History Slam Episode 128: A Modern History of Curling

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By Sean Graham

Late last year, the story of 2014 Olympic Gold Medal curler Ryan Fry being ejected from an event in Red Deer made headlines around the world. The conversation ranged from disappointment to jokes about how drinking beer is a central part of the sport. And while looking at photos of curlers playing with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths can be entertaining, the stereotype of the unathletic curler no longer applies to the top players. When you turn on national or international championships today, you will see people who have spent countless hours in the gym getting ready for these games.

One of the reasons for this change was the introduction of curling to the Olympics in 1998. Since then, the sport operates on a four-year cycle, where teams are re-formed and players gear up to represent their countries on Olympic ice. At the same time, there is more money available to players, both through federal funding and an explosion of events where top teams can win significant money.

In his new book, Written in Stone: A Modern History of Curling, Brian Chick tells the story of these changes over the past thirty years. Based on interviews with some of Canada’s top players, Chick goes through the sport’s major changes, including its inclusion in the Olympics, the early 2000s boycott of national events, and the expanding competitive schedule. With his journalism background, Chick is able to weave together the various perspective to tell the story of the sport’s growth.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Brian about the book. We talk about the Olympics, the boycotts over sponsorship at the Brier and Scotties, and the TV controversies of the mid-2000s. We also talk about the changes in fitness, the professionalization of the sport, and what the future may hold for some of the top teams.

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It Inspires Us Still: A Century Later, the Winnipeg General Strike Still Matters

Crowd gathered outside old City Hall during the Winnipeg general strike, June 21, 1919. Wikimedia

Christo Aivalis

In just a few months, we will be in the midst of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike, where thousands of workers walked off the job, initially to support the traditional bargaining demands from some of the city’s established unions, but eventually to demonstrate a more systemic challenge to the social, political, and economic status quo which reigned across Canada in the aftermath of the Great War. But this is all so far away from us today, is it not? Aren’t the efforts of those working-class and socialist activists—however storied—a relic of the past? What can that all mean in an age like ours? Quite a bit, it turns out.

The strike took place in the spring of 1919, in a context of deep socioeconomic strife. The end of the war led to unemployment, which was exacerbated by veterans returning from the European front.  This war was not only meant to end all war, but to usher in a just social order. As we know, neither happened, and this left many Canadians dismayed. In this context, building and metal trade workers appealed to the Trades and Labor Congress’ Council in Winnipeg to support them in a general sympathetic strike to win key demands such as recognition of their bargaining units. The result—no doubt driven in part by a climate of social injustice—led to most of the city’s working class population striking and shutting Winnipeg down. This led to a coordinated counter-assault, as the Canadian state, the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, the Winnipeg press, a special group of police officers (scabs replacing the strike-supporting city police), and the city’s elite organized into the shadowy Citizen’s Committee of 1000, worked to successfully break the strike by demonizing ‘alien’ elements among the strikers, and by arresting its leaders. In this way, the strike could be deemed a defeat, at least in the immediate term, as capital reasserted dominance over the city, and didn’t meet the strikers’ demands.

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Moral Foundations in History

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By Matthew Neufeld

Upper Waterton Lake with Prince of Wales Hotel

Waterton Lakes national park is named after a distinguished nineteenth-century British naturalist and pioneer in conservation. After returning from his family’s holdings in South America in 1824, Charles Waterton converted part of his estate in Yorkshire into the world’s first wildfowl and nature preserve.[1]. As recently digitized documents published by University College London show, Waterton was also a slaveholder.[2]  Waterton was by no means the first or last historical actor who demonstrated the virtue of care in one domain of life—toward plants and animals—but did not extend similar concern into another—toward enslaved black women and men.  The naturalist was clearly a morally complex figure whose historical legacy—early environmentalist and slaveholder—is mixed.

In what follows I will argue that historical debates over the meaning and legacy of complex and controversial past phenomena could be more productive and less acrimonious were historians to acknowledge that their disagreements are in part contentions over different conceptions of the good. Disputes about the past between historians generally are not between good people and bad people. No single historical perspective or methodology holds a monopoly on virtue, even when the subject is one as contentious as colonialism and imperial history.

Professionally, historians tend to think more about doing good work than doing good. Continue reading

President Trump’s Medievalish Walls

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Siege of Constantinople, as seen in « La Cronicque du temps de tres chrestien roy Charles, septisme de ce nom, roy de France, faitte et compillée par JEHAN CHARETIER ». Bibliothèque nationale de France, Manuscrit Français 2691.

Mairi Cowan

The medieval has made a resurgence in the news. Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic Senator for New York, issued a tweet declaring “No medieval border wall for Trump,” followed by Dick Durbin, Democratic Senator for Illinois, who tweeted that “a $5 billion medieval wall is no solution for illegal immigration or stopping drugs from coming across our border.” Donald Trump responded from the Oval Office, stating that “they say it’s a medieval solution, a wall. It’s true, because it worked then and it works even better now.” Later, speaking in Texas at the border with Mexico, President Trump praised expensive Secret Service cars by saying that “a wheel is older than a wall.” As many have pointed out, he’s factually wrong on the wheel/wall dating – the earliest walls predate the earliest wheels by thousands of years – but the President’s confused chronology may not matter much for his main point. Insofar as anyone can figure that out, it seems to be that old technologies can still provide good solutions in today’s world.

