“Symbol of the IGA”: The International Grenfell Association hospital ship Strathcona and the 1970 mass tuberculosis survey of northern Labrador

The Strathcona III in Labrador. Source: Among the Deep Sea Fishers 68, no. 4 (January 1971): 105. Photo courtesy of Memorial University Digital Archives Initiative.

John R.H. Matchim

Since the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Amundsen was reactivated in 2004 it has conducted multiple mass health surveys of Inuit communities across the Canadian Arctic. In 2004 and 2017 surveys organized by the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services and Laval University’s Population Health Unit asked some 2,000 residents questions about housing, family violence, addictions, food insecurity and the reappearance of tuberculosis. While its promoters spoke of improved community health outcomes and “empowerment,” the data was also used “to compare the current situation with the health and social repercussions of the Plan Nord,” Quebec’s contentious programme of northern industrialization.[1] Another pair of surveys, conducted in 2007 and 2008, was funded by the federal government as part of the 2007-08 International Polar Year, and its researchers interviewed and examined adults and children in Nunatsiavut, Kitikmeot, and Inuvialuit regions. Launched to great fanfare, the surveys have been criticized for a lack of transparency and withholding of research findings.[2]

The Amundsen was a critical component of these surveys, providing researchers and governments with a platform that could move technology and people through adverse Artic conditions and sustain them for months at a time. But the Amundsen is just the latest of a long line of ships that have provided governments, companies and health care providers with a means to extend authority, monitor populations, and carry out research in a vast territory that challenges conventional methods of governance. Indeed, news of the Amundsen’s planned visit in 2004 awakened painful memories of the C.D. Howe, another icebreaker that conducted tuberculosis surveys during the 1960s and forcibly removed Inuit to sanitoria in southern Ontario.[3] Drawing upon my on-going research of the International Grenfell Association (IGA), a semi-autonomous health care provider active in Labrador until 1981, this piece will provide some historical context for the contemporary health surveys of the Amundsen. In particular, it will highlight the IGA’s mass tuberculosis survey of Inuit communities in northern Labrador, conducted by the hospital ship Strathcona III in the summer of 1970.

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Epidemics and Racism: Honolulu’s Bubonic Plague and the Big Fire, 1899-1900

Smoke from a “controlled fire” in Honolulu, 1900, Hawai’i State Archives.

Yukari Takai

More than a century before the global outbreak of Covid-19, another deadly disease struck Honolulu, one that ignited the tragic unfolding of many stories about public health, urban fires and social inequalities, particularly racism.

The bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, hit Honolulu’s crowded and throbbing Chinatown in December 1899 when it took the life of one of its first victims, You Chang (or Yon Chong), a twenty-two-year-old bookkeeper at a general store. The disease had been spreading slowly in Asia in the 1870s and reached commercial cities in southern China such as Guangzhou and Hong Kong in the 1890s, before reaching Honolulu and later, San Francisco. Steamship freighters that departed from these Chinese port cities for Honolulu may have carried rats and fleas on board with their cargoes, and this could have been the source of the spread of infection to Honolulu.

Hawai‘i’s Board of Health, which counted physicians Nathaniel Emerson, Francis Day and Clifford Wood among its members, acted quickly and its recommendations were endorsed by President Sanford Dole of the newly annexed U.S. Territory. But the measures raised sensitive issues. Given that the early victims were Chinese, calls arose for the destruction of the entire Chinatown, which was viewed as a hotbed for the plague. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 150: Dope is Death

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By Sean Graham

In the 1970s, Richard Nixon launched the War on Drugs to combat, what he called, public enemy number one. In New York City, groups like the Black Panther Party and Young Lords recognized the damage addiction was doing to local communities, but also felt that federal efforts to combat drug use were doing more damage. From overuse of methadone to police surveillance to removing access to medical and social services, addiction and the ensuring War on Drugs was particularly harmful for marginalized communities in the city.

To combat this, the Black Panthers and Young Lords, with their membership of young activists, implemented a new form of detox that combined medical intervention and political action. Together they established the Lincoln Detox, a centre in the Bronx that used acupuncture to combat withdrawal symptoms caused by heroin. Along with its medical services, the program also ran classes on political activism. In its entirely, the Lincoln Detox sought to help its patients with addiction while simultaneously empowering them to combat systemic discrimination.

That program is the subject of the new documentary Dope is Death. Directed by Mia Donovan, the film follows the story of the Lincoln Detox as described by the people who lived it. As the centre grew, the program and its leaders faced increased scrutiny from government officials upset with the Detox’s use of a new treatment technique and its ideological teachings. A story that highlights racial discrimination, economic subjugation, and the value of social networks, Dope is Death is a powerful film of an influential movement that threatened the medical, political, and social establishment of New York City.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Mia Donovan about the film. We talk about her initial interest in the story, earning the trust of the participants, and the intersection of medicine and activism. We also talk about the racial dynamics in the story, the value of alternative medicine to combat addiction, and the story of Mutulu Shakur.

