The Politics of Personality and Abortion Access in Atlantic Canada

By Katrina Ackerman

While following the 2016 United States presidential election through social media and ‘fake news’ outlets, I was reminded of the significance of personality in creating social and political change. The personalities of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were constantly juxtaposed and used by opposition groups to discredit the presidential candidates. After Donald Trump was elected, other world leaders’ personalities were dissected based on their responses to Trump’s policies. When Trump released an executive order that suspended the “Issuance of Visas and Other Immigration Benefits to Nationals of Countries of Particular Concern”—seven nations with Islam as the dominant religion—the responses of world leaders created an important discussion about diplomacy and character. Some opposed to the Trump administration applauded German Chancellor Angela Merkel for censuring the Trump administration and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for tweeting that refugees were welcome in Canada, no matter their religion. Trudeau was also criticized by some for not denouncing the executive order, like Merkel, and was called on to show moral courage. Others suggested that Trudeau was walking a fine line by proclaiming Canada’s principles while maintaining workable diplomatic relations to protect the Canadian economy.

Henry Morgentaler with Jack Layton, 2005, Wikipedia Commons, rabbleradio –

The current discourse on the personalities of world leaders coincides with my own interest in the role of personality in intergovernmental relations and between non-governmental and governmental actors. As recent scholarship by historian Raymond B. Blake demonstrates, the personalities of Canadian politicians can have a significant impact on personal relations between government officials, as well as on public policy decisions. Creating political and social change often depends “on relationships and a capacity for compromise.”[1] Drawing on this research, I have begun to consider how personality shaped abortion access in Atlantic Canada in the late twentieth century. In addition to diplomatic and intergovernmental relations, personalities also influenced the ability for state and non-state actors to reach a compromise. An inability to compromise came to the forefront during interactions between Henry Morgentaler, an abortion rights activist and doctor, and the premiers in the Atlantic region over freestanding abortion clinics.

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Donald Trump, Brexit, and the Gentrification of Progressive Politics

By Steven High

Note: This op-ed piece was published in French in Le Devoir on March 16, 2017.

FIRST BREXIT AND NOW THE ELECTION OF DONALD TRUMP as President of the United States have shocked many of us. Outrage and anguish seem to be the dominant reaction in my social media feeds. It is as though the world that we knew has been ripped away from us, leaving frayed nerves and raw emotions.

At some level, the working-class supporters of Brexit and Trump – who proved pivotal – would probably recognize these feelings of disorientation and moral outrage. After all, tens of millions of industrial workers have seen their own life-worlds stripped away from them with the closure of mills or factories and the export of their jobs to low-wage areas.

The US Democratic Party, and Bill Clinton in particular, was an architect of trade deals that resulted in massive job losses. And, more recently, it was President Obama who attempted to foist the Trans-Pacific Partnership on us.  It is a measure of how far “progressive” parties have failed working people that it was Trump, and not Trudeau, who killed it.  While white working-class anger at “cultural elites” is a lot about race, it is also about the gentrification of progressive politics.

Deindustrialization has marked a crucial rupture in the lives of tens of millions of working class families, including my own.  The scale of the body count is staggering. The US lost almost eight million manufacturing jobs between 1979 and 2010. Other countries did just as poorly. Between 1990 and 2003, manufacturing jobs declined 24% in Japan, 29% in the UK, and 14% in France. For our part, Canada lost 278,000 manufacturing jobs between 2000 to 2007. Trade unions have staggered from one tragedy to the next. Entire unions passed out of existence, part of a wider cultural and political defeat of working-people. Continue reading

Genealogical Entanglements of Animal Rights and Feminist Movements

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of posts from contributors to Animal Metropolis: Histories of Human-Animal Relations in Urban Canada (University of Calgary Press, 2017). In each entry, the contributors use their own chapters as the basis for wider discussions about contemporary developments that highlight the complex interactions between humans and animals. The editors of are pleased to publish these pieces that originally appeared in late February in The Otter, the blog of the Network in Canadian History & the Environment.  The first post in the series by Darcy Ingram spoke to strategies in the animal rights movement.  Christabelle Sethna followed, commenting upon the animalization and racialization of humans and nonhuman animals. Joanna Dean then discussed the use of guinea pigs in medical experiments. Today, Carla Hustak speaks to the visceral entanglements of women’s and animal bodies.

