Six Nations Soldiers and British Women’s Activism during and after the First World War

Alison Norman

Settler Canadians seem to be increasingly interested in acting as allies with Indigenous people, interested in reconciling and learning, in this post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission era.  The runaway success of Crystal Fraser and Sara Komarnisky’s recent post on 150 acts of reconciliation (over 25,000 views!), the popularity of the University of Alberta’s free online course on Indigenous history, and even the interest in classes in Indigenous history that I’ve been teaching for seniors in Toronto recently, all suggest to me that non-Indigenous Canadians are interested in building relationships and learning about the past, and from the past, more than ever before. As former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Matthew Coon Come recently wrote, “The tide has begun to turn as far as Canadians’ understanding of the history of Indigenous peoples in this country… And I sense, as never before, that the majority of Canadians wish to put their relationship with Indigenous peoples on a more honourable footing.”

While Canadians want to learn more about Indigenous history and culture, and the history of relationships between Indigenous people and settlers in what became Canada, we haven’t looked very much at the history of alliances and friendships between these same people.

Joan Sangster, in her presidential address at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association at Ryerson University (“Confronting Colonial Pasts: Historicizing a Century of Canadian Political Alliances”), talked about historical alliances between non-Indigenous individuals and organizations, and Indigenous people, and how these alliances need further exploration. She gave several examples of non-Indigenous people working as friends and allies of Indigenous people, or at least, trying to, however problematic some of their efforts might have been. I have a particular interest in one of the women discussed in her address who is a fascinating example of people “with good intentions,” such as those that Celia Haig-Brown and David Nock wrote about several years ago.

Undated photo of Mary Pamela Milne-Home.  William Milne-Home, Sydney, Private Collection

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Found in Collection: Mining Community Museum Collections to Inform Historical Understanding

If you’ve visited a community museum anywhere in Ontario, chances are you will recognize many of the artifacts featured in this online exhibition, all of which are from Halton Region Heritage Services’ collection. In their early years, historical societies and community museums collected a relatively standardized and not particularly diverse set of pioneer and Victorian wares with abandon, which have had a heavy bearing on modern museum collections. Across the province, museum storage facilities are full of domestic wares like doilies, butter churns, apple peelers, tea sets and wood planes.

The impulse to preserve a rapidly disappearing past and recreate idealized scenes of ‘pioneer life’ saved many historical objects from oblivion (and started many a community history museum’s collection), but this impulse did not always extend to saving the histories and stories that accompanied these artifacts. We know what the items are, but not necessarily who made them, what they were used for or their geographic affiliation. The objects themselves sufficed for early community museum displays, largely consisting of historic room settings, designed to invoke reverence for a romanticized past. In these situations, the artifacts spoke for themselves and received little interpretation beyond a label identifying the object and its donor.

Stove, side table, and pots in a pioneer cabin.


A typical pioneer cabin display, Halton Region Museum, 2006.

As museum practices have evolved, striving for a more inclusive, diverse representation of history and local stories, we want to connect these singular objects to a wider historical narrative. This process can be challenging, both due to the lack of information about objects in our collections and the fact that the early collecting practices were uneven and excluded some communities. How can we use these objects, painstakingly saved and preserved by early historians and curators to inform today’s historical scholarship and learning in a more holistic and inclusive way? Continue reading

In Defence of (Canadian Academic) History

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Adam Coombs

Polemics by disgruntled academic outsiders have recently become a remarkably popular genre of writing. In the United States The Atlantic has published pieces discussing the “problems” of safe space and political correctness on campus, while in Canada we have Ron Srigley in The Walrus and Ted Rhodes in the Calgary Herald disparaging Canadian universities for their supposed embrace of mediocrity. One of the more recent entries in this genre comes from The Dorchester Review. In “What’s The Use of History?” Pepall, a lawyer by training, laments the supposed decline of history from a golden age of popularity and accessibility to a discipline that produces inaccessible and moralistic works written by and for academics. While making a variety of arguments, the overall thrust of Pepall’s essay is that Canadians need to take back history from the academy by producing works for the general reading public.

