Deconstructing Dominant Historical Narratives through Progressive Metal

Parade by Martin Wittfooth – album art for Protest the Hero’s Palimpsest

Jessi Gilchrist

Progressive metal is not the genre that we think of when we consider decolonization, anti-racism, or intersectionality. In fact, in 2017, The Atlantic published an article entitled “the Whitest Music Ever,” a critique of one of progressive metal’s predecessors, progressive rock.[i] Spawned in the 1970s with bands like Rush and King Crimson, progressive rock has been known as an avant-garde approach to the operetta rooted in extended structures, quasi-symphonic orchestration, and overt technicality. Something about the virtuosity, the masculinity, and the aggressive concert culture screams whiteness and privilege. 

Within the slew of sub-genres that characterizes the metal community, progressive metal has been identified as a fusion between heavy metal and progressive rock that features highly complex melodic and rhythmic constructions, experimental time signatures, extended orchestration and elaborate song structure with a plethora of external influences from classical music to ragtime. Until recently, overt political critique has been less common in progressive metal than it has been in its punk-leaning counterparts. Instead, progressive metal has favoured the concept album in which all songs on an album revolve around a particular theme or tell a particular story leaving the listener to interpret its meaning.

Continue reading

A Structural Pandemic: On Statues, Colonial Violence, and the Importance of History (Part III)

Princess Anne on a Royal Tour, here in Tuktuyaaqtuuq, IPA, 1970. Credit, Toronto Star Photo Archive, spa_0122734f

Kristine Alexander and Mary Jane Logan McCallum

While – as shown in our previous post – Guiding and Scouting were inextricably linked to British imperialism and settler colonialism, some Indigenous students in Canadian Indian residential schools also found that these organizations provided a refuge in an alien environment and a short break from labour and strict routine. It was an opportunity to meet and communicate more informally with other young people, and many had positive experiences of Guide and Scout activities. Dinjii Zuh, Gwichyà Gwich’in historian Crystal Gail Fraser, explains that Indigenous youngsters also resisted and shaped Girl Guide programming at residential schools in the Canadian Arctic. Fraser writes that Guides in the Northwest Territories reformed programming to cope with the school environment, to take control of their education, to train for leadership, and to express local Indigeneity. Guides at Inuvik, Aklavik, Hay River, and other smaller communities in the north “embraced the useful and rejected the useless, while asserting their independence and identities during a time when many children were embroiled in colonial initiatives.”[1] The girls wore braids, pants, beading, and mukluks instead of the standard Guide uniform; created new badges for trapping and fishing, among other Indigenous activities; and developed a unique camping program better suited to northern, Indigenous knowledge, practices and environments. These northern Girl Guides deeply challenged national Girl Guide programming – and Baden-Powell’s original vision – while setting their own standards for generations of young women in the north. Assertive gestures like these are reflective of Indigenous activism today, including many efforts to retain and revitalize Indigenous cultures.

Continue reading

A Structural Pandemic: On Statues, Colonial Violence, and the Importance of History (Part II)

Guides and Scouts at Old Sun School, Alberta, ca. 1930. Credit: Archives of the Girl Guides of Canada, APH2374

Kristine Alexander and Mary Jane Logan McCallum

As we documented in our previous post, looking more closely at the history of Scouting and Guiding reveals that the divide between colonialist violence, fascist discipline, and peaceful pedagogy was not quite as stark as Baden-Powell and his supporters would have us believe. Instead of insisting on the ideological opposition between Scouting and the fascist youth groups of interwar Europe, it might make more sense to understand them as different points on a continuum – what Franziska Roy refers to as a “common grammar” of physical discipline and a desire for racial regeneration that reached across national and political boundaries.[i] An additional key point in all of this – one that has largely eluded both historians and supporters of Scouting and Guiding – is the fact that colonialism and fascism are related entities. As Aimé Césaire wrote seventy years ago, Hitler “applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the coolies of India, and the blacks of Africa.”[ii]

Continue reading

A Structural Pandemic: On Statues, Colonial Violence, and the Importance of History (Part I)

Members of the Scout movement salute Baden-Powell as the statue was boarded up. 12 June 2020. Credit, Daily Mail and w8media (Used without permission)

Kristine Alexander and Mary Jane Logan McCallum

2020 has been intense. Living in lockdown, uncertain about the future, watching the body count from Covid-19 and police violence continue to rise. Time, shaped by anger, grief, and fear, moves differently, as the pandemic – like other disease outbreaks before it – exposes and deepens socio-economic divisions and inequalities. Despite the best efforts of conservative politicians and social commentators, it is no longer possible to deny or ignore the fact that racist violence and dispossession are at the core of national histories and still shape social relations and institutions in the twenty-first century.

