Conversations with Egyptian Uber Drivers: Why Emigrate? Why Canada?

Commuting in Alexandria’s mid-day traffic. Author’s photo.

Michael Akladios

Census Canada estimated earlier this year that the proportion of Arabic speakers in Canada is projected to increase 200 per cent by 2036. Yet, the study of immigration and ethnicity in North America tends to ignore Middle Eastern immigrants. The region remains in the Western imaginary as an ahistorical and hermeneutically sealed zone.[1] However, one would be hard-pressed to find someone in Egypt today without a friend or relative who has emigrated.

I visited Egypt for a six-week research trip this summer, to compile documents from state and institutional archives on the history of Egyptian immigration to Toronto and the New York/New Jersey area in the post-WWII period. In the process, I often asked myself what my study of the history of Egyptian emigration contributes to our present understanding of Egypt and its émigré populations. The answer to that question began to form as I traveled throughout the country. On every excursion from a hotel, I requested an Uber. There are approximately 150,000 Uber drivers in Egypt and it is the most convenient and comfortable form of travel for visitors. Stuck in mid-day traffic, I would engage the drivers in conversation. After nearly three-dozen conversations, patterns emerged.[2] The perception of emigration, its motivations, and the expectations of those wishing to emigrate have all changed in the past sixty years.

When I interviewed a self-described “Canadian of Egyptian origin” in Toronto last spring, who had immigrated to Canada in the early 1970s, he recalled seeing his own migration as a journey from city to village.[3] For him, as for many other Egyptians who began to emigrate to North America in the late 1950s, Toronto and Montreal were young, empty, and lacked the diversity of populations and services that characterized their city lives in Cairo and summers spent in Alexandria. They have all recounted with whimsy that the streets of Cairo and Alexandria rivaled those of Paris and were the envy of Western Europe.

The factors that once prompted many to emigrate were quite varied. Continue reading

Implementing TRC Call to Action #79: Commemoration of Indian Residential School Sites

By Carling Beninger

Given the recent debate in Canada about the commemoration of historical figures involved in the Indian residential school (IRS) system, including calls to remove names of historical figures from schools or buildings, it is important also to recognize the necessity of commemorating IRS sites. Acknowledging the legacy of the IRS system at school sites will not only contribute to the reshaping of public memory about Canadian history, but will also honour those that attended the schools and those who did not survive, and provide further education about the government and churches’ roles in establishing the IRS system as an assimilative tool.

In negotiations for the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA), the largest class action settlement in Canadian history, commemoration was signaled out as an important priority for addressing the IRS legacy. Commemoration is one of the five components of the IRRSA, which also includes the Common Experience Payment, Independent Assessment Process, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and healing and health services. The TRC Final Report concluded that “ommemorations and memorials at former school sites and cemeteries are visible reminders of Canada’s shame and church complicity. They bear witness to the suffering and loss that generations of Aboriginal people have endured and overcome.”[1]

Earlier this week Ry Moran, director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, called on the federal government to do more to preserve the seventeen remaining IRS buildings that are still standing. Moran commented: “I think it’s really essential that we support community-led initiatives to preserve some of the remaining, standing residential schools so that we are unable as a country to forget this history.”[2]

Not all communities, however, want the buildings preserved. Continue reading

Remember / Resist / Redraw #10: Remembering the 75th Anniversary of Japanese Canadian Internment

Remember / Resist / Redraw #10: Remembering the 75th Anniversary of Japanese Canadian Internment

 In January, the Graphic History Collective (GHC) launched Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical History Poster Project, a year-long artistic intervention in the Canada 150 conversation.

Earlier this month we released Poster #10 by Chris Robertson and Lorene Oikawa, which points out that Canada 150 also marks the 75th anniversary of Japanese Canadian Internment. In fact, it was 75 years ago (30 September 1942) that Japanese Canadians, who were being detained at Hastings Park in Vancouver, were sent to internment camps.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for radical change in 2017 and beyond. Learn more about how you can support the project on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Lessons for the 2017 NDP Leadership Race from Past Leadership Conventions – Part II

David Blocker

Editors Note: This is the second post in a two-part series on the history of NDP leadership conventions. The first post in the series can be read here.

