Raising Awareness about Canada’s Indian Day Schools with Digital History

Jackson Pind and Sean Carleton

Many Canadians are finally coming to terms with the truth that the Canadian government, in co-operation with Christian churches, ran a genocidal school system targeting Indigenous Peoples for more than a century.

What most people do not realize, however, is that Canada’s system of “Indian education” was not limited to Indian Residential Schools. It also included combined schools (for settler and Indigenous students), sanatoriums and tuberculosis hospitals, and a vast network of nearly 700 federally funded and church-run Indian Day Schools, which were attended by an estimated 200,000 Indigenous people between 1870 and 2000.

In its 2015 Final Report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) showed Canadians the truth about the IRS system, but there will be no such truth-telling commission for Indian Day Schools. Instead, there is a national Class Action that seeks acknowledgement and compensation for the damages and abuses suffered by Survivors who attended Indian Day Schools and were excluded from the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement. The Class Action deadline closed on July 13, 2022, but Class Members can now apply for an extension until January 13, 2023.

To help support Survivors and to raise more awareness about Indian Day Schools in Canada, we are writing this article to share more information about the system through our recent work using digital history and GIS (or Geographic Information System) mapping.

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Archiving Twitter During the Upheaval

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Derek Cameron runs a twitter collection code. Photo Credit: Kyle Stringer

By Derek Cameron

When Jim Clifford and I started archiving the Canadian conversations about COVID-19 on Twitter, it did not seem an urgent task. While Musk had made overtures to buy twitter on 13 April 2022, he had cooled by May. Similarly, we didn’t have the forethought to imagine that six months later, Musk would fire half of the 7,500-strong workforce or that he would follow this up by canceling remote work, and demanding “hardcore” commitments, which led hundreds more to quit. In recent weeks, our leisurely approach to mining Twitter for the Remember Rebuild Saskatchewan project gained new urgency.

Jim and I are exploring how COVID-19 policies in Saskatchewan were received by residents of the province. While it would be possible to get glimpses of this through traditional print sources, or cursory glances into social media, we knew that a fuller picture would emerge by systematically analyzing social media. We also see this as a way to test the new digital methods historians will need to learn to study the history of the pandemic, where the internet is now the main repository of primary sources.  As a result, we decided we would capture tweets from politicians, activists, and journalists. More importantly, however, we wanted to know what everyday people were saying in reply. Luckily for us, Twitter provides great access for Academic researchers for free to capture ten million tweets per month and the ability to request tweets from the platform’s launch until the present. But that access, as discussed below, may not last. Continue reading

10th Annual (?) Year in Review (100 Years Later): Round 1

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By Aaron Boyes and Sean Graham

We offer our two cents on the biggest events of 1922, but ultimately the decision on what moves on is up to you

It’s hard to believe that this year marks our 10th year of the Year in Review (100 Years later) bracket. We could not have imagined back in 2013 when we wrote the first bracket that this would actually become an annual event (hence the question mark in each year’s title), but that little joke has grown into something so much more.

This year, in celebrating our 10th year, we wanted to do something a little different. In the past, we have written about what we think is the most important person/event of a given year and then have asked for your thoughts in comments. This year, however, YOU get to help decide what is the most important event of 1922. This will be done by voting. As always, we will provide a brief history of the events, but now you will vote to determine which event will move forward. Voting can be done in several ways: by voting in the Twitter polls included here, commenting on the post (at the bottom of the page); by email (historyslam@gmail.com); or sending us a Tweet (@theseangrahamr and @aaronboyes1). Plus, if you see us on the street, tell us what you think. We will tabulate the votes and announce the winners the following week. The process will then recommence.

The Sweet Sixteen are presented below for your consideration. We have given our two cents, which may sway your opinion, or, more likely, not.

The Elite Eight will be presented on Friday, December 2.

The Final Four on Friday, December 9.

And the Enrico Palazzo Pre-Memorial Championship will be held on December 16. The winner will be announced shortly thereafter so make sure you vote early and vote often!

In all sincerity, thank you to everyone who has read and continues to read these posts. We truly love preparing it each year and we hope that you enjoy this year’s entry.

Discoveries Bracket

(1) King Tut’s Tomb Discovered


(4) Vitamin D Isolated

Sean: Around 1324 BCE, King Tutankhamen died following a decade-long reign as Egyptian pharaoh. Only 19 at the time of his death, King Tut did reverse some religious reforms during his life, but was largely forgotten in the centuries after he died. That all changed in November 1922, however, when British archaeologist Howard Carter and his team found the young pharaoh’s tomb. Appearing to still be sealed and largely undisturbed, the discovery provided a previously unavailable wealth of information for researchers about life in ancient Egypt. Many of the objects, which were placed in the tomb to accompany King Tut into the afterlife, toured around the world and generated a newfound interest into antiquity, an interest that is still fueling new digs and discoveries at the site.

