Tenth Anniversary Repost: Gin and Tonic: A Short History of a Stiff Drink

Active History is celebrating its tenth anniversary! As part of our anniversary celebrations we are sharing glimpses of how Active History developed and showcasing our favourite and most popular posts from the past ten years. 

Founding editor Jay Young’s post on “Gin and Tonic: A Short History of A Stiff Drink” was one of our most popular pieces in 2012. Seven years later this piece continues to be frequently shared and discovered by new readers.

2012 also saw the launch of the History Slam podcast under the leadership and innovation of Sean Graham. Want to know more about what happened in 2012? Check out our 4 Years of ActiveHistory.ca post

Gin and Tonic. Image from Wikipedia.

The Gin and Tonic – what better a drink during the dog days of summer?  Put some ice in a glass, pour one part gin, add another part tonic water, finish with a slice of lime, and you have a refreshing drink to counter the heat.  But it is also steeped in the history of medicine, global commodity frontiers, and the expansion of the British Empire. 

Let’s start with the gin.  Although it is commonly known as the quintessential English spirit, the history of gin underlines the island’s connections to the outside world. The origin of gin – unlike the drink itself – is quite murky.  Sylvius de Bouve, a sixteenth-century Dutch physician, is the individual associated with the development of gin.  He created a highly-alcoholic medicinal concoction called Jenever.  It featured the essential oils of juniper berries, which the physician believed could improve circulation and cure other ailments.  The berry, deriving from a small coniferous plant, had long been treasured for its medicinal properties, including its use during the plague. Continue reading

Dyslexia Awareness Month Advocacy

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By Jim Clifford

I’ve spent the past month working with parents of dyslexic kids in Saskatoon to raise awareness about the ongoing struggles students face in the public school system. I’ve used my history with dyslexia to highlight what is possible when public schools provide the students with adequate support and accommodation. I was interviewed by the U of S, CBC and CTV and I gave a talk at a fundraiser event. I’ve included the text of my speech below. On Wednesday, we will publish a post by Dr. Jason Ellis on the history of special education in North America and its mixed success in supporting students who struggled with reading and writing.


Thanks a lot for coming out to this Dyslexia Awareness Month event. I would like to thank Crystal for coming up with the idea and doing all the work to make it happen. I have a very simple message tonight. If we support dyslexic students, they can do anything. They can thrive in university in any discipline, become authors and even become a professor in a history department, a field that focuses on reading and writing. I was very lucky. I was born in the right year, in the right school district with the right parents. I want to see a future where dyslexic kids don’t need my improbable luck.

I am dyslexic. When I sat down this morning to write some notes for this talk, I misspelt the word “dyslexic” and then the word “misspelt”. Quickly editing as I write with the help of Grammarly is a normal part of my day, as I write emails, articles, and a draft of my second book. I’ve been writing this way since the introduction of the red squiggly underline in Microsoft Word in 1998. This was one of many lucky developments in my educational career, as the technology arrived the year I left home to start university Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec. Throughout high school, writing remained a major struggle and I dictated my exams and essays to a fantastic teaching assistant and my parents. I finished high school with straight As, but I still could not write on my own.  Continue reading

Not Enough Trained Infantrymen: The 1944 Conscription Crisis

This is the tenth post in a series marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the end of the Second World War as part of a partnership between Active History and the Juno Beach Centre.

By R. Daniel Pellerin

In October 1944, while Canadian forces in Northwest Europe were in the midst of bitter fighting to wrest the approaches to the vital port of Antwerp from German hands, Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s government was embroiled in an intense debate over whether to reinforce combat units with conscripts.

A Canadian Army recruiting poster from the middle of the Second World War. It calls for new recruits by handing the viewer a rifle and soldier’s kit.

Reports showed that though the Canadian Army had tens of thousands of volunteers who were not serving in an operational theatre, very few of them were trained as infantry. This was a serious problem. The infantry, the arm responsible for closing with the enemy in battle and capturing and holding ground while operating mostly on foot and vulnerable to enemy fire, suffered the highest casualties. By the autumn of 1944, the army risked depleting its ranks of infantry reinforcements by the end of the year.