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Thanks to Christo Aivalis

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This week, the editors would like to highlight the work of an outgoing member of the editorial collective. Christo Aivalis started writing for ActiveHistory.ca in 2015, and was a member of the editorial collective from late 2017 through to this month. A specialist in the history of labour, the Left, and twentieth-century Canadian politics, Christo is also a model of an active, publicly engaged historian, sharing his research widely beyond academic contexts and constantly highlighting its relevance for understanding the world of today. As a tribute to his time as an editor, we are republishing today one of his most popular (and still very timely) posts, which originally appeared on April 5, 2018.

Populism Isn’t a Four Letter Word: Reasserting a Progressive Populism in 2018

Christo Aivalis

In the era of Donald Trump and Doug Ford, populism’s reputation has taken quite the tumble, associated now more than at any time in the recent past with the alt-right movement, predicated in large part on xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and a reflexive aversion to anything that may be connected, however tenuously, to the ‘Social Justice Warrior’ caricature. In this context, populism is little more than a regressive rabble roused by wealthy men with a dubious reputation as ‘regular guys just like you and me.’

Bernie Sanders with arms raises in front of a crowd.

Bernie Sanders, photo by Gage Skidmore

Given this perspective, much handwringing has come from the centre of the political spectrum, as establishment politicians of a multi-partisan bent pine for the political consensus before the Tea Party movement, Trump, and Ford, where it was accepted that a narrow window of political discourse—all cordoned within a general neoliberal consensus built upon a wide-ranging distrust of the common man and woman—reigned supreme.

This is in part why, both during and after the 2016 American Presidential election, Hilary Clinton obtained so much support from those deemed to be moderate republican intellectuals and stalwarts, ranging from George H. W. Bush to David Frum. Such men were mortal enemies of the American centre-left before Trump’s rise, and yet are now welcomed with open arms into #TheResistance because they share a similar overall vision about how society should be run, and most importantly in this context, who should run it.

While a good chunk of this is a genuine reaction to the rhetoric of Trump, it was and is more cynically an attempt to equate Trump to the left wing populism of figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Senator Bernie Sanders. In this narrative—a rift on the questionable horseshoe theory of politics—Trump and Sanders are both demagogues who irresponsibly stoke the fears of the masses to destroy the liberal political tradition for their own benefit. From my point of view as a historian and observer of contemporary politics, however, the two men could not be more different. Continue reading

12 Black Scholars on the Black Lives Matter Movement and Canada

Black Lives Matter demonstration, Calgary, 1 June 2020. Calgary Herald.

As millions around the world take to the streets to defend Black lives, decry racist police violence and structural racism, and articulate visions for a radically different future, a number of Black scholars in Canada have engaged with public audiences to help contextualize this moment and lay out how racism is very much a Canadian problem as well. The below list, assembled by Activehistory.ca’s editorial collective, highlights some of these important contributions.

  1. Robyn Maynard, author of Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present (Fernwood, 2017), spoke to the CBC News Network about the history of anti-Black racism in Canada.
  2. Professors Afua Cooper and Rinaldo Walcott were interviewed by the Toronto Star on Black Canadian history and its persistent erasure. The article also includes a useful list of relevant books, films, and historical sites.
  3. Professor Barrington Walker of Wilfrid Laurier University spoke to CBC Radio: “I think what we’re seeing is the connection between longer histories of socio-economic marginalization [and] the impoverishment and neglect of black communities in both countries.”
  4. Just before the burgeoning of worldwide protests, postdoctoral fellow Melissa N. Shaw spoke to the McGill Reporter about her exciting new research on the foundational role of slavery and colonialism in McGill’s history. 
  5. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, poet and activist El Jones debunked narratives of Canada’s benign racial past and present.
  6. Professor Rinaldo Walcott of the University of Toronto beautifully blends past, present, and future in this essay for Maclean’s. Nine other prominent Black intellectuals contributed essays to the same issue.
  7. Professor Ingrid Waldron was interviewed by The Narwhal on the links between environmental racism and police brutality.
  8. Philippe Néméh-Nombré a parlé au 15-18 (Radio-Canada) sur la question de couper les fonds des forces policières.
  9. Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter – Toronto, wrote about how defunding the police will save Black and Indigenous lives.
  10. In the Globe and Mail, Professor Debra Thompson discusses her family’s experience in Canada and the United States, and asks what it means to be Black in North America. 
  11. Professor Cheryl Thompson penned an article for Spacing Toronto on Black people, space, and erasure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  12. In The Varsity, OISE professor rosalind hampton announced the creation of the National Black Graduate Network.

