Black Women’s Softball, the Dawn of Tomorrow, & the Canadian League for the Advancement of Colored People

By Zahra McDoom

Ball is never just ball, it tells the story of anti-black racism, defiance and community.

The Elite Women’s Baseball Team. Photo courtesy of Lena Ruehle (Ball/Decoursey).

The photograph above is significant. This 1920s image is the only known picture of a Black women’s softball team in Ontario.[1] Showing London’s Elite team, several of these women, played important roles in shaping Ontario’s Black histories over the course of the 1920s.

This digital photograph of the team was shared with me during my research into the late 19th Century Ontario-based Ball Family Jubilee Singers.[2] Using the Dawn of Tomorrow, a Black Canadian newspaper published in London (1923-1971), a pamphlet from The Canadian League of the Advancement of Colored People (CLACP, 1927), and interviews with older Black Londoners Barry Howson and Gerry Anderson, I was able to attach a name to the team, identify players, and begin to tell their story.

Much of Black history, and Black women’s history is erased, undocumented, or misconstrued through dominant white claims, but through these Black produced creations – the photo, the Dawn, CLACP, Black oral histories – we learn that the player’s ancestors self-emancipated, the women were politically active, their men worked as railway porters, and that Black people in Canada needed to possess a newspaper to stir up change. From the photograph we gather that Black women came together, sometimes in pearls, to play ball. Continue reading

The Dawn of Tomorrow was a “First” Almost Forgotten By History

By Cheryl Thompson

I am a first generation Canadian born of immigrant parents. I was the first person in my family to attend and graduate university. And I am the only person with a PhD in my extended family.

One of the joys I have experienced writing about Black Canada is the act of finding “firsts” in history. Discovering the stories of Black Canadians who broke colour barriers or crossed de facto lines of segregation, or better yet, learning about folks who did everyday things like getting married or performing at church. These discoveries were (and remain) life changing for me because they signified that folks who looked like me have not only lived in this country for centuries but that they have challenged unjust policies, resisted inequitable laws, and had fun and celebrated amid the worst of circumstances. While I might not know their names, somewhere in the archive, they are waiting to be discovered.

That’s how my path and the Dawn of Tomorrow collided. Continue reading

Exploiting a legacy: John Peters Humphrey and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

This is the second of a two-part series to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. The first part appeared on this site previously.

Jennifer Tunnicliffe

On December 10, Canada will take part in celebrations of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). On its website, the federal government claims that “Canada has been a consistently strong voice for the protection of human rights”, starting with its “central role in the drafting” of the UDHR in 1948, and continuing with its work at the UN today. [1] Given the reality of Canada’s resistance to the UDHR, how has the Canadian government worked to reconcile this history with the image it promotes of Canada as an historic advocate for international human rights?

The answer comes largely through the experiences of one Canadian: John Peters Humphrey. Humphrey is remembered for his role in helping to draft the UDHR, yet in doing so he was working for the UN and not representing Canada, so the repurposing of his legacy to serve a national mythology around human rights is deeply problematic.

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75 Years of Human Rights: How to Mark This Year?

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Eleanor Roosevelt with a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1949. FDR Presidential Library & Museum – Photograph NPX 64-165.

This is the first of a two-part series to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The second post will appear on this site tomorrow.

Jennifer Tunnicliffe

This year marks an important anniversary for the United Nations. Seventy-five years ago, on December 10, 1948, member states of the newly formed organization adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first international “human rights” instrument. In asserting that “[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, the UDHR reflected a new universal language of rights and freedoms. As stated in its preamble, the goal of the document was to act as a “common standard of achievement” for the promotion of and respect for the rights it outlined, and to secure their “universal and effective recognition and observance.” In its thirty articles, it sets out a list of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights that deserve protection in order to ensure the “inherent dignity of all members of the human family.”[1]

The adoption of the UDHR was a remarkable achievement and it continues to form the basis of international human rights law. According to the UN, since its proclamation seventy-five years ago, the Declaration has been translated into more than five hundred languages, has inspired more than seventy global and regional human rights treaties, and helps to guide the work of the UN today.[2]

Many histories of the UDHR highlight its “unanimous” adoption by the General Assembly on December 10, 1948, presenting it as an important moment of consensus in which members states of the UN recognized human rights as the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world. This emphasis on consensus, however, belies the lack of representation at the United Nations at the time for people still under colonial rule. It also ignores the fact that eight of fifty-eight states abstained from supporting the UDHR that day, and obscures the intense debates that took place over the form, wording, and substance of the instrument.[3] “Human rights” – how they were conceived, how they ought to be articulated in law, which rights should take precedence, and the degree to which they could be implemented – were deeply contested in 1948.

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A Century of Petroleum Extraction at Norman Wells

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Map of the five Sahtú communities and the Sahtú Settlement Area as defined in the Sahtú Dene and Métis Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement (1993). Map by Dave Blaine, NAIT.

[Editor’s note: We have slightly altered the original text because our website does not yet support Dene orthographies. For a .pdf version of this post in which Dene words and place names are displayed correctly, click here.]

Petroleum Histories Project Team

Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories is the site of the first oil and gas operation in the Canadian North and one of the earliest in the country. The Norman Wells oil field has almost continuously produced oil since 1920, making it also one of Canada’s longest operating petroleum production sites.

