“Racial Incidents” are Clothespins Hanging on a Clothesline of Institutional Whiteness

Saint Joseph’s Parish opposite Tabaret Hall. The University of Ottawa was founded by the Oblate fathers, a male Catholic religious order with a long history as the vanguard of settler colonialism — including the operation of, and employment in, Residential Schools— across Canada. Photo by Meredith Terretta.

Meredith Terretta (for the uOttawa Antiracist History Group)

Too often, a consideration of students has gone missing in conversations about race unfolding on university campuses across Canada this year. It is as if one skill professors have yet to learn is how to actively listen to their students. All of them. Including racialized students for whom our institution, perhaps like yours, has for too long had a tin ear, at best. And yet, we’re here: professors who care about the wellbeing and belonging of students, and who would rather find common ground with them than view them as our adversaries.

At uOttawa, a group of historical educators and researchers, independent of any institutional or departmental structure, launched a website called Histoire antiraciste uOttawa Antiracist History during Black History Month (February 2021).

The website evolved from an antiracist group that began in the summer of 2020 with conversations among a few uOttawa historians in the wake of the killings of Ahmad Aubery, George Floyd, and the local movement No Peace Until Justice dedicated to seeking justice for Abdirahman Abdi. We knew our work had to go far beyond declarative virtue signalling, and started to think about what kind of substantial change was necessary and possible on our own campus.

Then, an “n-word crisis” emerged on our campus in October 2020, generating public discussion across Canada.

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To Test or Not to Test: Assessment and Learning in Historical Education

By Andrew Nurse

Do midterms have any point? Do tests? Quizzes? Finals?

These questions outline the scope of a discussion that recently drew considerable discussion among historians on Twitter.[1] The conversation was both apt and timely. It is apt because it goes to the heart of teaching and learning; it is timely because Covid-19 — and a range of other factors — have encouraged a reconsideration of pedagogy.

“Back in the day” exams of various sorts were common. In fact, a range of disciplines still examine as a fundamental component of their pedagogy.

Why do they do this? Do such modes of evaluation serve a useful purpose in higher education?

The short answer to these questions depend on course objectives, the course level, the goals and purposes of the course, and a range of other factors. I am sure there are important and intricate distinctions between tests, exams, midterms, and the like.

I’d argue, though, that these distinctions are less important than pedagogical design and I’d like to try to use this blog post to address this question under the general rubric of testing. Continue reading

Historia Nostra: Getting Living History Right at Plimoth Patuxet OR Plimoth Patuxet vs. Jamestown Settlement, a comparison

This post is part of a monthly series introducing new videos in Erin Isaac’s Historia Nostra public history project.

Of all the living history museums in the United States, Jamestown Settlement in Virginia and Plimoth Patuxet in Massachusetts are arguably the most famous. Understandably, these museums are very frequently compared. Both were built in the 1970s. Both recreate early Anglo-American colonial settlements. And both celebrate America’s “founding.”

For me, however, there is no comparison—Plimoth Patuxet’s approach to living history is simply better.

Plimoth Patuxet succeeds in several ways that Jamestown Settlement, a museum that is very similar on paper, does not. Continue reading

Remember/Resist/Redraw #29: Chinese Students Strike Against Segregated Schools, 1922-23

The Graphic History Collective recently released RRR #29 by Clare Yow. The poster looks at the 1922-1923 Chinese student student strike against racism and segregated schooling in Victoria, British Columbia.

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for social change. Learn more about how you can support the project on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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History Slam 179: Civilians at the Sharp End

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By Sean Graham

Every May, the City of Ottawa hosts the annual Tulip Festival to celebrate the relationships built between Canada and the Netherlands during the Second World War. Following the war, the Dutch Royal Family gifted tulips to Canada as a symbol of friendship, in part to commemorates the birth of Princess Margriet in Ottawa in 1943, the only royal personage ever born in Canada. Perhaps more significantly, however, the gift acknowledged the instrumental role Canadian troops played in the liberation of the Netherlands from Nazi Germany.

What tends to be taken for granted, though, and this is certainly the case for me, is that the relationship was easily forged. Canadians were there for the liberation, the Dutch people were appreciative of the efforts of Canadian soldiers, and a positive relationship blossomed. That version of events discounts the extensive work done by Civil Affairs, a branch of the army tasked with mediating the relationship between combat troops and civilians as Allied troops advanced through Europe. As troops continued the push towards Germany, members of Civil Affairs were left to work with civilians on reconstruction efforts, preserving law and order, and providing shelter for displaced peoples. Through this work, the Civil Affairs branch was able to both protect civilians while also fostering goodwill towards Canada and its troops.

