A Lost Chapter in the History of Black Baseball in New Brunswick

by Roger P Nason

The early history of baseball in New Brunswick’s Black communities has yet to be written. A glimpse into the chapter of that heritage before the First World War is, however, found in the Saint John Daily Telegraph headline of 10 May 1889: “The Colored Club of Fredericton.” In a short column, the newspaper announced that:

Mr. Boyd, of the colored ball club of Fredericton, has received word from Capt. Washington, of the St. John colored club, that the latter will be unable to play there on May 24th, owing to their having an entertainment in St. John on that date. The Fredericton colored base ballists therefore hope to beat their St. John brethren at a later date.[1]

This public challenge between Fredericton and Saint John offers some of the earliest clues to the formation of organized baseball among Black community members in the province. The contact for the Saint John team was actually Robert Washington. He was the son of Thomas C Washington, a successful black restaurant owner at 105 Charlotte Street

“Washington’s Cafe and Prescott House, ca. 1910,” Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, P210-2732.

Thomas was probably a principal organizer of the first Black baseball club in New Brunswick.  Although a long-established resident of the port city, he originally hailed from New York City. Born there in 1837, he arrived in Saint John in 1860.[2]

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Sewell and the Septics: The Government Commission that Tried to Give Community Planning Back to Communities

Sewell and the Septics. Commission members Toby Vigod, George Penfold, Darlene Varleau, Diana Crosbie, and John Sewell having fun alongside their van after a heated public hearing in Owen Sound, Ontario, 1992. Courtesy of George Penfold.

David M. K. Sheinin

In early December 2020, former Toronto mayor and federal Progressive Conservative cabinet minister David Crombie resigned as chair of the Ontario Greenbelt Council. Created in 2005, the Council advises the provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs on maintaining the Southern Ontario Greenbelt. As the COVID-19 second wave loomed large, Crombie’s announcement won little media play. But the resignation was a shocker. Crombie wasn’t one to resign.

Since the 1970s, he had been the affable, thoughtful politician able to find common ground with those across the aisle. But now, Crombie had become incensed over the Progressive Conservative government’s November 2020 omnibus budget bill. Tucked away in the fine print of a bill focused on pandemic economic relief, schedule 6 proposed discharging local conservation authorities of their roles in maintaining the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine, and other segments of the Greenbelt. Having unsuccessfully tried to persuade the government to withdraw section 6, Crombie lamented the disastrous assault on watershed planning, local conservation authorities, and “the power of public participation and open debate.” “This is not policy and institutional reform,” Crombie wrote Premier Doug Ford. “This is high-level bombing and needs to be resisted.”

Who should plan communities?

Long before the Ontario Planning Act was first passed in 1946, there were tensions between communities and the province over planning that were never resolved. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 175: The Burden of Gravity

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By Sean Graham

In the 9 years we’ve being doing the History Slam, I’ve constantly been amazed by the variety of ways in which public historians tell the stories of the past. There are so many unique and powerful storytelling techniques that make great use of historical research. One such example is the new book The Burden of Gravity by Shannon McConnell. The book tells the story of the students at New Westminster’s Woodlands School in the 1960s and 1970s. The school originally opened in 1876 as a ‘lunatic asylum’, but later became a custodial school for children with disabilities. During this time, there were reports of neglect and abuse that went unaddressed. Based on archival research, McConnell uses poetry to share the students’ stories. As poetry of witness, the book employs a first person perspective without using and takes readers through the students’ emotions while also challenging the audience to consider how institutions like the Woodlands School are remembered.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Shannon McConnell about the book. We talk about Shannon’s background in writing, researching the story, and why poetry is an effective storytelling technique for historians. We also talk about the history of the Woodlands School, how the students were treated, and the challenges of writing from the students’ perspectives.

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This Inauguration Day, Americans will start over again 

Currier & Ives, The Inauguration of Washington as First President of the United States, April 30th 1789 – At the Old City Hall, New York, 1876, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Adele S. Colgate, 1962.