Feminism 2K14, idc collage,


My essay “Got Milk? Dirty Cows, Unfit Mothers, and Infant Mortality, 1880-1940,” in this edited volume grew out of a rich literature on the entanglements of feminism and animal ethics. At the same time, my attention to milk, both as a food source and as a lens for exploring the fluidity of women and animal bodies, suggests a possible new trajectory for capturing the viscerality of those entanglements.

It may seem that feminist and animal rights activists have very little to say to each other. However, the bodies of women and animals have been mutually affected by the cultural constructions of nature. Ecofeminists such as Karen Warren, Carol Adams, and Val Plumwood have shown that patriarchal and capitalist oppression of nature have snared together women and animals. Under patriarchy and capitalism, both share the material, discursive, and historical effects of being constituted as natural ungovernable bodies contrary to reason and culture, which continue to be perceived as human and masculine domains. Similarly, feminist science studies scholars have shown that putative scientific truths about nature have had significant negative consequences for the cultural, economic, and political treatment of women and animals. Their scholarly contributions have been marked by social and political activist movements. From vegan feminist dietary choices to public protests, feminist and animal rights activists have formed alliances that highlight the intersection of feminist and animal ethics. Continue reading

Bob Kinnear, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and the History of Canadian-American Labour Relations

by Christo Aivalis

In recent weeks, a major controversy has enflamed the Canadian labour movement, and how it relates to the international unions centred within the United States. Last month, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113, which represents around 10,000 members working within the Toronto Transit Commission’s system, was placed under trusteeship by the union’s international headquarters. This decision was made after Local 113 President Bob Kinnear had approached the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) to activate a clause (Article 4) that would partially suspend provisions that prevent ‘raiding’ (where unions take members from another union rather than organize un-unionized workers) actions between CLC member unions.

Kinnear justified his actions based on the assertion that his local lacked sufficient autonomy in its ability to operate and received insufficient support from the international office. Further, Kinnear and others—including officials within UNIFOR like President Jerry Dias—have deemed the trusteeship an act of American domination. Dias sold this event as a wider struggle in Canadian labour, suggesting that he was “sick and tired of the heavy handed arm of the United States determining our collective bargaining strategy and determining how we operate.” This direct intervention from UNIFOR—which has included paying Kinnear’s legal fees—has led some to suggest that Kinnear’s goal was to transfer Local 113 from the ATU into UNIFOR. Despite all this, Kinnear’s move was opposed by a majority of local 113’s leadership, as well as the heads of five of Canada’s biggest unions, which include unions headquartered on both sides of the border.

While the story has a multitude of further details, the result has been that the CLC has reinstated the article 4 clause that would prevent raiding between CLC member unions, and Bob Kinnear has officially resigned his position as 113 President. As it stands, then, the main issue is largely resolved, but the fact remains that this whole affair has reignited divisions within the labour movement based on this question of American influence into Canadian unions. A large part of this is due to a sustained historical context that has played out for more than a century. Continue reading

From Ignorance Towards Reconciliation

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By Jean-Pierre Morin

Editor’s note: This post is an abridged version of the February 7th, 2017 Ottawa Historical Association talk “Relationships for Reconciliation: Historical Relationships in the Process of Reconciliation”.

Treaty Medal, presented to commemorate Treaty Numbers 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. (Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1986-79-1638).

In December 2000, as a still new public servant, I was part of a group of representatives from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) sent to discuss the historic relationship stemming from Treaty 6 with the Chiefs and councils of the Ermineskin and Louis Bull First Nations in the Maskwachis region, the heart of Treaty 6 Territory in Alberta. As the only historian and non-Indigenous person in the INAC group, I wanted to be well prepared. As the meeting approached, I began to review all the materials I had relating to the treaty, the communities and the government’s position on treaties. I was sure that I knew everything that was relevant and was ready to argue my “well researched facts”.

