Canadian History Roundup - Week of May 7th, 2016

Seven-Up Vancouver booth (1961) / Pacific National Exhibition Fonds / City of Vancouver Archives / AM281-S8-: CVA 180-6634

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

  • Michael Akladios talks about the creation of Arab-Canadian foodscapes in Toronto and the notion of authenticity with respect to restaurants and markets that specialize in Middle-Eastern foods. Although the Arab-Canadian population is diverse, Syrian and Lebanese foods have come to represent “Middle-Eastern foods” to the public. I’ve also found this to be much the same for Ashkenazi Jews and their foods being representative of all Jews in Montreal. And I’d love to see how the idea of “Middle-Eastern foods” in Toronto compares to the situation in Montreal, where I remember schwarma and falafel taking centre stage.
  • Nassisse Solomon reflects on the Canadian response to the 1984 Ethiopian Famine. The famine and the international response is still within the living memory of many living in Canada today, a reality that is influencing perceptions and responses to the current Ethiopian famine. After all, the famine problem was supposed to be solved, wasn’t it? With Ethiopia again facing a humanitarian crisis, there are questions being raised about the responsibility of the Ethiopian government in failing to find a lasting solution. It remains to be seen how the Canadian public will respond.
  • It’s census time! In my most recent blog post, I talk about the complicated history of the census, the difference between published and manuscript censuses, and why the census is so important for historians. While censuses can provide historians with amazing information about individuals (like my great-grandfather), they should not be used without caution. The questions that are asked and the answers that are given were, and are, shaped by the census creators, enumerators, and respondents, all of whom have their own worldviews and agendas.
  • Similarly, Patricia Kmiec reminds us that while it’s a good thing that the long-form census is back, we have to continue to question how accurate and representative the data collected really is, particularly as it concerns Indigenous and racialized individuals. The shape of certain questions and categories around race limit the kind and number of responses that individuals can give, which means that what respondents write on the census may or may not be reflective of their lived reality. As Kmiec notes, “It is essential that the conversation about accurate data that began with the 2010 decision to eliminate the long-form census continue.”
  • In the latest edition of the History Slam Podcast, host Sean Graham talks to Sarah E.K. Smith, author of General Idea: Life and Work, about the 1960s and 1970s Toronto art group, General Idea. General Idea were known for their innovative use of mixed-media and engagement with popular culture. Like the subject that she studies, Smith’s book also breaks boundaries by being an entirely digital publication, with a focus on visual images rather than on text. In the podcast, Graham and Smith discuss the relationship between history and art history, the history of General Idea and their subsequent influence, and the realities of digital publishing.
  • Jack Little gives us a preview of the NICHE panel, “Recreation, Popular Resistance, and the Environment at the City’s Edge,” at this year’s CHA. Dale Barbour will talk about how Toronto Island was developed into a recreational community. Jessica DeWitt will talk about how questionnaire responses to the proposed Fish Creek Provincial Park in 1974 tell us about conservation and recreation. And Jack Little will talk about the creation of Vancouver’s Devonian Habour Park and the protests it inspired.
  • Alan Maceachern contextualizes the Fort McMurray fire by looking at the response to the 1825 Miramichi fire in New Brunswick. While there were widespread fears of social collapse, these never materialized. Instead, the town experienced the “phoenix response,” where a disaster is seen as an opportunity to demonstrate the best of human nature (hope, optimism, and resilience) and to build a stronger community. This kind of response is common in areas that experience environmental disasters, and serve as an important coping mechanism for survivors.
  • Stephen Pyne asks the public to expand its vision and consider historical precedents for the For McMurray fire. While global warming was likely an important factor, the region has a long history of enormous fires that only stopped with the emergence of modern building codes. Pyne suggests that the fires have restarted in this new age of settlement, with the emergence of new communities built in the bush to serve the oil fields, because once again boundaries between the bush and the urban environment have become a shifting battlefield.
  • In the BC Studies blog series, “Recurrent Voices,” Veronica Strong-Boag talks about efforts on the part of Lord and Lady Aberdeen to avoid being the camels that can’t pass through the eye of the needle.
  • Lisa Leblanc discusses the creation of the Canadian Museum of History’s new signature gallery, the Canadian History Hall. While the Hall’s focus is on representing Canada’s history, the stories of individuals are central to its narrative. The museum features a multiple-perspectives approach to help visitors understand the complexity of Canada’s history.
  • Chelsea Vowel (âpihtawikosisân) provides a comprehensive guide to the multiple meanings of Métis identity, particularly in reference to the Daniels case. Often asked to give a simple answer to the complex question of “Who are the Métis,” Vowel starts with the definition that “The Métis are a post-Contact Indigenous people with roots in the historic Red River community,” before going in detail about what this definition really means.
  • Lots of new publications this week!
  • History and education are in the news again.
  •  And there are some great news stories about Canadian history as well!
    • A Vancouver filmmaker has premiered a documentary exposing that the German company that developed thalidomide was aware of its devastating side effects before it began marketing the drug for morning sickness.
    • The Guardian talked about Vancouver’s plans to build a freeway in the 1960s, and how they were ultimately abandoned following protests, transforming the city into one of North American’s most “livable cities,” though it’s debatable how “livable” the city is, given how much my rent is.
    • The Globe and Mail showcased the work of Laurie Bertram and the students in her 4th year seminar at the University of Toronto on the history of sex work in Toronto. Thanks their work, they were able to create an interactive map that pinpoints the areas of Toronto that used to be associated with sex work. I’m totally nerding out about this right now.
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