Tag Archives: Canadian History

The Sound of History: A Chronicle of Captain Eddie McKay

University of Toronto Press commemorates 100 years since the end of the First World War by curating a selection of new and recent books that remind us of our nation’s history, courage, and sacrifice. Notable amongst these titles is One in a Thousand: The Life and Death of Captain Eddie McKay, Royal Flying Corps by Graham Broad.

Broad’s lively chronicle of Eddie McKay, a varsity athlete at Western University, who flew with the Royal Flying Corps, doubles as an engaging meditation upon the historical process. The biography ends with four unsolved events in McKay’s life. These mysterious tales remind us that even the most detailed account of a person’s life is never complete.

We’re proud to present a recording of Broad reading perhaps the most dramatic of these tales, “The Woman.” The short mystery has been divided into several instalments. Like the radio serials that were all the rage in McKay’s time, we will post a new audio track every day leading up to Remembrance Day – so you can enjoy the sound of history.

Introduction

Part One: The Woman

Part Two: Who Was Maud Palmer?

Part Three: An Unexpected Possibility

Part Four: A Case of Mistaken Identity

Part Five: The Mystery Returns

Part Six: It’s Not Impossible

Coda

Talking Back to the Indian Act

Talking Back to the Indian Act: Critical Readings in Settler Colonial Histories is a comprehensive “how-to” guide for engaging with primary source documents. But more than that, the book explores the Indian Act itself, and gives readers a much better understanding of this vital piece of legislation. We asked authors Mary-Ellen Kelm and Keith D. Smith to discuss their book, and why learning this information and history is important.

You can read an exclusive excerpt from the book here.

“We find the Indian Act of 1876 are [sic] not calculated to promote our welfare if we accept it because it empowers the Superintendent General of Indian affairs to manage, govern, and control our lands, moneys, and properties without first obtaining the consent of the chiefs…”

Talking Back to the Indian Act: Critical Readings in Settler Colonial Histories is being published at a key moment in our history. Not only do we live in an age of twenty-four-hour news outlets broadcasting sharply divergent and politically motivated narratives, and where the nature of evidence is questioned in overtly public ways – we are also poised to begin a process of reconciling with Indigenous people in this country. Talking Back addresses both these critical issues.

The book provides a set of lessons in reading documents through a historical and critical lens that takes into account Indigenous and intersectional perspectives. In so doing, it demonstrates the historians’ craft as it can be reconceived so that alongside context, contingency, causation, change over time, and complexity (the five “Cs” of historical thinking), we also consider relationship, responsibility, respect, and reciprocity (the four “Rs” of Indigenous methodologies). It shows the value of thinking deeply about the role in historical experience played by gender, sexuality, ability, and other ways of being. As such, it introduces readers to an expansive approach to critically engaging with the written word that addresses key questions about the nature of evidence, how it is made, and how it can be used. Readers of Talking Back to the Indian Act will never again feel that they lack the tools to truly interrogate historical or other documents.

At the same time, Talking Back to the Indian Act introduces the reader to one of the most important pieces of legislation in Canadian history and – sadly – one that many Canadians know very little about. For nearly a century and a half, the Indian Act has dominated the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples living within its borders. As it sought to erase individual and collective identities, the Indian Act operated to extinguish Indigenous political structures, regulate familial relationships and gender roles, degrade kinship networks, circumscribe economic undertakings, reduce the land base available to Indigenous communities, and prohibit practices central to the maintenance of Indigenous cultures. Even those Indigenous people who Canada did not choose to classify as “Indian” have been impacted by the Act as they struggled to assert their own distinct identities and legal rights.

The provisions of the Indian Act, the surveillance required for its maintenance, and Indigenous responses to its intentions and effects have created a massive archive. It is from this prodigious body of material that Talking Back to the Indian Act draws the documents it uses to teach critical historical reading methods. Included here are: the original 1876 Act and the many amendments made to it, queries and clarifications from Canadian officials, law enforcement documents, legal opinions, court records, and reports from various commissions and inquiries. Importantly, here too are Indigenous people’s letters of protest, oral testimony, meeting transcripts of Indigenous organizations and inquiries, radio addresses, and creative works all talking back to the Indian Act from Indigenous perspectives. Readers who may have heard very little about the Indian Act will come away from this text with a better understanding of how the Act worked to constrain Indigenous lives and how Indigenous people persistently worked to overcome those constraints.