One of the key factors that contributed to the situation was the Canadian Army’s use of casualty projections that proved to be inaccurate. The army had trained too few men as infantry soldiers, and too many in other military roles.

The “Conscription Crisis” of 1944 was a complicated affair in Canadian military history. Continue reading

Education “After” Residential Schools

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Editorial Note: This article introduces a series of reflections to be published on Active History in the weeks to come. It is also an invitation for additional contributions that relate to the themes sketched out below.

By Clinton Debogorski, Magdalena Milosz, Martha Walls, and Karen Bridget Murray

We are settler-colonial educators writing to settler-colonial educators against the backdrop of “decades of efforts by Indigenous Peoples, including Indigenous scholars, [who have long] highlight[ed] the problems of residential schools and colonial education more generally” (Canadian Historical Association, 2018).[1]

We are all members of a community: the Canadian university system.

This same system propagated untruths about residential schools and their roles in settler colonialism.

This same system silenced knowledge, “sanctioned ignorance” (Spivak, 1999: 2), and trained many of the functionaries who made the residential school system possible.

This same system dignified some of the most egregious figures in residential school history, even celebrating the notorious Duncan Campbell Scott. Scott served as president of the Royal Society of Canada. He received an honourary doctorate from both the University of Toronto and Queen’s University. That these accolades continue to stand is a testament to how the residential school system remains deeply rooted within the university community today.

As many have said, it is long past time for decolonizing post-secondary education.

Our reflections in this series speak to an omission in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) Calls to Action, which says nothing about post-secondary educators as independent actors. Individual teachers and learners are, of course, not passive recipients of directives. They are agents of change in their own right. So regardless of how any government, university administration, faculty association, union, or other organization might respond to the TRC, individual scholars will invariably play an essential role in shaping university education “after” Residential Schools. Continue reading

In Conversation V: Publishing, Precarity, and the Public History of Canada’s First World War

Mary Chaktsiris, Sarah Glassford, Chris Schultz, Nathan Smith, and Jonathan Weier

During the first half of 2019, we the editors of ActiveHistory.ca’s long-running series “Canada’s First World War” stepped back and reflected on the editorial work we undertook over of the course of five years of Great War centenary commemorations, 2014-2019. In response to a series of questions circulated over email, two parallel discussions ensued. One, which revolved around how the series came to be, the directions it took (or did not), and what that said about precarious academic employment at this moment in time, is presented here. We have chosen to share this conversation in the belief that there is value in drawing back the curtain on the kinds of unpaid intellectual labour done by graduate students, precariously-employed scholars, and alt-ac/post-ac intellectuals in the field of Canadian History. Paradoxically, the professional precarity of the editorial team members is both the reason for our series’ existence, and the reason it may not have fulfilled its broader promise.

A screenshot of the Call for Blog Posts piece that launched the Canada’s First World War series on Active History, on 4 August 2014.

At the time of writing, the editorial team consisted of:

  • Mary Chaktsiris, PhD (Queen’s, 2015) – Assistant Professor, Wilson Fellow, Wilson Institute for Canadian History, McMaster University
  • Sarah Glassford, PhD (York, 2007) – Archivist, Leddy Library, University of Windsor
  • Chris Schultz, PhD ABD (Western, withdrew 2016) – Open Government Team Lead, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Government of Canada
  • Nathan Smith, PhD (Toronto, 2012) – Professor, Seneca College; Historical Consultant, Applied History, Applied-History.com
  • Jonathan Weier, PhD ABD (Western) – Instructor, George Brown College; Broadbent Institute Research Fellow

Continue reading

Tenth Anniversary Repost: Historians and Global Warming

Active History is celebrating its tenth anniversary! As part of our anniversary celebrations we are sharing glimpses of how Active History developed and showcasing our favourite and most popular posts from the past ten years. 

2011 saw Active History posting on a much more frequent basis and sharing a wide range of posts including: “Resident Historians: Researching the History of Your Home,” debates about laptops in the classroom“, “Active History on the Grand: We Are All Treaty People,” and posts on renaming the Cornwallis Junior High School. Want read more about where we were at in 2011? Check out our Celebrating Three Years post.

