Playfulness and History: Sackville’s GFG Stanley Statue

By Andrew Nurse

Sackville, New Brunswick’s, George F.G. Stanley Canada 150 commemorative sculpting would be an odd candidate to be part of Canada’s statue wars. And it isn’t. To the best of my knowledge, no one has asked that the statue be removed. It has not been sprayed with graffiti or knocked it over.

Photo by author

Precisely the opposite. Rather than becoming the subject of criticism, local culture seems to express care and concern for the statue by dressing it up, adding a hat on cold days, masks during COVID-19, and scarves, among other articles of clothing. This shows an odd but interesting playfulness concerning historical commemoration. Continue reading

LAC: The Scandal of the Archives

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By Allan Greer

Recently I had occasion to visit Library and Archives Canada.  Marching up Wellington Street, I noticed my heart beating a little faster as the historical juices began flowing through my researcher’s veins.  Even at the time, I recognized this pulse of excitement as a throw-back, a residual thrill from a time long ago when I was an eager graduate student discovering the wonders of dusty manuscripts; more recent visits to the federal archives had been anything but thrilling.

Indeed, as I checked in at the desk and surveyed the vast marble lobby, I realized that I had been coming here, on and off, for a little over fifty years!  That was a sobering thought at a personal level, registering as it does just how far the days of my youth have receded, but at the same time, I hope this extended experience puts me in a good position to observe the ways in which this institution has evolved over the decades.  I don’t pretend to know the full history of the federal archives, but I can testify to the changing experience of an academic historian probing the collections for source materials.

I was a graduate student in the 1970s, which in retrospect seems to have been the high-water mark for state institutions, buoyed by postwar prosperity and before the neoliberal wave of privatizations and shrinking budgets. Continue reading

Who Killed the History of Canadian Multiculturalism?

Street crowd reflecting in the polyhedral mirrors of Tokyu Plaza Omotesando, Harajuku station, Tokyo, Japan, Wikimedia Commons.

Daniel R. Meister

In a recent op-ed, Stephen Marche claims “the foundation of Canadian multiculturalism rests on a basic piece of common sense: Leave your shoes at the door.” Picking up on this thread, Jack Granatstein countered that multiculturalism as a policy actually consists of encouraging immigrants to leave those shoes on—and march right into a polling booth. Multiculturalism is about buying votes, he suggests, and there is little effort being made to “turn immigrant communities into Canadians.” But a brief examination of the policy’s history and impact suggests quite the opposite on both counts.

Multiculturalism as a concept emerged during the debates about national identity that marked the 1960s. Continue reading

Uncovering the Rutherford Maid: Gender, Class, and Representation in Living History

Julia Stanski

I discovered Lillian Rose Adkins on September 27, 2023. Although I hadn’t known her name, I’d been searching for this woman for at least five years. Others had been looking for much longer. She’s been dead for more than half a century, but Lillian might be the key to a representational puzzle that has obscured her—and women like her—for far too long.

I’m a Master’s student in Canadian women’s history at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, as well as a living history interpreter at Fort Edmonton Park (FEP). This site represents Edmonton in four different eras. In the 1905 section, a prize building is Rutherford 1, the house where Alexander Rutherford (the first Premier of Alberta) lived from 1895 to 1911 with his wife, Mattie, and their children, Cecil and Hazel. At FEP, costumed historical interpreters animate each building, and at Rutherford 1, interpreters frequently play the roles and discuss the lives of the four Rutherfords.

But since 2002, a fifth character has joined them: the Rutherford maid.

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“Where are all the (non-white, non-elite) women?” Examining issues of diversity and intersectionality in the creation of women’s history lesson plans for Ontario educators

Cecilia Butler, working as a reamer in the Small Arms Ltd. section of the John Inglis Company munitions plant in Canada in 1943. Photo credit: National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque / Library and Archives Canada / e000761869.

