Rev. William Scott and the Oka Question

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Donald B. Smith


Without any doubt, Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent General of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, was Canada’s best-known Indian Affairs civil servant. His views of Indigenous peoples were often intolerant and harsh, and he believed “the happiest future for the Indian is absorption into the general population.”[1] Though much has been written about Duncan’s career and writings, we know little about his childhood and how his upbringing shaped his views and career ambitions.

Historical digging has revealed an interesting link between Duncan’s hard line on Indigenous issues and his father, Rev. William Scott (1812?-1891). In 1883, Rev. Scott wrote an in-depth report on the Mohawk land struggle at Kanehsatake/Oka that reveals his inability to see the power and strength of Indigenous peoples and the land. The document reveals the Methodist minister’s fluency as a writer, his ability to master and organize a great deal of material, his knowledge of French, and his total and unconditional support of the newly-established Department of Indian Affairs, a department his son would go on to lead only twenty years later. Rev. Scott’s report is available online (William Scott, Report Relating to the Affairs of the Oka Indians. Made to the Superintendent General of Indian Affairs (Ottawa: Printed by MacLean, Roger & Co., 1883) and it deserves greater historical attention, as does the life of its author.

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Conspiracy Theories and the Canadians who Love Them

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“Devil’s Head” 1954 series, with devil’s head highlighted. Original photo from Bank of Canada

Kevin Anderson

In April and May of 1956, Lethbridge, Alberta, Social Credit MP John Blackmore gave two speeches over the radio to his constituents where he claimed that on recent versions of Canadian dollar bills, there was clearly the likeness of a demon hiding in the Queen’s hair. Blackmore related how a correspondent, William Guy Carr, had drawn his attention to this fact. Each man agreed that this was a sign that the agents acting behind the scenes of the “Anglo-Saxon Celtic administrations, British and American” and who had facilitated recent victories against “Christianity and the Bible, against the United States and the British Commonwealth, and the whole free world” (e.g. Communism spreading in Asia) had become bolder. Blackmore reassured his audience that this was serious; he would not listen to Carr if he were an “extremist.”

A first reaction to such claims is perhaps to laugh (as I did when I first stumbled across it while researching the federal Social Credit Party), to enjoy it from an ironic distance, or to dismiss it as part of the lunatic fringe. In other words: Who cares? By examining such strange ideas, do scholars not risk bestowing status upon them?

While these reactions are initially justifiable, they become less defensible with context. Blackmore was first elected in 1935 and was re-elected five times. There he sat in the House of Commons, discussing funding of public buildings on one day and emphasizing the need to strike a committee to investigate the “Mongolian-Turkic-Red” conspiracy behind Communism on another.

Carr was a respected and well-known Canadian navy man and author whose books were positively reviewed in the pages of the Globe and Mail in the 1940s. His retirement in 1945 elicited a glowing two column article by that venerable paper.[1] Folklorist Bill Ellis, however, characterizes him as the key revivor of Illuminati-based conspiracy theory in postwar North America upon publication of his anti-Semitic screed Pawns in the Game in 1955. The Illuminati remains one of the foundational elements of conspiracy theory.

Blackmore and Carr are part of Canada’s conspiratorial heritage, a very real heritage that was/is constantly interacting with transnational currents attempting to explain the modern world. Continue reading

Introducing Historia Nostra: Episode 1

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How is history taught at heritage sites and museums in North America? What can the history of museums and heritage sites tell us about how they operate today? And how do other resources, like historically-based films, allow us to access history at home? These are all questions explored on Historia Nostra, a new YouTube channel about North American history.

Historia Nostra (which means “Our History”)  critically explores how North American history is taught at museums and heritage sites, on film, and in other less conventional ways. Museums and historic sites provide, for many North Americans, our first exposure to history and offer tangible connections to the past. Historically based films and other such media also have significant sway in how history is popularly understood. These formative experiences have important, lasting impacts on how we as a society interact with history, but on an individual level museums and other historically based ephemera are often marketed as fun first rather than educational. Presenting history as entertainment can support good histories, but it can also compromise educational value. Historia Nostra investigates how these experiences with history operate in practice through three sub-series: “Experiencing History,” “Doing History,” and “The Frontier on Film.”

