History Slam 188: Wagon Road North

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By Sean Graham

In 1960, Art Downs released Wagon Road North: The Saga of the Cariboo Gold Rush, which immediately became a best-seller. Relying primarily on photos to the tell the story of what happened after gold was found in the British Columbia interior, Wagon Road North was so popular that it was reprinted 5 different times through the 1960s. Updated in 1973 and again in 1993, it remains one of the province’s most sold history books. In looking at it in 2021, however, the absences in the narrative are apparent. As part of a colonial historiography, the book did not include Indigenous perspectives on the gold rush, nor did it explore the contributions of Chinese workers or the role of women in shaping life in the B.C. interior.

Over 60 years since its first edition, new additions by Ken Mather have sought to address these issues. With contemporary photos, revisions to the original text, and new sections to address the erasure that was clear in the original, this version takes the best of Art Downs’ research and brings it into the 21st century.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Ken Mather about the updates to the book. We talk about the gold rush in Barkerville, BC, the popularity of Wagon Road North, and the updates included in the new edition. We also chat about what makes for good popular history, the challenge of using photographs in books, and how working in interpretation at historic sites can improve historical writing.

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Saving Chinatown, 1971 to 2021

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Toronto Star, August 28, 1971 (courtesy of Jamie Bradburn).

Daniel Ross

2021 has been a difficult year for Chinatowns across Canada. In mid-April, a coalition of community leaders from six cities released a statement calling on the federal government to make it a “national priority” to support Chinatowns struggling with the fallout of the COVID-19 lockdown and a new spike in anti-Asian racism. In both Montreal and Toronto, local activists are working to protect a heritage and community-centred vision of their districts from the twin pressures of redevelopment and gentrification. As these examples suggest, both the problems faced by inner city Chinatowns and the solutions proposed for meeting them intersect with many of the key urban and social debates of our time.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone familiar with the last century of North American urban history. Saving Chinatown has been on the urban agenda in cities across the continent since the mid-twentieth century, whether in the context of community fights against urban renewal and infrastructure projects, or the longer-term transformation from a racially segregated enclave to a commercial and cultural hub for a dispersed diasporic community. In this post, I present one minor episode in that longer history: the Dragon Mall, a street festival organized by Toronto’s Chinese community in the 1970s, amid widespread concern that the city’s Chinatown was on the brink of erasure. By looking at this event through three lenses—as an ethnic celebration, as part of the political mobilization of Chinese Torontonians, and as one path for renewing the heart of the city—I hope to highlight how in the 1970s, as today, debates over saving Chinatown were entangled with larger discussions of the urban future and the nature of Canadian society.

The Dragon Mall was an annual event that transformed Toronto’s Elizabeth Street—a north-south downtown street lined with Chinese restaurants and shops—into a car-free festival of Chinese Canadian culture. Continue reading

Indigenous and Colonial Trackways: A New Historia Nostra Series

By Erin Isaac

Roads, hiking trails, rivers, train tracks, or any manner of routes we use to travel often feel like historically benign spaces (at least to me).

For myself, driving along the 401 between Kingston and Toronto has inspired more frustration about traffic and “Ontario Drivers” than curiosity about the road’s history. It feels like a space that exists to carry people between places of significance rather than one in and of itself.

That is, that’s how I felt until I first watched Tony Robinson’s series exploring Britain’s Ancient Tracks. Continue reading

History Slam 187: The Line Between Innovation & Cheating in Curling History

By Sean Graham

Ken Watson, inventor of the ‘long slide.’ Courtesy of Curling Canada

In recent years, the unwritten rules of sports have gotten a lot of attention. Whether it’s celebrations or expectations on rookies or what constitutes proper respect for your opponent, these ‘rules’ are increasingly recognized as antiquated and no longer relevant to modern athletes. In curling, the unwritten rules have always centered on the idea of the ‘Spirit of Curling’, which, generally, suggests that it is better to lose than to win unfairly.

