Cycling in Search of the Clyde Timber Ponds

      No Comments on Cycling in Search of the Clyde Timber Ponds

By Jim Clifford

This is the second in a series, “History En Vêlo,” about cycling and thinking historically, shared with NiCHE.

I am always looking for an excuse to ride a bike and work at the same time. During the extreme challenge of balancing work, parenting and exercise during COVID 19, I’ve done most of my “reading” while biking. Did you know Bathsheba Demuth’s exceptional Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait is available as an audiobook? Or Anne Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World? You can also listen to classics by William Cronon, Stephen Pyne, and James Scott or best sellers by Andrea Wulf and Charles C. Mann. I’ve managed to bike my way through a lot of audiobooks in the past 18 months (there might have been a little nordic skiing in the mix, along with too many hours riding my bike on a trainer in my basement). Without audiobooks, I don’t know if I would have read any history books during COVID or been able to keep exercising without feeling guilty about all the work I was behind on.

I’ve spent hours cycling on the gravel grid roads around Saskatoon, escaping to follow whales off the coast of Beringia, mushroom pickers in forests in Oregon and Japan, and Alexander von Humboldt as he summited mountains in the Andes. Continue reading

Historians Confront the Climate Emergency

      1 Comment on Historians Confront the Climate Emergency

This is the introductory post to the series, Historians Confront the Climate Emergency, hosted by, NiCHE (Network in Canadian History & Environment), Historical Climatology and Climate History Network.

By Edward Dunsworth and Daniel Macfarlane

What a summer.

In late June, a “heat dome” stalked the Pacific regions of Canada and the United States, pushing thermometers close to the 50-degree mark and causing the sudden death of 570 people in British Columbia alone.

By July, hundreds of forest fires raged throughout the west coast and in the prairie regions of northern North America, their smoke billowing out across much of the rest of continent. Parts of Turkey, Macedonia, Italy, Greece, and Tunisia were also devastated by forest fires (with Argentina hit during the southern hemisphere’s summer months earlier in the year).

Smoke forecast for 11 p.m. EST, 31 July 2021. via Wildfire Today.

Continue reading

Historia Nostra: Was the Pays d’en Haut really a Middle Ground?

By Erin Isaac

I remember being intrigued and a bit confused after my first reading of Richard White’s classic work The Middle Ground, which had been assigned for a fourth-year history seminar on French colonial history. My peers, likewise, found the ideas proposed interesting but a bit idealistic. Coming back to this text as a PhD student, the questions that my peers raised on that first reading have stuck with me.

Like Heidi Bohaker’s work on Anishinaabeg doodem, we wondered how White’s assumption of a cohesive or collective identity among Algonquian-speaking peoples distorted his findings, and about how the book’s emphasis on French-Indigenous relations disproportionately emphasized French authority in a landscape where they occupied a relatively minor “space of power” (to use Elizabeth Mancke’s framework) in a region that included numerous complex Indigenous polities.[1] Continue reading

History En Vélo

      No Comments on History En Vélo

By Claire Campbell

Limestone Run (left) and Buffalo Valley Rail-Trail (right), haze from western forest fires (above), July 2021.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started to close in last March, the safest place seemed to be outside. (With all of us at home, I also needed to get out of the house regularly to avoid murdering anyone.) One pandemic resolution was to ride the local rail-trail once a week, and to cycle as much as possible on errands and suchlike. (Not easy to do in small-town Pennsylvania, which toggles between the Ford F-150, the Amish buggy, and far too many soccer-mom SUVs. God bless America.) I am neither an American nor an historian of the United States, and have no desire to become either of these things; but when life hands you a border closure, you adapt. Biking was the only way I could leave town. My current research is about water in Atlantic Canadian cities; Halifax and Charlottetown were two days plus (until recently) a quarantine away. But there are towns along the Susquehanna River that have altered their fresh water routes in ways that echo, on a smaller scale, the urban narrative of the North American Anthropocene. Continue reading

History Slam 191: #BlackinSchool

      No Comments on History Slam 191: #BlackinSchool

By Sean Graham

All across the country, students have either returned, or are gearing up to return, to school. While there is great uncertainty about what the school year will look like and the safety measures being implemented in the midst of the pandemic’s fourth wave. For thousands of young Canadians, they will also be returning to spaces that are hostile and efforts to improve the situation have been rebuffed.

