South Yorkshire and the Nickel Belt: Parallels to Avoid

Lake in Canada's Nickel Belt near Sudbury

David Zylberberg

From at least 1929, the Nickel Belt region around Sudbury was the main operation of two large and generally successful mining companies, INCO and Falconbridge. Although there were a number of labour disputes, periodic layoffs and major expansions, the situation largely continued until the commodity boom of the mid 2000s. There was a spate of acquisitions and mergers in the international mining sector and the world’s second and third largest nickel companies received global interest. In 2006, Falconbridge was acquired by a Swiss Company, XSTRATA, while INCO became part of Brazilian VALE in a $19 billion dollar sale. Since these both involved the sale of Canadian companies to foreign investors, they fell under the regulation of the Investment Canada Act, which states that such takeovers must be a net benefit to Canada. The recently elected Harper government agreed to both sales with a list of conditions that have never been made public, although it is widely understood that both companies promised not to layoff any Canadian employees for 3 years.

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‘All the world’s a stage’: Performance in the Classroom

Performance is an important theoretical concept in the history classroom.  It has been deployed in various contexts, from a social historian’s concern with the ‘public transcript’ of the theatre of the dominant classes, and its counter-theatre of resistance, to cultural and gender historians’ readings of ‘performativity,’ wherein the cultural fictions of collectively performed gender produce and reinforce prevailing notions of normalcy.  E.P. Thomspon and Judith Butler have influenced a number of historians with their respective conceptualizations of theatre and performance, and so have had a significant impact on the production of historical scholarship.  These ideas, inspiring as they are, can be heavy theoretical baggage to unpack in the undergraduate history classroom. Continue reading

Active History Announcements: Oct 3-9

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The following upcoming events may be of interest to our readers (click on ‘continue reading’ below for full descriptions):

1)  Call for Participants: Teaching History in Diverse Venues: Toronto, Nov. 4 – submission deadline Oct 4.

2) Thought Exchange (History Matters) – Oct 14

3) CFP: History 2.0: Active History Roundtable on new media

4) This week in the Active History blogosphere!

If you have an announcement that you would like included in this weekly dispatch, please e-mail Continue reading



The co-coordinators for the Active History/Histoire Engagée CHA Working Group are calling for papers for a proposed round table for the CHA Annual Meeting to be held in May of 2011 in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The Working Group helps coordinates the activities of members of Active History (for more, see who strive for a practice of history that emphasizes collegiality, builds community among active historians and other members of communities, and recognizes the public responsibilities of the historian.

Our proposed round table, will, we hope, trigger wider discussion about the current opportunities and challenges that new media provide historians working in a discipline that is undergoing significant change. Media forms such as blogs, online journals, personal web sites, podcasts and online conferencing abilities have, in many ways, democratized and diversified how historians engage with each other and the wider public. Continue reading

History, Heritage, and Municipal Elections

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It’s that time again.  Municipalities across Ontario are gearing up for the October 25th municipal elections.  Along with the lawn signs, debates in local community centres, door-to-door canvassing, and the usual issues of property taxes, jobs, garbage collection and pot-holes, the topic of municipal heritage preservation has entered the political landscape.

Under the Ontario Heritage Act municipalities can pass by-laws to formally designate properties of cultural heritage value or interest.  Formal designation of heritage properties is one way of publicly acknowledging a property’s heritage value to a community.  Properties can be designated individually or as part of a larger area or Heritage Conservation District.  The protection and preservation of a community’s built heritage is therefore primarily a municipal concern and varies widely from community to community.  In Ontario municipalities like Cambridge, Niagara Falls, and Toronto have adopted Heritage Master Plans to enhance their ability to protect the community’s heritage resources.  The City of Brantford, on the other hand, recently completed demolition of 41 buildings in its downtown, believed to have been the longest stretch of pre-confederation buildings left in Canada. Continue reading

The Sound of History

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book cover image

A few months ago the American Radio Works posted a very interesting podcast on the art of making radio documentaries.  The podcast included a live presentation given by Stephen Smith and John Biewen about a new book Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound.  While the whole discussion is very interesting, the second half focuses on Smith’s essay in the book on making historical documentaries: “Living History”.  Smith made a number of documentaries about 20th Century American history using archival sound.  For example, he used the Presidential tapes from Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in The President Calling to show the human side of high politics, by focusing on how presidents persuaded other individuals over the phone.  In another documentary he followed the legal career of the first African American Supreme Court Justice: Thurgood Marshall: Before the court.

As these two topics suggest, using archival sound clips, instead of oral history interviews, might limit historians to focus on the great men and women of the 20th century, as most of us don’t leave hours of audio tape behind.  Smith and his co-producer Katie Ellis did a third documentary: Say It Plain: A Century of Great African American Speeches which shifts the focus away from those with power to the great orators of a social movement.  Looking through the list of documentaries on the American Radio Works Website, there are a lot of other projects that look at history in different ways, including ones that use oral history.  A particularly good one that I’ve had the chance to listen to is The Great Textbook War on the early days of the Culture Wars in West Virginia in 1974.  It does a great good job presenting both sides of the struggle through a mix of news recordings from 1974 and oral history interviews. Continue reading

Active History Announcements: Sept 26 – Oct 2

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The following upcoming events may be of interest to our readers (click on ‘continue reading’ below for full descriptions):

1)  TODAY (Sept 25)!  Unveiling of Memorial Plaques at CAMH in Toronto – 1 p.m.

2)  When the landlords became tenants: The 1828 Council at Fort York with the Mississauga – Sept 27, 7:30 p.m.

3)  Thought Exchange (History Matters) – Sept 28, 7 p.m.

4)  Approaching the Past: The Past through Place – Sept 30, 7 p.m.

5) CFP: History 2.0: Active History Roundtable on new media

6) This week in the Active History blogosphere!

If you have an announcement that you would like included in this weekly dispatch, please e-mail Continue reading

History on Stage: Performance Art and Commemoration of the Winnipeg General Strike

by Jamie Trepanier

Strike!Red09: The Strikers' Chorus in the 2009 annual production in Winnipeg. Photo by Andrew Sikorsky

Playwright Danny Schur is convinced that the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 has more than enough compelling storylines for a major musical production, and that its message is one that is still relevant today. “The story has all of the elements of high drama:  societal unrest, government suppression of rights, aftermath of war, dramatic death in the streets,” he wrote by e-mail, “[but] what first inspired me was the untold story of the immigrant at the epicentre of the drama – the forgotten Ukrainian everyman, Mike Sokolowski [killed by police during the violence of a June 21 protest known as “Bloody Saturday”].  It was his story that defined the period for me and lead to a new and, I believe, deeper understanding of the era – one that is relevant to us today:  that the story of the Winnipeg General Strike is a cautionary story about the dangers of nativism.” Continue reading

Stuart Henderson talks hip Yorkville history at inaugural History Matters series

Historian, journalist, and musician Stuart Henderson recently presented an engaging talk at the inaugural History Matters lecture series, sponsored by the Toronto Public Library.

In front of a standing-room audience, Henderson’s “Making the Scene in 1960s Yorkville” discussed the fascinating dynamics of a hip community of beatniks, hippies, and greasers that made up one of Canada’s most infamous counter-cultural neighbourhoods.

Henderson’s talk is available here for audio download.

The next History Matters talk takes place Tuesday, September 28th, when Craig Heron talks about the history of booze in Toronto.  Click here for more details.