J.M. Opal

Anniversaries make you feel old and young at the same time. An important date marks the time, reminding you of how many years you’ve already trod during your sojourn on Earth. Then again, these dates also promise renewal, a chance to clean slates and start fresh.

Today’s inauguration of Joseph Biden will be the 58th anniversary of this kind since the U.S. government began to operate under the Constitution in early 1789. Tens of thousands of troops will be there, masked and silent, weapons at the ready. Few civilians will attend. The outgoing President’s shadow will weigh heavily over the shaken capitol.

In the 232-year history of the republic, the vast majority of inaugurations have been pleasant if not festive affairs. Typically, the outgoing President is there to congratulate his successor, the final step in the hallowed tradition of legitimizing the vote of the people, or at least of the Electoral College that awkwardly speaks on their behalf.

But this is no ordinary anniversary.

It is a time of plague and violence, of fever dreams and virtual sedition, of broken trust and shattered rules. It is a moment of epidemiological and economic calamity, set against a political scene that vacillates between high tragedy and low comedy, between deadly crisis and grotesque theatre. It is the long night of Covid and QAnon, of Proud Boys and crowded ERs, of congressional sieges and presidential crimes. It is a moment that makes me, as an American and a historian, feel both old and young.

If I count America’s time from the inauguration of George Washington in early 1789, then the burdens of our past seems too much for the needs of our present, to say nothing of our future.

The Constitution was devised to put an end to revolutionary upheaval, and it did its job. No one should doubt the genius of the Framers’ design, nor forget the advantages it brought. Generation after generation, most Americans never had to worry if “the government,” in the deepest sense, would endure. They were free to pursue happiness, barely noticing their steady foundation of law and order.

Yet that same document—and the whole matrix of federal courts and national protocols that grew out of it—also put strict limits on what “the People” could do for each other. It pushed the more egalitarian dreams of the Revolution off the proverbial table. To this day, the Framers’ design deliberately divides the collective hopes and needs of Americans into distinct, competing institutions. It carefully limits their ability to act on behalf of their own well-being.

The Constitution also cut a deal with slavery, an institution that had fallen under intense, trans-Atlantic attack in the revolutionary period. Historians debate how good a deal it was for the slavers, but there is no doubt about the long-term effects: Under the Constitution, slavery was reborn around 1800 in the cotton fields of the Gulf Coast, and then flourished for another half-century, ironing white supremacy and economic exploitation into the nation’s root-fibers.

Where has this constitutional order, this national self-concept, left us?

With a threadbare public that can’t deliver enough masks to medical personnel. With a winner-take-all economy in which most people struggle while a tiny minority wonder which jet to take to their islands. With a mass movement determined to purge the nation of those they believe never belonged in the first place. With Confederate flags and Nazi merch inside the Capitol.

Perhaps we are old and falling, bent low under the weight our sins and illusions.

But studying history is all about changing one’s perspective, starting with our timelines. So perhaps we should consider 2021, not the 232nd anniversary of the United States as designed by the Founders, but rather the 58th anniversary of the United States as imagined by Martin Luther King. Perhaps we should see the country as an ongoing experiment, and a fairly new one at that.

The poet Walt Whitman knew that America, like himself, contains multitudes. He sang its body electric. He embraced its raw, surging, creative chaos, and with his plain, daring eloquence, he gave voice to its relentless humanity.

I read Whitman today, and I feel young again. I remember my homeland as the birthplace of Jazz and Transcendentalists, of music and poetry and literature beyond description. I remember it as a proud and generous republic, a crucible of democratic vistas that defy political calculation and cynicism. I remember it as the home of Elvis Presley and Duke Ellington, of John Brown and Jane Addams, of Malcolm X and Jonas Salk.

On this anniversary, more than others, I look at America as something new under the sun, a nation still searching for a better version of itself.