Arriving at Louis Bull First Nation on a bitterly cold morning, we filed into the band council office where my departmental colleagues were greeted as old friends. When I walked through the door, someone called out: “Hey, look! The Indian agent has arrived!” to a round of chuckles. To say that I was shocked at the comment is an understatement. Immediately, my back was up as I resented being saddled with such that pejorative label. For me, the rest of it was downhill from there. Any comment I made about the history of the treaty by referring to historical research, archival records or the reports of the treaty commissioners was mocked with the words: “I guess the Indian agent knows us better than we do…” Finally, one of my colleagues took pity on me recommending that I simply stay quiet and that I skip the next day’s meeting.

As a significant part of my work was to discuss the history of treaty making in Canada with Indigenous partners, this was not to be my only “difficult” experience during such meetings. Over the course of several years, it occurred multiple times. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why this kept happening and I felt growing anxiety about every upcoming meeting. I took me several more years to realize that I was part of the problem as these “difficult meetings” were being aggravated by my personal perspectives and my understandings of Indigenous-Crown relationships. Continue reading

Map the History of Redlining, It Works

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The history of redlining matters. For decades, the government sponsored Home Owners’ Loan Corporation created maps that defined African American neighbourhoods as high risk, which resulted in people not having access to a Federal Housing Administration insured mortgage in these districts. Ta-Nehisi Coates used the research in Kenneth Jackson’s Crabgrass Frontier, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, Robert Conot’s American Odyssey, Thomas Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis and Arnold Hirsch’s Making the Second Ghetto to develop the case for reparations in his 2014 cover story in the Atlantic.[1] He convincingly argued that long after the end of Slavery, government policy actively limited economic opportunities for African Americans, created segregated cities and the significant gap in wealth between white and black Americans: “From the 1930s through the 1960s, black people across the country were largely cut out of the legitimate home-mortgage market“.

A year earlier, Dustin A. Cable, at the University of Virginia, created the interactive Racial Dot Map based on data from the 2010 census. The map shows the stark racial divides in many major cities. The impressive level of detail, with a single dot for every person in the United States census, creates visually and analytically powerful maps. The divided racial geography of a cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee is startling and prompts a historical question: how did this happen? Coates brought together decades of urban social history and historical demography, along with his own journalism, to help answer this question for Chicago.

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Guinea Pig Mea Culpa

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White & brown guinea pig,

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of posts from contributors to Animal Metropolis: Histories of Human-Animal Relations in Urban Canada (University of Calgary Press, 2017). In each entry, the contributors use their own chapters as the basis for wider discussions about contemporary developments that highlight the complex interactions between humans and animals. The editors of are pleased to publish these pieces that originally appeared in late February in The Otter, the blog of the Network in Canadian History & the Environment. The first post in the series by Darcy Ingram spoke to strategies in the animal rights movement.  Christabelle Sethna then followed, commenting upon the animalization and racialization of humans and nonhuman animals. Today, Joanna Dean speaks to the use of guinea pigs in medical experiments.


The Voges Holder for Guinea Pigs, from A.C. Abbott, M.D., The Principles of Bacteriology: A Practical Matter for Students and Physicians. 8th ed. (1909). Accessible via

As yet another charismatic creature escapes from a zoo (Sunny the red panda is still at large in Virginia at the time of writing), as my students elect to write essays about elephants, and I am invited to an animal documentary series populated by eagles, dogs, whales, and primates, I reflect on our decisions to write and teach about certain animal species and not others.  Why is my chapter in Animal Metropolis focused on the horse?  How could I have overlooked the guinea pig?

It is, after all, the guinea pig that carries the weight of our misgivings about modern science and our shared animality. To be a “guinea pig” is no longer even to be an animal; it is to be the subject of an experiment.  So, a mea culpa, in the form of a blog on the guinea pig.  Continue reading

Improving career prospects for history graduates beyond academia

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A CHA Proposal to History Department Chairs by Robert Talbot and the CHA Executive 

To many outside our profession, the connection between a degree in History and a non-academic job related to history can seem far from obvious. As instructors of History who benefit materially and intellectually from the thousands of students who attend and participate in our courses every year, it is incumbent upon us to make the link between a History degree and history-related jobs more obvious for students, employers and the wider community.

