The Late 1980s Crisis in Toronto Public Housing Part I – Disability and Danger

Aerial photograph of a city landscape.

Aerial photo of MTHA development Regent Park circa 1980-1998. Copyright City of Toronto.

David M. K. Sheinin

This is the first of four articles on Toronto public housing in the late 1980s. This first article introduces the series then focuses on disability and public housing. The second addresses a new social role for the Metropolitan Toronto Housing Authority (MTHA) that included providing breakfast for children in need and mounting after-school programs on MTHA properties. The third considers tenant advocacy and the final article explores problems in public housing in the Jane-Finch neighborhood. To protect their privacy, initials substitute for the names of residents who are or may still be alive. Language used on “disability” reflects terminology used in the 1980s.

On May 25, 1987, SMJ sent a handwritten letter to John Sewell, Metro Toronto Housing Authority (MTHA) chair and former mayor of Toronto. Like hundreds of letters Sewell received from public housing residents—most of which he answered or addressed personally—SMJ’s note was all at once smart, raw, and to the point. She approached Sewell as a potential ally. “I am not a delinquent in my rent payments,” SMJ wrote, “nor am I a trouble maker.” She itemized problems in her unit that included unchanged door locks since occupancy, a bathroom floor in need of retiling, and poor plastering. She told Sewell of the “standard rehearsed excuses” from MTHA employees that included “We don’t have the tools necessary” and “I don’t have a work order for that.” Continue reading

Passports – What’s Old is News

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By Sean Graham

This week I’m joined by Patrick Bixby, author of License to Travel: A Cultural History of the Passport. We talk about the origins of the modern passport, the reaction to its introduction, and how artists and writers responded. We also chat about the role of the nation state in immigration, the relative value of nations’ passports, and what the document tells us about its holder.

Historical Headline of the Week

Kanis Leung, “Hong Kong Invokes a New Law to Cancel Passports of 6 Overseas-Based Activists, Including Nathan Law,” Associated Press, 12 June 2024.

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Reproductive Justice, Teen Mothers, and Integration into Education

Holy Angels School Building, photo by author.

Mallory Davies

This is the seventh entry in a monthly series on Thinking Historically. See the Introduction here.

Coined by activist American women of colour in the 1990s, reproductive justice is an activist framework that provides an intersectional understanding of reproductive autonomy. Reproductive justice invokes the “sexual autonomy and gender freedom for every human being,” among the right to reproductive decision making.[1] Despite advancements, the last few years have witnessed a reduction in reproductive rights protections in the United States and Canada. In the United States, the overturning of Roe v Wade has led to a host of changes to medical care, often with the result that individuals are denied their reproductive rights.

In Canada, these conversations are being broached in the realm of education with the Alberta premier proposing anti-trans policies aimed at the sex education curriculum and switching to an opt-in approach for sex education, as was recently discussed in a blog post on this site by Karissa Patton and Nancy Janovicek. These contemporary conversations propose to limit reproductive decision-making for citizens and curtail the kinds of education available to students. Now more than ever, we need reproductive justice as a framework to be incorporated into the education system.  To understand how early efforts of reproductive justice were incorporated into educational systems, I focus on some very early findings from my study on the history of education for teen mothers in Calgary, Alberta.

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How Prime Ministers Influence Identity – What’s Old is News

By Sean Graham

This week, I’m joined by Raymond Blake, author of Canada’s Prime Ministers and the Shaping of National Identity. We discuss the role of the Prime Minister, how mass media changed the office, and the ways in which Prime Ministers have influenced national identity. We also chat about how international affairs shape domestic discussions, how the length of a government shapes public perceptions, and how retail politics influence conversations on identity.

Historical Headline of the Week

Erna Paris, “Canada’s Multiculturalism is our Identity,” Globe & Mail, April 27, 2018.

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Montreal Walking Tour: Towers of Grain

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Jim Clifford and Stéphane Castonguay will lead a walking tour on Sunday June 16 at 7pm starting at Victoria Square in Montreal.

Towers of Grain: Feeding Edwardian Britain

Silo number 1, built in 1902 in the Port of Montreal, linked the burgeoning wheat farms on the Prairies with the urban markets in the United Kingdom. New industrial-scale flour mills were built in Birkenhead near Liverpool and West Ham on the eastern edge of London between 1899 and 1905. On the Prairies, Ogilvie Milling Company, the British American Company, Grain Growers’ Grain Company and others built thousands of grain elevators to feed wheat into the railways. Railways and steamships linked these towers together. Settlers and farming in the Canadian Prairies required industrial technology from the start, and this provides an important reminder the Industrial Revolution did not stop at the city limits of Manchester, Glasgow, or Montreal. This walking tour will use digital materials to explore the transnational history of the grain silos in the Port of Montreal and Prairie wheat fields.

The tour will commence 7:00pm at the Art Nouveau entrance of the Square-Victoria–OACI metro station.

Please register for the free walking tour on Eventbrite.

Here is the current draft of the digital content developed to accompany the walking tour:

Uncovering the History of the Atlantic Region: What’s the Acadiensis School’s Legacy?