The problem with this argument is that Pepall relies on a series of assertions to create an image of historical scholarship that is more caricature than reality. Rather than engage meaningfully with the challenging and complex issues facing humanities scholarship in the 21st century, the author draws on anecdotal evidence to make claims his audience is already primed to accept at face value. The goal of the piece that follows is to challenge some of the arguments Pepall makes and present a different picture of academic history in Canada. Continue reading

Ontario History Curriculum: Many Questions to be Answered

By Samantha Cutrara

This academic year I’ll be writing a series of blog posts for Active History focused on history education in Canada. In these posts, I’ll be outlining the Canadian History and Social Studies curricula for each province and identifying some possible opportunities for collaboration between historians/archivists and teachers in elementary and secondary schools. As I mentioned in my introductory post, I am hoping that these posts can be interactive, with teachers and historians chatting in the comments about how they support each other in teaching the Canadian past.

To begin, I am going to start with the curriculum I know the best: Ontario. I have taught this curriculum, analyzed this curriculum, and supported this curriculum for over 15 years. After the 2013 revision, I worked with teachers on transitioning to the new curriculum, which had a heavy emphasis on primary source inquiry-based teaching and learning – a curricular turn that I will discuss throughout the whole series. Four years later, this 2013 version seems like the “new” curriculum to me and for this post I approached it analytically with a fresh set of eyes. Continue reading

#Canada150 / #Colonialism150: An Advertising History

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Janis Thiessen

Government advertising for the sesquicentennial of Confederation began in 2013, “aimed at increasing Canadians’ knowledge and pride in Canada’s history and heritage.” The federal government promoted licensing agreements for commercial use of the “Canada 150” logo. A number of businesses in Canada took the opportunity to promote their products by connecting them to Canadian nationalism and Canadian history – though not always in logical or tasteful ways. KFC, for example, temporarily changed their logo to K’ehFC.

CBC News.

The Sobey’s grocery chain sold hamburger patties shaped like maple leaves.

Sobey’s.

And Tim Hortons promoted an abomination known as the poutine donut (which was, mercifully, only available in the United States and only on Canada Day).

CBC News

The use of nationalist images and historical events in advertising in Canada has a long history, though not a particularly varied one. Ira Wagman notes that Canadian ads that have used Canadian historical images or events “draw from a relatively small set of images and themes associated with unity, the use of technology to bind space, and ideas of national development” (Wagman, 560). He questions the effect such advertising has had “on Canadian historical consciousness, on the way Canadians recollect and understand their past” (Wagman, 559). These effects are particularly problematic when such ads draw on ahistorical, stereotypical, or racist images of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

The problematic depiction of Indigenous peoples in Canadian advertising is a consequence of settler colonialism and ongoing Indigenous dispossession. Continue reading

An illegal referendum?

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Photo of voters waiting to cast ballots by Carles Masats.

Ben Bryce

On October 1, the Government of Catalonia held a referendum over the question: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state and in the form of a republic?”

English Canadian coverage of the referendum has been thin compared to what you find in Quebec. The majority of English Canadians might not like referendums and they may not be eager to endorse the secession of an autonomous region from a federal state. But local filters should not blind us from overlooking the importance of this referendum nor should Canadians accept the Spanish government’s labelling of this vote as “unconstitutional”.

In early September, the Spanish Constitutional Court – at the behest of the government in Madrid – declared the whole exercise “illegal” because it violates Article 2 of the Spanish Constitution which proclaims “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation.” To put it another way, the Government of Spain and its legal institutions do not allow for separation or territorial losses. And of course they don’t. That is a fundamental premise of every nation-state in the world. Since the nineteenth century (and not before), an organizing principle of European countries has been to have citizens buy into the project about the natural and permanent logic of the nation-state.

Over the past weeks and months, the Spanish government has taken a series of undemocratic actions, culminating in police violence which has injured almost 900 Spanish citizens on October 1 in an effort to prevent people from voting in the referendum and to confiscate ballots. Continue reading

A Breakdown of Democracy in Catalonia

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Photo of a pro-independence rally by Carles Masats.

Aitana Guia

It’s 2019. California just voted to secede from the Union in a referendum.  Only 42 percent of the electorate voted, but since 90 percent of them voted in favor of independence, the California Governor has unilaterally declared independence.