The study and practice of History must be defended on their own merits. Developing a more nuanced and critical understanding of the past is fundamental to the fostering of an informed public, the encouragement of critical engagement with society, and for speaking truth to power. Increasingly, however, our discipline operates in an ideological context that tends to emphasise business and economic outcomes before all others. Historians are being called upon by administrators, students, and even parents to address concerns surrounding career outcomes for recent graduates in History.

These concerns are understandable. According to the 2013 national survey of 2009-2010 college and university graduates conducted by Statistics Canada, among employed grads, “At both the bachelor and master levels, ‘humanities’ and ‘visual, performing arts and communication technologies’ had the highest proportions of graduates who reported their job being unrelated to their education.”[1] More specifically, in the humanities, 30% of employed Bachelor’s graduates had found work that was closely related to their degree, 59% of employed Master’s graduates, and 78% of employed PhD graduates.

While the historian’s skillset can be applied in a variety of ways in the modern economy, many parents, prospective students, and potential employers don’t always realize it. This lack of awareness has doubtless contributed to challenges in enrolment, and it may also be contributing to some history graduates’ difficulties in securing work that relates to their skillset. If students are not informed by their professors about the different types of skills that they have developed, and about how those skills relate to different types of employment, then they might not think to seek out those jobs – they won’t necessarily know how to promote themselves to prospective employers. If employers are not aware that history students have the skills they are looking for, then they won’t seek to hire those students. Continue reading

History Slam Episode Ninety-Five: Project of Heart

By Sean Graham

Teaching history in high school is a tough job. Teaching the history of Canada’s residential school system is a tough job. To combat this challenge, for years high schools simply did not talk about residential schools in history courses. Looking back on my own education in Ontario, the issue never came up. Part of this was a failure of the curriculum, but another part was the apathy me and my classmates had about learning anything outside the textbook. In high school, history was rote and dull, so there was never a motivation to go beyond the basic requirements – which we know now were not nearly as comprehensive as they should have been.

Fortunately, there are high school students who are more curious than I was. In Sylvia Smith’s class at the Elizabeth Wyn Wood Alternative School in Ottawa, a student who had read about residential schools on her own time asked why they weren’t covered in the class textbook. That desire to learn more spread through the class, culminating in a major group project to commemorate the legacy of the residential school system. With that, Project of Heart was born and has since spread across the country, bringing with it awareness in the spirit of reconciliation. Adaptable for classes anywhere between a five-year-old’s first day through high school graduation, Project of Heart has started to fill a major gap in history courses across the country.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Sylvia Smith, one of Project of Heart’s coordinators. We talk about the project’s origins, the learning process, and the different steps classes go through. We also talk about reconciliation in the classroom and the challenges of presenting difficult material to students.

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More than a Few Acres of Snow

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By Elizabeth Jewett and Andrew Nurse

This past weekend, Mount Allison University hosted Quelques Arpents de Neige for the first time. Arpents is a conference that takes a workshop-like feel. Its goal is to bring people together to discuss different trends in Canadian environmental history. And, in so doing, it provides an opportunity to think about the development and direction of Canadian environmental history on a regional, national and transnational level. Environmental history is one of those rapidly developing subfields of Canadian history that has done a great deal to challenge the ways in which we think about Canada’s past and, because of this, Arpents also raises broader questions about the character and nature of Canadian history and how we conceptualize it.

Some of the questions Arpents raises are almost stereotypically “big” questions: how do we narrate the nation? How do we periodize the storyline? What is the boundary between national and transnational history? How, and should, historians work together to advance scholarship about Canada’s past? One might even pause to ask an almost whiggish question: does historical scholarship become better with time? Said differently, does the integration of ecological and environmental perspectives make history more accurate?

It is impossible to answer these big questions in a short space, but the work presented at Arpents suggests that environmental perspectives have indeed done a great deal to challenge established conceptions of the past and to raise questions about what stories can — and should — be told. Several themes that emerge out of Arpents are important in this regard. Continue reading