Do you know what the children are learning?

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By Samantha Cutrara

What is the purpose of learning history? Are we doomed to repeat it? Do we lose grounding? Are we stranded without space or place? Does history provide us with the skills for understanding evidence or content for narrating experience? As adults, as educators, as historians, we answer these questions with a blend of cliché and seriousness, never precisely getting at the reason we sense history’s importance, but never completely abandoning the dime store clichés that frame our popular engagement with the past either. The moral panic that accompanies these questions is often directed toward youth, as if the frivolity of adolescence will somehow erase the past and the lessons it can teach for the future.

Young girl reading a book, Central Circulating Library at College and St. George Streets, Toronto, Ontario (1930-1960) Department of Manpower and Immigration. Library and Archives Canada, e011055621

It is with this fear that History and Social Studies is often racked with so much public debate about what, how, and why it should be taught. Education historian Ken Osborne has shown that these conversations have been happening in Canada for over a hundred years, with the pendulum shifting to a new fad every 25 years. These debates are often sparked by a panic about the decline of national identity and are used as a rallying call for educational reform by those who want straight facts, those who want historical redemption, or those who want greater transferable skills. But even with all these questions and panic and ideological shifts, do you know what Canadian youth are actually mandated to learn about Canadian history? Continue reading

History Slam Episode 103: Reviewing the New Canada Hall at the Canadian Museum of History

By Sean Graham

On July 1, 2017, the Canadian Museum of History opened its new Canada Hall to the public. After a multi-year renovation project, which included consultations across the country, there was great anticipation to see what the museum had put together for visitors. The reviews have been generally positive – even if they point out some of the Hall’s shortcomings – and anecdotally, people seem to be enjoying the refreshed look. Given the fanfare, it was only natural that the History Slam take a stroll across the river to take a first-hand look at the renovated Canada Hall.

In this episode of the History Slam, podcast Hall of Famers Aaron Boyes and Madeleine Kloske join me as we walk through the new Canada Hall. We give our thoughts before we head into the exhibit, break down each of the sections as we walk through, and even play one of the new interactive games. We then sit down following the visit and give our thoughts on the exhibit as a whole, its strengths and weaknesses, and give our grades for the revamped Canada Hall.

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Supporting the Work of

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For the past eight years, has functioned as an entirely volunteer-run website without robust financial supports. This has meant that when technical problems that exceed our abilities have arisen, we have needed to go cap-in-hand to drum up emergency funding to maintain the website or – occasionally – pay these costs out of pocket.

As our website and audience have grown, now hosting over 1,500 essays, podcasts, and other posts, and an audience of about 35,000-40,000 unique visitors per month, the editorial collective has become increasingly uncomfortable with the uncertainties caused by this informal structure. Last spring, we began to put in place safeguards to ensure that is able to continue on a more stable foundation. First, the History Department at the University of Saskatchewan agreed to support our ongoing costs related to web hosting. Second, Huron University College, agreed to support a bank account for the site and a process through which donations can be made to the Active History project. In both cases, this support reflects the role that scholars at both institutions have played in shaping, and continuing to shape, the Active History project. It also provides us with financial oversight and guidelines that ensure sound fiscal stewardship.

Today, we would like to ask you to consider supporting financially. By donating to you will be helping us ensure that the editorial collective can maintain the website, keeping its backend up-to-date and current. Because these costs vary from year-to-year – and we have never before asked for financial support – we have also created a plan for surplus funds in order to provide support for new Active History projects, exemplary practices of Active History, and to support costs incurred by editors whose conditions of employment might not off-set the costs associated with their work on the website. You can read the full details here (Active History Donations Policy).

Though we have decided to formally ask for your financial support, we want to be clear that will continue to exist as a volunteer-run, not-for-profit, and advertising-free digital space. This website is not possible without the countless volunteer hours that our committed group of editors, contributing editors, and authors put into ensuring that continues to produce well-researched and argued history-focused material each week.

