Planned and Unplanned Urban Migrations

      1 Comment on Planned and Unplanned Urban Migrations

Richard White

Rush hour transit – a common downtown Toronto conundrum.
Source: Urban Toronto

As anyone who lives in or frequents Toronto’s inner-city can attest, the place is over-run with human activity. The word “congestion” is probably over-used in urban affairs, and it still feels tainted by its long association with slum clearances, but it is the word that comes to mind when travelling about the city’s lower downtown these days. Walking is usually the fastest way to get around – certainly faster than streetcar, taxi, or automobile travel, though perhaps not faster than bicycling for anyone willing to face the risks – though walking can be frustrating, and even dangerous, when the sidewalks fill up like rush-hour subway cars.

Congestion-related problems appear in the local news almost every day. Most recently is the alarming increase in motor vehicle accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians. But others crop up regularly: unreliable electricity supply, insufficient public libraries and schools, conflicts over land use (dogs vs children, residents vs clubs), and of course the endless problem of surface public transit which, in truth, barely functions. At times the situation seems perversely amusing, but at other times truly alarming – deleterious consequences multiply, and policy solutions are nowhere to be found.

Viewing this through the lens of history reveals an intriguing, and perhaps rather surprising, parallel between recent growth in the inner-city and postwar expansion of the suburbs. On the surface, of course, they reflect population migrations in opposite directions, but at the root of both is a conviction, pervasive in the popular mindset of the time, that these migrations would yield a better urban life. Continue reading

How Thunder Bay Was Made

      6 Comments on How Thunder Bay Was Made

Travis Hay

Thunder Bay from Animikii-waajiw (Mount McKay). P199/Wikipedia Commons

Thunder Bay, Ontario is a city well-known for a particularly explicit form of anti-Indigenous racism.[1] Unlike more southern and urban locales where anti-Indigeneity is predominantly expressed as erasure, the social structures of feeling that exist in Thunder Bay are informed by a close proximity to Fort William First Nation (FWFN) – a community located adjacently to the city. Recently, the news that FWFN has reached a $99 million land claim settlement with the federal government has stirred up racial tensions in Thunder Bay and across Canada more broadly. Predictably, complaints about ‘handouts’ and other well-worn racist tropes have frequented news media comment sections, social media debates, and the everyday conversations that make up public life in the city of Thunder Bay. In this article, I wanted to offer a brief review of the land claim settlement that situates it within its proper historical context of settler colonial dispossession. In writing this history, I am relying quite heavily on the work and research of FWFN Lands Director Ian Bannon and Chief Peter Collins. To supplement these materials (which FWFN has made widely available online) I use the scholarship of historians who have attempted to unpack the settler colonial constitution of Thunder Bay in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[2]

The 1905 Forced Relocation

In 1905, the Fort William band was forcefully uprooted and relocated from their reserve site on the shores of the Kaministiquia River so that settlers could build a grain terminus for the Grand Trunk Pacific railway. Continue reading

Fourth Annual(?) Year in Review (100 Years Later)

      1 Comment on Fourth Annual(?) Year in Review (100 Years Later)

By Aaron Boyes and Sean Graham

We offer our two cents on the most important events of 1916. Let us know what you think in the comments.

Over the past month I have had, and overheard, many conversations with friends, family members, and coworkers about the year 2016, and the overwhelming consensus is that this has been an unusually bad year. Numerous events occurred that shocked the public, such as the outbreak of the Zika virus; the Brexit vote and its result; the expansion of ISIS and unrest in the Middle East; the polarizing Presidential Election in the United States; and the slew of celebrity deaths – David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Gordie Howe, and Leonard Cohen, just to name a few.

It may seem like 2016 was a particularly bad year, but this is largely because we are still dealing with the immediate impacts of such events. Perhaps, in the grand scheme of history, 2016 will go down as a mundane year, but until enough time has passed we simply cannot accurately judge how 2016 will be viewed.

