Inheriting Her Life: Toronto’s Poet Laureate Remembers Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman seated, photo by T. Kajiwara, 1911 July 15. Library of Congress.

Franca Iacovetta & Cynthia Wright, with thanks to A.F. Moritz

…the new Toronto comrades engulfed you,

a happy flood, and carried you

like a spirit in its pinnace, its canoe,

on a shining spate, a spring rill

of refreshing flame through a magic land

to that evening’s party.

When the pandemic came, we were planning a symposium to mark the 80th anniversary of Emma Goldman’s 1940 death in Toronto. As historians researching the intergenerational memory of Goldman’s Toronto exile, we wanted to bring together scholars, activists, and cultural workers involved in new research and critical engagement with Goldman and anarchist history. Over two years later, in October 2022, we finally hosted that University of Toronto-sponsored Symposium, and a performance by the Theatre Group of the Toronto Workers’ History Project of Craig Heron’s Emma’s Last Visit (directed by Aida Jordão) at St. Vladimir Institute.

But the event’s most explicitly commemorative moment was a reading by A.F. Moritz, Poet Laureate of Toronto (2019-23), of Inheriting Your Life: Homage to Emma Goldman, an original poem written at our request. A prolific, award-winning poet, Moritz is also co-author, with Theresa Moritz, of The World’s Most Dangerous Woman: A New Biography of Emma Goldman (Subway 2001), the only full-length study of Goldman’s three residencies in Toronto during the 1920s and 1930s. Our invitation to Moritz fit with our project on how generations of activists and cultural producers have recovered, invoked, and remade Goldman and what that tells us about the continuities, discontinuities, and complexities of anarchist history. We hoped, too, that a poem written by Toronto’s Poet Laureate to mark a major anniversary of Goldman’s death could help bring wider attention to Goldman’s activism in Toronto and that of the multilingual community of Yiddish, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and other comrades who lived the revolution as best they could. Continue reading

Drones in Environmental Humanities Research

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Photos by Mehdi (left) and Finn Arne (right).

(Editor’s note: This post is published in partnership with NiCHE – Network in Canadian History & Environment)

Mica Jorgenson

“Okay Dimitrijs, now go somewhere cool.”

Charlotte is wearing a heavy set of white VR glasses, standing in the sunshine on a University of Stavanger football pitch in Southern Norway. Dimitrijs is flying the drone. We are a mixed group of six environmental humanities scholars from the Greenhouse here to try out the university’s drone fleet and discuss their possible application to our research. Continue reading

Photography and the Culture of Celebrity: A Belated Review of “The World of Yousuf Karsh: A Private Essence”

By Andrew Nurse

The art of Yousuf Karsh is at once alluring and telling. The large-scale exhibition “The World of Yousuf Karsh: A Private Essence” captured both aspects of his work even while I suspect this was not its intention. The exhibition was a collaborative product of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax. Curated by MMFA Senior Curator Emeritus Hilliard T. Goldfarb, it opened in Montreal in 2021 and then moved to Pier 21 where ran until October 16th of last year.  Pier 21’s online exhibition discussion notes that it displays over 100 portraits made across the span of a career that started in the 1930s and ran to the 1990s.

“The World of Yousuf Karsh” is meant to be interpreted as a series of intertwined stories that its location in Pier 21 connected to changing perspectives on migration and diversity. In other words, it is an intervention into public history that served several ends. Continue reading

The Evolution of Game Law Impacting First Nations Hunters in Northwestern Ontario

Painting of two people dragging a moose through the snow.

Cornelius Krieghoff, [Hunters Pulling Dead Moose], 1855-1865. Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1950-14-2, Box 2000813612.

Jennifer Bate

Indigenous peoples have used their deep-rooted understanding of the land and wildlife to feed their families and communities for generations. However, by the end of the 19th century, First Nations communities in Northwestern Ontario found their traditional way of life threatened by encroaching settlement and new government-imposed hunting legislation. Although early game laws contained clauses exempting First Nations hunters from the legislation, these exemptions were eventually written out, subjecting First Nations and other Indigenous hunters to provincial game legislation which would impact their traditional way of life.

