Open Letter Re: The Closing of the Saskatoon Office of the Provincial Archives at the University of Saskatchewan

November 29, 2018

It has recently been brought to our attention that the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan (PAS) has made the decision to consolidate its holdings and close its office in Saskatoon at the University of Saskatchewan. The Saskatoon office has existed as an important part of the University’s research network since the archive board was created in 1945.

The mandate of the provincial archives is to act as a repository of “both in-person and distance research into family history, government policy and accountability, educational history, past eras, business and social organizations, land settlement, local history, geographic places, cultural developments, human rights, community events and provincial celebrations.”

In performing this vital role, the archives allow both researchers, students, and everyday citizens to inquire into the province’s past, in order to examine the “documentary heritage of the province.” Archivists are expertly tasked with the important work of organizing these invaluable documents and making them accessible to the general public. Given the numerous restrictions that exist around existing catalogued material, the closure of the Saskatoon office will make it even more difficult for researchers to access necessary records.

The closure of the Saskatoon location comes on top of the dramatically scaled back hours that the archive has been offering for the past several years. In fact, the reductions in staffing and now the closure of the Saskatoon branch of the archives will have dire consequences for people attempting to access records, which could mean even longer delays in cataloguing new material while also extending the wait times for researchers to access existing records.

Even if this closure allows the Regina office to expand its collection or to hire new staff, students, faculty, and researchers coming to Saskatoon will run into a never-ending series of issues trying to access essential information. Moreover, with the closure of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company, it will be increasingly difficult for researchers to travel to Regina to access essential records.

We urge the PAS to reconsider this decision. The archives are essential for citizens to access necessary public information. Such a closure will be a loss for students, faculty and the general public at the University of Saskatchewan.


Charles Smith, Associate Professor of Political Science, St. Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan Continue reading

When to Speak, When to Act: Reflections on the Recent MS St. Louis Apology

Screenshot of Trudeau Apology for MS St. Louis.

Andrea Eidinger and Laura Madokoro

On November 7th, 2018, Justin Trudeau stood up in the House of Commons and issued a formal apology to the families of passengers of the MS St. Louis as well as the entire Jewish Canadian community for the Canadian government’s decision to refuse to allow the ship to dock in 1939. As historians with expertise in these areas, both of us paid close attention to the apology. While we were pleased that to see the Prime Minister drew attention to this shameful event in our history and acknowledged the long history of antisemitism in this country, we felt that it ultimately rang hollow.

While the Prime Minister vowed to fight antisemitism and to learn from the past, the speech was short on specific details. As Trudeau noted in his apology, even today, Canadian Jews are the most frequent target of hate crimes in this country, at seventeen percent. In the wake of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting, Christine Chevalier-Caron and Philippe Néméh-Nombré published a piece on Histoire Engagée, demonstrating how antisemitism is normalized in Quebec and Canada, as well as the prevailing belief that Canada was (and is) a place of refuge for those in need.

In our minds the contradiction is striking and not easily dismissed. How is it that antisemitism can be a quotidian part of life in Canada while the country is also associated with being a place of refuge? How did this fundamental contradiction come to be and what are the implications for the present and future? Part of the answer lies in the ease with which politicians can speak in morally righteous terms when apologizing for historical wrongs and the gulf that often exists between the symbolism of their words, their actions, and the lived experience of those most affected by the subject and substance of their apologies.

We have seen the power of words and actions before, both domestically and on the international stage. While today Canada likes to think of itself as a bastion of human rights, this is not reflective of historical or contemporary reality. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 125: The Trans Generation

      1 Comment on History Slam Episode 125: The Trans Generation

By Sean Graham

During its convention earlier this month, the Ontario PC Party passed a resolution calling gender identity “a highly controversial, unscientific ‘liberal ideology'” and pledged to remove all references to gender identity theory from the provincial curriculum. Premier Doug Ford later backed away from the resolution, claiming that it would not become official government policy. but for many the damage was already done. Similar policies have been enacted elsewhere, with plenty of attention on bathroom legislation.

There are plenty of reasons why these bills continue to be tabled, one of which is ignorance of the issues associated with trans rights. That’s why books like Ann Travers’ The Trans Generation: How Trans Kids (And Their Parents) Are Creating a Gender Revolution can be so important. A sociologist at SFU, Travers spent five years interviewing trans kids and their parents in researching the book. The result is a unique insight into the realities of trans youth that is both informative and engaging. At the same time, it looks at the disparities in representation within the trans community and sheds light on how to build more inclusive environments.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Professor Travers about the book. We talk about conducting interviews with kids and their parents, the trans rights movement, and the social markers associated with gender. We also talk about biology and gender, opposition to the trans community, and the importance of treating everybody with dignity and respect.