The relationship between past and present looms particularly large in public consciousness just now, and we are writing as historians – one Indigenous (McCallum) and one settler (Alexander) – whose lives and careers have been shaped by the legacies of British imperialism and Canadian settler colonialism. In quarantine, while grappling with changed domestic and work routines and worrying about loved ones, we read the news. Headlines blend into one another: infection and unemployment rates, racist attacks and anti-racist protests, and the creeping spread of authoritarianism in Western democracies. Significantly for us, there are also stories – a new one every day it seems, about increasingly fractious disagreements regarding what to do with statues of “great men.” This week, we explore issues around commemoration, rights and the pandemic beginning with this post on the life and work of Lord Robert Baden-Powell and recent debates about how he should be remembered, and commemorated.

Continue reading

Indigenizing the Teaching of North American History: A Panel Discussion

In late-October, Active History editor Thomas Peace met with Marie BattisteAlan Corbiere, and Sarah Nickel to discuss decolonization and Indigenization in the teaching of North American history. Over the course of an hour, the conversation explored the meaning of decolonization, Indigenizing the academy, Indigenous resurgence in the Indigenizing of history, assessed specific anticolonial strategies for affecting change in the discipline, and provided advice for history teachers and professors about how to change pedagogies and curriculum.

To extend the conversation, we asked the panelists to provide a list of useful resources history teachers and professors can use to learn more about the subjects addressed during the session. Here is their reading list:

History Slam Episode 170: Being Fat

      No Comments on History Slam Episode 170: Being Fat

By Sean Graham

In 1984, Participaction ran a television commercial telling viewers that “fat is not where it’s at.” Produced long before the “keep fit and have fun’ messages of Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod, the ad has been cited as an example of fat shaming in Canadian culture. Instead of ideas of ‘movement as medicine’, these types campaigns placed categorized people based on the ‘proper’ body type. In doing so, they created a strong sense of unbelonging in those who do not fit within this socially constructed ideal.

The story of those who pushed back against this and engaged in fat activism is the subject of Jenny Ellison’s new book Being Fat: Women, Weight, and Feminist Activism in Canada. Making extensive use of interviews with activists, Ellison explores how these women organized and created things like ‘fat only fitness classes’ and businesses that catered to this underserved market. In doing so, the book analyzes the reach of second wave feminism and its influence on the daily lives of Canadians.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Jenny Ellison about the book. We talk about the origins of fat activism, the strategies used by activists, and the tensions with second wave feminism. We also talk about fitness and healthy eating campaigns, the role of fashion, and the entrepreneurship of some activists.

Continue reading

Monumental Questions: Practical Experiences of the Politics of Commemoration

As cities and communities across Canada confront the legacies of colonialism and racism, monuments and memorials have become a hot topic of public debate. On November 14th, London, Ontario’s Words Festival, brought together Lisa Helps, Mayor of Victoria, Monica MacDonald, co-chair of Halifax’s Cornwallis Taskforce, and University of Toronto History Professor Melanie Newton, for a discussion on the deliberative processes that communities have undertaken to tackle the difficult subject of historical monuments and commemorations, especially when the figures or events they honour confront us with Canada’s legacies of systematic racism and slavery. Join Active History editor Thomas Peace in exploring with the panelists how cities have confronted their monumental legacies, the civic production of history and heritage, and strategies you can draw upon to better understand the politics of historic monuments and place names.

Learn More:

Cindy Blackstock, Spirit Bear: Echoes of the Past (First Nations Child & Family Caring Society)

City of Toronto Briefing Note Responding to the Petition to Rename Dundas Street

City of Victoria – Reconciliation Programs

Monica MacDonald, Recasting History: How CBC Television has Shaped Canada’s Past (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019)

Melanie Newton, “Henry Dundas: Naming Empire and Genocide,” History Workshop (Nov 2020) 

Emma Renaerts, “The Right Way to Topple a Statue,” We Are Not Divided (Oct 2020)

Report of the Task Force on the Commemoration of Edward Cornwallis and the Recognition and Commemoration of Indigenous History

Remember/Resist/Redraw #26: 1995 Calgary Workers Laundry Strike

Earlier this month, the Graphic History Collective released RRR #26 to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1995 Calgary Laundry Workers Strike.

The poster by Mary Joyce and Alvin Finkel outlines the importance of rank-and-file militancy, much of it by immigrant women of colour, in the fight against austerity and privatization in places like Alberta. This poster is particularly pertinent because the Provincial Government of Alberta is today, 25 years later, launching new attacks on health care workers in the midst of a global pandemic.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for social change. Learn more about how you can support the project on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Continue reading

History Slam Episode 169: Jeannie’s Demise

      No Comments on History Slam Episode 169: Jeannie’s Demise

By Sean Graham

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Ian Radforth about his new book Jeannie’s Demise: Abortion on Trial in Victorian Toronto, which examines the murder trial following the 1875 death of Jeannie Gilmour, a young woman who had gone to Arthur and Alice Davis to have an abortion. We chat about crafting a narrative from the story, how the case was sensationalized by the press, and the Victorian idea of ‘Toronto the Good.’ We also talk about Arthur and Alice and how they advertised, Jeannie’s path to them, and how Jeannie’s story fits within the wider history of abortion in Canada.

Continue reading

Rev. William Scott and the Oka Question

      No Comments on Rev. William Scott and the Oka Question

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.

Continue reading