repost – Baba Wore a Burqa, and Nona wore a Niqab is on a two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year.   Thanks as always to our writers and readers.

The following post was originally featured on October 16, 2015.

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.

Click here to read more. repost – Bleeding Him White: How Canada Stole an Indigenous Veteran’s Identity is on a two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year.   Thanks as always to our writers and readers.

The following post was originally featured on February 2, 2016 s part of  “Canada’s First World War: A Centennial Series on”, a multi-year series of regular posts about the history and centennial of the First World War.  

By Lynn Gehl

In the Anishinaabeg tradition dibaajimowinan, which translates to personal storytelling, is valued as a valid and legitimate method of both gaining and conveying knowledge. The dibaajimowinan method is holistic in that it values knowledge that is more than what is rational: it is emotional and spiritual too. As most know, the oral tradition was recognized in the 1997 Delgamuukw Supreme Court of Canada decision. Remaining within my ancestral knowledge tradition, it is in these ways of knowing that I offer this Algonquin Anishinaabeg history.

CFWW Gehl Figure 1 - Joseph Gagnon (Gagne) in uniform

Figure 1 – Joseph Gagnon (Gagne) in uniform. All images are of items in the author’s possession.

Most days, and especially Remembrance Day, are a bundle of contradictions as my lived experience is laden with the genocide by colonial Canada both historical and in a contemporary sense. Through family oral history I know that my great grandfather, Joseph Gagne (also spelled Gagnon), served in the First World War (1914-1918). I was told that his mother, who is my great great grandmother, Angeline Jocko (also spelled Jacco), once resided at a mission settlement in the Lake of Two Mountains which was first established in 1721.

CFWW Gehl Figure 2 - Lynn Gehl holding wampum belt. Photo credit Nikolaus Gehl

Figure 2 – Lynn Gehl holding wampum belt. Photo credit Nikolaus Gehl.

The Lake of Two Mountains mission settlement was a place where the Algonquin, Nippissing, and Mohawk people lived together, each nation retaining their own council houses (Day and Trigger 1994). Through the oral tradition I know there is a wampum belt that represents this relationship. This belt has three human icons encoded, as well as a cross representing the three Indigenous nations and the community as a Christian settlement.[i]

Click here to read more. repost – Science, Technology and Gender in Canada: An Exhibit in Collaboration with the Canadian Science and Technology Museum is on a two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year.   Thanks as always to our writers and readers.

This post and corresponding exhibit were originally featured  on November 20, 2015 during the Tehcnoscience in Canada theme week.

By Beth A. Robertson and Dorotea Gucciardo

"Ferut" Memory Tube c.1951 (with box) CSTM Collections

“Ferut” Memory Tube c.1951 (with box) CSTM Collections

What do a glass memory tube, an electric range, a botanical painting, a player piano and two different aircrafts have in common? This first Active History exhibit dedicated to Science, Technology and Gender will provide a few answers to that question that may surprise you.

This introductory post marks the launch of a new section of the website entitled “Exhibits”. The purpose of the new section is to extend the partnerships between and other forms of “active history” primarily through collaborating with museums and archives across the country. Each online exhibit, powered through Omeka, will be organized around a theme. The exhibits will showcase a select number of objects, documents, and images from a single collection that you may or may not have heard of. Academics, public historians as well as museum professionals and archivists will be asked to place each object in context as it relates to the overarching theme.

Situating an object within its historical context can be a formidable task, especially in the absence of printed materials, which can lend insight into the object’s uses or socially constructed values. Without context, the object becomes a “thing” — something indefinable. So how do we go beyond the “thingness”[1] of something to identify and analyze the object? For that, we can turn to authors like E. McClung Fleming or Jules Prown, who define material culture — that is, the objects created by a particular society — and suggest methodologies for identifying an object and determining its social meanings.[2] The most important task is to accept the artifact as an expression of culture, and to engage with it using all of our senses to unravel the values, assumptions, beliefs, either conscious or unconscious, encoded in it by the society that created it.

To that end, the contributors of this first theme of science, technology and gender, will explore artifacts with the specific goal of determining how those objects can be expressions of gender — either as being gendered themselves or telling us something about the expectations of those who used them.

Click here to read more. Or head straight to the Science, Technology and Gender exhibit to explore alternative histories and politics through material culture objects.