Aaron: In the early 1920s at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, biochemist Elmer McCollum and John Howland noted that rickets – the condition of soft bones in children – could be caused by a poor diet, as observed in rats. McCollum and Howland fed the rats a pure cereal diet and noted the onset of rickets; through trial and error, they found that cod-liver oil could prevent rickets in rats. Testing their theory, they heated cod-liver oil so that Vitamin A was destroyed, and found that cod-liver oil indeed cured rickets. McCollum named the discovery after the next available letter in the alphabet – letters A, B, and C already in use – Vitamin D. McCollum and Howland also postulated that sunshine could also prevent rickets, and they were proved correct. Because of this discovery, a new generation of children grew up on cod-liver oil and rickets was basically eliminated.

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John Turner & Political Leadership – What’s Old is News

By Sean Graham  In our premier episode, I’m joined by Steve Paikin of TVO’s The Agenda to talk about Prime Minister John Turner, whose lengthy career spanned the decriminalization of homosexuality and abortion, stagflation, and free trade. We discuss Turner’s career, legacy, and what we can learn about modern politics from studying Canada’s 17th Prime Minister.

Our discussion comes out of Steve’s new biography John Turner: An Intimate Biography of Canada’s 17th Prime Minister.

Historical Headline of the Week:

John Turner Maps his Future” – Maclean’s, September 17, 1984

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Introducing What’s Old is News

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By Sean Graham

In the spring of 2012, I was in Guelph, Ontario at a conference. What I thought would a typical couple days turned out to be a pretty important event in my life. Not only did it provide me with my favourite conference story, but it was there where I met several members of the Activehistory.ca editorial team. I don’t recall the specific circumstances, but at some point I strongly (obnoxiously) suggested that the site would greatly benefit from a podcast. As any wise person would, the response from the team was that if I felt that way, I should be the one to do it. From that conversation, the History Slam was born and over 10 years, we produced 221 episodes with nearly 300 guests.

For as proud as I am of the podcast and grateful to all those who supported the project over the years, since we increased the episode frequency at the start of the pandemic, I started to feel like something needed to change. When we started, podcasting was still relatively new, so I didn’t spend too much time thinking about the finer details of the show. My approach was – and still is – if I wouldn’t want to listen, why would I expect anyone else to listen? That guiding principle provided a lot of freedom to the show, allowing me to go from Prime Minister Fantasy Draft to Death Masks to Reconciliation.

At the same time, though, I started to think that I would benefit from having a direct line through the series. That, coupled with some back end changes that I realized would benefit the entire project, led me down the lengthy path towards re-branding the podcast and re-launching the entire project.

With that, I am excited to introduce What’s Old is News, the new podcast from Activehistory.ca. Like the History Slam, I will continue to chat with people doing groundbreaking historical work and shine a light on the outstanding stories being told across the discipline. At the same time, however, we’re going to lean into how current events are shaped by the past, focusing on how we can all learn from the stories and experiences of those who came before us. As part of this, we’re introducing the Historical Headline of the Week segment, where we will look at how old news continues to resonate today.

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The History PhD and Before: Reimagining the History MA to Improve PhD Outcomes

A university library

Suzzallo Library, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Photo by Ken Theimer on Unsplash.

By Adam Chapnick

This post is written in response to the report of the CHA Task Force on the Future of the History PhD in Canada (available in English and in French). A series by members of the Task Force ran on Activehistory.ca from 18 October–17 November, 2022. Activehistory.ca encourages readers to join in the conversation, either in the comments or on social media, or by submitting their own response piece to the series.

The October 2022 report of the CHA Task Force on the Future of the History PhD in Canada – and the Activehistory.ca series springing from the Task Force – tell a grim story. Tenure-track jobs are increasingly scarce, funding for PhD candidates often fails to enable them to live above the poverty line, and graduate students are experiencing an overwhelming mental health crisis. Indeed, it is hard not to see some of these challenges as insurmountable.

But I wonder whether, in this focus on the PhD and beyond, the Task Force has missed a potential solution to many of the problems it identifies: a reconsideration of the role of what comes before – the history MA.

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Call for Contributors

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Join us in building the Active History project! ActiveHistory.ca 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 two roles.

Series editors

What histories matter in 2022? Work with fellow historians and the ActiveHistory.ca editorial collective to present a series of posts around a specific theme. Previous series have explored topics including refugee reception, the climate emergency, and history teaching. Proposals for thematic series should include a short bio, a title and one-paragraph statement of the theme and format of the series (texts, artwork with commentary, etc.) and a list of contributors.

Regular contributors

Share your work and ideas regularly with our audience of historians, educators, and interested members of the wider public. Regular contributors commit to work with the editorial collective to publish four blog posts (typically accessible, jargon-free texts of 800-1500 words) over the course of a year. Proposals should include a short bio, a one-paragraph description of the history work you do, as well as some ideas for potential posts.


Thanks to the generosity of the site’s readers and allies across Canada, we are pleased to be able to offer honoraria to early-career historians interested in taking on one of these two roles. Series editors will receive $500 and a budget of up to $500 to pay series contributors (for ex. 4 posts at $125 each). Regular contributors will receive $500 per year.

