Georgina Whetsel: Black Entrepreneur and Innovator

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Roger P. Nason

It is just over a century since the death of one of New Brunswick’s pioneering Black women entrepreneurs. For a woman who garnered a reputation for her business savvy in Saint John, across New Brunswick, and in the United States, Georgina (née Mingo) Whetsel Moore’s death in 1919 in Bedford, Nova Scotia (NS) went largely unnoticed.[1] Her life, however, is a window into the dynamics of the small Black business community of nineteenth-century Saint John.

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Historia Nostra: Teaching and Learning History with Board Games

By Erin Isaac and Dr. Benjamin Hoy

For many, board games conjure up memories of time spent with family and friends around the dinner table. I remember, when I was young, drinking cream soda while watching my sister eviscerate my hopes of owning Park Place and my mom bend the rules to keep me out of bankruptcy. Years later, I still remember the stories those games created.

Yet, board games offer much more than a low-stakes evening of family fun or the indoctrination of capitalist principles—they can be used to teach and understand history. As primary documents, historical board games provide scholars with a glimpse into the past. Games made in the 1960s, for example, project ideas about American expansionism and female domesticity that seem distant from our ideals today.

As teaching tools, board games give players a stake in the narrative’s outcome. They bring to life concepts and ideas that are otherwise hard to teach. Games can help students understand the risks and benefits historical people weighed when making decisions. Would they smuggle? Would they participate in the Underground Railroad?

To explore these ideas, I visited Dr. Benjamin Hoy at the University of Saskatchewan to talk about his research and the ways he uses board games in his own classroom. Continue reading

History Slam Episode 173: How We Helped

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By Sean Graham

In 1935, a group of Ottawa social workers came together to form the Eastern Ontario Branch of the Canadian Association of Social Workers. Over the next 85 years, the group underwent a number of changes, including becoming part of the Ontario Association of Social Workers, but its role in representing the social work community never wavered. Whether it was organizing social events, pushing for professional recognition, or organizing social justice campaigns, social workers and their clients have benefited from the Eastern Branch’s work.

Since the spring, I have been working with social workers and members of the Eastern Branch on a new project. How We Helped: Stories From Eastern Ontario Social Workers is a 5-part documentary series exploring the Eastern Branch and the role of social work. Each episode examines a specific issue, from advocacy to community to social justice. Using interviews with social workers and archival documents, the series shares the stories of those who dedicated their careers to helping their communities. And even though it is focused on social workers in Eastern Ontario, the issues they confronted are universal.

In this episode of the History Slam I talk with Eastern Branch President Wendy Birkan before we listen to the first episode in the series. We talk about social workers, why they wanted to do a history project, and the Eastern Branch’s legacy. We also listen to Growing Our Practice: Education, Professionalization, & the Fight for Recognition. You can check out the rest of the series here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Here We Come A-Picketing! Christmas Carols, Class Conflict, and the Eaton’s Strike, 1984-85

(This post by Sean Carleton and Julia Smith was originally published on 18 December 2014)

By mid-December, the holiday shopping season is usually in full swing for Canadian retailers. Thirty years ago, however, several Eaton’s department stores in southern Ontario were experiencing a different type of holiday hustle and bustle: Eaton’s workers were on strike.

Hoping that unionization would improve their wages and working conditions, many of the department stores’ mostly female workers had joined the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU); but management’s refusal to negotiate left them with few options but to withdraw their labour power. On 30 November 1984 RWDSU members at six Eaton’s locations went on strike. In doing so, they embarked on a significant struggle to win a collective agreement in a sector known for poor pay and precarity, all while enduring one of the coldest winters in Canadian history.

Eaton’s workers picketed for almost six months. During that time, they used a variety of tactics to maintain morale and hold the line. With help from the Canadian Labour Congress, they organized a national boycott of Eaton’s, a particularly effective technique during the holiday shopping season. Strikers also used performance and humour to win public support. In the lead-up to Christmas, they worked with the Red Berets, a feminist musical group in Toronto, to adapt Christmas carols to incorporate issues related to the strike. These types of creative tactics attracted considerable media attention and thereby increased public awareness of and support for the strike.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the Eaton’s strike, to celebrate the courage and tenacity of the strikers, and to acknowledge the continuing struggles of retail workers today, we have joined with friends and colleagues to record a sampling of the holiday songs sung during the strike. This musical project was inspired by a play about the Eaton’s strike, Life on the Line: Women Strike at Eaton’s 1984–85, written by Patricia McDermott and directed by Vrenia Ivonoffski. The play was performed in Toronto in May 2014 at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, and in October 2014 as part of the 4th Annual Ryerson Social Justice Week. It features many of the following songs.