J.M. Opal is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of History and Classical Studies and the author of Avenging the People: Andrew Jackson, the Rule of Law, and the American Nation (2017), Beyond the Farm: National Ambitions in Rural New England (2008), and articles in the Journal of American History, Studies in American Political Development, the Bulletin d’histoire politique, and other venues. His short essays have appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Globe and Mail, Time, The Conversation, and Jacobin.  

Taking the ‘discipline’ out of history: moving beyond the limits of scholarly writing through a research creation assignment

large formal hall with tables and chairs

The Great Hall at Hart House, University of Toronto. Photo used with permission of Hart House. In 1952, Canadian historian Donald Creighton took “a room at Hart House” so that he could finish a book. See Donald Wright, Donald Creighton: A Life in History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015), 187. Notably, Hart House did not allow women entry into its building, except on special occasions, until 1972. This exclusion honoured the stipulation of Hart House’s founding donor, Vincent Massey. See https://harthouse.ca/blog/40-years-of-women-at-hart-house.

In this three-part series, Dr. Donica Belisle of the University of Regina suggests that by expanding the ways students’ work is assessed, it is possible to expand the practice of History itself. By way of example, she explores the results of a recent experiment in which she assigned undergraduate students a “research creation” option. She concludes that despite the difficulties inherent to such an assignment, it is important to enable the inclusion of visual, audio, literary, dramatic, and other elements within scholarly communication. This series has been cross-posted with the CHA’s teaching blog.


Part 1 of 3: Professionalization, Exclusion, and Scholarly Writing

WHEN IT comes to scholarly dissemination, academic writing remains the gold standard. Through academic writing – by which I mean formal prose based on deep reflection, presented in a linear way and with clear citations – scholars communicate complex thoughts and findings.

But is scholarly writing the only method of dissemination by which historians should assess students’ work?

Within the field of history particularly, it is well recognized that scholarly writing – replete with footnotes, third-person prose, and an ‘objective eye’ – is itself a product of long and exclusionary processes. Particularly, and as Bonnie Smith, Mary Jane Logan McCallum, Donald Wright, and many others indicate, the academic discipline of History itself emerged at the turn of the 20th century via a complicated process of professionalization, one that sought to elevate certain voices through the exclusion of many others. These striving voices held high the values that were also attributed to liberal citizenship itself: rationality, objectivity, empiricism, and, more subtly, a commitment to nation building.

The notion that it was possible to discern and communicate the past via careful research had value. Yet in the process of elevating the ideals of empiricism, objectivity, and paper-based research in archives, particularly, it also became clear that many scholars also associated rationality, objectivity, and citizenship with white masculinity. That is, just as the ideal citizen at this time was framed as white, genteel, and male, so was the ideal historian. In tome after tome, and in seminar after seminar, the true historian was one who constructed narratives of state achievement. Such narratives, in turn, were effaced of all hints of subjectivity, passion, or story-telling. They were, in a word, dry. Continue reading

Towards a History of Canadian Climate Diplomacy

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Climate Action Network

Daniel Macfarlane

In 2013, Canada was bestowed the satirical “Lifetime Unachievement” Fossil award by Climate Action Network International in recognition of the country’s record of obstructing global climate change talks. This dubious distinction was well-earned by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. But its Liberal predecessors and successors didn’t do much better when it came to actually reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. For pretty much all of the twenty-first century, Canada has been considered a climate villain.

It might be surprising, then, to hear that Canada was once an international climate change leader – and under a Conservative (well, Progressive Conservative) no less! In this post I’d like to provide a survey history of Canada’s changing climate diplomacy. This chiefly involves Canada’s actions through multilateral institutions, the United Nations specifically. However, as I’ll show, Canada’s international stance on climate change is usually influenced by the implications for the Canada-United States relationship.