Talking Back to the Indian Act provides a set of lessons that shine light on several critical aspects of the Act and Indigenous responses to them in historical context. It encourages students to move beyond simply reading historical documents and to engage with them in more refined and effective ways. To that end, readers of this text are given an introduction to the interpretative tools traditionally available to historians and how these might be utilized in concert with Indigenous methodologies and intersectional analyses. Students will come away from this book with a much better understanding of this pivotal piece of legislation as well as the dynamics involved in its creation, its maintenance, and the resistance it engendered.

Talking Back to the Indian Act is not a definitive study of the Indian Act but includes a range of important topics that resonate across time and into the present. Each of these topics has stimulated an intriguing array of voices and document types available to researchers. This range of material has allowed the documents provided in this collection to be selected with variety of source type and perspective in mind. Readers will have the opportunity to not only interrogate individual letters, transcripts of oral accounts and testimony, official reports, reminiscences, legislation, creative writing, and other materials but also to consider the relative value of different kinds of sources to different sorts of projects that a researcher might undertake. In addition to the focus on issues that are significant in their own right, there are also a number of overarching themes represented here. For example, Canada’s goals of acquiring land and resources and assimilating Indigenous people are evident throughout this text, as is Indigenous resistance in its many forms.

Exploring the contours and development of the Indian Act through the documents provided in this text will help students in all disciplines – as well as popular audiences – navigate the headlines of today. It is our hope that Talking Back to the Indian Act makes a contribution to historical understanding while at the same time enhancing the skills necessary to analyse our present situation and the most appropriate paths to the future.

Mary-Ellen Kelm is Canada Research Chair and Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University, and Keith D. Smith teaches in the Departments of Indigenous Studies and History at Vancouver Island University.

Turkey, Tradition, and the National Fabric: An Excerpt on the Origins of Canadian Thanksgiving

The air is cooling, scarves are knotting, and across the country Canadians will gather ‘round autumnal tables for their annual Thanksgiving dinner. And though some Canucks may be deciding on a side dish and how to skirt political debate, there’s another question on many minds:

What exactly are we doing here? 

While the American Thanksgiving is steeped in nationalism, ritual, and history, the origins of the Canadian version are a little less clear, with few of us actually knowing where the holiday comes from. If this makes you feel mildly guilty, focus that energy on your cranberry sauce instead. We’ve got you covered with the context you’ll need to impress your guests this Thanksgiving weekend.

For answers, we turned to Celebrating Canada: Holidays, National Days, and the Crafting of Identities, from editors Matthew Hayday and Raymond B. Blake. From the pages of Peter Stevens’s essay on where it all began – think church, Brits, and our neighbours to the south – learn how Thanksgiving was always meant to be a day to celebrate being Canadian.


Excerpt from “‘Righteousness Exalteth the Nation’: Religion, Nationalism, and Thanksgiving Day in Ontario, 1859–1914”, by Peter A. Stevens 

In the United states of America, few annual events stir the national imagination as thoroughly as Thanksgiving Day. The holiday’s rituals and symbols harken back to the nation’s founding fathers, evoking images of pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock and sharing a harvest feast with the surrounding Native peoples in 1621. The myth of this first Thanksgiving, which is a staple in the education of every American schoolchild, informs U.S. citizens that their country is a land of opportunity and new beginnings, a place of piety, abundance, and inclusivity. Other Thanksgiving customs uphold family, consumerism, and competition as core American values. The holiday is a favourite occasion for get-togethers with friends and relatives, with festivities revolving around turkey dinners, Santa Claus parades, and football games, all unfolding against the backdrop of autumn leaves and newly gathered crops. Scholars have parsed American Thanksgiving in considerable detail, and there is a lively debate over which Thanksgiving traditions are rooted in historical fact and which are based in fiction. What is beyond dispute, however, is the overtly nationalistic character of the day.

In the Canadian context, by contrast, Thanksgiving Day is surrounded by ambiguity. Media reports regularly express doubts about the meaning and purpose of the holiday, while Canadians themselves often seem unsure about how their Thanksgiving differs from the American one, and why the two holidays do not share the same date. Thus far, scholars have offered few answers to these questions, as academic treatments of Canadian Thanksgiving are scarce, speculative, and limited in their analysis. Significantly, these works downplay the holiday’s importance as a patriotic celebration, making only passing reference to a “subtle influence of Canadian nationalism” that is evident on Thanksgiving Day. This chapter cannot relate the entire the history of Canadian Thanksgiving, but it does take up the beginning of the story by examining the origins of the holiday in late-nineteenth-century Ontario. In doing so, it reveals that Canadian Thanksgiving initially had a nationalistic focus that it since has largely lost. In the minds of the men who first developed the holiday, Thanksgiving was intended to be a day for celebrating Canada.