Today’s post continues an examination of past NDP leadership conventions as a means of looking for historical trends within the NDP leadership races. The two posts in this series aim to highlight how history can be used to interpret potential outcomes of the 2017 leadership race.

Setting the Stage for 1989

When Ed Broadbent resigned after fourteen years as leader of the federal NDP following the 1988 free trade election, the party’s circumstances had improved significantly from the last leadership contest in 1975.  Although no longer in provincial government, provincial parties in B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario remained strong, and the federal caucus of forty-three was the largest the NDP had ever elected.  Despite this success, however, the 1988 federal election had proved disappointing for a party that had hopes of displacing the Liberals as Official Opposition.

The 1989 Candidates

Headshot of Audrey McLaughin wearing a green coat and glasses.

Audrey McLaughin in 2012. By Frank Saptel – Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

The constitutional debates of the 1980s had repeatedly driven a wedge between the federal and provincial NDP parties.  As a result, a large part of front-runner Audrey McLaughlin’s appeal as potential leader was her lack of “baggage” within the party.  McLaughlin, a former social worker, had first been elected as a MP from the Yukon in a 1987 by-election, and a sizeable portion of feminists in the party joined her campaign from the beginning.[1]  McLaughlin’s campaign emphasized a consensus-building, conciliatory “new politics” and many New Democrats were excited at the possibility of becoming the first federal party with a female leader.

Four other MPs entered the leadership race.  The campaign by Ian Waddell emphasized greater internal party democracy, while scientist and civil-rights activist Howard McCurdy called for a more inclusionary party.  Fellow Windsor MP Steven Langdon ran the most left-wing leadership campaign, calling for a “new radicalism” and Saskatchewan MP Simon de Jong argued for a special constitutional assembly and an electoral system based on proportional representation.

By the autumn of 1989 senior party and union leaders had become concerned.  Once again, none of the leading provincial party stars had come forward, and the field, led by McLaughlin, appeared uninspired.  Desperate, they turned first to former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, most recently Canada’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and a regular on the popular CBC program Morningside, who declined, and then to the former “wonder boy” of the federal caucus, Bob Rae, the intelligent, articulate and modern leader of the Ontario NDP.  However, despite great anticipation (the Toronto Star published an article mistakenly claiming that he was about to enter the race) and to the surprise of the Ontario caucus, Rae, unsure of support from western Canada, decided not to seek the federal leadership.

While Rae pondered, another provincial party stalwart stepped forward after the encouragement of party and union leaders – Dave Barrett, former Premier of British Columbia and leader of the B.C. NDP from 1969 to 1984.  Barrett had been elected as a MP in Esquimalt – Juan de Fuca in 1988, and despite Stephen Lewis’s urging him to remain out of the race in favour of Rae, Barrett chose to enter the race immediately before the start of a cross-country tour of all-candidates debates.  Barrett’s energetic, personable and populist style contrasted strongly with McLaughlin’s emphasis on consensus-building.  He also discounted the importance of accommodating Quebec in the constitutional debates of the period and dismissed the need for a federal leader to be bilingual, instead urging the party to focus on traditional areas of support in western Canada.[2]  Consequently, Phil Edmonston, a high-profile candidate for the NDP in Quebec, threatened to leave the party if Barrett became leader.  With few other options, many labour leaders endorsed McLaughlin, including Michael Lewis, Stephen’s brother and an influential official with the Steelworkers, Leo Gerard, the Steelworkers Canadian director, and Bob White, President of the Canadian Auto Workers.

Endorsements and Results

A disappointing speech by McLaughlin at the start of the convention did little to cement her support from undecided delegates, and on the first ballot her surprisingly low vote total gave hope to the other contenders.  The three candidates with the lowest votes dropped out of the race after the first ballot and each endorsed a different candidate.  In a move that proved controversial, Simon de Jong chose to endorse McLaughlin after being dropped from the second ballot. Continue reading

Lessons for the 2017 NDP Leadership Race from Past Leadership Conventions

David Blocker

Editors Note: This is the first post in a two-part series on the history of NDP leadership conventions.  The second part to this series will be posted tomorrow morning.