The evolution of game laws was unique in Northwestern Ontario because the region remained largely unsettled and ungoverned by the Crown until the late 19th century. Continue reading

Canadian History Shows that Sex Workers Usually Get the Short End of the Stick

Windsor Star, Jan. 24, 1923.

Margaret Ross

Late one evening in January 1923, police descended on Millie Jones’s bawdy house at 757 Mercer Street in Windsor, Ontario. She was forty-eight years old, and ran the house with her husband, George.[1] The couple was Black, and they employed two other Black women. The entire group was arrested, including two clients who were being entertained at the time of the raid.[2] In court, Millie and George were charged over two hundred dollars each for keeping a bawdy house and smuggling moonshine, respectively. Unable to pay the fines, the pair was imprisoned for three months. While the Joneses were in jail, their home burned to the ground.[3] Although police attributed the fire to “spontaneous combustion in a pile of rubbish,” Millie probably suspected that their residence was deliberately targeted given that their names and address had been reported in the press. It’s hard to overstate the repercussions of these bawdy house charges, which led to loss of livelihood, loss of home, and irrevocably altered Millie Jones’s life.

Despite the undeniable harm caused by bawdy house laws, particularly for women of colour and other historically marginalized communities, Millie Jones would be ineligible to wipe her criminal record clean of these charges if she were alive today. The Supreme Court struck down the sex work provisions of bawdy house laws in 2013 for violating sex workers’ Charter rights, but the repercussions of prior convictions continue to haunt sex workers to this day. Continue reading

Emigration and the (Un)Making of a Nation

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Railways afforded an easy connection to the United States in Central Canada. Similarly, the wharves of Nova Scotia, like this pier in Yarmouth, offered prospective migrants access to the “Boston States.” Author’s photo.

Patrick Lacroix

On March 11, author and former vice-regal consort John Ralston Saul called attention to the 175th anniversary of the formation of the LaFontaine-Baldwin government, which cemented in practice the principle of responsible government. Saul has expressed hope of a national commemoration of this moment—a hope unlikely to be met. Ours is not, in 2023, a country in search of pedestals. What’s more, in recent decades, historians have complicated the birth of Canadian democracy beyond the fateful day in 1848 when Lord Elgin called the reformers to power.

However, Saul’s longstanding call for a history that integrates the aspirations and experiences of Canada’s two largest national groups is well taken. Despite recurrent calls for dialogue, including Magda Fahrni’s 2009 invitation to write the history of English Canada with the history of Quebec, the field continues to bear the imprint of historiographies that are often deaf to one another. For instance, not until last year did a work covering the paths to rebellion in both Upper and Lower Canada appear in French. Distinct historiographical traditions amplify the sense of “two solitudes” that is felt culturally and politically. Deformed mythology, to use Saul’s term, has also nourished a politics of opposition.

Recognition of historical experiences shared by English and French Canadians promises to erode myths that perpetuate ideologies of conflict; it also provides an opportunity to highlight more tangibly than the LaFontaine-Baldwin partnership the shared challenges of nation-building. One such opportunity—situated at the crossroads of social and political history—is the question of emigration, of great significance in nineteenth-century Canada, but understudied by historians. Continue reading

Film in Canada – What’s Old is News

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By Sean Graham
For over a century, Canadians have maintained a love affair with Hollywood, both as producers and consumers. This week, we look at how that has played out with Mary Graham, author of Stunning Backdrop: Alberta in the Movies, 1917-1960, and Michael Gates, author of Hollywood in the Klondike: Dawson City’s Great Film Find. We discuss the presence of the American film industry in Canada, how films portrayed Canada, and the industry’s role in colonialism.

