutional”.

In early September, the Spanish Constitutional Court – at the behest of the government in Madrid – declared the whole exercise “illegal” because it violates Article 2 of the Spanish Constitution which proclaims “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation.” To put it another way, the Government of Spain and its legal institutions do not allow for separation or territorial losses. And of course they don’t. That is a fundamental premise of every nation-state in the world. Since the nineteenth century (and not before), an organizing principle of European countries has been to have citizens buy into the project about the natural and permanent logic of the nation-state.

Over the past weeks and months, the Spanish government has taken a series of undemocratic actions, culminating in police violence which has injured almost 900 Spanish citizens on October 1 in an effort to prevent people from voting in the referendum and to confiscate ballots. Continue reading

A Breakdown of Democracy in Catalonia

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Photo of a pro-independence rally by Carles Masats.

Aitana Guia

It’s 2019. California just voted to secede from the Union in a referendum.  Only 42 percent of the electorate voted, but since 90 percent of them voted in favor of independence, the California Governor has unilaterally declared independence.

The other 49 state legislatures have not been consulted. The US House of Representatives and Senate have not been asked either; their required two-third majority agreement stipulated by the Supreme Court in Texas v. White (1869) all but ignored. The US Constitution has, of course, not been amended.

The Yes California campaign and the California Governor are defending their unilateral independence as the only democratic outcome and in compliance with international self-determination rights. Many observers fear a strong rebuttal by the White House as the National Guard is already mobilized at the California borders with Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Sounds unreasonable? Not so in Spain.

On September 6th, 2017, the Catalan parliament, where pro-referendum parties had a majority of seats albeit not a majority of votes, passed a law calling for a referendum on independence. The Spanish Government deemed it illegal under the current 1978 Spanish Constitution and asked the Constitutional Court to void the law. The Constitutional Court duly obliged because the 1978 Constitution has to be amended by a two-third majority of the Spanish Congress before a regional referendum can take place. Continue reading

No Truck or Trade with Trump? The Puzzling Absence of anti-NAFTA Sentiment in Canada

Cartoon depicting two Canadian Men straddling a wall with a locked gate. "Uncle Sam" is handing them a bag of money over the fence.

“We can’t undo the Lock, Sir John is on guard. Hand it over the fence?” 1891 electoral cartoon. Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-33-1100.

Asa McKercher

There are many questions surrounding the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). To wit: will the treaty be renegotiated to meet the goals set out by the Mexican, Canadian, and U.S. governments? What provisions will be included in NAFTA 2.0? If the agreement is renegotiated, will it satiate public opinion in these countries? Will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s personal, quiet diplomacy ultimately appease President Donald Trump? Or will the whole thing collapse? Answers to these questions will have to wait, but as an historian with a passing interest in Canadian-American relations and Canada’s political history, a more interesting question is: where are NAFTA’s opponents? And where are the anti-American nationalists?

In the United States, certainly, there are plenty of people who oppose the agreement: the very nativists, protectionists, and anti-Globalists to whom Trump’s promise to renegotiate or “terminate” NAFTA is aimed. NAFTA is a target, too, of Americans on the left, who worry about a variety of issues including labour standards, environmental issues, and the loss of jobs. Yet in Canada, all three mainstream political parties currently support NAFTA and there seems to be little in the way of grassroots movements meant to change their standpoints.

Although there are differences among the parties on what new provisions should be included in any revamped deal, neither the ruling Liberals, nor the Conservatives of the Official Opposition, nor the New Democratic Party have advocated scrapping the agreement outright. Indeed, the NDP’s support for NAFTA – admittedly premised on a reformed deal being able “to protect Canadian sovereignty, especially in investment and energy security” – is surprising given that it seems to be a step backwards from the party’s outlook of the 1970s and 1980s, when it was more blatantly opposed to free trade with the United States. Moreover, given that much of the party’s platform clashes with NAFTA provisions, one wonders why the NDP has not chosen this moment to simply come out and oppose it.

As for the Conservatives, they have largely backed the Liberal government’s position, to the point that former Tory ministers are serving on a panel advising the government on the negotiations (as is the NDP’s Brian Topp). Further, Conservative party officials have stated their willingness to keep criticism of the government on the file to a murmur at least while negotiations are ongoing.[1] It helps, no doubt, that a large majority of Canadians back NAFTA. The cross-partisanship on display in Ottawa is all the more astounding given that free trade with the United States has been such a divisive topic in Canada’s past, one linked to anti-American political rhetoric that has often played well with Canadian voters. It seems counterintuitive that Trump, a president so reviled by Canadians, is not at front and centre of any concerted campaign to woo voters on a nationalist plank.