Over the last 500 years, however, what constitutes fairness has changed. Things that are commonplace – even central to the modern game – were so controversial that those innovators who first used them in games were accused of cheating. From the Fenwick players putting a rotation on the stone to Ken Watson’s long slide, innovation in curling has been controversial. At the same time, however, other developments, like the evolution of the stone, have not been subject to nearly the same resistance.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Game of Stones Podcast co-host Scott Graham about the fine line between innovation and cheating in curling. We talk about which innovations were deemed to be in violation of the ‘Spirit of Curling’, why others weren’t as controversial, and general resistance to new technology. We also chat about how things went from controversial to commonplace, the evolution of sweeping in curling, and what the next big innovation in the sport might be.

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Postscript: (In)Security in the Time of COVID-19

Artwork by: Tobias Merlo.

This post by Emily Gilbert concludes the “(In)Security in the Time of COVID-19” series. Read the rest of the series here.

By now, it should be widely recognized that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been highly uneven. The elderly are particularly vulnerable, and especially those in long-term care. But there are other fault lines: racialized and low-income communities have had much higher rates of infection and death largely due to structural inequalities around housing conditions, low-paid and precarious work, and lack of paid sick leave. Access to and take-up of vaccines has also further accentuated these social disparities. All of this while the rich have accumulated even more wealth during the pandemic.

It is these kinds of issues that are taken up in the series “(In)Security in the Time of COVID-19,” but while the present conditions of the pandemic loom large, the posts probe the longer histories that have driven these inequities, with respect to, for example, racist immigration policies, profit-based housing markets, and labour policies that favour the private sector over workers. In so doing, they shift attention away from the prevalent discourses around national security that have taken hold in the 21st century—which are about fear and defense, and which invoke images of the military and militarized policing—and refocus our attention on social security, which comprises access to human needs such as housing and health care, more equitable working conditions, and more inclusionary policies and forms of belonging. Continue reading

Who Counts? The Data We Use to Prove the Points We Make

by Carly Ciufo

Although I doubt the book will make it into my dissertation, the comps text that’s unexpectedly stayed with me is Bruce Curtis’ The Politics of Population: State Formation, Statistics, and the Census of Canada, 1840-1875. With my last post, I talked about the local positionality of national museums. I cited some studies of surveyed data around museums and trust. Receiving some collegial feedback from a colleague on the post brought me back to an early comps session where Curtis was on the table and has got me thinking about why this book has stuck with me ever since.

Curtis’ book is about the ways census collection changed, sought scientific standardization, and was crucial to state formation in mid-nineteenth century Canada. But Curtis also talks a lot about the personalities at play and the incompleteness of data as well as the false categorization of census facts and figures. Sitting across my professor’s desk, I recall a particularly enlivened conversation around the pros and cons of quantitative and qualitative approaches that kept us both on our toes.

“Censuses are not ‘taken,’ they are made,” is the specific bit from Curtis that’s since stayed with me. (34) In thinking through how I work as a historian, this note’s been a crucial element to the question everything approach required when it comes to truth and trust at museums.

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History Slam 186: Canada’s LGBTQ2+ History at the ArQuives

By Sean Graham

The gaps and underrepresentation of certain voices within traditional archival collections is well established. To fill these gaps, community archives are essential as they collect, preserve, and share the stories of people, groups, and events that have helped shaped life in Canada. One of these community archives is the ArQuives, Canada’s LGBTQ2+ archive. Based in Toronto, the ArQuives works to preserve and share the history of Canada’s LGBTQ2+ community. While acknowledging that there are gaps in the collection, the team has done a fantastic job of both making the collection accessible while also creating physical and digital exhibits that engage visitors in these remarkable stories.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Lucie, one of the archivists from the ArQuives, Canada’s LGBTQ2+ archive. We talk about the history of the collection, the acquisition process for a community archive, and importance of preserving voices underrepresented in government archival collections. We also talk about the transitions the ArQuives had to make during the pandemic, ensuring access to digital collections, and what archival research may look like moving forward.