Of course, as is probably obvious to anyone with a basic knowledge of premodern defenses, nothing from medieval Europe looked much like what is being proposed for the US-Mexico border. Ranging from earthworks and ditches to masonry walls with crenellations and towers, medieval defensive structures were neither the concrete barrier nor the steel slats envisioned by the Build the Wall enthusiasts. Furthermore, medieval defenses didn’t always do a very good job of protecting people against invaders. The most famous walls in medieval Europe cost a fortune to construct and maintain, and even the strongest among them could be scaled, besieged, or, once gunpowder artillery was introduced, blasted into a heap of rubble. And in any case, medieval city walls were not meant just to keep people out. They had gates, which were often the most beautiful parts of the defences, and these were supposed to let people in for commerce and for living. Medieval urban populations did not grow through natural increase. The only way to increase (or, in most cases, even maintain) a town’s population was through immigration. In many medieval towns, customary law granted freedom to anyone living there without causing trouble for a year and a day. Medieval town air made you free, in a way that crossing a modern state boundary does not.

Distinctions between medieval walls and twenty-first century border security are important to keep in mind, but I would suggest that the President of the United States actually is following a medieval tradition in one respect: he sees in the wall an opportunity for symbolic display. Continue reading

How and When to Invite Indigenous Speakers to the Classroom

Circle of people in chairs outside

Photograph of Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre educational programming.

By Skylee-Storm Hogan and Krista McCracken, with Andrea Eidinger

In recent years, particularly since the publication of the TRC Calls to Action, there has been an increasing push to integrate Indigenous content into elementary and secondary classrooms across the country. While we believe that this work is essential, recent news reports have given us cause for concern. From the ongoing debates about Quebec’s latest high school history textbooks to the Ford government’s cancelling of the TRC curriculum writing session, there has been a significant pushback against the inclusion of Indigenous content.

Further, while provinces like BC and Alberta are working to integrate Indigenous content into their curriculums, they often fail to properly prepare educators. Several studies have shown that while many settler educators want to include more content about Indigenous history and culture, they often lack the confidence and training to do so. Some well-intentioned teachers either decline to include Indigenous content out of fear of offending anyone or misappropriate Indigenous stories, traditions, and even ceremonies. And in some cases, the results have been extremely problematic or even disastrous (content warning: racist language), and Indigenous educators are often faced with taking up the burden.

With this in mind, we are launching a new Beyond the Lecture mini-series, specifically dedicated to the issue of teaching Indigenous history and the inclusion of Indigenous content in the classroom. Our goal is to provide resources for educators at all levels to help navigate the often fraught terrain of teaching Indigenous content.

For the first post in this mini-series, we decided to tackle the issue of inviting Indigenous speakers into classrooms. To that end, Andrea compiled a list of commonly-asked questions about how and when to invite Indigenous speakers, and Skylee-Storm and Krista have written detailed responses. Continue reading

The Mysteries of a Hobo’s Life: Uncovering a Forgotten Revolutionary

[photograph of unknown man] (Canadan Teollisuusunionistinen Kannatus Liitto [CTKL] fonds)

Saku Pinta

An earlier version of this post appeared on the “Increasing Access to the Finnish Language Archives” project blog.

This black and white photograph appears, at first glance, to be quite ordinary. An unidentified man poses in front of a tar paper shack, possibly at a logging camp, hands clasped behind his back. His stony gaze is contemplative, confident. Perhaps even defiant. Little else is known about this individual, aside from the near certainty that he lost his life prematurely and tragically, likely dying for his convictions.

Who was this man? While it is possible that we may never know for certain, examining this photograph reveals a story interwoven with the enduring themes of class, ethnicity, justice, and memory.

The significance of the photograph, and the first clue in the difficult task of determining the man’s identity, is revealed through his inclusion in a collage of six labour martyrs. The creator(s) of the long forgotten collage, also unknown, believed that the unknown man belonged in this collection, suggesting that he too met a similar fate as the others. Yet unlike the others, the photograph of this individual is not a mass produced, postcard-sized portrait photo. Rather, it appears to be a one-off, original photograph, possibly local in origin.

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History Slam Episode 127: Firewater

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By Sean Graham

Unless you stop to really think about it, it’s easy to overlook the number of times the subject of alcohol comes up. From after work drinks to wining and dining a date to rec sports being referred to as ‘beer leagues,’ alcohol has a hold on Canadian culture. The popular culture we consume can also be heavy on references to alcohol – one of the most popular sitcoms of the 20th century was set in bar after all. The popularity of alcohol has even made it a political issue as Andrew Scheer has talked about alcohol taxes on multiple occasions and Doug Ford made $1 beer part of his campaign for premier of Ontario last spring.

