The Workers’ Revolt in Calgary

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Sean Carleton, Kirk Niergarth, and Julia Smith

When 1,500 workers in Calgary, Alberta struck in sympathy with the Winnipeg General Strike in May and June of 1919, it was the second major sympathetic strike in the city in a nine-month period. Class confrontation was on the rise in Cowtown.

The 1919 Calgary strike began on Monday, 26 May and lasted just over four weeks. In terms of the total number of work days lost due to the strike, it was the third largest work stoppage in Western Canada (after Winnipeg and Vancouver) and the largest strike in the city’s history.

Calgary Strike Bulletin, 2 June 1919. Library and Archives Canada. Continue reading

The Workers’ Revolt in Brandon

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Tom Mitchell

The the sympathetic strike in Brandon, Manitoba was the longest and most cohesive of the sympathy strikes that erupted across Canada in support of the Winnipeg General Strike. It began 20 May 1919 and persisted until the end of June. It was preceded in late April by a dramatic and successful civic employees’ strike following the creation of a Brandon local of the Civic Employees Federal Union, and followed, at the end of June, by an ill-conceived and futile call to continue the general strike following its termination in Winnipeg.

The Brandon General Strike was the climatic event in a period of labour militancy dating from the reconstitution of the Brandon Trades and Labour Council in 1917. Brandon’s sympathy strike was rooted in the conviction that labour could achieve its legitimate aspirations for union recognition and improved economic conditions only through solidarity and direct action; it was fueled by economic grievances accumulated during the Great War.

Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen, Wheat City Lodge #464. Courtesy of S.J. McKee Archives, Brandon University. Continue reading

The Workers’ Revolt in Amherst

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Nolan Reilly

Workers in Amherst, Nova Scotia milled around the gates to the sprawling yards of Canadian Car and Foundry railcar building shops. They were hearing union leaders report on the company’s refusal to give Amherst workers the same contract they had signed with workers in Montreal. There would be no union recognition, no nine-hour day with ten hours pay, no wage increases, no commitment to consult workers before changing work rules.

Calls for action punctuated the air, and workers “formed in a parade, marching through the principal streets of Amherst” to their meeting hall. Joined there by workers from Amherst’s seven other major factories, they cheered the call for a general sympathetic strike. Meet the demands of the railway car builders and negotiate contracts in Amherst’s other factories, the workers demanded. When put to a vote—one member, one vote—the motion to launch a general strike the next morning won strong support.

On the morning of 19 May, Amherst workers—skilled and labourers, women and men, union and non-union—shutdown the town’s industries. Even the mechanics in the local garage went on strike. It was a community strike, just like the one that had started four days earlier in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Library and Archives Canada- machine shop in background. Robb Engineering Works Limited, Amherst, N.S. 1914-1918.

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The Workers’ Revolt in Winnipeg

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The Graphic History Collective and David Lester

In 1919, 35,000 workers in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Treaty 1 territory and the homeland of the Métis Nation, staged a six-week general strike between 15 May and 26 June. Workers from various backgrounds withdrew their labour powerthey went on striketo demand higher wages, collective bargaining rights, and more power for working people. One hundred years later, the Winnipeg General Strike remains one of the largest and most important strikes in Canadian history.

Crowd gathered outside old City Hall during the Winnipeg general strike, 21 June 1919.

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The 1919 Workers’ Revolt was National in Character

Gregory S. Kealey

In 1984, on the 75th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike, Labour/Le Travail (L/LT) published the proceedings of a symposium held the previous year. The cover image we chose for that issue was “1919 MAJUS” by Biro Mihaly (1886–1948), the Hungarian revolutionary artist who was commemorating the new Hungarian Soviet led by Bela Kun.

The image reflected the central argument coming out of the symposium, that the events of the summer of 1919 in Canada were part of an international surge of working-class struggle that emerged from the embers of World War I and the inspiring sparks of the Bolshevik Revolution.

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Theme Week on the 1919 Strike Wave

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ActiveHistory.ca is launching a special Theme Week (17–21 June) that examines the 1919 strike wave in what is today known as Canada. The series is edited by Sean Carleton and Julia Smith.

At a time of growing unrest, with calls for climate strikes and recent threats of general strikes in the United States and in Ontario, revisiting the 1919 strike wave and reflecting on the tactics and strategies of past labour battles can yield valuable lessons for those battling to build a better world today. History is an important organizing tool.

Art by David Lester, 1919: A Graphic History the Winnipeg General Strike (Between the Lines, 2019).

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Canada’s non-conversation about genocide

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By David Webster

“Words have meaning,” CBC commentator Michael Enright declared in an editorial broadcast over the national radio network. He objected to the way one word, “genocide,” was used by the national commission of inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

In this, Enright is far from alone – top media figures and publications fell over one another to deny the commission’s conclusion that Canada has committed genocide of Indigenous peoples. The word doesn’t apply, they shout in near-unison.

