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

Chaotic ’35 Campaign – What’s Old is News

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By Sean Graham

I talk with David MacKenzie, author of King and Chaos: The 1935 Canadian General Election. We talk about the value of studying elections in history, the economic conditions leading into the election, and the fractured political environment at the time. We also discuss the leadership of R.B. Bennett, William Lyon Mackenzie King, J.S. Woodsworth, and William Aberhart, how foreign policy influenced the campaign, and the election’s legacy.

Historical Headline of the Week

Michael Gates, “History Hunter: Martha Black – Yukon Lady Parliamentarian,” Yukon News, April 16, 2023.

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Entering The Jagged Landscape of History: Can We Teach Our Students to Apply Historical Thinking Skills?

Paul McGuire

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

Researchers continue to write about the value and importance of teaching Historical Thinking Concepts (HTC). There is a near consensus on the importance of moving from a transmission approach to teaching history to one that focuses on inquiry.  This ongoing discussion has been shaped by the works of several researchers including Sam Wineburg who wrote, “the essence of achieving mature historical thought rests precisely on our ability to navigate the jagged landscape of history, to traverse the terrain that lies between the poles of familiarity with and distance from the past.” (Wineburg, 1999, p. 490)

Wineburg’s challenge to history teachers, written over twenty years ago, is to take students on a journey to a foreign land – his jagged landscape of history. While the research supports this aspirational goal, is it possible to do this in the classroom? There is no question that teaching historical thinking concepts offer a new way to engage students in the study of history, but no one really writes about how to do this.

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Quebec Tuition Fees: A Personal Reflection

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This article is cross-posted with Borealia: Early Canadian History, where it was published on 23 October 2023.

E.A. Heaman

I am very sorry to see Quebec raising the fees on students not from Quebec. A long time ago I was one of those out-of-province students. I grew up in British Columbia and had never been east when I transferred from UVic to McGill University in the fall of 1985, thanks to a Pierre-Trudeau-era program that gave money to Quebec students to study outside Quebec and to non-Quebec students to study in Quebec. I moved to Montreal and completed a BA in history, followed by an MA. Then I left Montreal, just as François Legault says such students do. I completed a PhD in history at the University of Toronto, focusing on nineteenth-century Canada and lending fairly equal attention to Anglophone and Francophone history and sources. That bilingual interest and capacity was a strength that opened many doors. I turned down offers of postdoctoral fellowships and spent the next four years at Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine in London, writing a commissioned history of an English teaching hospital. But I felt I had unfinished business in Canada: there were things I needed to better understand. So I refused permanency in England and returned to Canada on the tenure track, first at Queen’s University, and then McGill, where I was invited to take up a Canada Research Chair in early Canadian history. It’s worth taking a long view in assessing the return on education. Continue reading

Open Access Week and Publishing in the Open

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(Editor’s note: Today marks the start of International Open Access Week 2023. Four years ago we published this post by editor Krista McCracken, explaining why open access is a core value of their work as a historian, educator, and archivist. “Where we publish matters,” argues McCracken, particularly when we work with communities or for non-academic audiences. That commitment to access has been part of the Active History project since its inception, and no one has done more to put it into action than Krista. This fall, after a decade with the editorial collective, Krista is stepping down from their role as editor. We will miss you Krista!!!)

Krista McCracken

This week is International Open Access Week. This global, community-driven week is designed to promote discussions about open access and to inspire broader participation in open access publishing. It is celebrated by institutions, organizations, and individuals all around the world.

Open access to information – free, immediate, online to scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results – has the power to reshape scholarly conversations and create new communities of research.

Since its establishment, posts on Active History have been licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada License. In October 2018, we adopted a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, allowing for further use of Active History content in a range of settings. Our ebooks series has also been openly licensed with the goal of making them accessible as possible.

Both Tom Peace and Sean Kheraj have written Active History posts about the impacts of open pedagogy and open educational resources on historical practice and teaching Canadian History. If you’re unfamiliar with the philosophies behind open access and the potential benefits for teaching and research, Peace and Kheraj’s posts provide a good introduction.

What does open scholarly publishing look like in Canada? Continue reading

Whose History is Migrant Community History? An Essential Question for Heritage Preservation

Finnish settler family in British Columbia, circa 1900. Photo courtesy of the Varpu Lindström Collection at the Migration Institute of Finland Archives.

Samira Saramo

On March 2, 2023, Finlandia University in Hancock, Michigan, announced that it was closing. Since its establishment in 1896 by Finnish migrant-settlers as Suomi College, Finlandia University has been a center of Finnish history and heritage in North America. It has been home to an active Finnish & Nordic Studies undergraduate program and unparalleled archival collections, programming, and a national Finnish-American newspaper through its Finnish American Heritage Center. The news of the closure immediately flooded Finnish communities in the United States, Canada, Finland, and elsewhere.

Finlandia University’s closure marks the latest major loss for the Finnish North American community. Continue reading

Yaroslav Hunka is the Tip of the Iceberg

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Examining new arrivals in Immigration Examination Hall, Pier 21. Chris Lund/National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque collection/Library and Archives Canada/PA-111579.

(Editor’s note: This is the second of two posts discussing the historical roots of the 2023 controversy over the warm welcome–subsequently retracted–given by the Canadian Parliament to Ukrainian-Canadian and former member of the 14th SS Division Yaroslav Hunka. You can read the first post, by Katelyn Arac, here.)