One of our most popular posts from 2011 was Dagomar Degroot’s post on Historians and Global Warming. Republished below, this piece originally appeared on our site on March 22, 2011.

Rising tide on Dutch coast, 2010.

It’s always been my belief that historians either consciously or unconsciously situate their histories in the context of the present. History is inevitably “active,” no matter our occasional insistence on pursuing history for history’s sake. This is no surprise to environmental historians who, more than colleagues operating in any other historical genre, explicitly address contemporary issues in their often declensionist narratives. As part of a small but growing number of environmental historians exploring the relationship between climatic changes and human affairs, I am drawn into modern debates about global warming whether I like it or not. That’s why I decided to use my first few blog posts to reflect on how my research as a historical climatologist has allowed me to address some big ideas in the discourse about global warming today.

A couple years ago I spoke to a former Liberal member of parliament who had played a key role in developing Canada’s climate policy in the 1990s. He related to me that one of the key difficulties of his job was tackling the enormous complexity of the projected climate shift, where warming in one region might coincide with cooling somewhere else. “After all,” he said matter-of-factly, “it’s not global warming; it’s climate change.” Since then I’ve heard this distinction elsewhere, particularly in reference to periods of unusually cold weather, like the last two winters in Europe. Far from mere semantics, to me the use of the term “climate change” rather than the more alarming “global warming” seems like a new wrinkle in the attempt to discredit or diminish the reality of a warming climate. It also fundamentally misunderstands the nature of a climatic shift. Continue reading

Open Access Week and Publishing in the Open

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Open access week banner

Open Access Week 2019 banner

Krista McCracken

October 21st to October 27th, 2019 is International Open Access Week. This global, community-driven week is designed to promote discussions about open access and to inspire broader participation in open access publishing. It is celebrated by institutions, organizations, and individuals all around the work.

Open Access to information – free, immediate, online to scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results – has the power to reshape scholarly conversations and create new communities of research.

Since its establishment, posts on Active History have been licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License. In October 2018, we adopted a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, allowing for further use of Active History content in a range of settings. Our ebooks series has also been openly licensed with the goal of making them accessible as possible.

Both Tom Peace and Sean Kheraj have written Active History posts about the impacts of open pedagogy and open educational resources on historical practice and teaching Canadian History. If you’re unfamiliar with the philosophies behind open and the potential benefits of open for teaching and research Peace and Kheraj’s posts provide a good introduction.

What does open scholarly publishing look like in Canada? Continue reading

A’Se’k – Boat Harbour: A Site of Centuries’ Long Mi’kmaw Resistance

By Colin Osmond

On October 4th, hundreds of people gathered at Pictou Landing First Nation and marched to A’Se’k (Boat Harbour, N.S.) to demand that the governments of Nova Scotia and Canada live up to their promise to stop the flow of toxic waste into the tidal lagoon. A’Se’k is the site of an effluent treatment facility handling wastewater from the nearby Northern Pulp Mill at Abercrombie Point, Pictou County.

Protestors Marching at A’Se’k- Courtesy of Michelle Francis Denny.

A sea of people in red shirts emblazoned with #31January2020, the planned closure of the Boat Harbour Treatment Facility, marched from the Pictou Landing Band office to the bridge that stands near the outfall of A’Se’k into the Northumberland Strait. Those who marched, both Mi’kmaq and settler, demand that the harbour be returned to its former state – A’Se’k, the tidal estuary that was a key part of Mi’kmaw life in Pictou County.

Waste water treatment Facility at Boat Harbour. Image from Wikimedia Commons

This is not the first time that the Mi’kmaq of Pictou Landing have protested the destruction of their land by toxic waste. In 2014, residents of Pictou Landing First Nation created a blockade near Indian Cross Point, the site of a major effluent leak from the pipe that carries millions of litres of effluent-laden water to Boat Harbour each day. These recent protests in Pictou Landing show how a community can stand up and successfully challenge governments and industrial giants.