NDP Leadership Race Logo

NDP Leadership Race Logo. Fair Use.

As the 2017 NDP leadership race concludes and results of the first round of voting are released on October 1, 2017 historians have a unique opportunity to reflect on past leadership conventions and examine the historical trends evident in past bids for leadership. This post will examine the 1971 and 1975 leadership conventions and part two of this series will examine the 1989 and 1995 conventions. An examination of these four leadership races provides insight into longstanding trends within the NDP’s electoral bases, policy divisions within the party, and the impact of insurgent leadership candidates on leadership races.

For example, historically insurgent leadership candidates from the left have fared poorly in contests for the federal leadership of Canada’s left-wing party. Additionally, despite federal and provincial electoral returns that rival Saskatchewan’s as the party most reliable provincial base of support, the NDP has never elected a leader from British Columbia.  This trend is reflected in  2017 leadership candidate Peter Julian from BC who dropped out of the race after failing to gain momentum. This two part series will be diving into past leadership conventions as a way of looking at larger trends within the NDP leadership votes.

The 1971 Leadership Race

The Waffle movement, which formed around the “Manifesto for an Independent and Socialist Canada” dominated the policy debates and media coverage of the 1971 race to replace to Tommy Douglas, the first leader of the federal NDP. Although David Lewis, the guiding force of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and the chief architect behind the NDP’s formation in 1961, was widely expected to run for and win the NDP leadership, the 1971 leadership contest was closely contested. In addition, the race produced passionate debates over the issues of Quebec’s right to self-determination and the impact of the women’s liberation movement on the NDP.

The Waffle first challenged the NDP by demanding at the 1969 convention that it adopt policy positions emphasizing public ownership as the only cure for American control of the Canadian economy. Despite the defeat of the “Waffle Manifesto”, the group continued to organize and challenge both provincial and federal NDP leaderships to adopt and, in the cases of provincial governments in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, enact left-wing policies. Continue reading

Cultural Appropriation and the Practice of History

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By Andrew Nurse

I will confess that I am haunted by Marius Barbeau, the twentieth century anthropologist and folklorist, about whom I wrote my doctoral dissertation. Barbeau has done a lot for me. He’s helped build my CV because I’ve written — perhaps, some might say, too much — a good deal about him. He got me my job. Indeed, my “job talk” was an exploration of the issues his work raised for Canadian cultural history. He’s gotten me invited to conferences, led to offers of collaboration, brought me books to review, helped me meet colleagues at faculty seminars where I’ve talked about him and, I am certain, gotten me promoted. He is responsible, in large measure, for those step pay raises we, as faculty, receive over the years.

Marius Barbeau

One of the things I learnt from Barbeau was how not to interact with Indigenous cultures. I learnt about power and voice and what happens when Indigenous people cannot speak in their own names because their voices will be ignored while their culture is displayed in museums or at tourist sites. I learnt, in short, about cultural appropriation. But, that learning has only brought with it more questions. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 105: Shadow Red

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By Sean Graham

2017 is the 100th anniversary of Tom Thomson’s death. Earlier this year, I talked with Gregory Klages about Thomson’s death and the many theories that have surrounded it for the past century. But that’s not all that’s been going on to mark the event. Last Thursday, a new art exhibition opened at Toronto’s ArteMbassy entitled Shadow Red. For the past three years, artist Martha Johnson has put together a series of works that pay homage to Thomson’s life and legacy.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Martha Johnson about the exhibit. We chat about her personal connection to Tom Thomson, his legacy in Canada’s art community, and her artistic style. We also talk about the exhibit, using blankets as a canvas, what visitors can expect, and how nature has influenced Canadian art. The exhibit runs through October 1, so if you’re in the GTA, it’s definitely worth the trip.

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MISHI 2017 Reflections: Bridging Land, Ideas, Generations, Worlds

By Victoria Jackson, Daniel Murchison, and Carolyn Podruchny

Editors Note: This is the first in a monthly series of reports from MISHI 2017, a partner in Active History.