The work of this branch is the subject of David Borys’ new book Civilians at the Sharp End: First Canadian Army Civil Affairs in Northwest Europe. Profiling a little known component of Canada’s war effort, Borys adopts a geo-chronologic approach, following the Civil Affairs branch from June 1944 through June 1944. As a result, Borys is able to highlight the specific challenges of each location, as the circumstances in France differed from those in Belgium or Italy. In doing so, Borys highlights the adaptability required by officers in responding the unique challenges they faced.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with David Borys about the book. We explore the military’s use of abbreviations, the evolution of civilian treatment by the military, and the colonial elements that influenced Civil Affairs in the Canadian military. We also discuss the circumstances in each country, the composition of the Civil Affairs branch, and David’s outstanding podcast Cool Canadian History, which is currently in its sixth season.

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Canada’s First Gay Bathhouse Raid: Windsor, 1964

Broken door at a Toronto bathhouse raided by police in 1981’s “Operation Soap”. Jeff Goode/Toronto Star, 1981. TPL Baldwin Collection.

Walter T. Cassidy

February 2021 marks the fortieth anniversary of one of the largest gay rights protests in Canadian history. On February 5, 1981, over 150 Toronto police officers raided four local bathhouses, known as gathering places for members of the gay community. Almost three hundred men were arrested that night, sparking a series of highly publicized rallies and mass protests against the raids.

This was not the first example of police raiding a bathhouse in Canada. Historian Tom Hooper has charted 38 bathhouse raids from 1968-2004 in cities like Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, and Hamilton. But there is one city missing from the history books — Windsor.

In fact, Etna’s Steam Bath on 563 Brant Street in Windsor was the first gay bathhouse to be raided in Canada. Continue reading

Early Black Baseball Teams in Fredericton: A Sign of Community Identity, 1889-1906

by Roger P Nason

Black baseball clubs came into being across the Maritimes as early as the 1880s. Professor Colin Howell of Saint Mary’s University took a close look at their formation in his seminal work on sport history, Northern Sandlots: A Social History of Maritime Baseball, published in 1995. The evidence of Black baseball teams forming in Fredericton specifically, however, is sketchy.

Although mention of “colored” teams appearing in Woodstock and Saint John is reported in the Daily Gleanerand Saint John Daily Telegraph in the 1880s with passing reference to the Woodstock Wanderers, Saint John Royals, and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Colored Baseball Club, there are few comments about the players themselves.[1]

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Guns and Conspiracy Theories in Canada

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By R. Blake Brown

Many Canadians watched with shock the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6. The mob’s besmirching of the halls of Congress was immediately recognized as a lesson in the dangers of conspiracy theories. Mixed among the alt right groups, militia members, and gun rights advocates who stormed the Capitol were many QAnon supporters who believe that the ‘deep state’ undermined the presidency of Donald Trump.

Canadians have had our own conspiracy theories, some of which continue to linger and affect our politics. One such theory is the idea that Ottawa secretly wishes to confiscate all privately held firearms, not just prohibit weapons deemed too dangerous for public use. This conspiracy theory has long roots.

In the late 1970s, for example, the National Firearms Association (NFA) responded to new gun control legislation by widely distributing a fake government memorandum ominously entitled “The Police Function in Canada as a Control and Enforcement Agency.” The NFA claimed that it had received the document from an anonymous source.

National Firearms Association president Bill Jones was a fierce opponent of gun control legislation. Source: Ottawa Journal, 26 June 1979.

The memo urged that “the Public be discretely but effectively disarmed over a period of the forthcoming five years.” Continue reading

The Diggs Family of Willow Grove and Saint John, New Brunswick

by Roger P Nason

The earliest mention of the Diggs family is Charlotte Diggs, who is listed as a grantee of lands for Black residents at Loch Lomond in 1836.[1] The 1851 Census cites Samuel and Mary Higgs living in Simonds Parish with their four children: Joseph, George, Charles, and Alexander. Likely, Samuel is Charlotte’s son.[2] Charlotte would have been a contemporary and neighbour of Eliza Taylor, who was then living with her son, Daniel. Alexander Diggs’ image as shown with Daniel Taylor in this photo from about 1900 is depicted in Canada Post’s new commemorative stamp alongside Eliza Taylor.

“Dan Taylor and Alex Diggs at Loch Lomond fair,” circa 1900. New Brunswick Museum Collection, X18354.

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Eliza Taylor: Belle of Loch Lomond

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by Roger P Nason

Canada Post just released a commemorative stamp for the community of Willow Grove, New Brunswick. Located east of the City of Saint John, it forms the core of what was the “African Settlement” set aside by the New Brunswick colonial government for Black refugees fleeing the United States during the War of 1812.

For more than twenty-five years, the new settlers fought for permanent grants to that tract of land near Loch Lomond. It was not until 1837 when seventy-four refugees were finally confirmed in their fifty-five-acre lots, which they only temporarily occupied by a special license. For many of these settlers, they struggled to exist. Most found it necessary to migrate to the city to survive at all.[1]

Eliza Taylor was one of those original Black refugees.

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