International ozone talks in the 1980s included discussion of what would eventually be known as climate change. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 174: Captain Cook Rediscovered

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By Sean Graham

Captain James Cook sailed with British Royal Navy through the middle of the 18th century, travelling to Newfoundland, where he made detailed maps, before making three trips to the Pacific Ocean. These travels cemented his place in the European historical narrative, as he was the first recorded European to land on Australia’s eastern coastline, circumnavigate New Zealand, and to make contact with the Hawaiian islands. He has long been commemorated for these as his likeness appeared on the commemorative sesquicentennial half-dollar in Hawaii and he is the namesake of the first post-secondary institution in North Queensland, Australia.

What hasn’t gotten as much attention, however, were Cook’s travels north. During one of his journeys, for example, he travelled along the Alaskan coast and was tempted to attempt a crossing of the Northwest Passage before turning back south. Along the way, he made some key observations about sea ice formation and wildlife that, when considered from a 21st century perspective, offer interesting insights into some of the changes brought on by climate change.

This is the focus of David Nicandri’s new book Captain Cook Rediscovered: Voyaging to the Key Latitudes. Nicandri addresses what he refers to as the ‘palm-tree paradigm’ as he situates Cook’s career within his polar voyages. He notes the significance of Cook’s scientific work on sea ice, as he challenged the then accepted consensus on how sea ice was formed. Through these observations and his cartographic work, Cook increased European knowledge of the region. Nicandri also notes the value of Cook’s journals as a source for modern scientists studying the changes happening across the region as sea ice continues to decrease.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with David Nicandri about the book. We talk about Cook’s career, the significance of sea ice science, and Cook’s contacts with Indigenous peoples and his place within European colonialism. We also talk about the palm-tree paradigm, the importance of the Northwest Passage, and the threat of climate change to polar environments.

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This Isn’t Who We Are? Cold War Rhetoric and the Trump Riots

By Andrew Sopko

America’s political history has been leading to the events at Capitol Hill on 6 January 2021 for a quite some time. The Cold War’s stifling impact on American politics directly shaped today’s troubling reality by slowly pushing progressive left voices from mainstream discourse. As a result, far-right critiques of the American nation-state which simultaneously avoid criticizing the country’s imperialistic foreign policy and lambast cosmopolitan elites, exemplified by McCarthyism, have been incubated by political actors for decades. A reality which is best exemplified by the personal and professional relationship Donald Trump shared with notorious lawyer and power broker Roy Cohn, who famously served as McCarthy’s chief counsel during the Army-McCarthy hearings.[1]

Trump supporters force their way into the Capitol Building while brandishing signs that would not have looked out place at anti-communist rallies during the height of the Cold War. (Wikimedia Commons)

The legacy of Cold War rhetoric has directly contributed to ensuring that right wing populism has remained one of the most prominent and accepted methods by which to criticize the American government’s compounding failures and slow decline from political hegemony. Trump capitalized on this in his 2016 campaign, and when he proclaimed to his supporters that they were going to march down Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill on the 6 January 2021.

It is well established that the Cold War stifled the development of progressive movements within the United States. This can best be seen by examining the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Continue reading

Psycho Killer, Qu’est-ce que c’est?

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By Amy Bell

On a hot night in June, 1966, 18-year-old Matthew Charles Lamb woke up from a beer-fueled evening nap at his uncle’s house in East Windsor, Ontario. Released from the Kingston Penitentiary only seventeen days earlier, Lamb was resentful about the conditions of his parole, and depressed about his future. He got up, grabbed his uncle’s gun and a box of ammunition from the closet, and walked out into the night. In a series of seemingly random encounters on Ford Boulevard, he shot twenty-year-old Edith Chaykoski, her older brother Kenneth, and their 21-year-old friend, Andrew Woloch. He ran across the street, shot and injured a girl he saw silhouetted in the doorway of her house, then walked two blocks, knocked on a random door, and told the elderly lady who lived there he was going to shoot her. After she threatened to call the police, he left out the back door, abandoning his gun, and returned to sleep in his uncle’s house, where he was arrested the next day. Edith Chaykoski and Andrew Woloch died of their injuries, and Lamb was charged with two counts of capital murder, which in 1966 carried a mandatory death sentence.

