History Slam 202: The Racial Mosaic

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By Sean Graham

In October 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau delivered a statement in the House of Commons to announce that multiculturalism was now an official government policy. Based on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, which had been appointed in 1963, the intent of the policy was to both recognize the contributions of diverse ethnic groups while also protecting cultural freedom for all Canadians. In the fifty years since that announcement, the idea of multiculturalism and its meaning to Canada has continued to expand and change to reflect the country’s shifting demographics.

When thinking about the introduction of official multiculturalism, though, it’s important to remember that it didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of time for the government’s position on what constituted a ‘Canadian’ to change. The land that is now Canada has been home to diverse cultural groups from time immemorial, but the recognition of the nation’s diversity was a marked change in how the state officially viewed the population. Tracing the evolution of that position, in particular through the significant challenges presented by the interwar period, tells us a lot about what led to the Prime Minister’s 1971 announcement.

This is also the subject of Daniel R. Meister’s new book The Racial Mosaic: A Pre-History of Canadian Multiculturalism. In telling the story, Meister uses a historical biography approach to assess the changing conceptions of race, pluralism, and identity in the interwar period. Through the stories of Watson Kirkconnell, Robert England, and John Murray Gibbon, the book explores multiculturalism’s historical antecedents while also examining how race and racism have contributed to settler-colonialism in Canada.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Daniel about the book and history of multiculturalism. We discuss how he defines the pre-history of multiculturalism and pluralism, how these have contributed to colonialism, and the changing interpretation of race in the interwar years. We also chat about the rise of nationalism following the First World War, the utility of historical biography, and the key factors leading to 1971.

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The Shifting Boundaries of Colonial Land Taking: The Continuity of Settler Land Theft and Indigenous Resistance in Kahnawà:ke  

photo of an protest camp

Figure 1 #LandBack Encampment in Kahnawake, July 16, 2021. Photo by Daniel Rück

Daniel Rück

Non-Indigenous people who encounter Indigenous #LandBack protests are often surprised or taken aback. They may be angry about being inconvenienced on their commute and may even resort to racist stereotypes to explain what is happening. They might ask themselves questions like: Why are Indigenous people so upset? Why are they choosing to occupy land or block a road instead of writing letters to their elected representatives? To understand why, Canadians would do well to learn about the long histories of all the ways settlers have been taking Indigenous lands, and the centuries-long struggle of Indigenous peoples to defend their lands.

Take, for example the Kanehsatà:ke Resistance (Oka Crisis), which was a response to both the expansion plans of a golf course, but also to centuries of land theft and injustice in both Kanehsatà:ke and Kahnawà:ke. This is also true of the many other actions by land defenders in so-called Canada, and around the world, including more prominent ones like Land Back Lane (at Six Nations of the Grand River) and the Wet’suwet’en defense against unauthorized pipeline construction on their lands in so-called British Columbia. Another such action has been happening since the summer of 2021 in Kahnawà:ke, a Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community near Montréal.

In April 2021 the city of Châteauguay, which borders Kahnawà:ke, gave the green light to a new development of 290 housing units on land that historically belonged to Kahnawà:ke and was never ceded. The Kanien’kehá:ka Nation at Kahnawà:ke strongly opposed this development as one that “further usurps lands that rightfully belong to Kahnawà:ke.”[1] According to a Longhouse press release:

The western boundary of the territory of Kahnawà:ke originally extended to the Wolf River (now called the Chateauguay River), an estimated 9-square mile zone that has been wrongfully occupied by Chateauguay. Since the fall of New France in 1760, numerous petitions were made to the succeeding British Regime from Kahnawà:ke complaining about breeches to our territorial integrity and encroachment along the western boundary.”[2]

The Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke also communicated its opposition to the project to the Chateauguay mayor, Quebec Premier François Legault, and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, but the letters had little impact. On July 1, 2021, after it was clear that all protests had been ignored or dismissed, a group of Kahnawa’kehró:non set up an encampment to try to stop the development, and this land defense continues to this day.

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On Freedom

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Laura Madokoro

Credit: photo by author, taken on Kent Street, Ottawa on Friday 28 January 2022.

I started writing this piece yesterday evening in my home in Ottawa, on the traditional, unceded territories of the Algonquin Nation. It was not a typical Sunday evening by any stretch of the imagination. Since last Friday we have been surrounded by the sounds of trucks and have seen large numbers of protesters showing their support for the Rally for Freedom.