We thought there were only two ways on and off Manitoulin Island: driving over the Little Current Swing Bridge along Highway 6 on the north shore, or arriving at South Baymouth on the south shore via the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry from Tobermory on the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. We were wrong. The “Manitoulin Island Summer Historical Institute (MISHI) 2017: Does Wisdom Sit in Places? Sites as Sources of Knowledge,” a five-day summer institute held from August 14-18, 2017, taught us that the wisdom and knowledge on Manitoulin Island travels over many bridges.

MISHI 2017 focused on understanding how place-based knowledge shapes an Anishinaabe-centred history of Manitoulin Island and its environs. Co-sponsored by the History of Indigenous Peoples (HIP) Network, a research cluster embedded within the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies at York University, and the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation (OCF), an organization devoted to Anishinaabe history and culture, the summer institute brought together 25 established and emerging historians, graduate students, administrators, artists, Elders, and knowledge-keepers to explore the history through landscapes, stories, and documents. The OCF represents six First Nations (Aundek Omni Kaning, M’Chigeeng, Sheguiandah, Sheshegwaning, Whitefish River, and Zhiibaahaasing) and is dedicated to nourishing and preserving Anishinaabe history, arts, language, and spirituality. MISHI seeks to break down historically, socially, and spatially made boundaries between knowledge systems, people, and communities for the purposes of engagement with Manitoulin’s Anishinaabeg-centered history and culture. MISHI 2017 ended up being a lesson in building bridges. Continue reading

The Hubris of Academe, or, “Students Suck”

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By Elise Chenier

There are few moments in life as self-defining as being awarded a PhD. I got mine in 2001 from Queen’s University, one of Canada’s “top” schools. The ceremony required me to kneel before the Chancellor who tapped me once on each shoulder with his mortarboard. It did its magic. When I stood up and crossed that stage, I felt I occupied more space—literally. For the next ten years or so (okay, fifteen) I would occasionally get agitated when people did not give way when I passed them. Such is the hubris of academe.

One of the most disappointing manifestations of such hubris is the lamentation about “students today,” a weed that re-seeds every fall when university professors decry the atrocious behaviour of the hordes of ignorant, lazy, impolite students they are burdened with the task of teaching.

Lynn Crosbie’s contribution to this genre in a 2015 issue of Macleans, which recently made the rounds again in celebration of September, is just one example. Written in the epistolary form, she exhorts her students to sit neither in the front nor the back of the classroom, to refrain from bringing “ham bones and pungent noodles” to lecture, and to “give a thought to arriving prepared, with the syllabus read, and the correct texts in hand.” Just in case students still don’t get just where they stand in relationship to the instructor, we are told:

During the student work, I sit in the back row, draw, mutter, and look irritated: How wonderfully frightened you all look from my place, at the head of a group of strangers I am pushing, slowly and cautiously, toward a unified, politicized and knowledgeable student body.

Her unconventional and erratic teaching style is defended on the grounds that she offers students “their first sweet taste of moving out of mom and dad’s orbit, and they are feeling all of the joy that being very young, poor and free entails.”

I get that the piece exaggerates to be provocative and strives to be funny, but I don’t find it to be either. Like every other “students suck” piece out there, it is mean, insulting, and arrogant, and it misrepresents the vast majority of professors and instructors I have encountered in my professional life.

I have spent most of my career in the History Department at Simon Fraser University. Students are largely from lower to middle-income families and attended a public school in the surrounding region. Many hold down one or more part-time jobs, and often are responsible for the care of family members, and sometimes have children of their own. Continue reading

The Use and Abuse of Boredom

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By David Tough

This is the final essay in a five part theme week marking the centenary of income tax in Canada.

It’s like clockwork. Every time I tell someone I’m writing a book on the history of income taxation, the conversation plays out with eerie consistency. First, they say that the topic sounds painfully dull, and chuckle. Then they say that they had heard that income taxation was introduced as a temporary tax – then another chuckle – to pay for the First World War.

If I explain that income taxation was introduced during the war, but had more to do with dulling opposition to conscription than paying for the war, and that income taxation was actually a popular measure the government was reluctant to introduce, and that popular demand for some sort of direct tax, one that would weigh more heavily on the rich and lighten the tax burden on the average citizen, had been loudly expressed in the election of 1911, they invariably ask why I decided to study such an obscure question.

Income taxation is a central fact of modern political life, Continue reading