Alvin Finkel

William Kelly, the RCMP officer in charge of security screening for prospective immigrants from Europe, provided in 1953 his view that the Department of Citizenship and Immigration was knowingly allowing war criminals into Canada. He wrote the officer-in-charge of Special Branch, the security-screening division of the Force, that members of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS), and its subsidiaries, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and Waffen-SS along with members of the Abwehr should all be considered “major offenders” within the Nazi world and ineligible for immigration into Canada. Only those who joined the Waffen-SS after September, 1944 might have done so because of coercion.[i] He rejected Immigration’s view that individuals for whom no specific proof existed that they had joined these bodies of their free will might be considered “minor offenders” and therefore eligible for immigration to Canada. Continue reading

Residential Schools in Labrador & Newfoundland – What’s Old is News

By Sean Graham

I talk with Andrea Procter, author of A Long Journey: Residential Schools in Labrador and Newfoundland. We talk about how the residential schooling system there differed from Canada’s in the early 20th century, student experiences at the schools, and how communities responded. We also discuss reconciliation in Labrador, why the province wasn’t included in the initial national apology, and the Newfoundland and Labrador Healing and Commemoration Project. And be sure to check out the Them Days archives, where all the royalties for the book are being donated.

Historical Headline of the Week 

Healing and Commemoration Portal, The Rooms, St. John’s.

Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015

If you’re experiencing trauma, a National Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former residential school students. You can access information on the website or access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-Hour National Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

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Uncovering the Sexual Assaults of Mervyn Brown: Part 2

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By Eloise Moss

Part 1 of this two part series appeared on Tuesday, October 3 2023. You can read it here.

In part one, last week, I discussed the criminal investigation following the sexual assault of five hotel chambermaids in London in 1926. Committed by a wealthy Canadian named Mervyn Brown, these events were sheltered from international scrutiny and mislabeled in the historical record by a carefully-orchestrated cover-up.

The cover-up was documented by frustrated officers of the Metropolitan Police writing in the pages of UK National Archives file MEPO 3/397, anticipating, one assumes, that Brown might commit further crimes, or perhaps more romantically, hoping that a historian of the future would come along to set the record straight.

Notably, there remain impediments to easy identification of the criminal in this case. The National Archives’ online catalogue record for this file fails to name Brown, although his name is written clearly on the front page of the file and the reports inside record his use of aliases. That said, officers still did not discover his full name. ‘Mervyn Brown’ was as far as they got. In addition, they ascertained that

‘The prisoner is a Canadian by birth, and has business interests in Toronto and Winnipeg. He is in this Country, among other things, in connection with the Imperial Scheme, for the sending out of 50,000 English families to Canada as Settlers. He is a broker by profession, and is apparently a man of substance, holding a high position in Canada.’

These notes offered helpful clues to begin my research. Further intrigue was presented by British newspapers, who referred to Brown as a ‘clerk,’ a lower-middle class profession, but with some confusion also described him as a wealthy man of independent means.[1]

Indeed, ironically, headlines celebrated the prosecution and fine of ‘Martin’ Brown as a victory for democracy. Quoting Judge Atherley Jones’ pronouncement that ‘no suspicion should go forth that persons of high social position are treated differently from persons in a lower station,’ journalists quietly minimised the absence of a sentence of imprisonment for a man who had committed a series of violent sexual assaults on two separate occasions.[2]

Reynolds Illustrated News, November 21 1926

A second, critical set of connections was provided by Brown’s network of friends, who not only came to his financial aid, but also acted as accomplices-after-the-fact, applying pressure on the Directors of the Regent Palace Hotel to drop the prosecution and (one logically assumes, given Walter Grant Morden’s position as newspaper proprietor) exerting their influence over the press reportage.

As such, not only the existence of their friendship, but the risks these high-profile men were willing to take to suppress the incident from wider public scrutiny, suggested a complex set of social, political, and possibly economic stakes attached to Brown’s reputation.

So who was Mervyn Brown? Continue reading

Nova Scotia and the Paradox of the Royal Proclamation

By Thomas Peace

Today marks the 260th anniversary of the Royal Proclamation of 1763.

Over the course of Canadian history, there are few documents that carry more weight. With less than 2,000 words, the Crown laid out in this document a precedent in British Canadian law that normalized territorial treaty-making, and recognized Aboriginal Rights and Title. In 1982, the Proclamation was enshrined in section 25 of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Designed to sort out jurisdictional issues in North America following the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), the Proclamation served four important purposes:

  1. It established the boundaries of four new British colonies: Quebec, East Florida, West Florida, and Grenada; it also modified the boundaries of Nova Scotia and Georgia.
  2. It provided a schedule for assigning free land to veterans of the war.
  3. It established a protocol for British administrators to follow regarding colonial expansion onto Indigenous Lands.
  4. From the British perspective, it reserved for Indigenous nations the Land lying to the west of the Appalachian Mountains.

At its core, the Proclamation is the document that set out a process for British colonial settlement and jurisdiction that continues to define the world in which North Americans live today.

There’s a problem, though: the principles outlined in the Proclamation were muddied by the on-the-ground realities of eighteenth-century life in ways that clearly resonate today. Nothing demonstrates this better than the colony of Nova Scotia’s origin story: there, the Proclamation’s provisions have never been fully adopted. Continue reading