Tag Archives: Canadian History

From the Archives to the Bookstore: Writing the History of the American Canoe Association Encampments

Canoe and Canvasoffers a detailed portrait of the summer encampments of the American Canoe Association between 1880 and 1910, and is particularly concerned with how gender, class, and race shaped these annual events. In this post, author Jessica Dunkin discusses why the canoe is such a fascinating subject to her and why her research led her to some fascinating insights into canoeing and the colonial histories behind it.


By Jessica Dunkin

I became a historian in the basement of Bata Library at Trent University. I was enrolled in a third-year course on Canadian women’s history for which Professor Janet Miron had assigned a research paper based on primary sources. I found my way to the Trent University Archives (TUA), where Bernadine Dodge and Jodi Aoki shepherded me through the process of identifying and working with archival sources. The focus for that paper was early girls’ summer camps in Ontario – TUA is home to the records of the Ontario Camping Association – which remained a topic of interest for me as a Master’s student and which ultimately directed me towards the canoe as a subject of study for my doctoral dissertation.

Adirondack Museum (now the Adirondack Experience), 2009. Image by Jess Dunkin

The canoe is, of course, a massive topic. I had proposed to study the history of women and canoeing to the Graduate Committee in the Department of History at Carleton University. It was in the archive, specifically the Adirondack Museum Archives (now the Adirondack Experience) in Blue Mountain Lake, New York, that I came up against the impossibility of this project, but was also gifted a more manageable topic.

The Adirondack Museum, at that time, had bound copies of Forest and Stream magazine, which during the late nineteenth century enthusiastically supported and documented the activities of the American Canoe Association (ACA), a voluntary society founded in 1880 to bring together canoeing enthusiasts from across the continent; in spite of its name, it had a sizeable Canadian membership in the early years. As I turned the periodical’s large yellowed pages, I had my first glimpse of the organization’s summer encampments.

Beginning in 1880, the ACA hosted an annual gathering at out of the way, if not entirely wild places on both sides of the Canada-US border. For two to three weeks in August, canoeing enthusiasts from Toronto, Philadelphia, Montreal, Boston, and many places in between came together to sleep in tents, socialize, and sail and paddle canoes. I soon realized that these events, which usually featured a multi-day regatta, excursions, campfires, spectacles, and more, offered an opportunity to consider the social worlds that grew up around canoes and by extension the politics of sport and leisure.

From the archives in Blue Mountain Lake, I found my way to Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut, and the New York State Historical Association (now the Fenimore Museum) in Cooperstown, New York, both of which boast sizeable collections of ACA records and ephemera; the archives at Mystic Seaport have 43 boxes and 8 volumes dating from 1881 to 1987, while the Research Library at the Fenimore Museum has 5.5 cubic feet and six oversize folders of materials covering 1879–2009. These collections, which are primarily composed of official records like meeting minutes, annual reports, and correspondence, provided the scaffolding for the project. The texture of the meets came from a thorough search of newspapers local to the event sites (the ACA set up camp in 15 different locations between 1880 and 1902 before establishing a permanent encampment on Sugar Island in the Thousand Islands in 1903).

While it was a pleasure to visit small repositories on both sides of the border to look through old newspapers, you can imagine my joy when I stumbled upon New York State Historic Newspapers, a free, searchable, full-text database of upwards of 400 newspapers, dating from 1795–2014. This website, which currently has more than 9.5 million periodical pages, enabled me to cast a much wider net (sixteen of the pre-1903 meets were held in the Empire State and even when the encampment was elsewhere, New York State newspapers from communities large and small reported on the event), which in turn allowed for a more nuanced understanding of the encampments. Consider, for instance, this excerpt from an 1896 issue of the Syracuse Evening Herald: “The events in which the ladies participated excited more than usual interest. The contests though short were watched from start to finish by an eager throng, who with craning necks and shouts of encouragement for the various favorites, cheered the contestants on.” Whereas a regatta programme indicates the existence of women’s races, periodical accounts tell us something about the meaning and significance of those races.

“The Sneak-Box Mess: Camp of the Brooklyn Canoe Club,” 1887. Image by Seneca Ray Stoddard

I came to know the encampments in different ways through photographs. The ACA Collection at the Fenimore Museum includes more than 500 images gathered by C. Bowyer Vaux. Many of these photographs were taken by Seneca Ray Stoddard, a well-known nineteenth-century photographer who was a familiar face at the ACA meets from 1881 to 1896, but Vaux also collected images from other commercial and amateur photographers. Taken together, these photographs at once support and subvert dominant narratives about the ACA encampments. They played a particularly important role in revealing and reconstructing the labour that enabled the annual events, which is the subject of Chapter Eight in my book, and disrupting the notion of the meets as exclusively spaces of white, middle-class leisure. This Stoddard photograph, for instance, was the first one I saw documenting the presence of a Black person at the encampments. It inspired me to pay closer attention to other visual and textual sources.