Science, Technology and Gender Exhibit repost – What about the People? Place, Memory, and Industrial Pollution in Sudbury is on a two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year.   Thanks as always to our writers and readers.

The following post was originally featured on November 5, 2015.

By Stacey Zembrzycki

A view of the slag storage area, from Gutcher Street in Gatchell, circa 1970. Anonymous local photographer.

A view of the slag storage area, from Gutcher Street in Gatchell, ca. 1970. Anonymous local photographer.

Much of the industrial ruins resulting from nearly 130 years of nickel mining in Sudbury, Ontario, are now hidden from plain sight, camouflaged under a successful re-greening program that has led to the planting of over nine million trees, and the clean-up of many area lakes and thousands of hectares of soil. And yet, despite this invisibility, vestiges of the industrial past continue to exist and do harm. “Making connections where they are hard to trace,” as Ann Laura Stoler reminds us, “is not designed to settle scores but rather to recognize that these are unfinished histories, not of victimized pasts but consequential histories that open to differential futures.”[1] Understanding the visible and invisible tolls that heavy industry has taken on residents’ bodies requires a willingness to explore these unfinished histories, a subject that is deeply implicated in an Environment Canada investigation in the region.

On October 8, 2015, Sudbury’s local media received an anonymous email stating that Environment Canada and the RCMP had spent the day “raiding” the headquarters of Vale (formerly Inco Limited) in Copper Cliff, a small nickel mining community just west of Sudbury, searching for files that pertained to a 2012 federal investigation into alleged Fisheries Act violations.[2] Nearly three weeks later, details about this investigation became public, revealing that the local mining company has been accused of allowing industrial effluents to leach into a number of local waterways since at least 1997, and perhaps even going as far back as 1963. The CBC reported that the Environment Canada warrant “accuses the company of allowing ‘acutely lethal’ seepage from the smelter waste piles into water frequented by fish, and of knowing about the leakage for years.” As an oral and public historian actively engaged in a SSHRC-funded project entitled Mining Immigrant Bodies: A Multi-Ethnic Oral History of Industry, Environment, and Health in the Sudbury Region, which examines the “inescapable ecological” relationships that have been forged between Sudburians and the landscape since the postwar period, I have spent the last year listening to stories that intersect in important ways to this latest investigation.[3]

Click here to continue reading. repost – A Smudgier Dispossession is Still Dispossession is on a two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year.   Thanks as always to our writers and readers.

The following post was originally featured on January 11, 2016 during the Indigenous Histories theme week edited by Crystal Fraser.

By Leanne Betasamosake Simpson 


Photo by author.

The waning months of 2015 signaled a seemingly dramatic albeit likely superficial shift in Indigenous-state relations in Canada. When the fall began, the Prime Minister was steadfast in his refusal to call an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which surprised few, as it was beautifully consistent with the contempt, paternalism and outright hatred that characterized Harper’s interactions with Indigenous peoples in general. By the time December rolled around, the next Prime Minister and his Haida tattoo were flanked with Indigenous drummers and dancers, clouds of smudge seem to follow him wherever he went, and Indigenous territories were being acknowledged at the beginning of events. The inquiry had been called and meetings with families were held, and recommendations from the past Royal Commission and current Truth and Reconciliation Commission were set to be implemented. Harper lowered the bar to such a level that the tiniest bit of humanity impressed us, and Trudeau was providing us with the mother load.

The cynical, critical, and loving decolonial part of me believed Parliament was photoshopped with all the expertise of a Cosmo retoucher. It was as if the state read Red Skin White Masks, thought recognition was a (still) great idea to control Indigenous desire for freedom, and while they were reading the book we were binge watching Netflix and eating corn chips. “Our people are drunk on Trudeau tears! I round danced my ass off through Christmas of 2012-2013, and all I got was (more) neoliberalism? Holy crap I AM cynical!” I thought, but didn’t tweet. It’s easy to be united and critical when the state is overt, violent, and just plain mean. It’s harder when they are sort of sorry and trying on nice.

Then one day while I was spending my eighth hour of the week on the bleachers at my kid’s indoor soccer practice, I decided to “tap” into iMessages what substantive change might look like. I say “tap” because it was more like “finger punching”. This was by no means a bulletproof analysis. It was mostly a self-imposed project so I didn’t have to talk to the other moms about the tinsel and the toils of baking Christmas cookies. More importantly, it is an ongoing conversation that we should be having (and some are) in communities of Indigenous peoples, and not just the ones we agree with. In reality, Indigenous peoples have said everything on this list in some way before and I’ve tried my best to point you in the direction of deeper Indigenous analysis.