The other 49 state legislatures have not been consulted. The US House of Representatives and Senate have not been asked either; their required two-third majority agreement stipulated by the Supreme Court in Texas v. White (1869) all but ignored. The US Constitution has, of course, not been amended.

The Yes California campaign and the California Governor are defending their unilateral independence as the only democratic outcome and in compliance with international self-determination rights. Many observers fear a strong rebuttal by the White House as the National Guard is already mobilized at the California borders with Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Sounds unreasonable? Not so in Spain.

On September 6th, 2017, the Catalan parliament, where pro-referendum parties had a majority of seats albeit not a majority of votes, passed a law calling for a referendum on independence. The Spanish Government deemed it illegal under the current 1978 Spanish Constitution and asked the Constitutional Court to void the law. The Constitutional Court duly obliged because the 1978 Constitution has to be amended by a two-third majority of the Spanish Congress before a regional referendum can take place. Continue reading

No Truck or Trade with Trump? The Puzzling Absence of anti-NAFTA Sentiment in Canada

Cartoon depicting two Canadian Men straddling a wall with a locked gate. "Uncle Sam" is handing them a bag of money over the fence.

“We can’t undo the Lock, Sir John is on guard. Hand it over the fence?” 1891 electoral cartoon. Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-33-1100.

Asa McKercher

There are many questions surrounding the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). To wit: will the treaty be renegotiated to meet the goals set out by the Mexican, Canadian, and U.S. governments? What provisions will be included in NAFTA 2.0? If the agreement is renegotiated, will it satiate public opinion in these countries? Will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s personal, quiet diplomacy ultimately appease President Donald Trump? Or will the whole thing collapse? Answers to these questions will have to wait, but as an historian with a passing interest in Canadian-American relations and Canada’s political history, a more interesting question is: where are NAFTA’s opponents? And where are the anti-American nationalists?

In the United States, certainly, there are plenty of people who oppose the agreement: the very nativists, protectionists, and anti-Globalists to whom Trump’s promise to renegotiate or “terminate” NAFTA is aimed. NAFTA is a target, too, of Americans on the left, who worry about a variety of issues including labour standards, environmental issues, and the loss of jobs. Yet in Canada, all three mainstream political parties currently support NAFTA and there seems to be little in the way of grassroots movements meant to change their standpoints.

Although there are differences among the parties on what new provisions should be included in any revamped deal, neither the ruling Liberals, nor the Conservatives of the Official Opposition, nor the New Democratic Party have advocated scrapping the agreement outright. Indeed, the NDP’s support for NAFTA – admittedly premised on a reformed deal being able “to protect Canadian sovereignty, especially in investment and energy security” – is surprising given that it seems to be a step backwards from the party’s outlook of the 1970s and 1980s, when it was more blatantly opposed to free trade with the United States. Moreover, given that much of the party’s platform clashes with NAFTA provisions, one wonders why the NDP has not chosen this moment to simply come out and oppose it.

As for the Conservatives, they have largely backed the Liberal government’s position, to the point that former Tory ministers are serving on a panel advising the government on the negotiations (as is the NDP’s Brian Topp). Further, Conservative party officials have stated their willingness to keep criticism of the government on the file to a murmur at least while negotiations are ongoing.[1] It helps, no doubt, that a large majority of Canadians back NAFTA. The cross-partisanship on display in Ottawa is all the more astounding given that free trade with the United States has been such a divisive topic in Canada’s past, one linked to anti-American political rhetoric that has often played well with Canadian voters. It seems counterintuitive that Trump, a president so reviled by Canadians, is not at front and centre of any concerted campaign to woo voters on a nationalist plank.