A rich and eclectic library of secondary literature helped me to make sense of what I was reading and seeing in the archive. One of the joys of this project was being able to read widely about topics as disparate and related as middle-class foodways and interior design, liberalism, circuses and minstrelsy, waste management, Indigenous craft production, and boat design and amateur sport. What emerged from this entangling of past and present sources and thinking was an account of an annual event that tells us as much about the significance of sport and leisure in the late nineteenth century, both for individuals and for society, as it does about the ACA and canoeing.

I came to this project as an avid canoeist and I remain one to this day, but I understand the canoe and myself as a paddler in different ways as a result of this research. White settlers appropriated the canoe, eventually transforming it into a craft and, enabled by colonial policies of dispossession and assimilation, they paddled and sailed at their leisure. I have benefitted from these same policies, though I did not see that until I began to study the canoe. Understanding colonial histories of the canoe has not only re-shaped my approach to canoeing as a physical and ethical practice, but it has also inspired me to find ways to support the resurgence of Indigenous canoeing traditions in the place that I now call home, Denendeh.

***

Jessica Dunkin is an independent scholar based in Yellowknife, NT. To find out more about Jessica, you can visit her website.


To find out more about Canoe and Canvas, click here.

My Odd Case of Writer’s Block, Or, How I Spent Six Months Writing One Paragraph

Sharing the Past is an unprecedentedly detailed account of the intertwining discourses of Canadian history and creative literature. In this post, author of the book J.A. Weingarten discusses his own personal experience with writer’s block, and why it took him the best part of six months to complete his book.


By J.A Weingarten

By Fall 2016, I had finished nearly all of the writing for my recently released book, Sharing the Past. One thing remained: I had to complete a paragraph that I’d been agonizing over for nearly six months. It was a deceptively simple statement: I needed only to admit to my reader that I didn’t know everything. Let me explain.

The primary point of Sharing the Past is to show that creative writers – freer and typically more willing than academics to write experimental and deeply personal histories – have found the means to write histories that are (as I say in the book) both “intellectual” (based on factual events and sources) and “felt” (made emotionally powerful by the sharing of intimate, often familial, connections to those events). David Zieroth writes about his grandfather’s experience in Canadian internment camps, Louise Halfe writes about the devastation wrought by residential schools on her family, and Andrew Suknaski writes about the struggle his family faced as it joined the massive waves of Eastern European immigrants during the early twentieth century. The stories are big and small: focused on large historical events, but seen through the affective lens of a familial experience. Many readers have connected to these “big and small” histories in ways that they have not connected to the scholarship of conventional historians focused on “big picture” stories (e.g. tales of the political elite, memorable policy, large-scale events). I make that distinction with greater care and context in my book, but, for now, let that basic contrast suffice.

One thing many of the writers in my book have in common is that their personal approach to history compels them to acknowledge, in one way or another, that their histories are, by virtue of their subjectivity, open to corrections and/or expansions. “My family’s story,” these writers often seem to say, “is just one of many possible perspectives on history.” In other words, no one can really claim to know everything about the past. It is brave to write as passionately as creative writers do about history and then to acknowledge, simultaneously, one’s limited ability to write the past fully and accurately. There are, I say throughout the book, so many ways to tell a story, and each author I discuss acknowledges that plurality of approaches.

So here was my conundrum in Fall 2016. I was writing a scholarly history of history infused with my own feelings and beliefs, and so it became clear that I was trapping myself in a corner: I was praising authors in my study for their candid admissions that their knowledge about history has limits, but I was not sharing with my reader that same humility. The issue became more complicated as I began to write about experiences far removed from my own: I was writing about leading Canadian authors of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s like Margaret Atwood and Lorna Crozier and about Indigenous authors publishing since the 1980s like Louise Halfe and Joan Crate. The broader the reach of my book (eras, cultures, figures, et cetera), the more I felt it was necessary to say something about my own limits as a scholar. I began to feel hypocritical because of my omission. Every one of my authors happily celebrated that they could not know everything about the past … why was it so hard for me to write a paragraph that said something so obviously true of my own historical writing? Of course I don’t know everything! Of course my book is open to correction! Of course more could be said than I say! So why couldn’t I just say that?

The cover of Peter Steven’s Family Feelings & Other Poems makes an implied connection between photography and family.

It took me six months to find the words. And during those six months, I thought incessantly about my odd case of writer’s block. I gradually found some clarity … partly by rereading the poetry on which my study focuses and partly by reading eye-opening scholarship that unpacks questions about different systems of knowledge in and outside of Canada (I was especially influenced, for instance, by Deanna Reder and Linda Morra’s Learn, Teach, Challenge).