In providing the option to support this project financially, it is our hope that these financial resources will provide a foundation to ensure that this work remains available for the years to come.

Please consider donating by visiting our donations page.

White Supremacy, Political Violence, and Community: The Questions We Ask, from 1907 to 2017

Building damaged during Vancouver riot of 1907 – 130 Powell Street. UBC Archives, JCPC_ 36_017

Laura Ishiguro and Laura Madokoro

In recent weeks, we have seen white supremacist rallies in cities across North America, from Charlottesville to Quebec City. On each occasion, anti-fascist and anti-racist activists, along with other community members, have confronted these rallies with large and diverse counter-demonstrations, largely shutting them down, overwhelming them, or rendering them caricatures of their original plans.  On 19 August, Vancouver was the site of one such confrontation. A planned anti-Islam rally at Vancouver’s City Hall mostly failed to materialize alongside a counter-protest of approximately 4000 people, organized by an ad hoc group, Stand Up To Racism Metro Vancouver.

As historians of migration and settler colonialism, we are reminded that these events – often represented as exceptional, new, or surprising – highlight much wider and older tensions in Canada. In particular, as we consider the recent events and their political stakes in Vancouver, we are struck by their resonance with something that happened in the city exactly 110 years ago today.

On Saturday 7 September 1907, Vancouver was gripped by one of the largest race riots in Canadian history. This event started with a large gathering of people who also marched on City Hall, in that case behind a banner that said: “Stand for a White Canada.”[1] After listening to fiery speeches against Asian immigration, a significant number then headed to Chinese and Japanese neighbourhoods in the city, where they wreaked extensive property damage, physical violence, and terror.

In thinking about the recent Stand Up To Racism event alongside the 1907 parade and riot, we could tell a story about how much has changed in a city now willing to turn out in numbers to drown out calls for a “White Canada.” But we could equally tell a story about how little has changed in a settler colonial city still organized around inequality and rage, including ongoing anti-Asian racism. Both of these arguments would be important and well supported with evidence, but here we want to reflect on a different issue. What questions does the 1907 event raise for us, and how do these relate to the questions we might ask – or more pointedly, often fail to ask – of the present? Continue reading

History Slam Episode 102: Andrea Eidinger of Unwritten Histories

By Sean Graham

It’s not exactly a hot take to say that the digital landscape has significantly altered the way in which we consume content. From text to video to audio, we can get (pretty much) everything on-demand. The benefit of this is that it’s possible to find whatever strikes your fancy, but the challenge is trying to stand out and find readers/viewers/listeners in an increasingly saturated market.

That’s what makes what Andrea Eidinger has done over at Unwritten Histories so impressive. In producing original blog posts, she is contributing terrific new material about Canadian history, both in looking at the past and exploring how we study history today. A significant aspect of the latter of these are her recaps, which include a weekly roundup of Canadian history and a monthly list of the best scholarly articles. In curating these lists, she has not only established herself as one of the leading authorities on the state of history in this country, but has also provided an invaluable resource for historians, students, and the public.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Andrea about Unwritten Histories. We chat about the blog’s origins, the process of curating her lists, and how she manages to produce so much original content. We also talk about the state of the field in 2017, how history can be improved in schools, and what the future may hold for history in Canada.

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Canadian Red Cross Sock-Selling: ‘Fake News’ of the First World War

By Sarah Glassford

The following excerpt from Sarah Glassford, Mobilizing Mercy: A History of the Canadian Red Cross (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017) is reproduced with the permission of McGill-Queen’s University Press.


During the First World War, the Canadian Red Cross Society (CRCS) mobilized Canadians across the country in support of its humanitarian work for the benefit of sick, wounded, and captured Canadian, British, and allied servicemen. The hospitals, ambulances, sewn and knitted comforts, information bureau, POW food parcels, hospital visitors, and supplementary hospital supplies provided by the CRCS overseas relied on the voluntary labour and financial contributions of millions of Canadians at home (explored by Rebecca Beauseart here).  As the CRCS learned, it was no easy task to maintain this level of support over four long years, and persistent, damaging rumours and reports that donated comforts were being sold to soldiers (the sort of thing that would circulate as “fake news” on social media today) certainly did not help.  