Historical Headline of the Week

North Island Students Reeling in Film Training,Campbell River Mirror, March 9, 2023.

Continue reading

Modern Curling History – What’s Old is News

By Sean Graham

In between games at the 2019 Continental Cup, Brian Chick stopped by to talk about his book Written in Stone: A Modern History of Curling. We talk about the sport’s inclusion in the Olympics in 1998, the professionalization of curling, and it’s current place within the sporting landscape.

Historical Headline of the Week

Tyler Searle, “Thistle Curling Club Closing Shop, Moving in with Deer Lodge,” Winnipeg Free Press, February 28, 2023. Continue reading

Today’s AI, Tomorrow’s History: Doing History in the Age of ChatGPT

AI generated image of a blue faced human

    Prompt by Bing, “Self-portrait of ‘Sydney,’ Microsoft’s Bing Chat, based its description of itself as imagined through AI image generator,” MidJourney

Mark Humphries and Eric Story

You have probably heard about OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Microsoft’s Bing Chat or Google’s Bard. They are all based on Large Language Model (LLM) architectures that produce human-like text from user prompts. LLMs are not new, but they seem to have recently crossed a virtual threshold. Suddenly, artificial intelligence—or AI for short—is everywhere. While it is true that they sometimes “hallucinate,” producing factual errors and quirky responses, the accuracy and reliability of LLMs is improving exponentially. There is no escaping it: generative AI like ChatGPT is the future of information processing and analysis, and it will change the teaching and practice of history. Although some of its effects can be felt already, its long-term implications are not as clear.

Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT)-based LLMs are new and powerful tools that have only been around for about five years. The rapidity with which they have evolved to produce remarkably cogent prose, complete complex tasks, and pass theory of mind tests have astonished even those that created the technology. When prompted correctly, ChatGPT—which is based on the GPT-3.5 model—can write effectively, with an engaging style, good organization, and clarity. For context, its 45 terabytes of training data alone is the equivalent of about 215 million e-books, but it cannot access the Internet.

We have had access to the beta-mode of Microsoft’s new AI-enabled Bing since 14 February and it is another leap ahead of ChatGPT. It has a similar training base but can search for information on the web and analyze large bodies of text, as well as write essays, summaries, and emails right in a new Edge browser sidebar. Most importantly, it does these tasks in seconds through a conversational approach that like ChatGPT, on a powerful neural network––that is, a series of computer processors arranged to mimic the synapses in the human brain. Using the new Bing truly feels like stepping into the future. Continue reading

‘If These Four Walls Could Talk’: The Griffin House, An Agent of Change

By Juliana Springer

Enerals Griffin was about 41 years old when he arrived in Ancaster Township (present-day Hamilton, ON) where he purchased a house set upon 50 acres of land. With land and water routes along the Niagara Peninsula and Lake Ontario, Ancaster was a prime location for those fleeing slavery and persecution in the United States in the mid-19th century. Enerals was one of the first Free Black people to settle in the area in 1834.

A Freedom Seeker who had been born into slavery on a Virginia plantation around 1793, Enerals settled first in Ohio, then the Niagara region, when race riots pushed many free Black settlers out of the state in 1829.[1] Unlike many self-emancipators who made their homes in Upper Canada, Enerals did not join planned Black settlements like the Wilberforce Colony or Dawn Settlement, or an unplanned one like Hamilton’s “Little Africa.”[2] Instead, he and his European-descended wife made their home in the predominantly white community of Ancaster.[3]

Griffin House

Today, their house lives on as a physical monument to the more than 200 Black people who resided in the area by 1865. As a museum, Griffin House is dedicated to telling the Griffin family’s story as well as the region’s broader Black history. The way the story has been told has shifted over the past three decades and continues to change in response to community and scholarly feedback. The museum has, however, consistently combatted views of Freedom Seekers as passive beneficiaries of benevolent Canadian aid by presenting Black settlers, like Enerals, as agents of change. Continue reading