Systemic racism in school is the subject of Habiba Cooper Diallo‘s new book #BlackinSchool. A memoir profiling her experiences in high school, Diallo powerfully documents the systemic racism and stereotypes found in the education system and how she processed and resisted this while in school. A great writer who has won multiple awards, Diallo is able to not only document her experiences, but also elicits a strong response from her readers, who are encouraged to think about educational structures and what we can all do to make the classroom a more welcoming place.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Habiba Cooper Diallo about the book. We discuss her experiences in school, system racism in education, and the impact on racialized students. We also explore how to identify microaggressions, the connection between curriculum and school culture, and how we can work together to eliminate racism in school.

Continue reading

Humanity, Humility and Humour: Dr. Gerhard Herzberg’s Pursuit of Scientific Study & Progress

By Denisa Popa

On January 17th, 1985, Dr. Gerhard Herzberg attended a dinner in his honour after receiving the Great Cross of Merit with Star of the Federal Republic of Germany.[1] At this event, he looked back on his scientific career and life journey, highlighting the various people, places and values that had influenced him. In 1935, Gerhard Herzberg and his wife Luise had left Nazi Germany and found safety at the University of Saskatchewan. Herzberg would later join Canada’s National Research Council (NRC), where his ground-breaking discoveries in spectroscopy earned him a Nobel Prize. While accepting his award, Herzberg highlighted the three attributes he valued most as a scientist: humanity, humility and humour. [2]

“Gerhard Herzberg with immediate family, age 7 years, Germany 1912” Dr. Gerhard Herzberg Fond, National Research Council of Canada.

From an early age, Herzberg developed and maintained a keen interest in chemistry and physics. He saw his Nobel Prize as acknowledging “a long series of studies extending practically over my whole scientific life.”[3] While Herzberg’s successful scientific career and Nobel Prize grew in part from the ample resources and scientific freedom afforded to him in his later career at the NRC, it would be misleading to simply equate his professional success with institutional support.[4] His personal and scientific journey not only embodied those “three h’s” but was one that he did not travel alone.[5] Indeed, while Herzberg encountered obstacles throughout his life, he overcame them with the support of numerous individuals within his professional and social networks. His extensive support system, his scientific brilliance and keen intellect allowed him to overcome hardships to gain international acclaim for his work. Continue reading

History Slam 190: Not for King or Country

      No Comments on History Slam 190: Not for King or Country

By Sean Graham

Over the past few years, I have been lucky enough to lead immersive educational programs of Canada’s First World War history through Belgium and France. One of the best parts of these programs is visiting Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries where students have selected a soldier killed during the war to present on their life and military service. These can be remarkably powerful moments that serve as stark reminders that each stone represents a unique story.

There are thousands of tales of how someone ended up in western Europe, their war experiences, and the loved ones back home. That’s the power of biography. Where large numbers and general overviews can be, at times, difficult to process, it can be easier to relate to, and empathize with, individual stories. And when a great biography comes along, it makes you truly care about the person you’re reading about.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Tyler Wentzell, author of Not for King or Country: Edward Cecil-Smith, the Communist Part of Canada, and the Spanish Civil War. We chat about the benefits of biography, the mystery and hearsay surrounding Cecil-Smith’s life, and the challenges of researching someone who didn’t leave much of a paper trail. We also discuss Cecil-Smith’s childhood in China, his transition from banker to communist activist, and how the Great Depression influenced his worldview.

If you want to hear more about Cecil-Smith’s time in the Spanish Civil War and Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, be sure to check out Tyler’s chat with The New Canadian History series from the Wilson Institute and Canada and the Spanish Civil War. You can also learn about the research material Tyler found after the book’s publication in his post from earlier this summer. And for more on the Mac-Paps, check out my chat with Janette Higgins about her father’s experience during the Spanish Civil War.

Continue reading

History Slam 189: Historians’ Road Trip Playlists

      No Comments on History Slam 189: Historians’ Road Trip Playlists

By Sean Graham

After a year of lockdowns and staying at home, more and more Canadians are taking advantage of the summer to get out explore some of the amazing places across the country. The pandemic certainly isn’t over, but national and provincial parks have been booked solid as people look to get outside. To get to these sites, many are taking road trips.