Join host, Erin Isaac, as she visits heritage sites across North America—including well known historic sites like Jamestown, VA and lesser known examples like Kejimkujik, NS—in our “Experiencing History” series. Continue reading

Human Rights, Justice and the 1920 Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World

Marcus Garvey, 1924. Source: Library of Congress, cph 3a03567 //

Laura Madokoro

In this tumultuous year, a number of important historical concepts have been at the forefront of debates and discussions about public health, social justice and racial equality. The language of rights has been critical to discussions of individual and collective responsibility in the context of the pandemic (as evidenced in the positions adopted by anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers). The question of rights has also been part of how Black Lives Matter activists and supporters have framed their concerns around violence and white supremacy though, arguably, the language of justice has been more prevalent, captured in chants of “justice for George Floyd” and “justice for Breanna Taylor”, among others. In her victory speech, Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris talked about liberty, justice and equality. Specific references to “rights” were notably absent.

As numerous of scholars and observers have noted, calls for justice for Black people and the reform of oppressive institutions and practices are not new. Related conversations about the teaching of Black history have also been taking place for decades. However, as this post will explore, historians have generally failed to consider Black history in historical discussions more broadly, such as in the case of the history of human rights (beyond a focus on legal and civil rights challenges), to the detriment of our historical knowledge and the well-being of Black communities.[1]

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Listening to the Voices from the Past: An invitation for a private, nuanced, remote Remembrance Day

By Samantha Cutrara

What do we mark for remembrance and how do we understand service to this country? These questions may seem straightforward on a day like Remembrance Day, but this day can also invite us to critically examine the concepts of commemoration and service, and provide nuance to the stories of military glory and heroics often featured on this day.

Histories of war are difficult. Taking time to remember those who have died in service and those who survived but came home forever altered, is a deep and thoughtful endeavor that forces us to confront the intertwined relationship of nationality and sacrifice. Or, that can force us to confront this relationship, although it often does not. To invite criticality to national Remembrance harks of treasonous anti-patriotism and lack of support for the troops. But to support the troops and to wish for the demilitarization of how we understand the past and the present are two different things, and perhaps we develop more ways to explore this. Continue reading

The American election results and the history of the international press: A discussion with Prof. Michael Palmer

By Samantha Cutrara

We all breathed a sigh of relief on Saturday afternoon when the news came out that Biden/Harris won the American election. But up until that point, many of us sat on our phones or in front of our laptops or TVs in anticipation of the election results. On Tuesday night specifically, many of us kept refreshing the feeds from various news outlets hoping to finally get the answer as to who won the election. Of course, we didn’t receive an answer that night, but that didn’t stop us from looking, checking, reading, and watching in hopes of some sign of finality.

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135 Years Since the Last Spike: Colonialism and Resistance on Canada’s Railways

By Thomas Blampied

For those following the Canadian railway industry, 2020 was supposed to be a year of celebration. Canadian National Railway (CN), was continuing with its CN100 celebrations to commemorate the 100th anniversary of being bailed out and nationalized by the Canadian government in 1919 (it wasn’t privatized until 1995). The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was to mark the 135th anniversary of the driving of last spike at Craigellachie, BC, on November 7th. The last spike was considered so monumental to Canada’s heritage that the Harper government officially declared November 7th to be National Railway Day beginning in 2010.

Donald Smith, one of the directors of the CPR, drives home the last spike at Craigellachie, BC, on November 7, 1885.

Donald Smith, one of the directors of the CPR, drives home the last spike at Craigellachie, BC, on November 7, 1885. Smith actually bent the first spike and it needed to be replaced. This is the most iconic image in Canadian railway history. Pierre Berton considered it the most famous photograph in Canada. (Wikipedia/Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN 3194527).

It seems almost cliché to say that 2020 has not gone to plan. COVID-19 shuttered CN’s celebrations and nobody is thinking much about the last spike these days. Large portions of Canada’s railway network were paralyzed in February by actions in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders. In BC, the Wet’suwet’en were attempting to block pipeline development on their territory and militarized occupation by the RCMP. The most notable of these solidarity blockades was on Tyendinaga Mohawk territory near Belleville, Ontario, and caused CN freight and VIA passenger rail traffic between Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa to be disrupted for several weeks.