Continue reading

Difficult History, Monuments, and Pedagogy: A Response to Levesque

By Gabriel A. Reich

In his two part series, posted on Active History earlier this month, Stéphane Lévesque puts forward a “new approach” to considering the role of historical monuments as an object of study in history education. That approach frames the pedagogy of historical monuments as a historiographical problem that can be best approached using the tools of historical thinking.

Following Jörn Rüsen, Levesque described the role of education as helping students become more sophisticated thinkers by drawing together the knowledge of history, and the knowledge of how history is produced and contested. In that framework, the ultimate goal of history education is to move students towards a genetic historical consciousness, marked by a dispassionate understanding of change over time, and a reflective self-awareness of one’s own perceptions of that change.

I agree that goal is a worthy one, and that it is at times a good basis from which to design inquiry into public monuments that represent difficult histories.In a time when deeply divisive politics have reduced truth to an expression of identification, the educational goal of moving towards greater care for truth, dispassionate analysis, and critical self-awareness is very appealing, and at times necessary. Moreover, school is, perhaps, the only institution in which the young can apprentice into disciplinary modes of thought that may encourage more empathetic dispositions towards others.

Monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Melanie Buffington.

I will argue here, however, that in the case of controversial monuments, pedagogical goals should equally consider how democratic politics work, the affective dimension of history education, and the social, cultural, and political context in which one is teaching.

Ultimately, the reason we teach history in our public schools is to prepare the young to engage with their communities as citizens. That aim presents us with a paradox, however. Continue reading

From Trudeau to Trudeau:  A Violation of the Right to Strike and Bargain Collectively

by Christo Aivalis

At the time of writing, Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberal government is quickly going through the procedural motions to legislate Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) members back to work. While the Liberals’ strong parliamentary majority—along with support from the Conservative opposition on this issue—means such legislation will likely pass, it may be delayed slightly by concerns in the Senate, and by the New Democratic Party, who have pledged support for the striking workers, and have walked out of Parliament in protest of back to work legislation. Regardless, the legislation is expected to pass early this week.  


This move is controversial, for while business groups have claimed deep harm due to the CUPW’s rotating labour stoppages, the Supreme Court of Canada has been clear that the right to strike and bargain collectively are protected under the Charter. Thus, CUPW and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) have proclaimed that they will take all legal means to resist such legislation which they deem unconstitutional. But beyond the constitutionality of such legislation, it creates potential political difficulties for a Trudeau regime which owes its 2015 victory—at least in part—to strong support from organized labour who backed him as the strategic alternative to the Stephen Harper Conservatives. Indeed, Trudeau has attempted to preserve this relationship with labour—painting himself and his party as their ally in the building of an economy which serves ‘middle class Canadians.’ Legislating away postal workers’ right to strike may not on its own endanger Trudeau, but it will drive some individual and organizational labour support back toward the NDP.

Continue reading

For a Francophone University in Ontario

      1 Comment on For a Francophone University in Ontario

The following open letter, written by the leadership of the Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française, was published in French by Le Devoir on Wednesday and yesterday. 

With two lines in its 15 November budget announcement, Doug Ford’s government abolished l’Université de l’Ontario français. Tied to the closure of the French Language Services Commission, this act removes the rights Franco-Ontarians had gained in July 2017 to receive postsecondary education exclusively in their language.

As far as we know, nowhere else has this type of decision been made. For the first time, a state has abolished a university due to budgetary constraints. This action calls into question important principles about the role of higher education and the place of community, which lay at the heart of our society.

Far more than an institution that prepares people for the job market, a university is a crucial institution for any society. Continue reading

Meaning Making in the Digital Age

      No Comments on Meaning Making in the Digital Age

Sean Kheraj

This week, I’ve been invited to speak on a panel about digital technologies and open access in the university. I’ll be addressing these issues as they relate to my field of Canadian history.

We have been provided with a series of questions to address. Here are two of the most significant questions that we will consider on this panel:

How does the digital – tools, technologies, methods, instruction, etc – connect with the ways you make and find meaning in your discipline?

Digital tools, technologies, and methods have transformed the discipline of history in three primary areas:

  1. Scholarship
  2. Teaching
  3. Public history

The ways in which the digital has changed history as a discipline are numerous, but I will provide a couple examples in each of these three areas.


Digital technologies have changed the scale of historical research and precipitated a need to develop new digital methods for search, analysis, and communication. These changes begin with the digitization of research sources. In the discipline of history, digitization has had its most transformative effects on primary source research, working with original historical records. Mass digitization projects have created enormous digital archives of primary source records easily available online.