Luckily, we’re back with the Fourth Annual (?) Year in Review (100 Years Later) Bracket – wait, does anyone still read this? – to provide some historical hindsight on the most important people and events from 1916. As in years past, we have omitted any event affiliated with the First World War – you can read our rationale from last years bracket. After exhaustive deliberation – be free to interpret “exhaustive” as you’d like – we have selected sixteen of what we believe to be the most important events of 1916 and have grouped them into four categories: the Progress Bracket, the Business Bracket, the International Bracket, and everyone’s favourite, the Potpourri Bracket. Of course, some events had to be eliminated from contention, but that does not mean that they were not important in their own right. Some notable mentions include the births of Jackie Gleason, Roald Dahl, and Walter Cronkite; the Chicago Cubs playing their first game in what became Wrigley Field; and Mary Pickford became the first female to receive a million-dollar contract.

We’ve listed our matchups below. As always, we’d love to hear what you think is the most important event of 1916 and you can leave us a comment at the bottom of the page. Or, send an e-mail to

Our thoughts, the second, third, and fourth round matchups, and the winner can be found here.

Thanks for checking back in and enjoy!

Potpourri Bracket

(1) Canadian Parliament Burns Down vs. (4) National Research Council Founded









Continue reading

DNA And The Quest For Identity

      2 Comments on DNA And The Quest For Identity

Stacey Devlin

“Genetic Testing,” xkcd. Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC 2.5

Whether or not family history interests you, it’s hard to escape the recent surge in advertising for genealogy-driven DNA tests, particularly the service offered by genealogy giant Ancestry. Ancestry has been heavily promoting this service through both online ads and television commercials, and it represents a fascinating development for family historians who can now use genetic information to find distant or sparsely documented relatives. However, the main thrust of the ad campaigns has not been to advertise the research benefits of DNA, but to appeal to a search for identity and belonging through our connections to ethnic communities. This introduces a number of problematic ideas around the intersection of genetics, personal identity, and racism. Does DNA really help you find out who you are? And does finding “who you are” entitle you to belong to a community that has never embraced you as a member?

DNA testing services are nothing new, and they all follow the same basic formula: spit into a test tube, pay a processing fee, ship the sample and wait for your results to arrive. These results usually take the form of basic ethnicity and health indicators as well as genetic predispositions towards various diseases. The fresh appeal of genealogy-driven services like Ancestry DNA lies in their databases, which compare every test to all other users in order to identify relatives. This has the potential to reveal previously unknown ancestors or confirm relationships that may have only been guessed at. It’s an exciting new option for genealogists who want to supplement their existing research.

However, the advertising campaigns for these DNA tests appeals more to a quest for identity than to the potential research benefits. This shift in emphasis from documentary evidence to genetics represents a dramatic shift in Ancestry’s marketing. The cornerstone of Ancestry’s empire (and indeed a primary motivation for most genealogists and family historians) has been the concept that knowing who you are comes from your connection to the past and from finding the stories of your ancestors in archival documents. Recent advertising flips this on its head to suggest that knowing who you are comes not from painstaking research, but from discovering your genetic makeup. In other words, genetic information is a marker not only of biological identity, but of personal identity. Continue reading

Peaceable Kingdom or Emergency State?  The Legacy of Canada’s First World War for Security Regulation and Civil Rights

By Dennis Molinaro

The First World War led to many profound changes in Canadian society, including expanding the security powers of the government and laying the foundations of the modern surveillance state. Through measures such as the War Measures Act and Section 98, certain wartime powers became a permanent means of judging people’s politics in peacetime.  Surprisingly, this legacy of the First World War also spurred a politically diverse civil rights movement, whose mainstream leaders included J.S. Woodsworth, that helped form the basis for the progressive political and rights campaigns of future generations.

Hugh Guthrie, who as Solicitor General was the major author of Section 98. Image from Wikipedia.