Free trade itself was a leading and perhaps even decisive issue in three Canadian federal elections: 1891, 1911, and 1988. Concerns over economic ties with the Americans also influenced voters in 1972, with NDP successes in that vote prompting the minority Trudeau to adopt economic nationalist policies; in John Diefenbaker’s election wins in 1957 and 1958; and in the Progressive Conservatives’ collapse in 1993. The fact that Diefenbaker’s Tories could win on a vaguely anti-US platform and that Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell’s Tories would be seen as too close to the Americans serves as a reminder that the major parties have altered their positions on the issue. Continue reading

The Monument War: Not just about “History”

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Temple of Apollo at Corinth. Author’s photo

Matthew Sears

From Robert E. Lee to John A. Macdonald, the Monument War has now become an international conflict. To those shocked by how quickly this battle has escalated, the anti-monument agitators seem to be the 21st century’s version of 20th century totalitarians, wanting to erase or distort history so that it conforms to the spirit and prejudices of the present age. Yet the Monument War is not just a phenomenon of today’s university campuses or activist teachers’ unions.  In fact, memorials proved to be a hot-button issue – frequently the hot-button issue – for the ancient Greeks, who first developed, among other things, the very concepts of history and historical consciousness.

Herodotus, called the “Father of History” even in antiquity, more than 2,400 years ago wrote an account of the wars between the Greeks and the Persians, a struggle best known for famous battles like Marathon and Thermopylae. After these wars, the Persians had become for the Greeks the ultimate example of dangerous foreigners, a decadent people governed by a greedy master of slaves rather than communities of free citizens. Even so, Herodotus says that he undertook the task of recording the war so that the great deeds of both Greeks and Persians might not be forgotten. Herodotus’ history was thus a memorial to the Greeks and Persians who fought, killed, and died fighting over the fate of Greece.

Herodotus travelled around the ancient world to recite his history to delighted audiences, leading us to believe that Greeks were all too happy to hear of the valiant efforts on both sides of the conflict, no matter how hated and feared the Persians were. Continue reading

Predicting the Future of Temporary Foreign Worker Programs… In the 1960s and 70s

Edward Dunsworth

The Thanksgiving season is often seized upon by farmworkers and activists to highlight agricultural workers’ contributions to society and the precarious conditions that so often characterize their work and life. In both Canada and the United States, farm labour activists have riffed on a popular motif which recognizes farmers, modifying it to some variation of: “Got Food? Thank a Farmworker.”

In Canada, these messages have drawn attention in particular to migrant farmworkers, who in various Temporary Foreign Worker Programs (TFWPs), represent a crucial component of the country’s agricultural labour force. In the spirit of joining the Thanksgiving shout-out to farmworkers, in this post I share two finds from the archives, uncovered in the course of my research on the history of tobacco farm labour in Ontario, in which senior federal bureaucrats in the 1960s and 1970s issue some eerily prescient warnings about what TFWPs might become in the future.

First, a bit of context, while the history of migrant labour can be traced back centuries in Canada, state-managed guestworker programs have been a permanent fixture since the mid-20th century. In agriculture, the most important program has been the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), founded in 1966, which brings workers from Mexico, Jamaica, and other Caribbean countries to work on Canadian farms. TFWPs – which comprise a large number of employment visa regulations and foreign labour schemes, including the SAWP – have come under fire in recent years by activists, academics, and politicians.

Migrant justice advocates have criticized the structure of programs, under which migrants in practice have far fewer rights than Canadian workers. Migrant labour scholar Adriana Paz has referred to this as a system of “labour apartheid.” In the SAWP specifically, migrant workers are barred from unionizing in Ontario (by far the biggest receiving province), have almost zero access to permanent residency, often face dangerous work conditions and subpar living arrangements, and find that their employers have almost unchecked control over their immigration status. Complaining about conditions on the job or in the bunkhouse can often result in summary deportation and exclusion from future participation in the program.

The number of migrants arriving in Canada in TFWPs grew rapidly under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, though much of the groundwork for these programs was laid during Liberal administrations. In recent years, Liberals have criticized Conservatives’ running of the programs, arguing that what started out as a small, tightly-managed mechanism for alleviating temporary labour shortages had ballooned into an uncontrollable behemoth, easily abused by employers seeking cheap labour. This was never how this was supposed to work, the Liberals and Justin Trudeau have essentially said. Any problems that have arisen are simply the result of Conservative mismanagement.

Two letters at Library and Archives Canada complicate the Liberal portrayal of TFWPs. Written respectively in 1962 and 1974, they foreshadow some of the problems that would emerge in TFWPs in later years, suggesting that these issues are not simply managerial or administrative. Rather, they are structural, something that has been apparent to observers – including those within government – since before the programs even began. Continue reading