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Did Anyone Not See This Coming? Erin O’Toole and the Historical Politics of Public Memory

Erin O’Toole, the newly minted leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, has some positive things to say about residential schools. At least he did, when he thought he was speaking to a closed shop of otherwise conservative leaning students. O’Toole – or, someone in his office – very quickly tried to walk his comments back … sort of.[1]  What happened and what are we to make of it? For people interested in the ways in which history is conscripted into the service of contemporary politics, O’Toole’s comments are important to consider.

O’Toole’s comments illustrate the degree to which history weighs on the minds of conservatives. The CPC leader’s insensitive and inaccurate comments were made during a strategy discussion with a Ryerson University student conservative club. Exactly how the subject shifted to Indigenous history and Canada’s genocidal policies is not 100% clear from the reporting but – judging from reports[2] – O’Toole himself does not seem to have found this slide unusual or unwarranted.

O’Toole’s comments highlight the degree of confusion – if not outright misrepresentation — that persists with regard to residential schools in Canadian public life. They allow us to better isolate the ideological and historical dynamics through which that confusion is maintained. Exactly how anyone could state that residential schools were intended to “provide education” in 2020 is not clear because it involves an almost willful ignorance of an historical record that has been the subject of extensive public discussion.

History is, of course, always contested. Continue reading

8th Annual(?) Year in Review (100 Years Later)

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By Aaron Boyes and Sean Graham

We give our 2 cents on the events of 1920. Let us know what you think in the comments.

In last year’s edition of our Year in Review, we said that 2019 was at times a slog. We miss 2019. 2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down most of the world, infected (as of writing) more than 73 million people, and killed 1.6 million – with almost 14,000 deaths in Canada. Not since the Spanish Flu of 1918 – which we wrote about in 2018 – has an infectious disease like COVID impacted so many people around the planet. Millions of people lost their jobs; businesses were shuttered; PPE was in short supply; and, arguably, worst of all, countless people believed, and continue to believe, that it is all a hoax. Thankfully, a vaccine is slowly being distributed there is hope that by the end of 2021 COVID will not be the killer that it is.

But COVID wasn’t the only newsmaker of 2020. There was Brexit in January; the devastating Australian bushfires; murder hornets; celebrity deaths (Kobe Bryant, Eddie van Halen, Alex Trebek, Ruth Bader Ginsburg); the Black Lives Matter movement; Donald Trump’s impeachment; a series of shootings in Nova Scotia; and the US Presidential Election.

If 2019 was a slog, 2020 was a nightmare.

But in order to truly close out the year, we’re back with our Eighth Annual(?) Year in Review (100 Years Later) Bracket. For first time readers, we took the most important events of 1920 and pitted them against each other in a March Madness-style bracket. This edition has some amazing inventions, some interesting firsts, and social advancements broken down in four brackets: How Did I Not Think of That Bracket, Legends BracketDr. Graham Special Pre-Memorial Bracket, and, of course, the Potpourri Bracket. Given the slog that has been 2020, we’ve tried to keep this year’s version of the bracket light and fun. Having gotten through the year, we feel like we all deserve a break from bad news.

We should also note that we implemented a no repeat winner rule, which explains why there is no aviation in this year’s bracket. You can find all past winners at the end of the article. As always, we would love to hear what you think of our selections. If you think a different event should have won, please let us know in the comments.

To everyone out there, please stay safe and healthy, practice social distancing, and wear a mask.

Round One

How Did I Not Think of That Bracket

(1) Pop-up Toaster Patent


(4) Silica Gel Patent Continue reading

Remember/Resist/Redraw #27: The 1918-1919 Flu Pandemic in Western Canada

Earlier this month, as COVID-19 infections spiked across Western Canada during the second wave of a global pandemic, the Graphic History Collective released RRR #27 by Karen Mills and Esyllt Jones. The poster looks at the 1918-1919 flu pandemic as it was experienced in Western Canada.

The poster’s design is based on a public health poster from 1918 and includes illustrations and photographs from time. Jones’s essay asks us – in the midst of another global crisis – to reflect on the costs of past pandemics and to also see their ability to encourage solidarity and spark struggles for transformational change.