Click here to read more. repost – From Tragic Little Boys to Unwanted Young Men is on a two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with new content in September. During the hiatus, we’re featuring some of our most popular and favourite posts from the past year.   Thanks as always to our writers and readers.

The following post was originally featured on October 9, 2015.

By Veronica Strong-Boag

Canadians are easily sentimental about babies and toddlers. Look at the ready adoption of global infants or September 2015’s outpouring of grief for the three-year-old Syrian Alan Kurdi. Once victims of poverty, exploitation, and conflict reach adolescence and beyond, however, sympathy frequently evaporates.

Refugees are a case in point and gender consorts with age to matter. Girls and women suffer recurring abuse and stigmatization (Dauvergne, Angeles & Huang) but boys and men have a special place in the hierarchy of the demonized. Males beyond childhood are only too readily branded rapists, drug-dealers and addicts, thieves, lay-abouts, and, increasingly, terrorists. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that male teenagers and twenty somethings are somehow less worthy. The image of one drowned little boy cannot redeem his elder brothers.

The racial or ethnic origins of asylum-seekers are not incidental to this reception. Much like the recurring stigmatization of the Catholic Irish in the mid- 19th century, the Indians from the subcontinent a few decades later and the Italians later again, negative labels readily affix to suspect communities. Special targets have been anyone other than Stephen Harper’s ‘old stock’ Canadians whose sons can expect extended dependence and second chances to smooth their path to survival and dominance. For others, childhood is likely to be far shorter and less protected.

Click here to read more.

A Historian’s Year with a Chromebook


by Sean Kheraj

Could a Chromebook satisfy the computing needs of a historian? Over the past twelve months, I’ve been using one to find out.

Google’s low-cost, Web-based operating system, ChromeOS, is one of the most unique developments in computing in recent years. It is a lean computer operating system based almost entirely around the use of Web applications and cloud storage. Recognizing that most ordinary computer use takes place in a Web browser, Google decided to make a computer centred exclusively on the Web. With ChromeOS, computing takes place on the internet and the Chromebook is just an access terminal.

First announced in 2010 and then released to consumers in 2011, ChromeOS originally appeared on just two consumer laptop models, one by Acer and another by Samsung. By 2015, at least twelve manufacturers produced dozens of different models of Chromebooks. And by the third quarter of last year, Chromebooks accounted for more than half the sales of notebook devices in the K-12 education market in the US. Recently, David Pierce advised college students, “you should seriously consider buying a Chromebook for this school year.” Part of the reason Chromebooks have become so popular in the education market is that they are some of the most low cost computers available to students.

Given the growing popularity of the Chromebook in education and its low cost for students, I wanted to know what it was like to use a Chromebook for my own daily computing needs as a historian. Is this a device I would recommend for another historian or a history student? Continue reading

The lives of historic women (or wearing a big dress on a hot day)

by Anne Marie Lane Jonah
This essay has been jointly posted with the Acadiensis Blog

Mid-summer 2016 Nova Scotia visitor numbers at Historic Sites are anecdotally reported to be up from last year. Once again tourists and locals wander in rebuilt towns and fortifications, watch, try their hand at demonstrations, and meet people in costume who share information about “their lives,” say being a 19th century soldier’s wife. Generations of seasonal workers and students have taken these roles. Some have made them their own, and over the decades the changing presenters have changed the presentation. The popularity of living history sites has fluctuated over the years and they have in recent years suffered under restrained budgets and difficult economic times. Nonetheless, they retain an undeniable appeal. As the work of public history goes on this summer, it is an opportune moment to reflect on how this work has been changed by the many actors involved in its creation and dissemination, and by its audience.

