Photo of Southwest Bridge, Lot 16, after 1923 storm, from Annual Report of the Department of Public Works of the Province of PEI, 1924, overlain by still from video by @savage_sultin of unidentified bridge after 2022 storm.
Rarely have I wanted so much to be on Prince Edward Island; never have I been so glad not to be there. It’s been hard to watch from a distance the disaster of Hurricane Fiona as it has unrolled slowly, then suddenly, then slowly again. Meteorologists warned days in advance that at landfall it would likely have the lowest recorded barometric pressure in Canadian history. (It did.) News sites began posting the requisite photos of empty grocery store shelves. Folks hauled out their emergency vocabularies: “batten hatches,” “hunker down.” And then, beginning in the early morning of 24 September, word of the storm’s arrival came, in the form of photos and videos on social media. Dark downpours, flooded streets. By daylight, there were scenes of washed-out roads, the twisted wreckage of buildings, and so many, many, many downed trees. It would be another day before attention began to be paid to the lost dunes on the Island’s North Shore beaches; another day still before satellite imagery from the Canadian Space Agency exposed the scale of widespread coastal erosion. And for many people, the disaster is still far from over: their power is still out, the trees still dead, broken, and in the way, and the roofs, cottages, and barns still needing repair or replacement. In a week, Islanders went from stockpiling storm chips to throwing out freezer food.
Whether to better understand the present or to distract myself from it, at the height of Fiona I researched a hurricane from PEI’s past. Continue reading
Oral History Participant Stephanie Stirling recovers from her post-polio syndrome related foot surgery in 1956. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Stirling.
For the past 2 years, I have been living through a pandemic, while researching a historical epidemic. In mid-2020, I had just finished up my third year of undergraduate studies at Wilfrid Laurier University when Dr. Tarah Brookfield recruited me into an undergraduate research project. The idea was to interview the generation that experienced the last major outbreak of polio and compare their experiences to COVID, as they would belong to the highest at-risk population of both diseases. With that goal, myself and three classmates (Lillia Dockree, Delores Maas, and Steve Parr) collected oral histories from current or former residents of our community of Brantford, Ontario, and the surrounding Brant County. We then turned the research into a digital exhibit for the Wilfrid Laurier Archives. I now work as an RA to continue our research for an academic article.
Our work so far has resulted in a detailed local history of polio. Brantford, like most Canadian towns and surrounding rural communities, faced almost annual outbreaks of polio in late summer/early fall. It caused mild to severe illness, death, and disability, mainly in children or young adults. Beginning with the 1910 outbreak, local, provincial, national, and international cases of polio received considerable media coverage in the Brantford Expositor. After Salk’s 1955 vaccine, polio waned as a threat until a 1978 outbreak, caused by anti-vaccine sentiment and slipping uptake in vaccine boosters, caused panic when cases were discovered in nearby Oxford County. Our research focuses on the evolving public health policy, medical treatments, and vaccine rhetoric, as well as the personal experiences of those who lived through or contracted polio, particularly as children. Continue reading
Crown, Kurt Kaiser/Wikimedia Commons.
Early September saw the death of the European monarch who had reigned the longest over the territory some call Canada. The death was not unexpected. In some quarters, it might even have been welcomed. But it took some time for the news to reach Canada. The last ships had left months earlier on their Atlantic crossing. When they arrived in September and October 1715 with their missives from the court, issued in the name of Louis XIV, no one in Canada knew that the king had died. Continue reading
When I was a kid, my family would sometimes visit the model train exhibit at our local tourist office in North Bay, Ontario. When I stepped into the four train boxcars, welded together and crafted into four distinct rooms, it felt like shifting into a different world.
But this large layout spread over four boxcars made me feel omnipresent, like I was seeing into the vastness of the world. Each craggy rock. Each waterfall. Each small town. Brought to a scale that even a child feels like a giant. I marveled at what was in front of me. It was beautiful in the expanse it covered in something a little over 1000 ft².
I loved that something so small can give such power to the imagination, and inspire such wider curiosity. I wanted to build something like that, to have as my own in my home growing up. Continue reading
First Graduate Class of the Victoria Chinese Public School, 1915. BC Archives, D-08821.
Timothy J. Stanley
On September 5, 2022, over 600 people in Victoria, BC, commemorated the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Chinese Students Strike. Participants included a Chinese Canadian veteran of the Second World War, the Police Chief who helpfully stopped traffic, two BC Government ministers–one of whom, the Attorney General, read the Premier of British Columbia’s message of support–the mayor of Victoria who condemned the racism of past and present, and the President of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce who made a moving apology for its role in school segregation. The event concluded with the Chair of the Victoria School Board reading aloud the Board’s formal apology to the Chinese community and presenting a commemorative plaque to the President of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, the umbrella organization of Victoria’s Chinese community. This antiracist solidarity begins 100 years earlier.