In doing so, they are themselves trying to redefine a word with a very clear meaning. In doing so, they are demonstrating the continuation of Canada’s colonial project and upholding a version of Canadian “niceness” that denies truth.

The commission’s use of the world “genocide” and the backlash against it recalls an earlier conversation, but is much more defensive and vicious towards Indigenous people.

This piece draws on research into truth and reconciliation and the way media narratives are constructed, and is informed by recent twitter exchanges. It does not decolonize: it simply uses traditional Western historical methods to outline the building of backlash by the Canadian media. Far more insightful pieces have been penned by Indigenous scholars, by survivors of violence inside what is now Canada, and by legal scholars. This piece simply describes.

In 2015-17, I coordinated a research project into truth and reconciliation in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Within the scope of that project, student research assistant Cynthia Roy analyzed the media coverage over a three-month period (April-June 2015) around the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report, which used the term “cultural genocide” to describe the Canadian residential schools system. Her findings, published here on activehistory.ca, summarized a database of all mainstream media coverage that she compiled.

She found that the words “cultural genocide” sparked debate, but saw it as a “conversation.” Only one commentator, former right-wing media baron Conrad Black, wrote with anger and indignation. Others accepted the term and the need for reflection. Columnist Richard Gwyn disliked the term, but still conceded that Canada “botched it all with the residential schools — hugely, outrageously, brutally, inhumanly and utterly ineptly.” Other media commentary tended to accept the term and the need for Canada to do better.

Cynthia argued that the conversation was relatively respectful because respected Canadians, beginning with chief justice of the Supreme Court Beverly McLachlan, used the term in advance of the TRC report release. This was not in her conclusions, but it’s also worth mention that Australia’s National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families was quite comfortable more than 20 years ago using the word genocide: “The Australian practice of Indigenous child removal involved both systematic racial discrimination and genocide as defined by international law.”

What a difference four years makes. Continue reading

Remembering the Bombardment: Juno Beach 75 Years Later

This is the fourth of several posts 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. If you would like to contribute, contact series coordinator Alex Fitzgerald-Black at alex@junobeach.org.

By Stephen A. Bourque

While gathering material for my recent Beyond the Beach: The Allied War Against France, I was surprised at how little attention historians have given to the Allied aerial bombardment on D-Day. My focus on that project was not to evaluate the various air forces’ effectiveness in doing military tasks, but to explore the effects of bombing on French society and its infrastructure. I assumed that, given Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command and the US Eighth Air Force’s recognized abysmal performance, some enterprising writer would have spent some time explaining to the public what happened.

The overall US Eighth Air Force plan for D-Day. Juno Beach was targeted by bombers from the 1st and 3rd Bombardment Divisions. Image from Ken Delve, D-Day: the Air Campaign

Not before, or since, has there been more aircraft in the sky than on June 6, 1944. Over 3,200 heavy bombers and thousands of medium bombers and fighter bombers attacked targets from Cherbourg to Cabourg. Most figures indicate that, including troop transports, there were over 14,000 sorties in the Norman skies that day. On four out of five beaches, Utah being the exception, this massive effort was remarkably ineffective. What surprised me was, other than some apologetic equivocation in the British and American official histories and complaining by army historians about the bombers missing the target, most writers have generally ignored the topic.

In the Juno Beach sector, what was supposed to happen was a three-phased operation. Continue reading

Historians and Indigenous Genocide in Saskatchewan

By Robert Alexander Innes

[This essay was first published last June on Shekon Neechie. It asks questions about the approach of Canadian historians to genocide that are again relevant after the response of much of the media to the MMIWG- Final Report.]

As a result of the Calls to Action released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) the notion that Indigenous people endured cultural genocide has garnered much discussion. For many, who point to the number of children who died in residential schools, the use of ‘cultural’ genocide waters down the impact residential schools had on Indigenous people as cultural has come to be seen as a lesser form of genocide.  For them, residential school was outright genocide.  The term cultural genocide for Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide, did not refer to a lesser form of genocide just another way genocide leads to the destruction of a people, which was the Lemkin’s original meaning of term. According to Benevenuto, Woolford, and Hinton after the Second World War genocide as a concept fell into disuse till the 1980s when a new generation of scholars began to engage with it. However, as they state, these scholars, ‘generally did not share Lemkin’s broad conceptualization of genocide.”[1]  Instead, these scholars, ‘tended to implicitly adopt the Holocaust as a conceptual prototype.”  Moreover, Benevenuto, Woolford, and Hinton state this resulted in ‘the trend of conceptually splitting genocide from cultural genocide…inhibiting a full discussion of colonial genocide.”[2]  As these authors state, “[s]een through the lens of the Holocaust, the broader public and many academics consider genocide to be the most extreme from of violence imaginable. According to this widespread view, including other forms of destruction beside mass murder risks diluting the meaning of the term.”[3] For Benevenuto, Woolford, and Hinton, and others, cultural genocide is the correct term.  Not because it signals a lesser form of genocide but because it is genocide.  I begin with mentioning this mainly because genocide and residential schools has received so much attention, and has also sparked discussion about other ways that genocide has occurred in Canada.[4]