The Mill has been an important part of the economic grid of Pictou County for decades, but the financial stability brought to some by smashing pulp into paper has come at the sacrifice of others. The Mi’kmaq, who live within a stone’s throw of the treatment facility, are reminded daily of the environmental and biological costs of pulp and paper in Pictou County. They have mobilized to change this for future generations of Mi’kmaq and settlers in Pictou County.

The Mill, circa 1990. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

This most recent battle for A’Se’k needs to be understood in the much longer history of Mi’kmaw efforts to protect their land rights in Pictou County. Many different groups have challenged Mi’kmaw sovereignty over A’Se’k and the area around it, and for centuries, the Mi’kmaq have resisted and protected their homeland. I will outline a few examples of these efforts in an attempt to show that these modern battles over A’Se’k are just the most recent examples of long-standing Mi’kmaw protection of their land and rights. Those of us who are new to the area (even if our ancestors have lived here for a few centuries) need to understand the complex history of A’Se’k in order to fully appreciate the efforts being made by the Mi’kmaq today. Continue reading

Another Reason to Vote on Election Day

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Ballot Box, Canadian Museum of History, object 987.19.10, image CD1995-0193.11.jpg (detail) © Canadian Museum of History

Editor’s note: This post is the final one in our special series on the history of elections in Canada.

Colin Grittner 

Canada’s 43rd federal election takes place this Monday, October 21st. By now someone somewhere has probably told you why, as a Canadian voter, you really ought to vote. That person may have told you that you make your voice heard when you vote, or that you can change the future when you vote, or that it strengthens our democracy when you vote. Those are all good reasons. Noble even. As an historian who studies electoral enfranchisement in Canada, I have another reason for you if you’re looking for one. At some point over the last 200 years, and within a space known as Canada, the vast majority of you wouldn’t have had a vote. In fact, the Canadian state would have done all it could to ignore you, silence you, and keep you from the polls.

Today only a couple of restrictions remain on voting in Canada. As Elections Canada tells us, all qualified voters must be Canadian citizens and at least 18 years old on election day. Of course, this wasn’t always the case. Throughout Canadian history, Canadian legislators prevented all sorts of Canadians from voting based upon who they were, what they looked like, and how they lived. Famously – or should I say infamously – Canadian women didn’t secure the federal franchise until 1916 and didn’t vote in federal elections until 1917. During the two World Wars, many German, Austrian, and Italian Canadians had their votes denied as “enemy aliens.” Canadians of Chinese and South Asian descent suffered disenfranchisement through to 1947, and Japanese Canadians to 1949. It apparently took the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms, and the debates that surrounded it, to finally make these disqualifications indefensible.[1] Two years after this Declaration, in 1950, Inuit finally received the federal vote. Even so, First Nations had to wait a full decade longer, until 1960. Undergraduate students might find it shocking that 18-to-21 year olds had no votes until 1970, even though the army would have happily accepted their enlistment (making them “old enough to kill but not for votin’”, as Barry McGuire once sang). In fact, it took until 2002 for the Supreme Court to strike down the last blanket restriction on adult citizens when it overturned the disenfranchisement of federal prisoners (unless, of course, you think Canada should drop its voting age to under 18).

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History Slam Episode 137: Grad School, Stress, & Mental Health

By Sean Graham

Over the past couple years, the issue of mental health within the academy has become, like mental health in all aspects of society, an increasingly visible issue. From public awareness to increased resources for grad students, there is a greater acknowledgement of the challenges associated with isolation, burn out, and maintaining a work-life balance. It wasn’t that long ago that I was a grad student and yet while I was working on a PhD I was completely oblivious to these issues.

About a year ago, I saw a Twitter thread from my friend Madeleine Kloske reflecting on time in grad school through the lens of maternity leave. I was a little taken aback when I read the thread because, despite being at the same school at the same time, our experiences were so different. Knowing that there are students still struggling with these issues, including students that I interact with regularly, I wanted to learn more about the environments that are created in higher education and how we can built better support systems.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with the great Madeleine Kloske about our grad school experiences. We talk about the grad school environment, managing stress, and promoting positive mental health within the academy. We also talk about strategies for grad students to manage their time, the need for work-life balance, and how to set up new grad students for success.

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