The positive overseas results of the [Canadian Red Cross] society’s homefront work did not mean its war effort was free of challenges. Despite attempts to regulate women’s work through a combination of patriotic appeals and scientific management, women retained ultimate control over their voluntary labour. National Headquarters intermittently received word of poorly attended meetings, a general lack of enthusiasm, or women who would not “settle down to work.” crcs officials chastised women for failing their men and their country, while local branches strove to revive enthusiasm through efforts such as deliberately combining sewing and socializing into one evening program. Some volunteers responded to these tactics, but the fact remained that labour voluntarily given could always be voluntarily withdrawn.

Continue reading repost – She’s Hot: Female Sessional Instructors, Gender Bias, and Student Evaluations

The editors of are currently enjoying our annual end of summer 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 March 30, 2017.  This post was hugely popular when it was first published and is the most post in the history of the website.

Girl Sitting at Desk

Girl sitting at desk flipping through textbook pages at Putnam School. 1961. Gar Lunney. Canada. National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque. Library and Archives Canada, e010976007. CC by 2.0. Source:

by Andrea Eidinger

“I think your feminist stances are slightly overcorrecting reality. I’m sure minorities had a harsher experience than women, ESPECIALLY today, a point you seem to overlook. You’re a really nice person though.”

That comment comes from my student evaluations from one of the first courses I ever taught, back when I was still a graduate student. At the time that I read that, I burst out laughing. I mean really, how else can you react to that kind of statement? But many courses and student evaluations later, I am starting to think that this is reflective of a larger problem in the world of academia, and history in particular, with respect to female sessional instructors and course evaluations.

Over the course of the past year or so, there have been a number of studies that have emerged detailing the gender bias against female instructors in student evaluations.  According to one study, male professors routinely ranked higher than female professors in many areas. [2] For instance, male professors received scores in the area of promptness (how quickly an assignment was returned) that were 16% higher than those of female instructors, even though the assignments were returned at the exact same time.  Another research project, which examined word usage in reviews of male and female professors on “Rate My Professor” found that male faculty members are more likely to be described as “funny,” “brilliant,” “genius,” and “arrogant,” while female faculty members are more likely to be described as “approachable,” “helpful,” “nice,” and “bossy.”[3]

While many of these studies discuss the negative impact that this bias has on tenure and promotion few consider how devastating they can be to sessional instructors, particularly given the overrepresentation of women at this academic rank.

Click here to continuing reading this post. repost – Policing Gay Sex in Toronto Parks in the 1970s and Today

The editors of are currently enjoying our annual end of summer 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 16, 2017.

Tom Hooper

In the foreground, Toronto’s Marie Curtis Park, site of the 2016 arrests. Toronto and Region Conservation.

From September to October 2016, members of the Toronto Police conducted a six-week undercover investigation in Marie Curtis Park, located in the city’s west end.  72 people were charged with engaging in sexual acts.  Police Constable Kevin Ward has argued “it is a multi-faceted issue,” linking park sex with sex offenders, drugs, and alcohol.  Although 95 percent of those charged are men, police contend that sexuality was not the primary factor.  The problem is that there is a history of police unapologetically targeting men having sex with men in Toronto’s parks.

In September 1968, as the government of Pierre Trudeau was contemplating changes to the regulation of homosexuality, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police held their annual meeting.  They were overwhelmingly opposed to reform, proclaiming “there is too great an erosion of our moral principles.”  Echoing the idea that this is a ‘multi-faceted issue,’ they argued “the search for homosexuals for partners often leads to assault, theft, male prostitution and murder.”  Despite these fears, one year later, Trudeau’s Omnibus Bill was in effect.