These conversations are important, however, since there has been little discussion of the mass murder type of genocide of Indigenous people in Canada, a subtle message that has been conveyed through these dialogues is that mass killing of Indigenous people has not occurred here.  For example, neither historians nor the Canadian government have acknowledged that genocide occurred in the early 1880s in Treaty 4 territory; a genocide that killed hundreds and perhaps thousands of First Nations and Métis people. Many historians have detailed how the Canadian government implemented a starvation policy in the Cypress Hills in southwest Saskatchewan and southeastern Alberta as a means to exert control over First Nations people in the region and force them to move to other areas.  It is difficult to understand why historians have not categorized the deaths caused by the starvation policy as a genocide when they all agree that the government knew prior to cutting off food rations many people were dying of starvation and have all said that the policy killed a large number of people. Some historians may be reluctant to equate the deaths of Indigenous people to the Holocaust while others may feel the numbers are not adequate enough to be considered genocide – even though they don’t really know how many died as there has been no attempt to find those numbers.  Whatever the reason, this paper will show that there is a way to ascertain the number of deaths and that the procedure to determine the number is actually just straightforward history.[5]  In outlining the context of the genocide and showing how one Saskatchewan First Nation, Cowessess First Nation, through negotiations for its Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) claim in the 1990s determined how many of its band members died, this paper asks, considering the number of historians who have looked at the starvation policy, why is it that none have done the work to determine the number of deaths the Canadian government caused from this policy?  To be clear, the argument put forth here is that the policy that has come to be known as the starvation policy was an act of genocide.

[Read the remainder of the essay on Shekon Neechie]


[1] Jeff Benevenuto, Andrew Woolford, and Alexander Laban Hinton, “Introduction: Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America,” in Colonial Genocide in Indigenous North America, edited by Andrew Woolford, Jeff Benevenuto, and Laban Hinton (Durham, NC: Dude University Press, 2014)

[2] Ibid 10

[3] Ibid, 2

[4] See for example: Woolford, Benevenuto, and Hinton, Colonial Genocide; Ken Coates, “Second Thoughts about Residential Schools,” Dorchester Review 4, no. 2 (2014); Crystal Fraser and Ian Mosby, “Setting Canadian History Right?: A Response to Ken Coates’ ‘Second Thoughts about Residential Schools,’” Active History (http://activehistory.ca/papers/paper-20/); Payam Akhavan, “Cultural Genocide: Legal Libel or Mourning Metaphor,” McGill Law Journal 62 (2016): 243-270; 25-19; Ronald Neizen, Truth and Indignation: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools, Second edition (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017); J.ames R. Miller, Residential School and Reconciliation: Canada Confronts its History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017); Brieg Capitaine and Karine Vanthuyne, eds. Power Through Testimony: Reframing Residential Schools in the Age of Reconciliation (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2017).

[5] It should be noted that the editors of the Canadian Historical Review rejected this paper because I did not utilize original primary source research.  They mentioned that they would be interested in publishing the piece if I refocused the paper on the methodological issues that arise from the proceeding discussion and away from a critique of historians.

The Secret Ingredient: Using Recipes as Tools in Construcing Historical Narrative

Sophie Hicks

This is the first post in a summer series exploring societal, community, and familial connections to food and food history.

Exploring food history through archived cookbooks or recipes provides a unique glimpse into culture, place, and identity of communities, families, and individuals. Recipes can hold significance on the family level, a broader community level, while also serving as a  representation of a culture or time period depending on when and where they were used. Food history intersects with capitalism, colonialism, globalism, gender, race and a range of other social conditions. The work of historians Ian Mosby, Janis Thissen, and Kesia Kvill points to the ways in which food can be used a lens to understand history and communities.

cover of Feeding the Flock cookbook

Feeding the Flock, a cookbook compiled by the Evangelical Free Church of Lena, Illinois

When I think of my own connection to familial food history, one cookbook comes to mind: Feeding the Flock, a cookbook constructed by the congregation of the Evangelical Free Church of Lena, given to our family in the late 1990s while we lived in Illinois. This collection of recipes differs from the many church cookbooks my mother has accumulated over the years because it houses the recipes for the chocolate chip cookies and brownies that my sisters and I would recognize as distinctly hers, even though she had no involvement in constructing the cookbook entry. From my perspective, the recipes that have become “hers” were seemingly stumbled upon by chance, or in rarer cases recommended by a friend and remade based on personal taste or feedback from family. How could I have such a strong association with a recipe that originally had nothing to do with my family?   Continue reading