For more information visit our Guidelines for authors, and then contact us at activehistoryinfo@gmail.com.

Rethinking Program Design: The Goals and Value of a History PhD

By Sam Hossack

The report of the CHA Task Force on the Future of the History PhD in Canada is now available (in English and in French). This is the ninth (and final) in a series of posts by Task Force members, offering their perspectives on selected themes from the report. Activehistory.ca encourages readers to join in the conversation, either in the comments or on social media, or by submitting a response piece to be considered for publication upon the series’ completion.

Over the past month, members of the Canadian Historical Association’s Task Force on the Future of the PhD have contributed articles to Active History summarizing the major findings of our report. Many of the report’s findings suggest that the current state of the History PhD is dismal, including long completion times and poor career outcomes for graduates.

While many might rush to conclude that we should simply stop training History PhDs in order to better match the number of graduates and the number of academic jobs, doing so does not address the diverse reasons students pursue a PhD or the many structural problems that exist within programs. To improve student experiences and enhance the value of the PhD, departments need to acknowledge the flaws in current programs and recognize the effects of these flaws. We can re-think the design and purpose of our programs. The Task Force heard throughout our consultation process that there is value in completing a History degree, and History PhD training is important for those who work outside of tenure-track faculty positions. As historians, we know that there are numerous benefits of studying history and of doing so at an advanced critical level. The problem is not that there is no value in a History PhD. The problem is that we have not yet done a good job communicating the value and translating the benefits to other-than-academic realms.

We need to think about what History PhD programs teach and what graduate students learn. The first step in any program evaluation process is to reflect on and answer perhaps the most difficult question of all: What is the goal of a History PhD program? Most programs are implicitly designed to prepare students for academic careers, but that narrow goal is no longer appropriate. The current misalignment between program goals, program design, and post-graduation results shapes adverse conditions for students, contributing to mental health issues, dire financial situations, and long times-to-completion, in addition to precarious employment upon graduation. In spite of all of this, while only a small minority of graduates find tenure-track academic positions, many more graduates do use the skills they developed in their History PhD programs.

Good program design requires alignment of goals, activities, and assessments. An over-emphasis on assessments creates misalignment.

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What Can History PhD Programs Train Students For?

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Co-operative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada, https://cewilcanada.ca/CEWIL/About-Us/Work-Integrated-Learning.aspx

By Tina Loo

The report of the CHA Task Force on the Future of the History PhD in Canada is now available (in English and in French). This is the eighth in a series of posts by Task Force members, offering their perspectives on selected themes from the report. Activehistory.ca encourages readers to join in the conversation, either in the comments or on social media, or by submitting a response piece to be considered for publication upon the series’ completion.

It’s clear from the CHA Task Force Report that there are far more History PhDs than there are fulltime, tenure-track jobs, and that many such degree holders have found work in other sectors.

Given that, if History departments wish to continue to have doctoral programs they should offer students more and different kinds of learning opportunities, ones that would both serve them well academically and position them for other kinds of jobs. Certainly, the participants in the CHA webinars on “Historians at Work” agreed. Employed outside the academy in the public and private sectors, these History PhD holders pointed to the utility of collaborative work experiences, quantitative and language skills (including programming languages), and learning to write for diverse audiences.

While many of these skills can be acquired in a university classroom context by allowing doctoral students to fulfill some of their program requirements with, say, existing undergraduate courses in statistics, languages, or GIS, I think there’s a strong case to be made for offering them the opportunity to pursue what’s known as “work-integrated learning” (WIL).

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Language, history and British automobiles: where schoolwork and hobby connect

Ian McCallum

As a PhD student, I work with all aspects of the Munsee language, an Indigenous language spoken in southwestern Ontario. This involves research, teaching, documentation and the creation of resources. As a student, I study best practice in language learning and revitalization methods that can support community-based initiatives. As both a researcher and a student, language work can be all-encompassing.

I find one way to balance the language work is through restoring and repairing 1960s British automobiles. As much as this may seem to be a completely different “lane” of work, this pastime allows for reflection of the research process. I have owned, repaired and given up on many British cars over the years.

My fate was sealed when I brought an MGB in late high school years. I came by this pursuit honestly; my father had a deep appreciation for vintage cars and motorcycles. I drove the MGB for many years, to school and to work, testing its long-distance capabilities. It let me down only once; the headlights went out late one night returning from work at a summer job. As so often with British cars, the lights soon came back on, the cause of the fault remained an unsolved mystery, and never recurred.

An advertisement for an Austin Cambridge automobile. It shows the silver-beige car in profile with a family at the rear of the vehicle. The headline reads "New swift line...new uncrowded comfort."

“Austin looks years ahead with the new A55 Cambridge,” publication 1745, Austin Motor Company Ltd, 1959.

Over the years, I have owned many British cars, with interesting names that have passed into history, from MG to Riley, Austin to Wolseley. Continue reading