On September 5, 1922, the principals of Victoria’s elementary schools began calling Chinese students out of their classes, lining them up, and marching them down the road. Continue reading
When artists exist outside of the canon, their names sometimes remain unknown. However, even if their personal identities fade, they may create objects that encourage future generations to better understand the time in which they lived. Occasionally, their artwork can also empower later viewers to reflect upon the collective identity of their own era.
The object of this essay compels me to consider not only the past and present violence we commit against the earth in the pursuit of luxury, but also how that environment responds to our devastating desires. In other words, this relic reminds me that a sense of self — to borrow the phrase from environmental historian, Linda Nash — is enmeshed within ‘inescapable ecologies’ that bind human and nonhuman actors. Moreover, current formulations of identity rely upon our acknowledging that we have harmed the environment; this process of reflection can begin with an examination of historical artifacts. Continue reading
Figure 1: Some pieces of the collection. Photo by the author,
I have always collected things. I think it is a part of what has made me a good researcher, the desire to see and have many examples of something that interests me and from which I can create a larger narrative. Certainly, as a historian I have collected documents, information and knowledge about my research interests of immigration, ethnic identity and social networks in the nineteenth century, as well as my work in popular culture on time travel television, and have crafted them into narratives for publication. This also applies in my work as a public historian.
My largest collection, and one which I continue to add to, is my royalty memorabilia collection. And by large, I mean it currently has 2849 individual items, from the 17 mugs, 14 plates, 8 teacups and saucers, to the 95 books—the collection is massive. Continue reading
Kamloops Residential School, c. 1930s. BC Archives, B-01592.
“Dear brothers and sisters! I have been waiting to come here and be with you!” With these words, Pope Francis began his long-awaited apology for the Catholic Church’s role in more than a century of abuse and marginalization of Indigenous Canadians, what the Truth and Reconciliation Report called “cultural genocide.” Reactions to the Pope’s July 2022 visit and to his words have been mixed at best, especially among Indigenous peoples. Of the many criticisms, silence stands out: silence on the institutional role of the church rather than just on some of its members; silence on the reams of as yet unexplored documentation; silence on the Doctrine of Discovery and even on the word genocide itself, which the Pope did not utter in front of those who needed to hear it most because, he later said, “it didn’t come to mind.”
To these silences we must add another. This is the silence of indifference, hostility, and denial that has accompanied acts of atrocity across decades to become a foundational component of intergenerational trauma. About this, the Pope also said nothing. Continue reading
If you are a Survivor of Indian Residential Schools and need support, please call the National Indian Residential School Crisis line at 1-866-925-4419 or text 686868. You can also call the Canadian Mental Health Association toll free at 1-833-456-4566 (in Quebec 1-866-277-3553) or visit crisisservicescanada.ca. Other self-care acts include taking a walk, calling or texting a friend, nourishing your body with a snack, and openly showing your emotions.
Crystal Gail Fraser & Sara Komarnisky
Five years ago, in August 2017, we created and published 150 Acts of Reconciliation for the Last 150 Days of Canada’s 150. We were writing from a place of discomfort with the uncritical nationalism leading up to and during Canada 150 celebrations of oppression, colonialism, and genocide. In this post, we offer our reflections on 150 Acts five years later, share how colonialism and reconciliation in the settler state of Canada continue to be omnipresent, and think briefly but deeply about how to move forward in a way that advances truth and reconciliation. When we wrote the list, we were inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) 94 Calls to Action but recognized that the Calls to Action were aimed at elected governments, church leaders, corporations and members of the business sector, and other national organizations. We wrote 150 Acts for a settler audience in a way that would speak to the humans within these organizations and perhaps grow reconciliation in quotidian spaces through widely accessible acts. It was to complement the work of the TRC and bring acts of reconciliation to the everyday level. Despite our best efforts to educate a wide and public audience, our work did not fully prepare Canadians for what was to come.
On May 27th, 2021, Tk’emlúps te Secwèpemc confirmed what Survivors and Indigenous communities had known for decades: that Indigenous children suffered untimely deaths and their bodies were sometimes buried in unmarked graves around Indian Residential Schools. Continue reading
Dale M. McCartney
In 2014, Jonathan MacQuarrie told Active History readers that video games were increasingly teaching people about history in exciting and sometimes worrisome ways. In the years since, there has been an explosion of games that not only depict the past, but trade on historical accuracy as part of their appeal. They promise an extraordinary verisimilitude, allowing players to explore landscapes developed with obsessive attention to historical detail. For game players, this detail can make the games feel profoundly accurate as if they were a sort of time machine that reveals the truths of the era depicted. However, these games are much less sophisticated in their depiction of historical social relations and systems. They often reproduce very limited notions of race, gender, class, and historical agency. The result is that games use the appearance of “accuracy” to deliver deeply ideological messages about the past.