Two bonus links:

  1. Want to do something to support Black history in Canada? Join Nova Scotia Senator Wanda Bernard and historian Natasha Henry, president of the Ontario Black History Society, in their push to have Emancipation Day recognized across the country.*
  2. Want to buy books by some of the above scholars? Why not support a Black-owned bookstore in the process? Check out this map of Black-owned bookstores in North America, including three in the Greater Toronto Area and one in Montréal.

* Correction: The original post omitted a key actor in these efforts. Rosemary Sadlier, former president of the Ontario Black History Society, has been at the forefront of the campaign for the recognition of Emancipation Day for over twenty years.

If you’re not doing history to make change, what the f— are you doing it for?

By Samantha Cutrara

How to you teach racism in your Canadian history classroom?

Do you teach racism in your Canadian history classroom?

Do you mention racist actions or events and then move on to the next part of the chronology?

Do you acknowledge that there were ethnically and culturally diverse peoples in the Canadian past but fail to introduce any of these people or communities in your lessons in any substantial way? Maybe there is no time, maybe it doesn’t fit the narrative, or maybe you just don’t know these histories enough to teach them.

Black Histories Matter

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History Slam Episode 149: Indigenous Self-Determination in Canadian Sport

By Sean Graham

June 4 is Tom Longboat Day, which recognizes the life and career of one of the best distance runners to ever represent Canada. Winner of the 1907 Boston Marathon, Longboat is remembered for both his athletic achievements and innovative training methods. From the Six Nations of the Grand River Reserve near Brantford, ON, Longboat faced racism and prejudice throughout his career, including being called lazy by the press and fellow competitors over his training schedule.

By introducing regular rest into his regime, however, Longboat had a competitive advantage over other runners, who believed that they had to train at maximum effort all the time. He had a better understanding of how to train for long races and, as a result, he was fresher and better prepared than his competitors. This served him well during his career as he was known for his strong finishing sprints.

In 1951, the Tom Longboat Awards were established to recognize Indigenous athletes for outstanding contributions to sport in Canada. In the new book Reclaiming Tom Longboat: Indigenous Self-Determination in Canadian Sport, Janice Forsyth explores the history of the awards and their place within the broader history of Canadian policy and Crown-Indigenous relations. The book looks at how sport has been part of colonization in Canada while at the same time it asks how it can be part of decolonization. Through both oral and textual sources, Professor Forsyth pushes the reader to think critically about sport’s role in Canada while also shedding light on an under-told story in Canadian sport history.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Professor Forsyth about the book. We talk about her experience as a winner of the award, the place of role models in sport, and the use of mainstream sports in colonization. We also talk about sport and culture, the media’s role in telling athletes’ stories, and traditional sport and games and their role in decolonization.

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John E. “Jack” Hammell and the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame

Canadian Mining Hall of Fame website

By Matthew Corbeil

In January 2007, Canadian mining giant Teck Cominco (since rebranded Teck Resources) donated $10 million to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in what was “the largest corporate gift in the museum’s history.” The donation went toward the creation of three new earth science galleries, allowing the museum to double the number of minerals and gems it could display to the public and endowed a curator to design exhibits for the galleries.

At the same time, the donation allowed the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame (CMHF) – an industry initiative to celebrate the contribution of mining to Canadian history – to open a new “interactive, digital exhibit” at the museum. Teck president Donald Lindsay noted that, “Bringing the Hall of Fame to the new ROM is a natural fit, complemented by exhibits that investigate the link between earth’s resources and everyday life.” Yet, although the CMHF recognizes “individuals from all facets of the mining industry,” its selection of “industry leaders” is notably slanted. All 170 of the CMHF’s inductees come from the business side of mining.

Corporate sponsorship in the cultural sphere is hardly uncommon. For museums, it is altogether typical. Many prominent museum websites display the logos of their “global partners” and “corporate supporters.” London’s British Museum goes so far as to entice potential corporate suitors to “partner with a global icon,” boasting of “the unique sponsorship opportunities” it can offer “as one of the most recognised and respected cultural brands.”

Yet, such partnerships come with a cost. Legally bound to maximize shareholder value, corporations rarely give without expecting something in return. As one museum director put it, “Sponsorship is a commercial arrangement … and the sponsorship partner pays a fee. It’s not a grant.” What do corporations expect from their partners? According to a 2015 Harvard Business School study, sponsorship agreements can offer corporations “access to cultural, symbolic, and social resources, which can add value” to the products and services they offer. In other words, partnerships are another form of marketing, a way to enhance or legitimise a “corporate brand.”