Paul W. Bennett

History matters more than most of us recognize unless and until it directly affects us. Yet it shapes in subtle and unconscious ways how provinces and communities are perceived in the past and present, and how they confront the future.  That applies especially in the case of Atlantic Canada, lying “Down East” and, until the past fifty years, viewed as mostly outside the mainstream of Canada’s historical tradition.

Two significant academic developments changed that outlook, both of which originated and were ‘hot-housed’ at the University of New Brunswick.  Since its founding in 1971, influential articles, research studies, and book review essays published in Acadiensis: Journal of History of the Atlantic Region, have challenged regional stereotypes, exposed buried public policy issues, and influenced how the province and region are viewed not only in North America but across the Atlantic world. Continue reading

Wine & War – What’s Old is News

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By Sean Graham

This week, I welcome Adam Zientek, author of A Thirst for Wine and War: The Intoxication of French Soldiers on the Western Front. We chat about how wine became a staple of French rations in the First World War, the perceived benefits of wine, and how it was transported to the front lines in such large quantities. We also discuss perception of liquor compared to wine, the role of alcohol in French mutinies, and the cultural legacy of wine’s role during the First World War in France.

Historical Headline of the Week

Brigit Katz, “Hundreds of Liquor Bottles, Downed by British Soldiers During WWI, Found in Israel,” Smithsonian Magazine, March 24, 2017.

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A Plea for Depth Over Dismissal

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Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Art Miki sitting down at the signing of the redress. Roger Obata, Audrey Kobayashi, Gerry Weiner, and Maryka Omatsu are among the people standing behind them. Source: Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre,. Gordon King Collection 2010.32.26.

Daniel R. Meister

Following his death, assessments of Brian Mulroney’s legacy ranged from “one of the greatest prime ministers in Canadian history” to “the most hated PM in Canadian history.” For those lionizing, Mulroney should be remembered for supporting free trade, expanding environmental protections, and for opposing apartheid in South Africa. For those vilifying, Mulroney should be remembered for neoliberal policies of austerity and privatization, stubborn accusations of corruption, and the violent military response to the Kanehsatà:ke Resistance (otherwise known as “the Oka Crisis”).

Mulroney may be divisive, but what prime minister wasn’t? Running down the list, I thought maybe John Thompson, but his Catholicism certainly was at the time (though this says less about him and more about the society at the time). Moreover, there is a tendency when examining political figures to portray them as either good or evil, with little room for nuance or depth.

Take Mulroney and multiculturalism, for example. He is either praised for passing the Multiculturalism Act (1988) or condemned for supposedly neoliberalizing multiculturalism.[1] In ensuring the passage of the Multiculturalism Act, Mulroney gave needed legislative basis to a policy proclaimed nearly two decades prior. Ethnic groups had been lobbying for such a move for nearly as long and welcomed the development. But the Mulroney government is also remembered for its “Multiculturalism Means Business” approach to the policy. This was the name of a conference organized by minister of multiculturalism Otto Jelenik, held in Toronto in 1984 and at which Mulroney spoke.

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The Curious Case of Canadian Television – What’s Old is News

By Sean Graham

This week I talk with Jennifer VanderBurgh, author of What Television Remembers: Artifacts and Footprints of TV in Toronto. We discuss the challenge of studying Canadian television, how to find old programs, and why television researches often rely on the public. We also talk about Toronto as a television Canada’s television production centre, how the city stands in for other locations, and how that shapes what Canadians see on their screens.

Historical Headline of the Week

Kate Taylor, “For CBC fans, TV history is just out of reach,” Globe & Mail, June 2, 2017.

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Sensing (everything) Changes: A Tribute to Joy Parr

By Jessica van Horssen

This tribute was also published with NiCHE

Not many scholars have the desire or ability to challenge Descartes’ first principle “I think, therefore I am,” but Joy Parr was not the average scholar. Her concept of “I am here, therefore I am,” mapped out in her final monograph Sensing Changes (2010), gave insight, energy, and direction to local, place-based, embodied histories, and made me think, “Descartes who?”

I’ve been a Joy Parr mega-fan my whole academic life. In undergrad, I used to go to what I termed “the Parr section” of the library so I could let her work lead me in a new direction for any paper I had due, especially in the history of gender, labour, technology, and environment. Her award-winning monographs, Labouring Children (1980), The Gender of Breadwinners(1990), Domestic Goods(1999), and Sensing Changes have guided innumerable students and scholars into new realms and ideas while challenging the fields of Gender, Labour, and Envirotech History. I never considered the possibility that I would one day work with her during my PhD, and that she would continue to have such a dynamic impact on my scholarship well beyond those intense years.

Sensing Changes by Joy Parr cover

Along with her field-changing publications, Parr was an engaged and inspiring teacher, which can often get forgotten or pushed aside. She took her role as a teacher seriously and it was amazing to be in her classroom as she challenged students to think deeper, supporting us through our journeys. It always felt like we were on the cusp of something so exciting. Continue reading