The change to the law regulating homosexuality in the Omnibus Bill was merely a partial decriminalization.  Gross indecency, the provision outlawing gay sex, was not removed from the Criminal Code.  Rather, the Omnibus Bill added an “exception clause,” which allowed adults over 21 years old to be grossly indecent, provided they did so in private, and that only two people were present.  Queer activist Tim McCaskell noted, “all that Criminal Code amendments had done was to recognize the obvious.  The state could scarcely effectively surveil all the bedrooms of the nation.”  Using the loophole created by the exception clause, the police mobilized to charge men with gross indecency in spaces outside of the bedroom, namely, bathhouses, washrooms, and parks.  The limitations of the 1969 reform were highlighted by a group of queer activists on Parliament Hill in August 1971.  This protest was dubbed “We Demand.”

In 1971, Philosopher’s Walk, a pathway behind the Royal Ontario Museum connecting Bloor Street and Queen’s Park, was known as a gay cruising spot.

Click here to continuing reading this post. repost – How Thunder Bay Was Made

The editors of are currently enjoying our annual end of summer 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 3, 2017.

Travis Hay

Thunder Bay from Animikii-waajiw (Mount McKay). P199/Wikipedia Commons

Thunder Bay, Ontario is a city well-known for a particularly explicit form of anti-Indigenous racism.[1] Unlike more southern and urban locales where anti-Indigeneity is predominantly expressed as erasure, the social structures of feeling that exist in Thunder Bay are informed by a close proximity to Fort William First Nation (FWFN) – a community located adjacently to the city. Recently, the news that FWFN has reached a $99 million land claim settlement with the federal government has stirred up racial tensions in Thunder Bay and across Canada more broadly. Predictably, complaints about ‘handouts’ and other well-worn racist tropes have frequented news media comment sections, social media debates, and the everyday conversations that make up public life in the city of Thunder Bay. In this article, I wanted to offer a brief review of the land claim settlement that situates it within its proper historical context of settler colonial dispossession. In writing this history, I am relying quite heavily on the work and research of FWFN Lands Director Ian Bannon and Chief Peter Collins. To supplement these materials (which FWFN has made widely available online) I use the scholarship of historians who have attempted to unpack the settler colonial constitution of Thunder Bay in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[2]

The 1905 Forced Relocation

In 1905, the Fort William band was forcefully uprooted and relocated from their reserve site on the shores of the Kaministiquia River so that settlers could build a grain terminus for the Grand Trunk Pacific railway.

Click here to continuing reading this post. repost – Before Mifegymiso: A History of Rural Women’s Access to Abortion

The editors of are currently enjoying our annual end of summer 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 24, 2016.

Katrina Ackerman

Tourism PEI / John Silvester, CC 2.0 Attribution

Tourism PEI / John Silvester, CC 2.0 Attribution

Women in the Atlantic Provinces have long struggled to access reproductive health care services due to the rural nature of the region. Whereas Canada’s rural population declined from 24 percent in 1971 to 19 percent in 2011, the Atlantic region’s rural population only declined from 47 percent to 46 percent rural in the same period. Christabelle Sethna and Marion Doull’s research on Canadian women’s access to freestanding abortion clinics in the 2000s demonstrates that the Atlantic Provinces have the lowest access to abortion services in the country.[1] Many researchers argue that medical abortions would ensure access for women in the Atlantic, northern, and remote regions of Canada.

With the impending release of Mifegymiso in Canada—a prescription drug that can terminate a pregnancy in the first 49 days of gestational age—there is much debate over the requirement that women receive the drug under the supervision of a doctor. Physician-only dispensing would create an additional barrier to accessing Mifegymiso in rural areas, particularly in regions without surgical abortion services.[2] In defence of the criticism that the federal government is limiting rural women’s access to the drug, Health Canada argues in Mifegymiso: Myths vs. Facts that medical abortions require physician oversight because approximately 1 in 20 women will require surgery for unsuccessful terminations.

The urban-rural divide surrounding access to reproductive health care services is nothing new and the role of physicians in delivering services have often been at the center of these disputes.

Click here to continuing reading this post.