Canada, UFOs, and Wishful Thinking

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Matthew Hayes

Novelty UFO in Moonbeam, Ontario. Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve ever done even a cursory search on UFOs, chances are you’ve come across that mythical American investigation, Project Blue Book. It officially ran from 1952 until 1969, at which point the infamous Condon Report denied any scientific basis to UFOs and the US Air Force shut down its investigation. Depending who you talk to, the American projects remain shrouded in mystery and intrigue. I imagine even the most diehard skeptics would be forced to admit that the US probably still has classified documents they’re not yet willing to release. Who knows what they might contain.

But as interesting as all that is, what excites me more is the fact that we Canadians also have UFO documents. And quite a lot of them too. Approximately 10,000 of them, all housed at the national archives in Ottawa. I know this, because I currently have copies of every single page sitting on a hard drive on my desk. And I currently have several ATIP requests in for several hundred (or even thousand) more. When I tell people what my dissertation project is, one of the most common responses is: “I didn’t even realize Canada had a UFO archive.” Last time I was at Library and Archives Canada, I told an archivist that I was studying Canada’s UFO documents, and was authoritatively told: “Well, this isn’t serious work.” There may have been a tentative question mark tacked onto the end of that statement.

In truth, it’s not really an archive at all. More like a keyword search.[1] Those 10,000 documents are spread around all over the place, but are clustered mainly in Department of National Defence and RCMP files. They start around 1945 and go all the way to the mid-1990s, when it seems the Canadian government had had enough, and stopped collecting reports of UFO sightings. There are sighting reports galore. Thousands of them. And they run the gamut from hilarious to baffling to downright boring. Continue reading

Trump & Mexico: Interventionism Again?

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Joseph Tohill

A lesson from the past? US marines raise flag in Veracruz, Mexico, 1914

If there’s any truth in the old adage that those who don’t know their history are condemned to repeat it, then Americans are in for a rough four years. The administration’s sometimes calculated but always casual disregard for the truth (some would say, reality) has become a hallmark of the administration’s first few weeks in office, beginning with false claims about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd (“largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period”) and following up with a daily dose of “alternative facts.” Along with its flagrant disregard for the truth, the Trump administration has so far demonstrated a profound ignorance of America’s history, as evidenced by Trump’s recent comments at a Black History Month event about noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass. (Douglass, he said, “has done and amazing job and is being recognized more and more.”)

Trump clearly had no idea who Douglass was. For any president not possessed of the towering self-regard of Donald Trump, this would have been a moment of acute embarrassment—a gaff that would have had White House representatives rushing to clarify the president’s remarks and reassure the public (and especially the African American audience) that of course the president knows who Frederick Douglass was. Instead, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer’s response to a reporter’s request for clarification about what Trump meant by Douglass being “recognized more and more” demonstrated that he, too, had no idea that Douglass is no longer alive, having died 122 years ago.

Of course, history doesn’t actually repeat itself, nor does an ignorance of history really condemn anyone to repeat the mistakes of the past. But there are lessons that we can draw from past mistakes. In the realm of foreign policy, one of the most important is surely that intervening militarily in other countries in the name of stability has rarely produced the intended result, or, when it has, it has been at tremendous cost to the recipients of American ‘help.’ Continue reading

Remembering the Voyage of the St. Louis

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By Laura Madokoro 

Museum Jewish Heritage Twitter feed, 1 Feb 2017

The past two weeks have witnessed a bewildering amount of activity in the United States with regards to the admission, and exclusion, of migrants and refugees from seven majority-Muslim nations. On January 25 and 27, President Donald Trump issued two Executive Orders that immediately barred Syrian refugees from US resettlement, barred permanent and temporary migrants from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen for 90 days and slashed US refugee resettlement efforts in half, while suspending the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days, except for a small number of Christian minorities fleeing religious persecution.[1]

The response we have seen has been mixed. Outrage and protests in the United States and around the world, with swift actions by lawyers and state authorities, but also a 49% approval rating for Trump’s actions. At the time of writing, a federal court in Washington had lifted the ban and the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals was hearing arguments from both sides about whether the ban could be legally re-imposed. All expectations are that a Supreme Court challenge is imminent. These are sobering, sobering times to say the least.

As someone who researches the history of refugees, I have been unmoored by the speed and viciousness with which the Trump Administration has acted against a select group of migrants. I am at the same time buoyed by the strength of popular protests and the efficacy of activists and legal experts in pushing back against actions that are seemingly unconstitutional and definitely unconscionable. Yet as a historian I remain disquieted by the ease with which the Administration has disregarded decades of work designed to shelter people fleeing dangerous circumstances from the very discriminatory policies that it is now advancing. Continue reading

The ‘Right’ to Bear Arms in Canada

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R. Blake Brown

Canada’s National Firearms Association is one of several voices advocating for the rights of gun owners

The recent mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque risks reopening Canada’s gun control debate.  Any such debate will sound familiar. Proponents and opponents of firearm regulation since the 1970s have largely repeated the same arguments. If you listen carefully, however, you may hear a different argument that until recently has not been part of mainstream public discourse: that Canadians have a constitutional right to possess arms.