As numerous press and eye-witness accounts have made clear, what started as a protest against the federal government’s vaccine mandate for cross-border truck drivers has grown into an outlet for all kinds of pandemic-related frustrations, and anger generally. What reports have underlined is that the protest has also become a vehicle for hate, as though we haven’t all been struggling and made miserable by the effects of the pandemic.

On Friday evening, a Chinese-Canadian friend texted me to say:

“Heads up, there are Confederate flags, folks with blatant racist clothes downtown.”

His fear was palpable, and his text sent my adrenaline rushing. I too was immediately fearful in a way that was more immediate and very different from just hearing the sounds of truck motors and horns. We both live downtown, and we didn’t know whether it was okay for us to be out on the streets.

I texted back: “Thanks for letting us know. Stay safe.”

With this exchange, my mind immediately turned to historian Tyler Stovall’s work White Freedom: The History of a Racial Idea (Princeton University Press, 2021). In the book, Stovall makes the simple argument that freedom has long been a powerful animating force among liberal democracies – and also a deeply damaging one. As Stovall argues, freedom is a thoroughly racialized concept. He writes to “believe in freedom, specifically in one’s entitlement to freedom was (and I would add, is) a key component of white supremacy”.[1]

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Family Story, a Heritage Home, and Munsee-Delaware Histories

In the early 1970s, a one and a half story log structure was relocated from the Munsee-Delaware Nation to Ska-Nah-Doht or Longwoods Conservation Area. By this time, the building was well over one hundred and twenty years old and had provided a home for many generations of two families of the Munsee-Delaware community.

The Logan home, built in the mid-1800s, was witness to significant change in the community and to centuries old ways of being: the pressure to adapt to the realities of government policy, the surrounding settler communities and the economic development of southwestern Ontario. The oldest physical structure from the community, the building represents the strength of the Munsee people, adapting and effecting change in local, provincial, national and global environments. This post looks at the contributions of three Munsee Delaware community members who were born and raised within this building.

Logan home (present day)


The Munsee-Delaware community is located on the Thames River, southwest of present day London, Ontario. Bordering the Munsee-Delaware community are two First Nation communities, the Chippewa of the Thames and across the river, the Oneida Nation of the Thames. At the conclusion of the American Revolution, during the early 1780s, the Munsee people came to Upper Canada and settled at Munceytown along the Thames. Continue reading

History Slam 201: A Canadian Canine War Hero

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By Sean Graham

In 2011, War Horse hit screens around the world. Telling the story of a British teenager’s horse being purchased by the military for service in the First World War, the film grossed over $175 million worldwide. Based on a 1982 novel, the story has also been successfully adapted to the stage and is probably the best known medium through which people have learned about the use of animals during the war. Estimates vary, but according to the Imperial War Museums over 16 million animals served between 1914 and 1918, being used for transportation, communication, and companionship. That number doesn’t include the animals that were put to work as part of the war effort on the home front, as many communities used dogs as part of their war fundraising efforts. That people around the world were so willing to make animals an active part of a conflict in which they had no culpability raises many questions about the ethics and morality surrounding human-animal relationships.

One such case was that of Muggins, a dog in Victoria, British Columbia who raised thousands of dollars for a number of charities, including the Red Cross, during the First World War. A purebred Spitz, Muggins became a popular fixture of the Victoria waterfront as he canvassed wearing tins in which people would place their donations. He also helped cheer up wounded soldiers at Esquimalt Military Hospital and saw soldiers off as they departed the city on their way to Europe. His story, wonderfully told by Grant Hayter-Menzies in Muggins: The Life and Afterlife of a Canadian War Hero, is not only one of joy and happiness, however, as the circumstances of his death could be evidence of being overworked. What on the surface might appear to be a community-based story of a beloved dog in fact sheds a light on the complicated, and often fraught, history of how animals have been used by human beings and how people view their environment.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Grant Hayter-Menzies about his book and the story of Muggins. We chat about how Grant approaches his biographies of animals (7:25) and Muggins’ career as a prominent fundraiser (12:10). We also discuss the agency of animals in their relationships with people (18:45) and whether the story is one of animals or human beings (27:58). In addition to Muggins, Grant has written biographies of other notable animals, which you can find on his website.

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From a history degree to working at Shopify

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Four small brown boxes, one of which has a miniature shopping cart on top. There is a credit card in the shopping cart.

Andrew Webb

“A history degree? What are you going to do with that?”

Work my way into the best tech company in the country. That’s what.

Not right out of college, of course. It’s entirely possible to work at your dream company with a history degree, though—-as long as you’re willing to work hard at learning new skills.