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Organizing for Abolition in Toronto: A Conversation with Dr. Beverly Bain

Tina Orlandini, Defund Police. Sourced from: Justseeds.org.

Khaleel Grant’s interview with Dr. Beverly Bain was conducted in March 2021. Bain is a professor of women and gender studies in the Department of Historical Studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus. As a Black queer anti-capitalist feminist, Bain has organized in Toronto since the mid-1970s around issues of racist police violence, violence against women, and Black and queer liberation. In this interview Bain discusses a range of topics including her reflections on her journey as an activist, the violent structures we are confronted with, the shifts in Black queer organizing over the years, and the urgency of abolition. This interview is part of the “(In)Security in the Time of COVID-19” series. Read the rest of the series here.

Khaleel Grant (KG): Hello Beverly, thank you so much for being in conversation with us today. Can you start by telling us about the context in which you began organizing?

Beverly Bain (BB): I came to Canada from Trinidad to go to the University of Toronto. I started organizing in the mid-1970s just after coming to Canada, but I had already sort of had my awakening following the late 1960s early 1970s Caribbean Black Power movement. By the time I came to university here in Toronto, I already had a sense of what was happening in the larger global world around blackness. I was very focused on being part of a movement for liberation and revolution. I recognized that we were living in an unjust world, and I wanted to see something different for all of us. When I came to Toronto, I found my way to Bathurst and Bloor where Black people were located. I became very involved in anti-black racism protests and police violence protests. There were the police killings of Albert Johnson, Andrew “Buddy” Evans, and a number of people.

KG: What was the role of Black women in the kind of anti-police violence organizing you were involved in? Continue reading

Unions, Care Home Cartels and the Covid-19 Pandemic in Ontario

“People protest outside the Tendercare Living Centre long-term-care facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Tuesday, December 29, 2020. This LTC home was hit hard by the coronavirus during the second wave.” Nathan Denette, CP.

This post by Justin Panos is part of the “(In)Security in the Time of COVID-19” series. Read the rest of the series here.

From their office on Bay Street, the 2021 LTC Commission has released the latest report that condemns corporate nursing home operations and elected officials for their inaction and lack of leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. At its height, there were 218 active outbreaks spread across the 600+ homes in Ontario. By March 14, 2021, 14,984 residents and 6,740 staff were infected. Approximately 11 staff and 4000 residents lost their lives and despite being 0.5% of Ontario’s population, long-term care residents tallied half of Ontario’s COVID-19 deaths.

This short essay attempts to elucidate and historicize Ontario’s nursing homes in the age of COVID-19 by bringing organized labour back in. Continue reading

Want to Understand Egerton Ryerson? Two School Histories Provide the Context

By Thomas Peace

In 1842, at the Dawn settlement near Dresden, Ontario, Josiah Henson built the British American Institute (BAI), a school for peoples who had escaped their enslavement. Five years later, about 75 kilometers from the BAI, on the banks of the Deshkan Ziibiing near London, Methodist missionary Kahkewaquonaby (Peter Jones) – a Mississauga leader from Credit River (western Toronto) – built the Mount Elgin Institute, a manual labour school for Munsee-Delaware and Anishinaabeg children.

Both schools were short lived, failing to live up to the hopes of their founders (though Mount Elgin reopened in 1867 with less community involvement).

What is important here is the agency deployed by Black and Indigenous people like Josiah Henson and Kahkewaquonaby in seeking out, and controlling, robust systems of education for their communities.

Making their situation much more complex, however, is that the educational philosophies these men espoused have common roots with the development of the residential school system as well as two elite American colleges.

Understanding this historical context reveals an important turning point in the history of racism and exclusion in Canadian law and society. In this moment, some Black and Indigenous peoples hoped schooling might help navigate the developing settler colonial state while – at the same time – those efforts were thwarted and co-opted by government and churches to entrench racial hierarchies that privileged White English-speaking settlers. Egerton Ryerson falls right in the middle of these divergent interests. Continue reading