The availability of digitized primary source records has created the need for the development of better systems of metadata for searching these new digital archives. Digital historians are also developing their own custom search engines to meet their particular research needs.

The ability to search and access large digitized primary source collections has created “big data” challenges for historians. Researchers can now collect more records than they have ever been able to before. When once a historian might have scoured a newspaper archive on microfilm using labourious (and arguably inefficient) search methods of manual review, she can now use keyword searching and other digital search methods to acquire mass databases of digital records that exceed a scale that can reasonably be analyzed with traditional close reading methods. Making sense of that massive digital archive now requires what some digital humanists call “distant reading,” the use of machine reading technologies to organize data and even generate analytical insights that cannot be observed via traditional methods. Digital text analysis tools and geographic information systems are two technologies that facilitate distant reading that have become more common in historical research today. Continue reading

Remembrance Day 2018 and Canada’s First World War Centennial

By Nathan Smith

This past Remembrance Day I was at Don Heights Unitarian Congregation in Toronto to speak about the armistice of 1918 and commemoration. I arrived feeling grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the centennial of that moment in time, and was surprised to immediately encounter the congregation’s exhibit of items from the era of the First World War. The congregation held an opening ceremony for the displays the day before I visited, and the WWI Keepsakes and Propaganda exhibit received attention from a number of media outlets, including CBC, CTV,

As the news reports and poster included here reveal, the exhibit is open to the public. I spent some time viewing the displays after my talk and was impressed by the quality and engaging historical content of the material. Some of the material is from a trunk discovered in an attic, full of publications a French teacher collected and used in her classes. Another part of the exhibit is from a family collection of items from First World War veterans, one of whom is William Andrew White, an important figure in the Canadian history of anti-racism who served in Canada’s segregated No. 2 Construction Battalion.

Continue reading

Unexpected Archival Finds: Shingwauk Student Register

      2 Comments on Unexpected Archival Finds: Shingwauk Student Register

Krista McCracken

Recently staff at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) began a project to digitize a number of the stock registers, accounts books, and financial records associated with the Shingwauk Indian Residential School, which operated in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The materials in this project ranged in date from 1883 to 1945, with the bulk of the records relating to the 1905 to 1930 period.

At first glance these accounts books might not seem like a prime candidate for digitization – visually they aren’t overly interesting and they have been used relatively little by researchers. Digitization takes a lot of time and effort – so why was the SRSC looking to digitize these particular records?  

One of the major gaps in the SRSC’s archival records about the Shingwauk Residential School, relates to student life from 1905 to 1935. The Centre has a significant number of photographs from 1910-1920 but there is relatively little textual documentation related to this period. The accounts books and associated material are the only written records from this period and can provide insight into the food at Shingwauk, clothing worn by the students, farming practices, and other parts of daily student life.

Cover of Clerk's Fee Book

Re-purposed Shingwauk Residential School Clerk’s Fee Book.

One of the unexpected results of this project was coming across a book that, from the outside, appeared to be a “Clerk’s Fee Book” (pictured above). When Madison Bifano, the SRSC archival assistant, was preparing the book for digitization she realized that this accounts book had been re-purposed as a student register.  It contained names of students and information about their weekly attendance at Shingwauk from 1930 to 1941. In some sections the book also divides students into class groupings and lists the teachers for each class, providing additional information about school structure at Shingwauk. The student’s names captured in this book fill a significant gap in the Shingwauk Residential School records and this book is the only record in the SRSC’s holding which explicitly lists Shingwauk students for the 1930s. Continue reading

Remembrance Day Poppies: The Political History of a Symbol

      1 Comment on Remembrance Day Poppies: The Political History of a Symbol

Field of poppies

This post by Andrea Eidinger originally appeared on Unwritten Histories.

This post was inspired by a suggestion from Tina Adcock, and without her support and encouragement, it probably would have remained unwritten. So I would like to send her a huge extra-special thank-you. I would also like to thank the individuals who read and commented on previous versions of this draft, including Tina Adcock, Andrew Nurse, JonWeier, Chris Schultz, and Maj. (ret.) Peter Scales MA. A special thank-you goes to Christina Wakefield for supplying me with information about the 1921 Great War Veterans Association. Finally, many of the points raised in this blog post emerged out of online conversations about wearing poppies, both on Facebook and Twitter. I would like to thank everyone who participated for their contributions and for making this blog post much more nuanced.