The existing literature on national public holidays in North America raises several points that help to illuminate the specific history of Thanksgiving Day in Canada. First, while public holidays often appear to be age-old celebrations that emerged organically out of the national fabric, they are actually examples of invented traditions. According to Eric Hobsbawm, an invented tradition is “a set of practices, normally governed by overtly or tacitly accepted rules and of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past.” Holidays, as annual events that are steeped in ritual, constitute a powerful form of invented tradition, for while they seem to be neutral and apolitical, they are actually compelling advertisements for the world views of those who shape and promote them.

Second, public holidays often serve as important tools of nation building. Holiday customs and iconography give members of a population a sense of a shared past and subtly inform them about who they are as a people. By reinforcing messages about common values and experiences, holidays thus encourage individual citizens to imagine themselves as being members of the same political community, or nation. This is not to suggest that the meanings of holidays are static, however. Because holidays are such potent expressions of national beliefs, ambitions, and identity, they become temporal battlegrounds in the cultural contests between different interest groups. Holidays are contested terrain, and their meanings can change over time as they are controlled and influenced by groups that have competing visions for the nation.

Where Canadian Thanksgiving is concerned, the figures who were most responsible for establishing the celebration on an annual basis were Protestant clergymen in Ontario. Their interest in the holiday was primarily a response to two great challenges that faced them, as Canadian church leaders, beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century. Particularly after Confederation, ministers felt a moral and historical obligation to chart Canada’s course. At the very moment that preachers most sensed a call to lead their country, however, global intellectual developments issued challenges to Christianity so fundamental that they threatened to dissolve many Christians’ faith. The American Thanksgiving holiday revealed to church leaders a means by which they could restore Canadians’ confidence in Christianity and secure their own positions at the helm of the young country.

Ontario clergymen did not simply duplicate the American Thanksgiving festival, which by the 1860s had evolved into a national public holiday. Rather, they recast Thanksgiving as a predominantly religious event and naturalized the holiday by steeping it in Canadian nationalism. Ontarians responded positively to this mix of Protestantism and patriotism, and ministers successfully instituted Thanksgiving as an annual holiday in Ontario. Once Thanksgiving became a yearly event, however, other cultural interest groups increasingly challenged Protestants’ holiday hegemony. As a result of these challenges, the Thanksgiving that Ontarians marked on the eve of the Great War was little like the holiday that clergymen had established several decades earlier. Yet, one aspect of the holiday remained unchanged: its nationalist content. Although Thanksgiving acquired many new meanings and customs, it remained throughout the Victorian period a day for Ontarians to celebrate their status as Canadians.

The early history of Thanksgiving Day in Ontario contributes to discussions of religion in late-nineteenth-century Canada by highlighting the prominent but waning influence of Protestant church leaders within the public sphere. It also complicates our understanding of Canadian patriotism during this critical period in the country’s history. In particular, the origins of Canadian Thanksgiving demonstrate the complex and sometimes contradictory ways that citizens of the new dominion sought to define themselves in relation to both Great Britain and the United states. In this respect, Thanksgiving Day had much in common with Dominion Day, Empire Day, and other public celebrations of the era, which likewise sought to define Canadian identity in reference to both Britain and the United States.

Read Stevens’s full article in Celebrating Canada: Holidays, National Days, and the Crafting of Identities.

 

June and July Round-up

Highlights from the months of June and July.

Awards:

  • Johannes Remy’s Brothers or Enemies was awarded the Ivan Franko International Prize of 2018.
  • French Écocritique by Stephanie Posthumus is on the shortlist for the Alanna Bondar Memorial Book Prize.

Conferences:

  • Daniel Quinlan represented UTP at the Law and Society Association’s annual conference in Toronto.
  • Anne Brackenbury and Jodi Lewchuk presented our sociology list at the World Congress of Sociology in Toronto.

Media Highlights:

 

New Releases:

The Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service 1995-2015: Part 2

by Donna E. Wood

My June 18 blog post provided a brief overview of my recently released book Federalism in Action: the Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service 1995-2015. It also commented on the first two questions addressed in the book:

1. What governance choices did each province make in taking on the federal programming?

2. How do the devolved public employment services (PES) compare to federal delivery?

This blog posting deals with the last two questions:

3. How is the Government of Canada managing its role post-devolution?

4. How does Canada’s PES work together as a whole? What challenges remain?

To assess the third question, I needed to reflect on the federal role in a post-devolution world. In my view, there are four important dimensions. Ottawa still controls the money (most of it coming from the Employment Insurance or EI account) and sets the legislative, policy and accountability framework under which the provincial and territorial PES programming operates. There are ‘pan-Canadian’ programs to be managed. Determining how PES programming is coordinated across the country, securing stakeholder input, and ensuring that comparative research is available to improve the programs on offer requires federal leadership. Finally, not all employment services were devolved: Ottawa deliberately kept direct responsibility for key target groups: Aboriginal persons, youth and persons with disabilities.