Free trade itself was a leading and perhaps even decisive issue in three Canadian federal elections: 1891, 1911, and 1988. Concerns over economic ties with the Americans also influenced voters in 1972, with NDP successes in that vote prompting the minority Trudeau to adopt economic nationalist policies; in John Diefenbaker’s election wins in 1957 and 1958; and in the Progressive Conservatives’ collapse in 1993. The fact that Diefenbaker’s Tories could win on a vaguely anti-US platform and that Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell’s Tories would be seen as too close to the Americans serves as a reminder that the major parties have altered their positions on the issue. Continue reading

The Monument War: Not just about “History”

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Temple of Apollo at Corinth. Author’s photo

Matthew Sears

From Robert E. Lee to John A. Macdonald, the Monument War has now become an international conflict. To those shocked by how quickly this battle has escalated, the anti-monument agitators seem to be the 21st century’s version of 20th century totalitarians, wanting to erase or distort history so that it conforms to the spirit and prejudices of the present age. Yet the Monument War is not just a phenomenon of today’s university campuses or activist teachers’ unions.  In fact, memorials proved to be a hot-button issue – frequently the hot-button issue – for the ancient Greeks, who first developed, among other things, the very concepts of history and historical consciousness.

Herodotus, called the “Father of History” even in antiquity, more than 2,400 years ago wrote an account of the wars between the Greeks and the Persians, a struggle best known for famous battles like Marathon and Thermopylae. After these wars, the Persians had become for the Greeks the ultimate example of dangerous foreigners, a decadent people governed by a greedy master of slaves rather than communities of free citizens. Even so, Herodotus says that he undertook the task of recording the war so that the great deeds of both Greeks and Persians might not be forgotten. Herodotus’ history was thus a memorial to the Greeks and Persians who fought, killed, and died fighting over the fate of Greece.

Herodotus travelled around the ancient world to recite his history to delighted audiences, leading us to believe that Greeks were all too happy to hear of the valiant efforts on both sides of the conflict, no matter how hated and feared the Persians were. Continue reading

Predicting the Future of Temporary Foreign Worker Programs… In the 1960s and 70s

Edward Dunsworth

The Thanksgiving season is often seized upon by farmworkers and activists to highlight agricultural workers’ contributions to society and the precarious conditions that so often characterize their work and life. In both Canada and the United States, farm labour activists have riffed on a popular motif which recognizes farmers, modifying it to some variation of: “Got Food? Thank a Farmworker.”

In Canada, these messages have drawn attention in particular to migrant farmworkers, who in various Temporary Foreign Worker Programs (TFWPs), represent a crucial component of the country’s agricultural labour force. In the spirit of joining the Thanksgiving shout-out to farmworkers, in this post I share two finds from the archives, uncovered in the course of my research on the history of tobacco farm labour in Ontario, in which senior federal bureaucrats in the 1960s and 1970s issue some eerily prescient warnings about what TFWPs might become in the future.

First, a bit of context, while the history of migrant labour can be traced back centuries in Canada, state-managed guestworker programs have been a permanent fixture since the mid-20th century. In agriculture, the most important program has been the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), founded in 1966, which brings workers from Mexico, Jamaica, and other Caribbean countries to work on Canadian farms. TFWPs – which comprise a large number of employment visa regulations and foreign labour schemes, including the SAWP – have come under fire in recent years by activists, academics, and politicians.

Migrant justice advocates have criticized the structure of programs, under which migrants in practice have far fewer rights than Canadian workers. Migrant labour scholar Adriana Paz has referred to this as a system of “labour apartheid.” In the SAWP specifically, migrant workers are barred from unionizing in Ontario (by far the biggest receiving province), have almost zero access to permanent residency, often face dangerous work conditions and subpar living arrangements, and find that their employers have almost unchecked control over their immigration status. Complaining about conditions on the job or in the bunkhouse can often result in summary deportation and exclusion from future participation in the program.

The number of migrants arriving in Canada in TFWPs grew rapidly under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, though much of the groundwork for these programs was laid during Liberal administrations. In recent years, Liberals have criticized Conservatives’ running of the programs, arguing that what started out as a small, tightly-managed mechanism for alleviating temporary labour shortages had ballooned into an uncontrollable behemoth, easily abused by employers seeking cheap labour. This was never how this was supposed to work, the Liberals and Justin Trudeau have essentially said. Any problems that have arisen are simply the result of Conservative mismanagement.

Two letters at Library and Archives Canada complicate the Liberal portrayal of TFWPs. Written respectively in 1962 and 1974, they foreshadow some of the problems that would emerge in TFWPs in later years, suggesting that these issues are not simply managerial or administrative. Rather, they are structural, something that has been apparent to observers – including those within government – since before the programs even began. Continue reading

The Bolshevik: Art, Revolution and Canada

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By Laura Brandon

On the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, this article sheds light on the background and history of a virtually unknown 1918 Canadian War Museum painting by English artist, David Jagger (1891-1958). Entitled The Bolshevik, it is an impressive if anomalous canvas in the museum’s war art collection. The circumstances surrounding this artwork’s creation, acquisition, limited exhibition, and publication raise questions about art’s role in history. If the subject and event were so important in 1917-18, why, in 2017, has this painting not been seen since 1924?