A few weeks ago, the Royal British Legion posted a series of images designed to bust some prevalent myths about what poppies mean. One of the comments caught the attention of Tina Adcock and myself:

“Poppies are not pro-war, they are a symbol of respect for those who sacrificed everything for our safety. But not commemorating past wars would mean we don’t learn from history.”[1]

That is one hell of a loaded sentence, especially when we are still in the midst of Monument Wars. But it did make me start realizing that we don’t know very much about the poppy’s history as a symbol in Canada. Since I don’t like unanswered questions, I decided to dig a little bit deeper to see what I could find. In today’s blog post, we’re going to talk about what I uncovered, take a look at the history of the poppy, what it means to wear one, and how we learn from the past.

Poppy History and Historiography

The origins of the Remembrance Day poppy are pretty well known. If you’re like me, you had to memorize and recite “In Flanders Fields,” by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in elementary school. However, what happened after, particularly how they made the jump to Canada, that is rather unclear. I could only find one scholarly article, Deborah Nash-Chambers’ 2015 piece, “Memorializing Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae Civic Commemoration and the 100thAnniversary of ‘In Flanders Fields,’” that dealt with the subject in any way. In it, Nash-Chambers connects the publication of a collection of McCrae’s poems in 1919 to a rise in the idea of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. From there, two women, Moina Michael (who was American) and Anne Guerin (who was French) move to the centre of this relatively poorly known story. Michael was inspired to create the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy Fund after reading a copy of McCrae’s poem, and she resolved to make and sell poppies to raise money for veterans. Guerin organized a group of French widows and orphans who made artificial poppies to sell, using the proceeds to support themselves. In 1921, she visited London and convinced the British Legion to purchase them. From there, disabled British veterans began to produce the poppies themselves. The symbol was then adopted by the American, British, and Canadian Legions, and the first “Poppy Day” was held in Canada and Britain on November 11, 1921.[2]However, the article does not explain how the poppy made the jump from Britain to Canada. Nash-Chambers’ main source for this information was Bev Dietrich, then Curator at the Guelph Civic Museum (since retired), who also published her own piece on the subject “John McCrae and McCrae House: Keeping the Faith for Those Who Died,” in a local magazine; her main source of information appears to be clippings from the scrapbook of Jeanie Matthew McCrae (McCrae’s aunt), held at McCrae House.[3]This same sequence of events was included in an article for The National Post on the history of poppies, by Jon Weier and Chris Schultz.

Even Jonathan Vance’s book on the commemoration of WW I, Death So Noble, only contains a couple of references to poppies. He mentions a couple instances of poppies being used as a symbol in WW I writing, usually as a representation of the good memories of soldiers.[4]I also checked Robert Rutherdale’s book, Hometown Horizons: Local Responses to the Great War. There is one mention of the poppy in this book, and it points to an article by Alan R. Young, ‘“We Throw the Torch’: Canadian Memorials of the Great War and the Mythology of Heroic Sacrifice.”[5]In this piece, Young explains that “McCrae’s poem [has] stuck in the popular memory.”[6]In the next sentence, he says he will explain why this is the case, but the remainder of the piece discusses the crucifixion motif in the mythology of heroic sacrifice.

Christina Wakefield pointed me to a possible solution. A recently published book by the Thunder Bay Historical Museum Society, Thunder Bay and the First World War, 1914-1919, by Michel S. Beaulieu, David K. Ratz, Thorold J. Tronrud, and Jenna L. Kirker describes a visit by Anna Guerin to Port Arthur, Ontario. According to archival documents, a meeting took place between Guerin and the Great War Veterans’ Association at the Prince Arthur Hotel on July 4, 1921; Guerin argued that the Association should adopt a “poppy day.” Not only did the Association agree, but it also initiated Canada’s first poppy campaign the following November. This campaign sold poppies as both a symbol of remembrance and as a way for members of the public to financially support wounded soldiers.[7]

While this is really important information that helps us to understand how the poppies came to Canada, it also deepens the mystery. You see, the Great War Veterans’ Association is not the same thing as the Legion. The Great War Veterans’ Association was one of a number of veterans advocacy groups that sprung up in the immediate aftermath of the war. The Legion, on the other hand, was only established in 1925, and was an amalgamation of several of the previous veterans organizations, including the Great War Veterans’ Association. It remains unclear, so far as I can tell, why the Legion adopted the poppy and how the poppy came to be so indelibly associated with the organization.

This is not simply a meander down historiographical memory lane, but an interesting perspective as to where our symbols come from and how the process of adopting symbols is — or, it seems, is not — recorded.. The fact that no one seems to know for certain exactly how the poppy was adopted is bothersome. There is a similar lack of historical research on traditions for Thanksgiving in Canada and Victoria Day. This makes me suspicious and raises a number of important questions: When I wear a poppy, what does that mean? What kinds of engagement with the past and present does it suppose? Can we remember past conflicts without wearing poppies on our breasts every November? Continue reading