The decision to block railway tracks is deeply rooted in the history of colonialism in Canada. But rather than trying to understand this history, governments and industry across Canada clamped down. Alberta ultimately passed the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act, which made protests or actions that disrupted infrastructure like railways illegal, despite existing trespassing statutes already covering this. This speaks to the long-standing relationship between the Canadian state, railways, and the seizure of Indigenous land.

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History Slam Episode 168: Moonless Oasis

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By Sean Graham

Howe Sound is a deep fjord north of Vancouver that has been described as the city’s “playground for sailing, diving, camping, hiking, and a host of other recreational activities.” It is also home to a reef that was thought to be extinct. Glass sponges, which build their skeletons out of silicon dioxide, exist around the world, but reef-forming glass sponge is only known to occur in British Columbia, with the reef in Howe Sound being the only known one in water shallower than 40 metres.

While that depth is challenging for divers, it is possible for humans to visit the reef as part of efforts to preserve this vital ecosystem. The reef is an important habitat for rockfish species that are under threat while also filtering millions of gallons of water on a daily basis. Because of its tremendous ecological value, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has established a marine refuge that, among other protection efforts, has eliminated commercial fishing that could damage the reef. These protections are the result of years of research and advocacy by citizen-scientists who have championed the reef’s conservation.

Those efforts are profiled in the new documentary Moonless Oasis, which is currently available on CBC Gem. Following Hamish Tweed and his team of divers and researchers, the film highlights their passion and commitment to better understand and preserve the reef. Taking the audience over 200 feet under the surface, the film offers spectacular images of this underwater ecosystem while also highlighting the threats to its survival.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with filmmakers Nate Slaco and Bryce Zimmerman about Moonless Oasis. We talk about the glass sponge reef, the challenges of shooting underwater, and importance of capturing the reef on film. We also discuss the efforts to preserve the reef, whether this is a nature or human story, and why the reef is an important national story.

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Teaching Canada–U.S. Relations in 2020

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Happier times in Canada-U.S. relations, when President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Mackenzie King inaugurated the Thousand Islands Bridge and sought to span the border in a more figurative way. Three years later, 90 percent of respondents in a U.S. survey supported American entry in the war if Canada were invaded by Axis powers. Ogden Standard-Examiner, Aug. 18, 1938; Salt Lake Tribune, Aug. 19, 1938; Oakland Tribune, May 11, 1941.

Patrick Lacroix

Didn’t you guys burn down the White House?

– Donald J. Trump

From television news programming to social media, a politically unaware visitor to Canada would easily believe that we are in the midst of a heated national election. We aren’t, of course, but we have had front-row seats—the mediatic splash zone—to unending American electioneering. Early reports suggest that the current presidential campaign may not end today, nor even this week. In that uncertainty, bruised relations and misperceptions between our two countries will also persist. I believe that history teachers have a special duty to counter those misperceptions as well as inflammatory media coverage.

Last winter, I had that very opportunity: for the first time in my career, I taught the history of Canada–U.S. relations. In light of my experience teaching both Canadian and American history courses, this seemed like the next logical step: I could now put two national surveys in conversation with one another. I would like to think that I offered my students at least a very small introduction to the subject. Here, however, I propose to ponder challenges of teaching Canada–U.S. relations and open a conversation about what lies in that history and how it is informed by our politics.

The nation in Canada–U.S. relations

The first challenge in this course was to cover 250 years of relations between the United States and its boreal neighbour(s) in thirteen weeks. Still, somehow, that sizeable issue was dwarfed by the prospect of teaching undergraduate students two national histories at once. Some of my students had not taken history since high school; to my knowledge, no more than one had taken an American history course. It sometimes seemed we were putting the cart before the mule.[1]

It is, in fact, difficult to approach Canada–U.S. relations without bowing to a national approach to history. Continue reading

Spooky Sources to Teach, and Challenge, Canadian history

By Samantha Cutrara

I like a good theme, and what better theme is there than Halloween?

With Halloween falling on a Saturday this year, I wanted to use it to have  “spooky” conversations for my Source Saturday video series on YouTube (also available as a podcast). Source Saturday is a new video & podcast series where I talk with historians, archivists, and creators about a primary source that can #ChallengeCdnHist as well as model how people can use primary sources to interpret the past. Continue reading