Despite its celebrated place in the culture, alcohol can be dangerous. The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) concluded that in 2015-2016, 77,000 hospital admissions were caused by alcohol. To put that in context, heart attacks led to 75,000 admissions. That same report estimated that cost-related harm costs Canadians $14.6 billion a year, including $7.1 billion in lost productivity. Globally, the World Health Organization found that 3 million people died due to drinking too much alcohol in 2016. While a lot of people point to excessive drinking as the primary cause, there are an increasing number of studies showing that even a moderate amount of alcohol consumption is dangerous.

In his new book Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing my People (And Yours), Harold Johnson explores alcohol’s social, economic, and social harm. As a Crown Prosecutor in Saskatchewan, Johnson saw first-hand how alcohol can cause damage to families and communities. In his analysis, he looks at alcohol’s history, its myths, and its impact on Indigenous peoples. In confronting stereotypes and challenging alcohol’s social and economic power, Johnson has written a provocative yet engaging book that forces the reader to re-examine their personal relationship with alcohol.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Harold Johnson about the book. We talk about his motivation for writing the book, the “drunken Indian” stereotype, and how the criminal justice system deals with alcoholism. We also talk about trauma in Indigenous communities, reducing alcohol-related deaths, and how addressing these issues requires a communal approach.

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From Salò to Cult: Sadism, Terror, and Fascism in Fiction

The Four Libertines and their associates. basementrejects.com

Alban Bargain-Villéger


It was this laconic, almost interjective title that first caught my eye. In the stifling Parisian heat of July 2002, somewhere in the Halles neighbourhood, the poster appeared in a surreal haze. A bridal party of dejected youths, the bride and groom dressed for the occasion, the rest stark-naked, advanced, seemingly resigned to their doom. Then the subtitle appeared: “or the 120 Days of Sodom.” While Salò obviously referred to the resort town where Benito Mussolini had established the capital of his short-lived Italian Social Republic, the rest of the title did not ring a bell. I had not yet become acquainted with Sade’s masterpiece, nor was I familiar with the director, Pier Paolo Pasolini. The cost of entry was cheap, as the showing was part of a Pasolini festival, on the occasion of the eightieth anniversary of his birth. Clearly, I had no clue what I had gotten myself into, as Salò proved to be an aesthetically unpleasant experience featuring stomach-turning torture scenes and ritualistic rape. To cut a long story short, I almost threw up in the movie theatre. But I am the stubborn type, so I decided to stay until the end.

What prompted this post was not a sudden, random flashback to my first encounter with Pasolini. Rather, it sprang from a slow-evolving reflection on the seventh season of American Horror Story, entitled Cult, which aired in late 2017. Evidently, the two works differ in several ways. Conceptually speaking, one is a full-length film, and the other an 11-episode series; while Salò is a 1975 Italian production, Cult is part of an ongoing American – self-explanatorily US-centric – show. However, these works address the theme of fascism in comparable ways. First of all, both emerged in climates of political violence and instability, the Anni di piombo (Years of Lead) in Salò’s case, and of the Trump presidency in that of Cult. While one cannot easily compare the two contexts, the similar questions that they sparked in 1970s Italy and 2010s America deserve more attention on the part of historians. Secondly, the frequent, and often inappropriate bandying about of the word “fascism” in the media, popular culture, and politics, should not deter academics from studying such approximations. Just because Salò and Cult provide partial, mostly aesthetic takes on fascism, it does not mean scholars should throw the baby out with the bathwater and dismiss these works as flawed and not worthy of attention.


In other posts, I have criticized the hackneyed argument that the “1930s” were back. Continue reading

A Canadian Immigration Syllabus

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Examining new arrivals in Immigration Examination Hall, Pier 21. Chris Lund/National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque collection/Library and Archives Canada/PA-111579

Two years ago, following the election of Donald Trump to office, historians specializing in the history of migration and ethnicity in the United States compiled the #ImmigrationSyllabus to serve as a resource and teaching tool for instructors, students and the general public. It was an inspired collaboration, one that showcased how historians can play an important role in disseminating knowledge about the very genealogy of particular public policy debates and information that can shed light on lies, falsehoods and mythologies that animate many of these contemporary discussions.

Inspired by these efforts, and cognizant of the important work that has taken place on these topics in Canada, we set out to compile an immigration history syllabus (Canadian-style) with input from scholars across the country whose own work and professional service has shaped our commitment to collaborative research, resource-sharing and knowledge dissemination. This syllabus brings together key themes, readings, sources, and questions about the history of migration to and from Canada, offering a resource to educators and students, and valuable historical context for contemporary debates.

The immigration syllabus (Canadian-style) saw many incarnations over the past few months. The result is a blend of loosely chronological subjects that can be used in the classroom, beginning with some key readings on what constitutes migration history and why it might be an important topic to study. To lend some flexibility, there are a series of thematic units that can be exchanged if instructors would like to focus on a particular aspect of this field such as gender, religion, settler colonialism or Indigenous mobilities. The idea was to have foundations as well as flexibility, and we hope that the syllabus does just that. Continue reading