One of summer’s great traditions, road trips come with soundtracks. One of my favourite in-car activities is belting out a song rolling down the highway. But what makes a good road trip soundtrack? Everyone has their own tastes, to be sure, but are their universal qualities of music that works best on a road trip?

In this episode of the History Slam, I’m joined by historian of hip hop culture and Black music in the Americas Francesca D’Amico-Cuthbert to try and answer this question. We talk about the connection between playlists and mixed tapes, the art of creating a playlist, and what makes a good playlist for a road trip. We then share with each other playlists that we put together for the show, respond to each other’s choices, and discuss the commonalities between our choices. And be sure to listen to our playlists, which are embedded below.

Continue reading

Historia Nostra: How History has Changed on Ministers Island

By Laura Oland and Erin Isaac

When Ministers Island (known to the Passamaquoddy for centuries as Consquamcook, before the “Minister,” Reverend Samuel Andrews, took up residence there in the 1790s) became a National Historic Site in 1996, the designating body’s main interest was in the island’s association with Sir William Van Horne.

William Van Horne

Van Horne, the Canadian Pacific Railway president who oversaw the transcontinental railway’s construction, purchased 150 acres of the island’s over 500 acres on which to build a summer home in 1891. Over time his family came to own the entire island.

Van Horne’s summer home, called Covenhoven, had previously been submitted to, and rejected by, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in 1958. It is not shocking, then, that early interpretation of the island was dominated by interest in Van Horne’s estate and the personal history of this purportedly great man.[1]

The island’s history is inextricably bound up in Van Horne’s story. He designed Covenhoven himself, its many rooms and grounds reflect his interests in, and passion for, antique collecting, painting, and gardening, and the several buildings constructed as the farm grew attest to his careful management of the estate. While older structures—mainly the minister’s house built in 1788—still stand on the island, it is unsurprising that the first building restored and opened to the public was Covenhoven. Even in Van Horne’s lifetime, the house and its grounds drew visitors and tourists to the island and his presence in St. Andrews helped make the small seaside community a summer retreat for his peers by the end of the 19th century.

But, since the island first opened to the public as a National Historic Site, the stories we expect from our heritage sites and museums have changed—what we’ll call the “Downton Abbey Effect.”

Where previously visitors may have been satisfied coming away from a museum like Ministers Island with a wealth of knowledge about its patriarch and, perhaps, a few anecdotes about his wife and children, we now expect more. For grand estates like Covenhoven, there is an appetite for information about the women, children, and staff who lived and worked there, and in Canada, we also hope to learn about the land’s past and present ties to Indigenous communities.

While the focus of tours offered at Ministers Island still gives much more detail about Van Horne than the others who lived and worked there, the museum has been expanding its interpretation as resources become available.

On Thursday July 22, Erin had the pleasure of spending the day with the Ministers Island’s Museum Intern Laura Oland and Susan Goertzen, who has worked on the Island since 1998.

In this month’s episode of Historia Nostra, Erin considers how and why the history told at Ministers Island is changing as well as why change in museums like this is slow.

And, in our bonus episode, Erin lets Susan and Laura do the talking and takes you along on our private tour of the Island.

Laura Oland (PhD Student, Concordia University) is an art historian currently working as the Museum Intern at Ministers Island. Oland graduated from Acadia University in 2017 with a Bachelor or Arts Honours in History with a minor in Classics, and later from the University of Glasgow in 2018 with a Masters in Letters: Art History Dress and Textiles. Currently, Oland’s research is on Alice Lusk Webster, the woman who founded the art department at the New Brunswick Museum in the 1920s and 1930s.

Historia Nostra is on Facebook (@historianostrayoutube), Twitter (@historia_nostra) and Instagram (@historianostrayoutube). Follow us there to get updates on what we’re working on and to get notified when new videos go live. Erin Isaac (PhD student, Western University) is Historia Nostra’s creator, writer, and producer. Suggestions, collaboration pitches, or feedback should be directed to

A version of this post also appeared at All Aboard with Laura ( on 18 August 2021.


[1] Though, should be acknowledged that the Island’s shell middens were recognised and protected as a National Historic Site in 1978.