In 1914 the Canadian government created the War Measures Act (WMA) and it was purposely designed as a “blanket act” meaning that it gave the government the power to craft whatever law it deemed necessary for the war.  The reason the Canadian government did this was because it had looked at similar British legislation, the Defense of the Realm Act (DORA), and it thought it was not efficient because the British had to frequently amend it. Unlike DORA, Canada’s WMA had no end date and was broad enough to deal with anything that could come up. While the expectation was to only use it during the war, the fact that it had no end date meant that a peacetime application was entirely within the right of the government.
Continue reading

The Chignecto Marine Transport Railway Company or, Thoughts on Failure in History

By Andrew Nurse

4 men and a steam shovel excavating for Chignecto Ship Railway : from elevated position/ J. F. O’R. – 1889. (UNB Archives Online)

The creation and failure of Chignecto Marine Transport Railway Company (CMTRC) — in effect, a “ship railway” — is usually presented as a unique episode in Maritime and Canadian history. In 2012, the Nova Scotia provincial government moved to commemorate the company (and, perhaps unintendedly, its failure) by purchasing the land on which the project was to be built in order to ensure its protection and preservation for the future. The brainchild of engineer Henry Ketchum, the Chignecto ship railway financially collapsed in 1890 and was never revived. For the provincial government and local outdoor enthusiasts, the land on which it sits is important in itself and has been incorporated into the Trans Canada Trail.[1] At the time the land was purchased, the then Minister of Natural Resources explained that his “Government was acting to preserve the historical, recreation, and natural value of this unique piece of land.”[2]

Exactly what, however, was being commemorated and why? The commemoration of the Ketchum’s ship railway affords an interesting opportunity to think about how we mark failure in history. However “innovative” (in Ketchum’s words) a ship railway may have been, it was never completed and, thus, never used. How do we think historically about failure and why might this be important to broader historical narratives? Continue reading

Will Mandela Fall, Too?

      No Comments on Will Mandela Fall, Too?

By Rachel Hatcher

[This is the eight and final post in the Learning and unlearning history in South Africa’s public spaces series.]

Widespread student protests in 2015 and 2016 pushed the past into discussions about the South African present.

#RhodesMustFall asked why a rapacious and racist mining magnate was still honored in the so-called Rainbow Nation. Why did his statue still dominate at the University of Cape Town? Just how deeply this question resonated with students across the country can be seen roughly 900 kilometers to the east, in Grahamstown, at a university now referred to in more politically conscious circles as the university (or institution) currently known as Rhodes.

Though not the focus of the protests, #OutsourcingMustFall and #FeesMustFall also raised similar questions about which historical figures should be honored. In response, students took the initiative to re-name buildings on campuses throughout South Africa after Steve Biko, Solomon Mahlangu, and Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. These and other heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle replaced Afrikaner nationalists and the architects of apartheid.

Continue reading

Unlearning history to combat racism?

      3 Comments on Unlearning history to combat racism?

By Rachel Hatcher

[This is the seventh post in the Learning and unlearning history in South Africa’s public spaces series.]

South Africans must, declared South African Human Rights Commissioner Dr. Danny Titus, unlearn the names of the Dutch ships that landed in South Africa in the 17th century. He made this declaration during the Free State’s provincial launch of the Anti-Racism Network of South Africa (ARNSA) in Bloemfontein on 6 April 2016. Titus also stated that there, while there was much to unlearn, there was also much to learn.

The ships-that-must-not-be-named were led by Jan van Riebeeck, who was charged with setting up a way-station for ships on their way to and from the Dutch colonies in the “East Indies.” Landing in what is now Cape Town on 6 April 1652, the arrival of the ships marks the beginning of permanent European settlement in what is now South Africa.