This idea has an influential new champion: John Robson. Robson possess a PhD in American History from the University of Texas at Austin. He writes columns for the National Post, produces a blog: John Robson Online: True Canadian Values in a Complex World, and makes documentaries with titles such as “Magna Carta: Our Shared Legacy of Liberty.” In advertising his most recent documentary, “A Right to Arms,” he asserts that “your right to bear arms is as Canadian as maple syrup.”[i] Robson also suggests the existence of such a right in a recent article published in the Dorchester Review, entitled, “Armed Canadians: A Brief History.”[ii] He claims that the English constitution, and by extension the Canadian constitution, traditionally included a individual right to possess firearms.

Robson’s suggestion in the Dorchester Review that Canada received such a right, however, does not withstand scrutiny. Continue reading

History and Historical Preservation

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Richard White

A nicely-restored, well-maintained residential Street in the Cabbagetown-Metcalfe HCD (2002). City of Toronto

Some ten or fifteen years ago a group of residents in my Toronto neighbourhood, a pre-WWI ‘streetcar suburb’ known locally as the Beaches, began the process of making parts of it a Heritage Conservation District (HCD), a designation that would impose controls on physical changes to buildings. My immediate response was to oppose them. I was not entirely sure why, and I was somewhat surprised at my own reaction. I enjoyed the ambience of our hundred-year-old streets, as well as the many conveniences that come from pre-automobile residential densities, but the idea of a municipal bylaw freezing these physical qualities in place seemed wrong.

The initiative died within a year or two. The City found, through formal surveys, that more residents opposed than favoured it and took no further action. My street was saved from the preservationists and, as things have turned out, recently acquired a splendid new modern home – all flat and square – on a double lot formerly occupied by a 1940s house.

But the experience lived on in my own mind as I pondered why I, as a historian, should have opposed the initiative. History and preservation always go together, as do historians and preservationists. Nearly all historically-minded people I know are heritage advocates. Every ‘historical association’ I have ever encountered exists to preserve the past. Indeed, a group called the Toronto Historical Association gives as its mandate “educating, researching, protecting and advocating for heritage in Toronto”. But why should this be so? As I reflected on it, I began to realize that I opposed preservation because I was a historian. Continue reading

Canada’s Young Ambassadors: The Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers

By Claire L. Halstead

The Junior Bengal Lancers on display in Parade Square. Photo courtesy of the Lancer Archive.

Opening with scenes of Halifax harbour viewed from atop Citadel Hill, the 1956 RKO-Pathé production entitled “Canadian Lancers” turns to scenes of youth riding across green grass in the centre of Halifax. The narrator proclaims, “The junior Lancers, an accomplished children’s riding group, has its own riding ground; this is the mecca of young and hopeful equestrians”. The film follows the young Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers to Annapolis Royal where they perform their famed “musical ride” in all its splendor in celebration of the town’s founding.[1] Their colourful uniform, modeled after the English army India service uniform, consisting of a red tunic, khaki jodhpurs, white gloves, a white pith helmet and, of course, a lance complete with a flag, added to the spectacle.

That a small children’s riding club from Halifax, Nova Scotia rose to public acclaim and became featured in an international film production in such a short period of time since its founding, gives pause. Continue reading

History not Enough: A Look at the Climate of Reconciliation in Canada Today

Today we re-post the first in an Acadiensis series that features students from Jerry Bannister’s undergraduate and graduate Canadian Studies and History classes at Dalhousie University.

By Mercedes Peters

Canadians following the news lately could probably say something about The Tragically Hip’s ailing frontman, Gord Downie, and his most recent artistic endeavor, The Secret Path.[1] The conceptual album, paired with a graphic novel designed by artist Jeff Lemire, tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe child who froze to death trying to escape his Northern Ontario residential school in 1966. Reactions to the album, to the CBC special which broadcast the live performance of The Secret Path, and to the accompanying documentary film have been generally positive. Many see it as a continuation of the efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), whose mandate to collect and tell the stories of Indian Residential School (IRS) survivors ended with the release of their final report in June, 2015.[2] Downie has been praised for his dedication to indigenous rights, and for once Canadians are participating in a dialogue about a once neglected history, acknowledging the horrors indigenous people in Canada have faced for centuries.