““The Bolshevik,” Sensation at the Canadian War Memorials Exhibition” was the headline that greeted readers of the Toronto Star Weekly when they opened their weekend newspapers on Saturday, 16 February 1924.[i] Above the headline, they could view a reproduction of a painting depicting a furious, wild-haired young man with a white scarf casually draped around his neck. Taking up half the background was a huge flag imprinted with Cyrillic lettering and below it, a crowd of gun-toting revolutionaries. Not what one might expect to see in one’s newspaper on a regular 1924 Saturday morning in Etobicoke, Rosedale, or York Mills.

“The Bolshevik,” by David Jagger (1918)
CWM 19710261-0204
Beaverbrook Collection of War Art
Canadian War Museum

The Bolshevik is not a well-known painting and the Ottawa exhibition that featured it was the last time it was publicly shown and the only time it has been exhibited in Canada. The occasion was the Second Exhibition of the Canadian War Memorials paintings at the National Gallery of Canada, which was on view from 18 January to 30 April 1924. The Bolshevik was shown alongside 240 other works by British and Canadian artists whose work had been acquired by the Canadian War Memorials Fund during and just after the First World War.

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Conversations with Egyptian Uber Drivers: Why Emigrate? Why Canada?

Commuting in Alexandria’s mid-day traffic. Author’s photo.

Michael Akladios

Census Canada estimated earlier this year that the proportion of Arabic speakers in Canada is projected to increase 200 per cent by 2036. Yet, the study of immigration and ethnicity in North America tends to ignore Middle Eastern immigrants. The region remains in the Western imaginary as an ahistorical and hermeneutically sealed zone.[1] However, one would be hard-pressed to find someone in Egypt today without a friend or relative who has emigrated.

I visited Egypt for a six-week research trip this summer, to compile documents from state and institutional archives on the history of Egyptian immigration to Toronto and the New York/New Jersey area in the post-WWII period. In the process, I often asked myself what my study of the history of Egyptian emigration contributes to our present understanding of Egypt and its émigré populations. The answer to that question began to form as I traveled throughout the country. On every excursion from a hotel, I requested an Uber. There are approximately 150,000 Uber drivers in Egypt and it is the most convenient and comfortable form of travel for visitors. Stuck in mid-day traffic, I would engage the drivers in conversation. After nearly three-dozen conversations, patterns emerged.[2] The perception of emigration, its motivations, and the expectations of those wishing to emigrate have all changed in the past sixty years.

When I interviewed a self-described “Canadian of Egyptian origin” in Toronto last spring, who had immigrated to Canada in the early 1970s, he recalled seeing his own migration as a journey from city to village.[3] For him, as for many other Egyptians who began to emigrate to North America in the late 1950s, Toronto and Montreal were young, empty, and lacked the diversity of populations and services that characterized their city lives in Cairo and summers spent in Alexandria. They have all recounted with whimsy that the streets of Cairo and Alexandria rivaled those of Paris and were the envy of Western Europe.

The factors that once prompted many to emigrate were quite varied. Continue reading

Implementing TRC Call to Action #79: Commemoration of Indian Residential School Sites

By Carling Beninger

Given the recent debate in Canada about the commemoration of historical figures involved in the Indian residential school (IRS) system, including calls to remove names of historical figures from schools or buildings, it is important also to recognize the necessity of commemorating IRS sites. Acknowledging the legacy of the IRS system at school sites will not only contribute to the reshaping of public memory about Canadian history, but will also honour those that attended the schools and those who did not survive, and provide further education about the government and churches’ roles in establishing the IRS system as an assimilative tool.

In negotiations for the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), the largest class action settlement in Canadian history, commemoration was signaled out as an important priority for addressing the IRS legacy. Commemoration is one of the five components of the IRRSA, which also includes the Common Experience Payment, Independent Assessment Process, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and healing and health services. The TRC Final Report concluded that “[c]ommemorations and memorials at former school sites and cemeteries are visible reminders of Canada’s shame and church complicity. They bear witness to the suffering and loss that generations of Aboriginal people have endured and overcome.”[1]

Earlier this week Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, called on the federal government to do more to preserve the seventeen remaining IRS buildings that are still standing. Moran commented: “I think it’s really essential that we support community-led initiatives to preserve some of the remaining, standing residential schools so that we are unable as a country to forget this history.”[2]

Not all communities, however, want the buildings preserved. Continue reading

Remember / Resist / Redraw #10: Remembering the 75th Anniversary of Japanese Canadian Internment

Remember / Resist / Redraw #10: Remembering the 75th Anniversary of Japanese Canadian Internment

 In January, the Graphic History Collective (GHC) launched Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical History Poster Project, a year-long artistic intervention in the Canada 150 conversation.

Earlier this month we released Poster #10 by Chris Robertson and Lorene Oikawa, which points out that Canada 150 also marks the 75th anniversary of Japanese Canadian Internment. In fact, it was 75 years ago (30 September 1942) that Japanese Canadians, who were being detained at Hastings Park in Vancouver, were sent to internment camps.

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 how you can support the project on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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