The attractions of museum partnerships to the mining industry are plain to see. Few, if any, mining companies, have a desirable image. Mining is the prototypical “dirty industry.” Long a major polluter, mining is increasingly associated with human rights violations and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 148: Why Political Leaders Matter

By Sean Graham

As an undergraduate student, I had an idea for a paper in my fourth year seminar on Canadian history to write about the 1930 federal election. It was a campaign that I was intrigued by – you had an economic collapse, a new leader of the Conservative Party, and a Prime Minister who would come back five years later. The more I read about the election, trends emerged that I had not expected and the paper turned into an analysis that went beyond politics.

A similar thing happened when I started to deal with the 1935 federal election during my MA research on the history of Canadian radio. In this case, you had the same two leaders as 1930, but a very different economic outlook and, more importantly, an unrecognizable media landscape. While radio played a role in 1930, its use was a major issue during the 1935 campaign and a significant factor in William Lyon Mackenzie King’s desire to re-organize the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission following his government’s return to power.

What was remarkable in looking at these campaigns, though, was that the role of the leaders, over the course of 5 years, was different. The two individuals were the same, but the way they engaged the Canadian people – and the way Canadians felt about them – had drastically changed.

In our federal elections, the vast majority of the population does not cast a ballot for a leader of a political party. Despite this, people have a tendency to vote for the candidate representing the party of their preferred leader. At the same time, there is a saying that all politics are local. As I result, when I’ve written about the 1930 and 1935 elections, I’ve wondered how to analyze this potential paradox.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Amanda Bittner of Memorial University about the significance of political leaders. We talk about how polling data is used, partisan voting patterns, and the role of leaders in swaying voters. We also discuss policies v. personalities, the significance of branding leaders, and the challenges of attracting people to politics.

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Surviving Grad School During a Pandemic

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By Erin Gallagher-Cohoon

This post has been cross-posted with CovidChroniclers.com

I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the 20 graduate students who shared their stories with me. Wherever you end up, may you never lose your passion, curiosity, and empathy. I see you. I acknowledge you.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about surviving grad school during a pandemic. I was flattered (and saddened) that my comments seemed to resonate to such a degree with other graduate students. I noticed that many who shared my post on social media quoted one paragraph in particular, a paragraph in which I refute the idea that we are simply preparing for a future career. One colleague messaged me to say how “soothing” it was to hear someone else acknowledge what she does as a career. Another fellow graduate student e-mailed me to say how much she appreciated folks “sharing their stories despite the immense difficulty of the time and self-exposure of the practice.”

I started to more deliberately ask people to share their stories with me. Many wanted to discuss their role as workers and the lack of recognition from the university for their labour. Some were sessional instructors or Teaching Assistants during the move online. For some, there was a noticeable increase in their hours of work, in the emotional labour needed to support undergraduate students who were themselves anxious and stressed, and even in the technical support some faculty were asking from them as someone who was “young and decently tech savvy and reasonably approachable.”

My willingness to see graduate school as a career, to talk about our work as work seems to have resonated so deeply with people because that is how many experience graduate school. And, yet there is a disconnect between this experience and the perspective of university administrations. One colleague described it like this: “Basically, it feels like their approach to graduate student work is that we do this for professional development or some sort of recreation or like extra pocket money or something . . . my job actually is what I pay the rent with.”

In the last two weeks, I have spoken with 15 graduate students and 5 others have messaged me with written comments. I spoke with students from Simon Fraser University, the University of Lethbridge, the University of Saskatchewan, Queen’s University, Carleton University, the University of Ottawa, the University of Guelph, Université Laval, and York University. They have ranged from M.A. students to PhD candidates in their 8th year, in programs as diverse as Computer Science, Sociology, Kinesiology, History, and Anthropology.

I spoke with students who felt that their universities (or, more often) Departments had really stepped up and provided them with support, and many others who felt disillusioned and disheartened by the lack of support. I spoke with students who had prestigious external awards and were as financially stable as possible while in graduate school, and others who were beyond the guaranteed funding period. Some felt that graduate school had actually prepared them for working from home, or in isolation, or that previous mental health crises had given them the coping skills that were so crucial at this time. One student with a serious injury described how, despite the many problems with online learning, “maybe it will make the university see that it’s actually doable so that my accommodation wouldn’t be seen as something insane to ask.” In other words, for some, transitioning to online research has been possible, and may even come with some surprising benefits. For others, it has meant drastic adjustments, perhaps even a complete halt to their work. Continue reading