Canadian History Roundup

Aimé, Dolorès and Clément Déry playing with rabbits on Déry farm, Cold Lake, Alberta (1951). Provincial Archives of Alberta, A15762.

The latest in blog posts, news, and podcasts from the world of Canadian history.


  • Ryan McKenney and Benjamin Bryce traced the origins of the “Canadian Mosaic ” in their new blog post for Active History. The word “mosaic” was first used to describe the diverse origins of Canadians in a book written by an American travel writer. While the term conjures up the idea of multiculturalism, it hasn’t always been used that way. Further, by looking at how it’s been used in the past as well as in the present, we can better understand the changing relationship between nationality and ethnicity.
  • Borealia and The Otter (NICHE) have kicked off their new collaborative series, Early Canadian Environmental History Series!
    • The first post includes a list of recommended readings as well as a run down of expected posts.
    • In response to this first post, Adele Perry pointed out that none of the list’s authors were female, prompting an online discussion about environmental history and gender, as well as the use of the category of “Early Canadian History”. You can check out Sean Kheraj’s response here, but I’d highly recommend joining Twitter so that you too can engage in the conversation! Look for a blog post on Canadian historians on Twitter in the near future.
    • The second post, by Anya Zilberstein unpicks the relationship between climate, race, and politics examines by examining the arrival of exiled Jamaican Maroons (escaped slaves) in Nova Scotia in 1796. While they only planned to stay temporarily, the Lieutenant Governor, John Wentworth, tried to convince them to stay, extolling the “temperate” climate of Nova Scotia, (Temperate is not the word I would use….) and accusing the Maroons of laziness and troublemaking when they insisted that the climate was not healthy for them. Despite Wentworth’s best efforts, the Maroons eventually left Nova Scotia and settled permanently in Sierre Leone.
    • The last post for this week is by Jason Hall, on the subject of the St. John River, the largest river in the Maritimes and New England. The blog post features some of the findings from Hall’s dissertation, River of Three Peoples: An Environmental and Cultural History of the Wəlastəkw / Rivière St. Jean / St. John River, c. 1550 to 1850. In particular, he looks at how the Maliseet, the Acadians, and the British have all used, changed, and understood the waterscape. All too often historians forget that rivers were the highways of North America, and perhaps we need to rethink their place in our larger study of Canadian history.
  • This week I premiered a new series, “Historian’s Toolkit,” where I profile online resources that are available for people teaching Canadian history at the university level. The first in the series looked at Transcribe, a crowdsourced transcription project out of the Royal BC Museum.
  • And it seems to be a week for transcribing. On Active History, Erin Schurrs talked about her experiences transcribing using a diary from the recently launched Rural Diary Archive, a digital collection of more than 160 diaries by Ontarians from 1800 to 1960. As she notes, transcribing is extremely important from a historical perspective, but it’s also fun learning about the minutiae of people’s lives. And just like Transcribe, the public is invited to contribute to the Rural Diary Archive by transcribing the digitized collection.
  • Brenden W. Rensink, from Borderlands Blog interviewed historian Michel Hogue about this new book, Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People. One of the most interesting aspects of the interview is the discussion about the differences between American and Canadian approaches to researching the borderlands.The post includes a video of a talk Hogue gave last year as well.
  • Over on The Junto, Hannah Bailey provides some helpful tips for researching primary sources on the French colonization of North America, both online and in person. A must-read for anyone researching New France.
  • John Reid talks about his experiences with Ernie Forbes on the Acadiensis Blog, focusing on his personal and professional legacy. His reflections are the first in a series of future blog posts on Acadiensis about Ernie Forbes, based on tributes to him from The 2016 Atlantic Canada Studies Conference.
  • And don’t forget to check out the latest issue of Acadiensis, just released this week!
  • CBC presented a number of news articles on the Komagata Maru leading up to Justin Trudeau’s recent apology for the turning away of hundreds of Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu refugees from Indian. The article by Amy Husser is a particularly timely reminder that we should never neglect our history.
  • Jonathan Swainger is featured in the latest BC Studies blog series, Recurrent Voices. In this post, Swainger reflects on the need to teach students empathy and critical thinking in order to overcome white and privilege in Canada and in Canadian history. He encourages all of us not to avoid “confrontation with an unsettling exploration of our shared histories” and to treat people the way that we want to be treated.
  • Also on the BC Studies blog is a piece by Patrick Dunae on the history of credit unions in BC. In a world of big banks, credit unions have often come to symbolize independence and community-values.
  • There’s another preview of a CHA panel on environmental history up at NICHE! The panel discussed is “Urban Political Authority: Regulating the Urban Environment.” Mark Sholdice will discuss municipal political and hydroelectric power in Ontario in the early part of the 20th century. Sean Kheraj will discuss the regulation of livestock in nineteenth century Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg. James Hull will discuss the emergence of “experts” and the role they played in regulating the urban environment in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Toronto. And Jamie Benidickson will look at changing perspectives on the regulation and recycling of wastewater and sewage in urban areas from 1850 to today.
  • Rachel Hatcher posed the second in a series of posts on “Learning and Unlearning History in South Africa’s Public Spaces” on Active History. This blog post looks at The Big Hole, located in Kimberley, South Africa, said to be the largest hand-dug hole in the world. The project was initiated by DeBeers, who were mining for diamonds in the area. Hatches explores the ways in which the history of diamond mining in Kimberley has been silenced and sanitized, particularly with respect to the black miners who lived and died in the Big Hole.
  • Also on Active History, Alban Bargain-Villéger looks at political drama television shows from the 2010s, and how they can illustrate popular perceptions western democracies and their effectiveness in governing. I haven’t personally watched any of the shows discussed (I know I’m like the only person who hasn’t watched House of Cards), but this blog post does a great job of showing how history is reinterpreted through television and the benefits of transnational comparisons.
  • Awesome News! The BC Campus Open Textbook for Post-Confederation Canadian History is now available! I haven’t had much of a chance to go over this yet, but I did use the Pre-Confederation one last fall in my class, and I was very pleased with how it worked out. The customization options are also impressive! Have you used any of the Open Textbooks yet? Thoughts?
  • NICHE editors Sean Kheraj, Jessica DeWitt, and Daniel Macfarlane reviewed their favourite articles on Canadian environmental history over at The Otter. I can personally recommend Anne Dance’s article (mentioned in the blog post, since I’m a big fan of her work and her taste in novels. 😉
  • Active History’s last blog post for this week comes from Matt Barrett, and is a timely response to the recent debates about decorum in the House of Commons. Barrett unpacks the “elbow incident” by looking at the culture of masculinity that exists in the houses of Parliament and the need for a “culture change in Parliament that addresses many of the gendered assumptions historically rooted in Canadian politics.” Hear hear! And don’t miss the amazing comics, drawn the author himself.
  • New material has been posted to! The Hansards (official reports of debates) are now available for the House of Commons from 1901 to the present.
  • There was an official update about the Digitization of the Canadian Forces Expeditionary Force (WW1) personnel service files over at the Library and Archives Canada Blog. Also on the blog were profiles of two different collections: daguerreotypes and the correspondence of Wilfred Laurier.
  • And last, but certainly not least, I had a special edition blog post on Friday, on the subject of Victoria Day. Find out how the research for this blog post nearly killed me, what happens when historians can’t find the answers they are looking for, and the real reason we still celebrate Victoria Day.
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