This is a good thing. We need sustained conversations about IRS in the public sphere; we need them in the government. In this regard, the TRC has been crucial to ensuring that Canada does not forget this history, as has the work of Gord Downie and others like him. The history is important, the people dedicating their time to spread this knowledge are indispensable to the reconciliation movement, but Canada is only looking at a history, past tense, and that serves as a cause for worry. It appears that our satisfaction with these endeavors leaves us content with merely recognizing a tragic story. The real work — asking tough questions of ourselves and taking action to combat the legacy of these institutions and the existence of the systems that allowed the schools to flourish in the first place—goes undone. Continue reading

History Slam Episode Ninety-Three: Towards a Prairie Atonement

By Sean Graham

As an MA student, I had the pleasure of attending the University of Regina, a place that often gets criticized for its topography. Despite the jokes, I always countered that the Prairie sky was a sight in itself, somehow powerful and majestic while also being a calming presence. In my conversation with Trevor Herriot, he offered the possibility that one of the reasons I was so drawn to the sky is that the Prairie landscape has been so heavily altered to be almost unrecognizable from its native condition. When put in those terms, it becomes abundantly clear that the land has been completely altered by human beings.

A few years ago, Herriot came across the story of forced Métis relocation in the Spy Hill region along the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border in the 1930s as part of the Community Pastures Program. Since the program was discontinued, however, the area has become the centre of questions about what to do with the land. That’s where his new book Towards a Prairie Atonement can provide some answers.

Working with Norman Fleury, who, among other roles, has served as the Director of Michif Languages for the Manitoba Métis Federation, Herriot started to ask questions about how settlers can atone for the past and work towards reconciliation. In telling the story of the land, Herriot and Fleury, whose voice can be heard throughout the text, provide a framework through which communities can be brought together and, in time, past wounds can start to heal. As they write in the book’s final section, “Any chance to create an economy that nurtures the prairie instead of devouring it, to break down the garrison holding the wealth of the land and keeping its First Peoples out, will require us to embrace the best of Indigenous and settler values.”

In talking with Herriot, this final point struck a cord for me. When I asked about a settler telling this story, he pointed out that it wasn’t exclusively a story of Indigenous peoples. Whenever issues around reconciliation are discussed, too often they are presented as Indigenous issues. But the story, by its very nature, includes settlers and, therefore, is also the story of contemporary settlers. That collective ownership of the past is a rather powerful motivator to get people invested in reconciliation and, in this case, atonement.

Continue reading

Remember / Resist / Redraw #01: 150 Years of Colonialism

The Graphic History Collective (GHC) has launched a new activist art project: Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical History Poster Project.

The collaborative project will be an ongoing poster series that aims to intervene in the Canada 150 conversation. We hope to encourage people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for radical change in 2017 and beyond.

The GHC will publish the posters on our website and on ActiveHistory.ca as they are completed. We also plan to create a traveling pop-up people’s history exhibition this summer. Learn more about the project on our new website, and stay connected with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for news and special features. Continue reading

Staging an Imagined Ireland

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This post by Matthew Barlow is presented in partnership with Au delà des frontières / Beyond Borders, the blog of the Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University

Montreal from Street Railway Power House chimney, 1896. Wm. Notman & Son. Wikimedia Commons.

In May 2017, my first monograph, Griffintown: Identity & Memory in an Irish Diaspora Neighbourhood, will be published by UBCPress.  Around the same time, my colleague G. Scott MacLeod and I will release our documentary film, The Death of Life of Griffintown.  As you can imagine, I am very excited about this, as it will culminate a decade-and-a-half of work on Griffintown.  For those who don’t know, Griffintown is an inner-city neighbourhood in Montreal.  And while today it is under rapid regeneration with the construction of dozens upon dozens of condo towers, it was historically a working-class neighbourhood. Indeed, the Canadian industrial revolution began in Griff in the 1830s.

While the population was a heterogeneous combination of Irish-Catholics, Anglo-Protestants, and French-Canadians, the neighbourhood is remembered today for its Irish population.  Griffintown has emerged as the Irish neighbourhood of Montreal, even if only in memory, as a counterpart to more famous Irish neighbourhoods like Southie in Boston and the Five Points and Hell’s Kitchen in New York.  My work has centred around the constructions of identity in the Irish-Catholic population of the neighbourhood over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.  The Irish of Griffintown were a diasporic people by the dawn of the twentieth century, as Irish emigration to Canada had more or less dried up over half a century earlier, during the Irish Famine (1845-52) once passage to the United States was made more affordable by the repeal of the Navigation Acts.

An imagined Ireland has remained part and parcel of the Griffintown experience, as the people of the neighbourhood’s diaspora found ways to represent the old country back to themselves. Continue reading