Tifanie Valade

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

While history classes are often viewed as a neutral, apolitical venue for the transmission of “facts” about the past, history education is in fact a value-laden enterprise that seeks to construct and communicate overarching national narratives and national identities. Such narratives often privilege political accounts and the activities of “great” men at the expense of the experiences of everyday citizens, including women. The women who do appear are often white, of European descent, and from elite classes, and their actions are mainly profiled as they pertain to androcentric domains such as politics, war, and economics. As a result, women who are racialized, Indigenous, disabled, working class, 2SLGBTQ+, or are at the intersections of these identities, are often absent from history curricula and educational materials. As C.D. Cosentino notes “there is no hesitancy to exclude women from the telling of Canada’s past and the permission to do so is ingrained in the institutional structures that set the standards for defining which is the “right” history that should be taught”.[1]

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The Anthropocene, Atmospheric Chemists, Geologists and Historians


By Jim Clifford 

Paul Crutzen, who proposed the Anthropocene epoch in 2002, wasn’t a geologist. He was an atmospheric chemist. This fact might explain the decision to reject his proposed new epoch. He wasn’t thinking like a geologist when he suggested the Anthropocene. I’m not a geologist either and have no opinion on whether they got this decision right or wrong within their field. But I do know we live in a world under intense pressure from humans. Humans are changing the climate, contributing to the mass extinction of thousands of species, moving sand at a scale equal to all the rivers on the planet, spreading plastic pollution to most corners of the earth, and overloading waterways and aquatic ecosystems with nutrients. The evidence amassed by the proponents of the Anthropocene epoch confirms we live on a very different planet than our ancestors did a few generations ago.

The problem is fitting a deeply interdisciplinary concept into a geological paradigm. This was evident as the process played out, and they searched for “golden spikes” in the geological record. This is very important for geologists if they want to build a case for a new epoch. It made little sense to historians or historical geographers, who see humanity’s increased influence in shaping the global environment as a centuries-long process, not a singular event. The search for a golden spike caused the Anthropocene working group to focus on the beginning of the nuclear age after 1945 because it left a clear record in the strata (if you have the right equipment and know where to look).

As a historian of industrialization, I would look elsewhere and identify thousands of sites that record the global-scale transformation of the past few hundred years. I would try to show how their number, scale and spread increased over time. I might start with the coal fields in Great Britain and note the evidence of the absence of vast quantities of coal extracted over the past four hundred years. From there, we could map all the other subsurface locations that supplied coal, oil and gas to fuel unending economic growth. However, I would not limit it to these sites as the changing energy regimes only tell part of the global story. So, we’d want to link the coal mines with the iron foundry at Coalbrookdale, where coke was first used in place of charcoal, and the sugar plantations in the Caribbean, where African slaves used iron tools made in Britain’s fledgling industry to produce a new source of food for the English working classes. Increased global connections are central to the transformative process. Continue reading

It Starts Here: Black Histories Research Guide at the Archives of Ontario

“Levi Veney, ex-slave who lived in Amherstburg, Ontario. Taken at J. D. Burkes’ general store,” ca. 1898. Alvin D. McCurdy fonds. Reference Code: F 2076-16-3-5. Archives of Ontario. I0024830.

This is the final instalment in a three-part series on the use of content warnings in classrooms, archives, and museums. You can read the first instalment here and the second instalment here.

Melissa J. Nelson & Natasha Henry-Dixon


Melissa J. Nelson : Making Description Remediation Visible

The Archives of Ontario is the largest provincial archive in Canada. However, many of our records were created and collected through extractive colonial processes. Our collections are incomplete — there are omissions, erasures, and silences. This has caused a lot of harm and contributed to mistrust in our institution. Over the last few years, the Archives has shifted its focus to breaking down barriers and building trust. Our goal is to collect, preserve, promote, and provide access to records that document Ontario in all its diversity.