Poster issued by the Provincial Board of Health about the influenza epidemic, Alberta, 1918. Glenbow Museum NA-4548-5

We hope that Remember | Resist | Redraw encourages people to critically examine history in ways that can fuel our radical imaginations and support struggles for social change. Learn more about how you can support the project on our website, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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History Slam Episode 172: Historians’ Favourite Musicals

By Sean Graham

In what has been a most challenging year, any moments of fun and joy have been incredibly valuable. For me, musical soundtracks have offered a great respite from the real world. Not only can they offer some upbeat music and positive messages, but since most of them are about an hour long, they’re great for the work day. Once you get to the end of a soundtrack, it’s a reminder to get up and move around and take a short break. This year I learned that a lot of my colleagues at Parks Canada feel similarly about musical theatre, which has led to plenty of discussion and debate about the relative qualities of musicals.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with historians Mikaela Gallinger, Lilia Lockwood, Stephen Smith, and Phoebe Mannell about their favourite musicals. Each person identifies their favourite show and talks about what they like in a musical. We also look forward to 2021 and talk about what we hope to see when theatres re-open. Plus, as an added bonus, I talk with my Mom about her favourite show and what she is looking forward to in the new year.

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Levelling the Playing Field: Humour in the Zoom University

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The students of HIST 5210, Carleton University

In just three days, this tweet was liked over 90,000 times. Responses varied from triumphant vindication (take that, students! So many more than 10 likes!) to moral panic (society is crumbling thanks to Twitter). Surprisingly few people recognized it for what it was: playful teasing between students and their professor as they wrapped up their last class of the term. As the students in question, we were fascinated by how academics on Twitter interpreted it as an example of how the digital environment was damaging to their status, or academia as a whole. Suddenly our seminar’s work, which focused on theories of power, took on added meaning. While none of us chose to do graduate school online, our class was proof you can create an online environment that fosters engagement and critical discussions. The best way to do so, from our perspective, was for the professor to let go of a need to protect their status and position of authority, and to encourage spaces of play.

If this were any other semester, we would be running into each other on the Carleton University campus and joking about the class, or chatting in the elevator about what we thought of the readings. Continue reading

“We are protectors”: Comics Combating Colonialism

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Coovers of Moonshot collections

Covers of Moonshot volumes 1 and 2. Photo by author.

Tarisa Little

We live and breathe in a world that often pretends it got rid of us. In the face of that, MOONSHOT volume two, which is bursting with stories, is an act of love and also of resistance. We love ourselves and our communities. We’re still here, unbroken lines of stories. We not only survive, but thrive. We’re not victims. We are protectors. This book is defiant, unabashed love.[1] –James Leask

Eradication of Indigenous knowledge, epistemicide, is an integral part of colonization. However, Indigenous people have not only resisted epistemicide and prohibition of their pedagogical practices, they have also introduced new and innovative ways to share ancestral knowledge. This post draws attention to the first two volumes of MOONSHOT: The Indigenous Comics Collection and highlights how Indigenous storytellers and artists have used comics to combat colonialism.

MOONSHOT is a unique collection of stories belonging to Indigenous cultures from all over North America, including the Métis, Inuit, Haida, Sioux, and Cree. All art and stories in these volumes have been created by Indigenous people. Importantly, Elders from the many communities represented gave permission to the artists and storytellers to share this knowledge. These stories challenge stereotypical one-dimensional comic book ‘Indians.’[2] The stories in MOONSHOT express Indigenous multiplicities and remind readers that there is no pan-Indigenous identity. The stories also realize Indigenous self-determination.

Elizabeth LaPensée, writer of one of the collected stories, “They Who Walk as Lightning,” notes that her community had a negative view of comics because, in the past, comics perpetuated Indigenous stereotypes and tropes. She adds that Indigenous people wanted to see their own representations of themselves in comics. Additionally, LaPensée writes that now “there is a huge demand [for Indigenous comics] thanks to awareness created through the MOONSHOT collection.”[3] It is evident that MOONSHOT has been able to reach a broader audience and disseminate Indigenous stories as all three of its volumes are available through international booksellers such as Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Comixology. Adding to its popularity are its acclaims; the first volume of MOONSHOT won The Best Book of 2015 and a Bronze Medal for Best Graphic Novel at the 20th annual Independent Publisher’s Awards. Continue reading