Who was Lamb, and why did he perform this act of seemingly senseless violence? Was this Canada’s first “spree killing”, a harbinger of a new kind of modern murder? So argues RCMP veteran and former history teacher, Will Toffan, the author of Watching the Devil Dance: How a Spree Killer Slipped Through the Cracks of the Criminal Justice System (Windsor: Biblioasis, 2020).

Toffan suggests that the increasing prevalence of spree killers, mass murderers and serial killers in the 1960s and 1970s reflected a profound social fracturing in North America, and the rise of a new type of personality: the criminal psychopath. In the book, Toffan combines extensive research into Lamb’s life and crimes with the stories of the more infamous psychopathic killers: Zodiac, Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz, John Wayne Gacy, etc. He also details the fascinating history of psychological research into psychopathy as a mental disorder, from the 1940s work of prison psychologist Hervey Cleckley to the later analyses of Robert Hare in British Columbia, whose checklist of psychopathic traits is widely used today.

Psychopathy is not recognized as a medical disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5), (unlike antisocial personality disorder, which shares many of the same traits), but is estimated to affect 1% of the population and up to 25% of incarcerated criminals. Continue reading

COVID-19 and Canada’s Untapped Immigrant Labour Resources

Visiting Filipino nurses in Winnipeg. Winnipeg Free Press, Feb. 13, 1960.

Jon G. Malek

The COVID-19 pandemic has not only created health and economic crises across the world, but has exposed systemic problems that have long existed in Canadian society. One issue that COVID-19 has highlighted, institutional barriers to recognizing the credentials of foreign trained professionals, is complicating provincial responses across the country. In Winnipeg, healthcare professionals and public school teachers have become vocal in their concerns to how their institutions are coping. A letter by a group of 200 doctors and scientists in Manitoba to Premier Brian Pallister (to which Health Minister Cameron Friesen accused of “causing chaos”) declared the province’s health system overwhelmed and called for emergency funding to handle a dramatic, sustained spike in cases. A week later, a letter signed by almost 500 public school staff, including teachers, educational assistants, and school leaders, claimed that the education system, too, was on the verge of collapse, a plea echoed by the Manitoba Teachers’ Society. Both the healthcare and educational sectors have made similar pleas for adequate access to personal protective equipment (PPE), funding for sick time and employee mental health services, and more staffing.

Staffing has been an issue since the second wave of COVID-19 cases hit Manitoba, when provincial testing sites became overwhelmed, and schools were given new directives to support social distancing in the limited classroom space. Since November, case loads have stressed hospitals across the province, filling intensive care unit (ICU) beds and causes many non-urgent surgeries to be cancelled as staff resources are reallocated. In October, Red River College, based in Winnipeg, opened a tuition-free micro-degree program that would rapidly train groups of healthcare students and professionals in COVID-19 sample collection procedures. The province has also responded to the shortage in staffing by encouraging recently retired nurses and teachers to re-enter the work force; however, many are reportedly – and understandably – reluctant due to increased susceptibility to COVID-19 that has been identified in older individuals. Now that COVID-19 vaccines are beginning to be rolled out, the province is calling on dentists to help administer inoculations. After years of gutting the healthcare system and leaving high rates of unfilled vacancies in hospitals, the provincial government has even issued calls for volunteers on the front-lines, revealing a bewildering reluctance of the Pallister government to spend money to respond to the pandemic.

Following the loud and public pleas from both the healthcare and educational sectors, attempts to hire more staff support have been made. But the problem is, who is there to hire? The province recently committed to hiring 100 teachers and twenty educational assistants for a remote learning support centre – finally utilizing federal funding announced back in August – but one might wonder if this will be enough, or, indeed, where the staff will come from. The Winnipeg School Division, Manitoba’s largest division, had all of its 1200 substitute teachers assigned to classes throughout the first week of November. Some divisions have responded, too, that if qualified individuals were available to hire, they would have been already.

And yet, such a body of needed labour exists in Canada. Continue reading