The Government of Canada’s performance in all of these areas between 1995 and 2015 was weak. The federal-provincial and federal-Aboriginal accountability arrangements were inadequate, confusing, controlling, and non-transparent. Given that 87 per cent of PES programming is now devolved, there is no good reason for the federal government to still be involved in the direct management of programs for youth and persons with disabilities. Pan-Canadian programming declined significantly during the Harper Conservative years after 2006 when spending was reduced and all the research institutions and coordinating bodies put in place by the Liberals were defunded.

The Forum of Labour Market Ministers ─ the intergovernmental body responsible for pan-Canadian coordination ─ rarely met at the Ministers’ level until it was revitalized by the provinces and territories in 2013 following the Harper Conservatives unilateral decision to replace the Labour Market Agreements with the Canada Job Fund.  With the demise of the Canadian Labour Force Development Board in 1998, the only formal way stakeholder’s views were heard was when Ottawa decided to hold a consultation or seek input.

On the fourth question, Canada’s public employment service in 2015 did not work well together as a whole, as it was highly fragmented and complex. With 52 bilateral federal-provincial-territorial labour market transfer agreements, 85 federal-Aboriginal agreements, as well as direct federal youth, disability and pan-Canadian programming, it was very hard for Canadians to figure out who did what and who was responsible for what.

These problems can be rectified without diminishing the positive value of devolution. In my paper Strengthening Canada’s Public Employment Service Post-Devolution, released by the Caledon Institute for Social Policy in September 2016, I outlined the challenges facing Canada’s public employment service and suggested the following changes:

  • Develop a pan-Canadian multilateral labour market framework agreement
  • Consolidate the four agreements into one agreement
  • Devolve responsibility for federal youth and disability programming
  • Re-affirm the federal stewardship and coordination roles
  • Restore the National Aboriginal Labour Market Management Board
  • Develop a National Labour Market Partner’s Council
  • Include comparative research in the mandate of the Labour Market Information Council

Since the completion of the book manuscript in 2017, federal-provincial-territorial governments have made progress on many of these suggestions. They have agreed that the four labour market transfer agreements will be consolidated into two: a Labour Market Development Agreement or LMDA (focusing primarily on those with an Employment Insurance attachment) and a Workforce Development Agreement or WDA (covering everyone else). This should significantly reduce complexity, especially with respect to accountability. These new bilateral agreements started to roll out in May 2018, with Ontario and British Columbia first off the mark.

After a very long gestation period the Labour Market Information Council under the Forum of Labour Market Ministers was finally launched in May 2018. Its scope was clarified as focusing strictly on labour market information, not research. Pan-Canadian research will be undertaken by a new federal entity yet to be established, the Future Skills Centre. Stakeholder input will be secured through a Future Skills Council. This all seems to be good news but only time will tell.

However, the Government of Canada has demonstrated no intent to devolve youth or disability employment programming. Given its confirmation of the ‘distinctions’ based approach to Aboriginal employment services, there will be no pan-Aboriginal labour market management board. As a result, some complexity and fragmentation in Canada’s PES will remain.

In 2018 we celebrate 100 years of Canada’s public employment service.  Devolution to the provinces, territories, and Aboriginal organizations started more than 20 years ago. Phase one under the Chrétien/Martin Liberals involved the initial offer in 1995 and the acceptance of federal staff, assets, contracts and programming responsibilities by eight provinces and territories. It also involved the establishment of Aboriginal labour market entities and pan-Canadian institutions.

Phase two under the Harper Conservatives moved the other five jurisdictions to similar devolved arrangements and increased funding for non EI clients. However, the Conservatives reduced federal involvement in pan-Canadian initiatives and unilaterally changed the federal-provincial transfer agreement rules.

We are now into devolution Phase three under the Trudeau Liberals. Hopefully my book Federalism in Action: the Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service 1995-2015 will shed light on what has transpired in the past in order to facilitate future policy learning. There is no shortage of work that needs to be done in this often neglected but essential area of public policy.

The Devolution of Canada’s Public Employment Service 1995-2015: Part 1