We are working to amplify the voices and stories of communities who have been underrepresented in our practice. Historical records sometimes contain language that is colonial and racist. Past descriptive practices have not always used accurate or community-preferred language, resulting in descriptions that are not easily discoverable. Our Description Remediation Team has been repairing descriptions, and in the process, excavating the presence of marginalized groups in our archives. We include respectful, community-preferred language to minimize harm and improve the findability of these records. I am part of this team, and I provide leadership on the remediation of descriptions for anti-Black archival materials.

I was aware of the violence of the archives — the violence captured within the records and the violence against Black researchers who have to search for hidden archival materials by using derogatory language. Black presence in historical archives is often captured and described by white people. In many cases, the work to locate Black people in the archives necessitates searching for white people first.[1]

I realized there was a need to make this description remediation work visible to support researchers and help direct them to relevant records. I developed our “Records Relating to Black Communities in Ontario Research Guide.” This guide provides respectful keywords that can be used when searching in our collection. It also lists Black records that have been identified in our holdings. The guide is divided into three sections: private records created and collected by Black individuals, Ontario Government records that document community-government interactions, and records related to slavery and freedom. A list of institutions and community archives is also provided to support further research within Ontario.

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When Class Content Gives the Professor Nightmares, It Might be Time for a Warning

Photo by Fernando Arcos, public domain,

This is the second in a three-part series on the use of content warnings in classrooms, archives, and museums. You can read the first entry here. 

Erica L. Fraser

Looking back, I probably began using content warnings for students after giving myself night terrors from reading the memoir of a Holocaust survivor as class prep. I was on an evening train back to Ottawa after winter break. I was tired, trying to anticipate how students in a new class on the topic would respond to Ruth Kluger’s Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered, and thumbing through it quickly to check it off my to-do list. It is a beautiful, horrifying memoir – but I had read material like this before. Next thing I knew, I was sitting bolt upright in bed the next three nights, terrified of something unnamed and with vague images from Kluger’s text fading from my mind.

(Before I go further, please note that this blog post contains references to Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust and the sexual assault of serf women in 18th century Russia).

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Trauma-Informed Teaching: Creating Classrooms that support learning

In recent years, teachers and heritage professionals have wrestled with the question of when and how to provide alerts about materials that students or users might find difficult to navigate. This is the first in a three-part Active History series on the subject of content warnings that elaborates the crucial processes and approaches that inform this work.

Source: Students in a classroom at Carleton University, 1961. National Film Board. Phototheque. 1971-271, TCS 01186, Library and Archives Canada.

Jo McCutcheon

…to foster an optimal learning environment, we need to pay attention to emotions and how the learner is feeling, as learning cannot take place in the absence of emotion.

Myas Imad[1]

As a researcher and teacher who has read exceedingly difficult archival material and as someone who has openly sobbed in the middle of the reading room at Library and Archives Canada after finishing a work of fiction and in a few cases, after reading government reports and documents, I came to realize how important it is to carefully consider assignments, readings, and topics covered in class and explicitly warn students in the syllabus, on lecture slides, and before discussing some of these topics about the difficult material we encounter as historians and researchers.[2] I have learned over the past several years that content warnings, and a consideration of triggers are part of a pedagogical framework that can provide a learning and teaching environment that can support all students.[3]

The process of teaching and learning is dynamic and often challenges us to carefully consider our approaches on an ongoing basis. When I reflect on some past experiences of teaching difficult material, I feel that I did not always have the framework or understanding at the time to fully support the diversity of challenges inherent in my courses, beyond the course content. Looking to other professions, I noted the work that was taking place to provide a trauma-informed approach, and I wanted to review the whole of my classes to see how I could provide an overall approach in this vein. This post is a reflection of what I have learned and what I am working on.

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Call for Contributors

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Join us in building the Active History project! invites propositions for blog posts, thematic series, and other contributions that highlight new research and histories that matter today. We welcome proposals from all historians, whether they work in institutions or in the community, who would like to expand the audience for their work while presenting it in an accessible format. We are particularly interested in recruiting for the following three roles: Continue reading