Best New Articles June 2016

Because, let’s face it – who has time to catch up on all the journal articles published in Canadian history?

Welcome back to the Best New Articles series, where each month, I posted a list of my favourite new articles! You can check out my previous month’s picks by going here: Best New Articles – May 2016.

This month I read articles from:

(Yes, I know that there was a May issue of Histoire Sociale, but as of the publication of this blog post, it is still not available on Project Muse. So, you can look forward to it in next month’s edition of Best New Articles!)


Without further ado, here are my favourites:


James Taylor Carson, “Brébeuf Was Never Martyred: Reimagining the Life and Death of Canada’s First Saint,” Canadian Historical Review 97, no. 2 (June 2016): 222-243. 


What it’s about: This article challenges the idea that Jean de Brébeuf was a martyr. His hagiography has served to reinforce Eurocentric narratives regarding the colonization of North America (and specifically Quebec). We must instead consider his life and death from the perspective of the Indigenous people living in this time and place (the Wendat, the Kahnye’kehaka and the Nundawaono — more commonly, but problematically, referred to as the Huron, the Mohawk, and the Seneca), which Carson accomplishes by focusing on Brébeuf’s Wendat name, Echon. Through this approach, we can see that his death was entirely consistent with the beliefs of the Indigenous peoples. Further, the story of Echon’s death is instead an example of the impact that colonization had on the Indigenous peoples of North America.

What I loved: I really appreciated the way that Carson reoriented the story of Jean de Brébeuf/Echon and considered it from the perspective of the Wendat, the Kahnye’kehaka and the Nundawaono. The article was also beautifully written; the language was evocative but also clear and easy to understand.

My one critique is that I wish Carson had done interviews with elders from the three Nations he discusses in the article. While Indigenous perspectives are central to the article, these are based mostly on written accounts. I think the oral history of Jean de Brébeuf/Echon would have only enhanced this article.

Favourite quote: “For the People of the Island, names mattered because, unlike people, names never died. As one moved through life, one might find oneself rising from one name to the next, each signifying a dignity commensurate with the bearer’s status. When a family or town bestowed a new name, they first washed it of the dirt and the stains that had marked its time in the grave, and then women sang the new name to give birth in a way to the resurrected person who stood before them. Without a name, a person could find no belonging because without a name they have no mother, no clan, no kin, and no song.” P. 229

Suggested uses: I think this article would be a great one to use in an undergraduate pre-confederation history class, particularly in connection with a lecture on contact zones. Students learn about contact from the perspectives of Indigenous peoples, and appreciate that Europeans arrived in the middle of a living and breathing world with its own beliefs and values. This article also presents an opportunity for students to consider the issue of historical perspectives. This article would also work well in upper-level and/or graduate courses on early North American history, the history of Empire, the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, etc. It could also be used in a historical methods class to talk about Eurocentrism, meta narratives, written versus oral histories, and so on.


Daniel MacFarlane, “Fluid Meanings: Hydro Tourism and the St. Lawrence and Niagara Megaprojects,” Histoire Sociale/Social History 49, no. 99 (June 2016): 327-346


What it’s about: This article focuses on the conceptualization of two major hydro-electric projects — the International Niagara Control Works and the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project — as tourist destinations. Both projects were established on the sites of waterscapes that loomed large in the imagination of locals and Canadians more generally. Project planners were aware of this and sought to sell their projects by positioning them as progressive enhancements that worked with, rather than against, the landscapes. Very much spectacles, literally and figuratively, these mega projects can be conceived as cultural constructions of national landscapes created at the intersection of nationalism and tourism.

What I loved: I just adore the image presented in the quote below. But on a more serious note, I think this is a timely piece considering that this seems to be a new era of mega-projects, such as the controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline. I was very struck by the notion of cultural waterscapes, which makes a great deal of sense. As someone who grew up in Montreal, the river and the Lachine Canal were always part of the cultural identity of the city.