It is also a good time to reflect as “national” public history is 99 years old in Canada this year. In the summer of 1917 a small temporary museum in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia and a tidied up “Fort Anne” opened to the public as the first “National Historic Park,” (later changed to “Site”). In the summer of 2017 Parks Canada National Historic Sites will celebrate their centenary as the country celebrates its sesquicentenary. What Canada’s historic sites represent, the stories they tell or don’t tell, and how they have evolved, have been the subject of many studies. From Ian McKay’s ground-breaking work to the Pasts Collective’s recent study of Canadians’ relationship to history we have become more conscious and critical of how the past is constructed, used, experienced, and valued. The role of the researchers, presenters, administrators, and the audience all come to bear on what we collectively call public history. We recognise the inherit conservatism and bias of the form, but it remains a vital aspect of our communities, both economically and culturally.


Cassie Deveaux Cohoon’s Jeanne Dugas of Acadia

In reflecting on decades of work in public history, mine and my colleagues’, I have recently focussed on the evolution of the presentation of women’s and non-elite history at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site. In “Everywoman’s Biography: The Stories of Marie Marguerite Rose and Jeanne Dugas at Louisbourg,” Acadiensis XLV, N. 1, I explored how the lives of two women, one African and enslaved, the other Acadian, came to represent the stories and struggles of subaltern 18th century French-colonial women at Louisbourg. The study of these women, their inclusion as a part of the presentation of Louisbourg, their eventual recommendation for designation as persons of national historic significance by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, and their representation in histories beyond the walls of Louisbourg were the result of many years of work. The change they represent was the product of research, discussion and planning, and sharing information and ideas with communities and with visitors to historic sites. [Read the rest of this essay at Acadiensis]

Coups in Brazil: What’s In a Name?

Sean Purdy

Brasília - A presidenta Dilma Rousseff during an anti-impeachment rally, March 2016. Wikipedia Commons

Dilma Rousseff, March 2016. Wikimedia Commons

2016: In April and May, a large majority of federal deputies and senators in Brazil voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) for state accounting misdeeds. The ex-Vice-President, Michel Temer, of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), is now interim President while the Senate conducts further investigations. In August, if two-thirds of senators once again vote in favour of impeachment, considered extremely likely by most commentators, Temer will remain president until the next elections in 2018.

The interim government is supported by all the conservative political parties, industrial, mining and agro-business employers’ federations, the financial sector and the corporate media. The Temer government has already announced sweeping neoliberal reforms, gutting social programs and diminishing labour, social and environmental rights.

João Goulart shortly before the 1964 coup. Wikimedia Commons

João Goulart shortly before the 1964 coup. Wikimedia Commons

1964: A clique of generals, backed by American imperialism in the context of the Cold War, forcibly deposed President João Goulart in 1964 to prevent the further radicalization of working-class struggles that, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, had increasingly threatened capitalist order. It then governed with an iron fist for twenty-one years in the interest of key sectors of multinational and national capital, using repressive legal and police measures, including summary arrests, torture and murder of unionists, social movement activists and political oppositionists.

The military coup and the ensuing dictatorial regime was supported by all the conservative political parties, business associations and the mass media. It launched far-reaching economic and social reforms in favour of big business, drastically reducing basic labour, social and civil rights.

Both these events in 1964 and 2016 were coup d’états, sharing the same violation of democratic norms and involving similar class forces, structures of power, intentions and (possible) outcomes. Continue reading

The Rites of Dionysus: Live Performance, Pleasure, and The Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip, Gord Downie centre, 1994. Credit unknown

The Tragically Hip, Gordon Downie centre, 1994. Credit unknown

Paul David Aikenhead

“Playing live is cool because it’s two hours of twenty-four that I can think about nothing,” Gordon Downie revealed in an interview from June 1991, with his signature rasp. “I have no worries, no insecurities; everything flows. It’s therapeutic every day to jump through that hatch in the roof and howl at the moon.”[1] For the lead singer and enigmatic frontman of The Tragically Hip – an upwardly mobile blues-rock quintet hailing from Kingston, Ontario – getting on stage and performing for a crowd was a beneficial release. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the band cemented its reputation in Canada as a righteous live act. Each show the group gave was a frenzied field of pleasure in and through which people could relish encountering liberation from the strains of life, if only fleetingly, while also enjoying the soothing confirmation of individuality. In essence, The Tragically Hip’s concerts were opportunities for both band and audience members to go beyond the ordinary limits of commonplace experiences, to enact their own brand of the rites of Dionysus.

The term “live” did not become a part of music appreciation vocabulary until the mid 1930s, nearly fifty years after the advent of viable commercial sound recording technologies. Continue reading