This is Not About Cinnamon Toast

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This blog post began with cinnamon toast. This week, at home on a cool autumn night, I fixed myself a snack of cinnamon toast. I haven’t had it in years, but this particular night I craved it. When I bit into it, a flood of memories and associations long stored away rushed back to me. When I was a child, each time I was home sick from school, my mom would never fail to fix me hot tea with milk and cinnamon toast. She ‘d take care of me all day, pamper me, and typically buy me new a new colouring book or book of paper dolls to help me pass the afternoon at home. That ‘sick day’ ritual was familiar and comforting, and although I’ve never expressed this to my mom, those days at home are a nice memory from my childhood. Continue reading

Active History on the Grand: Brantford Up-date

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Demolition of forty buildings in Brantford's downtown - courtesy of Kalvin Clark

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll notice that I talk a lot about Brantford, Ontario.  Since completing my PhD in History from McMaster University I’ve been working as the Executive Director of the Canadian Industrial Heritage Centre (CIHC), a not-for-profit organization in Brantford dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Canadian industrial history and the establishment of a museum site in Brantford to do just that.  This experience has expanded my understanding of how local communities understand and experience history, and the challenges of being an active historian. Continue reading

Upcoming Talks

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On 23 November 2010, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., the Toronto Historical Society will be meeting at the Riverdale Library, where Jane Fairburn will deliver a talk on her recently completed manuscript which explores the history, landscape and people of Toronto’s waterfront.

The inaugural lecture of HertoriesCafeToronto will take place on 23 November 2010, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Centre for Social Innovation, 215 Spadina Ave., Toronto.  Nina Bascia will speak on “Women and Unions: History Matters.” Continue reading

Let’s talk about race, Canada

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By Shelly Chan

Talking about race in Canada is a lot like talking about sex in the old days. There is so much imposed silence on the subject. We skip around it, pretend that it is not there, and pray that it will go away.

Those who break the silence are often chastised, labelled as “racist” (“pervert”!), or hastily dismissed. Others who tout half-truths indulge in self-congratulatory glory. Because heaven forbid, we insist, only Americans do “it.”

None of this has ever prevented people from being cognizant of the centrality of race and ethnicity to Canadian life, given the history of immigration and indigenous peoples in this country. From time to time, we rehash age-old biases and re-ignite familiar debates about the dilemmas of diversity and integration. Nevertheless, the cycle of silence, missteps, and occasional foreshortened discussion has done little justice to a complex and longstanding issue in multicultural Canada. Continue reading

History Matters podcast: Megan Davies and David Reville on Parkdale’s mad history

Megan Davies and David Reville recently presented an engaging talk on the ways in which mental health deinstitutionalization impacted psychiatric survivors and the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto.  In front of a packed audience at the Parkdale library, “Locating Parkdale’s Mad History: Back Wards to Back Streets, 1980-2010” examined the motivations behind deinstitutionalization and showed how community members are remembering the important event in Canada’s madness history.

The talk is available here for audio download.

Davies, a professor at York University, is also part of The History of Madness in Canada website.  Launched in 2009, the site includes a number of resources on madness history.  It hosts a digital archive and research hub of historical materials going back to the 19th century, along with multi-media teaching material for educators at the secondary and post-secondary level.

Reville is a former city councillor, Ontario MPP, and chair of the Ontario Advocacy Commission.  A psychiatric survivor, he currently teaches the course “Mad People’s History” at Ryerson University.

The lecture was the last talk from the Toronto Public Library’s History Matters series, which showcased historical research on Toronto.

New Book Review: In the Province of History

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By Paul W. Bennett

Ian McKay and Robin Bates, In the Province of History: The Making of the Public Past in Twentieth Century Nova Scotia,  (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2010), Soft Cover, 481 pp.

Nova Scotia is known far and wide as “Canada’s Ocean Playground.” It’s emblazoned on the province’s licence plates, evoked in dreamy television commercials and trumpeted in colourful tourist guides. That popular image also comes packaged with an accessible, entertaining history for the consumption of tourists.