Titus’ comment about unlearning is problematic in the context of a still highly racist South Africa and campaigns against racism for a couple of reasons. First, it suggests a kind of a Whiggish understanding of history, but not one where the past is read as inevitably progressing toward greater liberty and democracy. Rather, insisting that the names of the ships be unlearned points to an understanding of the past characterized by an inevitable regression in terms of liberty and democracy, a continuous closing of spaces until 1948 when the National Party was elected and set about institutionalizing apartheid, there limiting liberty and democracy even further. Continue reading

Doing The Work: The Historian’s Place in Indigenization and Decolonization

Skylee-Storm Hogan and Krista McCracken

Indigenization and decolonize are words that seem to be permeating institutional conversations in the heritage world and in the post-secondary field right now.  Despite the increasingly frequency of these words there are still many questions about what the terms mean how they can be moved into practice.

Earlier this month Dr. Shuaneen Pete spoke at Algoma University on “Indigenization in Canadian Universities and Colleges”.  Her talk spoke volumes about the long history of Indigenization and new approaches to this work in the post-secondary sector.  Pete worked closely with the University of Regina to develop their institutional definition of Indigenization which defines the term as:

The transformation of the existing academy by including Indigenous knowledges, voices, critiques, scholars, students and materials as well as the establishment of physical and epistemic spaces that facilitate the ethical stewardship of a plurality of Indigenous knowledges and practices so thoroughly as to constitute an essential element of the university. It is not limited to Indigenous people, but encompasses all students and faculty, for the benefit of our academic integrity and our social viability

Approaches to Indigenization can vary greatly between institutions but often involve the integration of Indigenous cultures, heritage, and knowledge.  In some cases this has involved required courses with Indigenous content or the incorporation of Indigenous content across all faculties.  However as Adam Gaudry pointed out in his Active History post, “Paved with Good Intentions: Simply Requiring Indigenous Content is Not Enough” mandatory Indigenous courses are not new, can be problematic if they are not facilitated correctly, and should be part of larger institutional changes.  Indigenous survey courses often fall into the traps of treating culture as a cure-all, looking at Indigenous communities without diversity, or framing Indigenous people as stuck in time.

In other instances Indigenization has been approached as an increasing focus on Indigenous student success or resulted in the building of dedicated Indigenous spaces on campuses. While this is a worthy cause, Indigenous students face unique barriers in post-secondary institutions which need to be addressed and dedicated Indigenous spaces often come at the expense of students becoming separated or othered along cultural, ideological, socioeconomic and colour lines. Indigenization cannot be attempted without first making space to decolonize what types of knowledge the academy sees as legitimate, otherwise projects have the potential to become tokens used to absolve settler guilt. Continue reading

The CIDA Photography Collections: A Visual Perspective on Canadian International Aid

Rights and Realities Exhibit ID Number:730-2258 Slide Number: 730-487-04 Date: 1995 A woman repairs shoes in a tiny kiosk on the sidewalk in downtown Lima, Peru. (c)Global Affairs Canada/Stephanie Colvey

Rights and Realities Exhibit
Slide Number: 730-487-04
A woman repairs shoes in a tiny kiosk on the sidewalk in downtown Lima, Peru, 1995
(c)Global Affairs Canada/Stephanie Colvey

Sonya de Laat & Dominique Marshall

The ways in which the former Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has visually represented its projects and people to the general public have greatly informed public perceptions of aid and international affairs. From the end of the 1960s, CIDA’s photographs have been used in the communications products of the Agency and of partners (NGOs, schools, publishers, etc.), or in travelling exhibitions, publications and teaching materials. They also represent a resource for scholars and practitioners interested in exploring and sharing CIDA’s multifaceted histories. For forty-five years, CIDA administered the nation’s official development assistance (ODA). From large-scale mining and electricity projects to smaller scale education and health programs, CIDA was Canada’s main response to a global surge in international development initiatives that started in the 1960s. Simultaneously, CIDA was a vehicle for extending Canadian economic and political interests as well as its social values abroad. It became a key entity in defining Canada’s caring and helpful identity domestically and internationally. Continue reading