Favourite quote: “In addition to providing more power to both countries, these reductions were expressly designed to maintain the “scenic beauty” of the Falls and to slow down the erosion that caused the crestline continually to receded, to the consternation of those who had invested in nearby industrial and tourist infrastructure. The various governments spoke of the waterfall as if it were a faucet to be turned on and off according to aesthetic whim. In the words of the Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester Pearson in 1949:

In the evening the Falls are floodlighted and 50,000 c.f.s may not be enough water to provide an adequate spectacle at that time. It may prove necessary to maintain a flow of 100,000 c.f.s up to midnight in the tourist season. On the other hand, it is probably unnecessary to turn on the full flow at sunrise. It may be better to define “night-time” as the period from midnight to 9:00 am. We shall have to discuss this problem with the authorities responsible for lighting the falls.” P. 334-335.

Suggested uses: There are two main uses that come to mind when I think of this article. This first is to use it in a post-confederation course as a way to discuss how the past and the present intersect, in the sense that landscapes can be imbued with social and cultural meaning as well as the ways in which we can learn from the past when considering current mega projects. I also think this article would work well in a course on environmental history in Canada and/or North America. There is a lot of potential discussion about the cultural importance of sites like Niagara Falls and the St. Lawrence Seaway, the physical and cultural reshaping of such landscapes, transnationalism and environmental history, and the requirement that such sites be “scenic.”


Tina Adcock, “The Maximum of Mishap: Adventurous Tourists and the State in the Northwest Territories, 1929-1948,” Histoire Sociale/Social History 49, no. 99 (June 2016): 431-452


 What it’s about: In this article, Tina Adcock looks at tourism in the North. She focuses specifically on “adventurous” tourists, who deliberately sought out “mishaps” as part of their tourist experience. Officials in the Northwest Territories were not enthusiastic about such tourists, but they had little power to control their activities. Attempts at controlling the behaviour of such tourists was hampered over discussion of the definition of what constituted a “tourist,” since many private tour operators described their expeditions as scientific and/or exploratory. The frustration of local administrators was due to the danger such tourists posed, as their tours sometimes damaged local landscapes and historical sites. Their frequent under-preparedness often required expensive and dangerous rescues. And officials were concerned about the ability of these tourists to “corrupt” the local Inuit, Metis, and Dene by setting “poor examples” for them.

What I loved: I think this is another very timely article. Adcock provides important historical context for the growing popularity of extreme or adventure tourism, eco-tourism, and tourism in the North. Many of her insights could also apply to the popularity of so-called “volunteer” tours, where privileged youth go into developing nations, “helping” local underprivileged groups, while also taking a vacation. She addresses notions of authenticity and wilderness, the relationship between “tourists,” “scientists, and “explorers,” and capitalism and the state.

While Adcock’s article can be critiqued for the absence of Indigenous voices, she does state in her conclusion that research into Inuit, Metis, and Dene perceptions of the adventurous tourists are needed, noting that “such voices are largely absent from the federal records considered here, but may be accessible through other means.” P. 452

My one critique: I would have loved to have seen the inclusion of some gendered analysis. Early 20th century notions of masculinity just seem to be central to this narrative, and I would be curious to know if there were many female adventure tourists. Perhaps in an another article?

Favourite quote(s): “Despite encountering dangerously fierce rapids, they regretted that they had not met with snow: “To be caught in one of your famous Canadian blizzards and to have to fight our way through it to home and beauty, well, that is the kind of thing we apparently just missed.” P. 442

“Playing tourist also enabled one to experiment with new identities and to act out dreams and fantasies, such as that of being a heroic explorer on a wild, uncharted frontier. There was more than a touch of antimodernism in some tourists’ yearnings for challenging physical activities, seemingly authentic experiences in far-from-ordinary landscapes, and the spiritual renewal and self-realization that could ensue.” P. 443

Suggested uses: I think that this would be a great article for a course on environmental history, whether international or Canadian. It would present a great opportunity for students to discuss the impact of tourism, concepts of privilege, and the relationship between tourism and capitalism. But I also think that this article would work really well if adapted for public consumption, much like certain articles are adapted for JSTOR Daily. With climate change, more and more tourists are entering into the North, many seeking the kinds of “mishaps” Adcock discussed. I think that the information presented in this article should be part of the public debate on the suitability of such tours.


So those were my picks for June 2016! What were your favourites from the last month? Let me know in the comments below!

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