The conventional history of Norman Wells focuses on the prospectors and geologists who claim to have discovered the oil and the engineers and corporation that developed the installation at Norman Wells. It is a history that draws on the records of colonial archives and is measured in barrels of oil, profits for shareholders, and royalties for the federal government.

Sahtú Dene and Métis have been little more than a footnote in conventional histories of Norman Wells, if we are mentioned at all. Our people and our stories are absent from corporate and state archives; we have been overlooked and erased.

Courtesy of NWT Archives/©Imperial Oil Limited/N-1979-049: 0002.

The history of Norman Wells looks quite different when it is told from our perspective, the perspective of Sahtú Dene and Métis. Our experiences and knowledge are rooted in the land and preserved through story. In this post, we centre the voices and perspectives of our people. Industry and government narratives have been left for the footnotes. Continue reading

Thinking Historically About Disability at the Ontario School for the Blind, 1903-1917

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

Harrison Dressler

“ALL THE EVIDENCE DEMANDED,” read an article published in the Toronto Globe on February 2, 1917. Written by two former students—R.F. Henderson and Byron G. Derbyshire—the article alerted the Canadian public about an investigation into the Ontario School for the Blind (OSB), then as now, a residential school for blind people located in Brantford, Ontario. Roughly one year prior, Derbyshire had organized a counter-offensive against the OSB, collecting signatures from forty-two students before sending three letters to the Department of Education, documenting allegations of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.

Commissioner Norman B. Gash entered the OSB in May 1916, where he soon accumulated over one-thousand pages of first-person testimony: evidence that no longer exists, either lost, forgotten, or destroyed. On February 12, 1917, Commissioner Gash delivered the resulting report to the Department of Education. But the protesters’ allegations of sexual abuse were conspicuously absent, and their complaints of malnutrition were seriously downplayed.

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Disability Activism – What’s Old is News

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By Sean Graham

I talk with Dustin Galer, author of Beryl: The Making of a Disability Activist. We talk about Beryl Potter’s entry into activism, how the 1970s public debates influenced her campaigns, and the financial challenges faced by disability activists. We also chat about Beryl Potter’s personality and public encounters, her television program, and how many of the challenges she fought against persist in 2023. For further context, be sure to visit some of the activist organizations that continue to push for disability rights and accessibility.

Historical Headline of the Week

Rhianna Schmiunk and Michelle Ghoussoub, “Air Canada Makes Changes After Passengers with Disabilities Share ‘Dehumanizing’ Experiences.’ CBC News, November 9, 2023.

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Food Insecurity in the North – What’s Old is News

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By Sean Graham

I’m joined by Kristin Burnett and Travis Hay, authors of Plundering the North: A History of Settler Colonialism, Corporate Welfare, and Food Insecurity. We discuss the geographic parameters of the ‘North,’ the challenges faced by northern communities, and the origins of food insecurity. We also chat about the colonial structures that have created the problem, how communities are trying to challenge these systems, and the resulting political and economic implications.

Historical Headline of the Week

U.N. Reviews High Food Insecurity Rates in Canada’s Northern Territories,” APTN News, August 31, 2023.

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National Queer and Trans+ Community History Conference

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The National Queer and Trans+ Community History Conference will take place at MacEwan University May 3-4, 2024 in Edmonton, Alberta.

The conference is designed to bring together 2SLGBTQ+ community members, non-profit organizations, heritage professionals, historians, academics, emerging scholars, and students who have an interest in documenting, preserving, and celebrating diverse and intersectional queer and trans+ histories in Canada.

We welcome submissions for presentation proposals from 2SLGBTQ+ community and grassroots organizers, non-profit organizations, researchers and students, heritage and archivist professionals, and government or policy makers working on any aspect of queer and trans+ histories in Canada.

The National Queer and Trans+ Community History Conference is supported by MacEwan University, MacEwan Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity, Egale Canada, The ArQuives, The LGBT Purge Fund, Canadian Museum for Human Rights, The Chair in Transgender Studies,, National Trust for Canada, Edmonton Queer History Project, and Stollery Charitable Foundation.

For further information please see the link to the Call for Presentations

Voices from the Rental Crisis

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I think it is about time that our City Council and our Provincial Government did something about all these evictions that are going on, and all these terrible rent increases… I think we should have some action from the people we elected to give us some protection and a right to live in some security and dignity, instead of being kicked around like so many of us are.

–single father Victor* in a letter to Vancouver City Council, January 1974.

Daniel Ross

We bring our world with us into the archives. I’ve been reminded of this over the last week, as I commute across Vancouver to spend my days reading letters from tenants like Victor. This city is ground zero for Canada’s housing crisis, with the highest rents, lowest vacancy rate, and smallest proportion of affordable units in the country. My daily trip to the municipal archives brings home the profound housing inequalities that define the Canadian city in 2023, uncomfortably juxtaposing new condo towers with emergency housing in tents and beige portables, and luxury SUVs with people experiencing homelessness and distress. I take those images and that discomfort with me to the research room.

Voices from the past remind me that crises of housing affordability and access are not bugs but a feature of Canada’s profit-oriented rental housing market. Or, as housing researcher Ricardo Tranjan put it in the Walrus this year, for tenants “Canada’s ‘housing crisis’ is a permanent state of affairs”. Victor was just one of thousands of Vancouver renters who in the late 1960s and 1970s spoke out against evictions without cause, excessive rent increases, and their lack of a political voice. Continue reading