How, though? Continue reading

Two Dead White Men…

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By James Cullingham

As a veteran educator, documentary filmmaker and journalist it’s been a welcome challenge to take on something new. Two Dead White Men – DC Scott, Jacques Soustelle and the Failure of Indigenous Policy (Seneca Press) is my first book.

Two Dead White Men… explores the careers and legacies of Duncan Campbell Scott and Jacques Soustelle.  Scott (1862-1947) was a poet and a key figure in the Canadian Indian Department for decades. He is well known to many Canadians, notoriously so in recent years. Soustelle (1912 – 1990) was an eminent French ethnologist of Mexico and maverick political figure as the last Governor General of French Algeria. Continue reading

History Slam 200: Disruption & Disorientation in Queer Community Sports

By Sean Graham

The Tokyo Olympics this past August set a new record for the number of out LGBTQS2+ athletes competing. When the 2022 Beijing games kick off in a couple of weeks, it’s likely that a new record will be set for the winter games. The increased visibility and support for out athletes has been mirrored at the grass roots level of sport, where leagues for members of the LGBTQS2+ community and its allies have grown across the country. Take curling, where 11 cities in Canada have long-running leagues and come together each spring for the Canadian Gay Curling Championship. While these leagues can be competitive, they are arguably much more important for building communities and relationships within a supportive social environment. The players want to win, but the importance of playing goes beyond the final score.

These grassroot leagues are the subject of Claire Carter’s new book Who’s Coming Out to Play: Disruption and Disorientation in Community Sports. Professor Carter examines queer community sport leagues in Toronto and Vancouver and how they have shifted the dynamics of both LGBTQ2S+ communities in these cities and the space surrounding sports. By prioritizing socializing and inclusivity, the leagues are building spaces that create new ways to engage with sports and reassess the rules of play. The leagues and their players are not perfect – they are continually pushing towards greater inclusivity and ensuring everyone is welcome to play – but their existence and the experience of the players highlight some of the key ways in which they (and sports in general) are significant both inside and outside the lines.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Dr. Carter about the book. We discuss what draws people to queer community leagues (5:39), how players have built social networks through sport (12:56), and challenging stereotypical depictions of women in sports (14:16). We also chat about fighting misogyny within the rules of play (19:26), why sports are so effective at building community (31:16), and the impact of Covid on the leagues (37:47).

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Hard Times in Peterborough: Peter Wylie Takes on Small Town Big Business

Trent University, 2011. Suzanne Schroeter, Wikimedia Commons

David M. K. Sheinin

In 1997, the Peterborough real estate developer AON, Inc. settled out of court libel suits against the Peterborough Examiner newspaper, local television station CHEX-TV, and Trent University Economics professor Peter Wylie. As a function of the settlements, each respondent apologized unreservedly to AON. At issue was an accusation by Wylie that AON and the City of Peterborough had colluded on a contract to build a downtown parking structure. The Peterborough Examiner and CHEX-TV told the story to the public. According to a thirty-year veteran of CHEX-TV, nobody at the station can remember another occasion on which the lead news anchor has issued an on-air apology. In steamrolling its opponents, AON made clear that further legal wrangling would cost the respondents dearly, and for years to come. Run out of town on a rail, Wylie lit out for British Columbia.

The clash between the powerful real estate corporation and the Trent University professor (with local media as collateral) capped two decades of rapid change in Peterborough. In the 1960s, Peterborough had been a booming industrial city shaped by high-tech industries like Canadian General Electric (CGE) and tool-and-die manufacturer Fisher-Gauge. But by 1990, Outboard Marine, which once employed 2,000 people, and several other industrial plants, had closed. The 80-acre CGE site employed a tenth of those working there three decades earlier. General Motors (Oshawa) now ranked as the county’s largest employer followed closely by Trent University. Through two decades of deindustrialization, AON had overtaken traditional heavy industrial concerns as the most powerful business voice in the city—demonstrated publicly in its apology demands. Meanwhile, in its tepid support of Peter Wylie, Trent University—once a hotbed of 1960s political and cultural dissent—had settled into a more staid identity as a respectable corporate member of the Peterborough community. In the case against Peter Wylie, both AON and Trent University put their stamp on the city. Continue reading

History Slam 199: The Making of a Museum

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By Sean Graham

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Judith Nasby, former Director of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre/Art Gallery of Guelph and author of The Making of a Museum. We discuss the gallery’s style (1:51), the challenges facing smaller museums (5:21), and how a dedicated space changed the gallery’s prospects (14:12). We then chat about the gallery’s relationship with the university (17:02), writing memoir as history (23:00), and what advice Judith would give to anyone wanting to work in museums (25:24).

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