Scottish regalia, sourdough fishermen, sou’wester hats, rugged seascapes, Cape Breton fiddlers and the odd Acadian pastoral scene still populate the public, tourist-oriented version of Nova Scotia’s past. And these very images and symbols can be traced back to the 1930s when the province began developing its tourist promotion business.

Taking their cue from a rather hokey 1936 composite photograph, entitled Native Types, and intended to promote Nova Scotia tourism, Ian McKay and Robin Bates’s controversial new book, In the Province of History, contends that this iconology rests on an invented, largely fictional, historical tradition developed for the purpose of selling Nova Scotia to visitors. In the book, the authors demonstrate how the province’s public past was reconstructed and then turned into a marketable commodity.

Click here to finish reading this review

Can Facebook Get You Fired?

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Many of us have had at least one – a boss that evokes dread at the start of each workday, makes each passing minute on the job more painful than the last, and who intrudes even in our free time by haunting our nightmares.  This is certainly not a new phenomenon: escaping the unlimited control of the foreman was at the heart of the industrial unionism movement of the 1930s and 1940s in Canada.  Demands for job security and seniority protection resonated with working people not only as a means of protecting older workers, but as a way of escaping a system of favouritism where the best jobs were doled out to those most skilled in brown-nosing.  In the decades following the early victories of industrial unions, many of their gains became entrenched in Canadian labour law. Continue reading

Want to Write With Us? We’re Looking for More Bloggers!

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The team is looking for more contributors for our collaborative blog on how history and historians actively engage communities and contribute to current debates.  This blog has a growing readership – last month we had nearly 4,000 distinct visitors – and it provides potential contributors the opportunity to reach a wider audience. If you’re interested in contributing, please read more to find out what we’re looking for! Continue reading

One form of remembrance: mapping Toronto’s World War II casualties

Today, Canadians across the country will observe Remembrance Day.  The tradition of remembering the casualties of war on November 11 first began in 1919, following the end of the First World War.  Through public commemorations or more private ways, citizens will think about the sacrifices of thousands of men and women who have risked their lives for country, faith, and a multitude of other reasons.  Moreover, Canadians will also consider the meaning of war and its impact on society, an issue particularly important because of the country’s long involvement in Afghanistan.

OpenFile, a website that connects community members with journalists, has created a timely “Poppy File”.  OpenFile urges the public to suggest story topics that then undergo a process of collaboration.  The Poppy File includes a number of items that use digital media forms to present the experiences of war remembrance related to the Second World War.

One of the Poppy File’s most interesting items is an article and accompanying map that uses typed index cards – created by the Toronto city clerk’s office and now housed in the city archives – to trace the residential location of the city’s war casualties from 1942 to 1945 on a contemporary map of Toronto.  These index cards formed the basis of the city’s Book of Remembrance, located at City Hall.  Patrick Cain, who coded the more than 3,300 cards, notes that this form of mapping “joins two kinds of knowledge: our existing picture of the familiar city and some new knowledge superimposed on it.”  Combining the card data with the present map of Toronto is, to Cain, “an exercise in recovered local memory.”  Many viewers of the map will surely go to areas of personal importance in Toronto to see the number of poppies – residences of the war dead – located near their own places of meaning.  In line with the collaborative intentions of OpenFile, readers have already begun to contribute the addresses of individuals close to them who died during the war but are left off the map.

Archival Activism: from House of Amnesia to House of Memory

This post was also published on the NiCHE website
I am a new arrival to Kingston, Ontario. I have been tossed into the ‘gown’ tribe, mingling with the many curious and creative folks at Queen’s University. Every day I walk from my home on the ‘north’ side, across the central town artery known as Princess Street, to the university campus. My head is often down and the pace is quick, as I am struggling to develop new strategies as a fresh doctoral student confronted by a rigorous schedule. I have been wondering how and when I will find the time to get to know this town, and the vibrant current of community movements and grassroots initiatives that course through it. In several ways, I walk a ‘town-gown’ divide daily yet still do not really know what is underfoot. And I have been curious. Continue reading