Here is what I realized by Fall 2016: as a young scholar I felt I needed, at all times, to wear a veil of certainty. Whether I put that pressure on myself or whether it was put on me by others (or both) I do not know. I have always been a bit of a perfectionist (flashback: my first day of kindergarten, trying desperately to cut a perfect circle, and looking angrily, crying and disappointed, at the splintery oval I’d cut out of construction paper). Having the answers – as many of them as possible – seemed important during my time as a student, both before and during grad school. It was my own failing that I came to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that having answers was the key to earning respect for my writing. Perhaps that was something deep-seated that had grown unchecked over the years, fed by the uncertainty, stress, and confusion of pursuing a grad degree.

The end result was, in my early 30s and finishing my first book, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of claiming expertise and then admitting, in the same breath, that I was fully capable of being wrong. That admission became something over which I obsessed. The time I shared with that one paragraph was no longer just about finishing my book; it was about taking a step forward as a writer, professor, friend, son, husband – now a father – and all-around human being.

Those six months spent writing one paragraph changed my relationship to my book. They changed my relationship to my knowledge and self. I look back at the process of writing Sharing the Past and, as proud as I am of the book, I think of it now as a learning process for me. Not a crowning achievement, but the process through which I learned (with the help of poets, novelists, and scholars) to speak more honestly about my writing and learning. That paragraph entered the text without anyone ever realizing (minus those reading this blog) how much time went into it or how significant it was for me to write it. It surreptitiously snuck in line, joining the row of paragraphs ahead and behind it, the way I used to bud into the movie theatre line as a kid. It blends in unnoticed. Just another example of many things I wrote and will write.

The paragraph, for those interested, has been reproduced below:

“When I began this book about ten years ago, it had not occurred to me – at least not with the same force it now does – that every scholar, including myself, has limits to and gaps in their knowledge. I draw attention to this point because Indigenous scholars have often outlined the danger of holding firmly onto knowledge without questioning or recognizing one’s own position. While writing this book, a colleague had advised me to emphasize my expertise over my openness to correction, but I felt then – as I do now – that such an addition would be disingenuous in a study so concerned with the value and limits of individual knowledge. Intelligence, like compassion, is not achieved through assertions, but rather by making a genuine effort to reach a deeper understanding of a time, place, or perspective. While it may be necessary in a scholarly study to assert expertise, it seems equally important to acknowledge that a persistent problem in settler-authored studies is the deployment of uncontested, imperialistic interpretations. It would be irresponsible to pretend that I, as a third-generation Canadian and as a scholar entrenched in settler traditions of language and literature, could fully step back from those personal and academic positions. Hence, my discussion here – informed by years of research, interviews, and thought – will still surely invite expansion and possibly correction. Those outcomes seem to me ideal, because my critical efforts in this chapter, and in this book, are determined encouragements of further conversations, not assertions of rigid conclusions.” (Sharing the Past, page 205)


J.A. Weingarten is a professor in the School of Language and Liberal Studies at Fanshawe College.

Culture, Identity, Community: An Excerpt on the Origins of Canada Day

Whether you’re relaxing on a dock, sharing beer and barbecue with friends and family, or waiting for the familiar crack of the fireworks at your closest city centre, this long weekend is all about celebrating Canada! And what better way to nod to the anniversary of Confederation than by learning how Canada Day came to be? We’re sharing an essay from Matthew Hayday’s and Raymond Blake’s collection Celebrating Canada: Holidays, National Days, and the Crafting of Identities and, as Hayday points out, the process of establishing an annual celebratory tradition on July 1st was far from straightforward…

So turn up the “Patio Lanterns” and kick off your weekend festivities with some background on one of our favourite holidays. Learn more in “Canada’s Day: Inventing a Tradition, Defining a Culture.” Have a safe and happy long weekend!


Excerpt from Celebrating Canada: Holidays, National Days, and the Crafting of Identities.

Chapter 11: Canada’s Day: Inventing a Tradition, Defining a Culture

On 1 July 1977, ten million Canadians watched on television as gold lame–clad Acadian disco diva Patsy Gallant crooned “Besoin d’amour” from a stage on Parliament Hill. Two years later, Gallant sang her hit “Sugar Daddy” to recently elected Prime Minister Joe Clark before a crowd of tens of thousands of live spectators on Parliament Hill and an audience of millions on television. Many Canadians wondered, and several inquired of their government, what exactly Gallant’s performance had to do with the founding of Canada. Some opined that her act was better suited to a nightclub than to an event commemorating Confederation.

The manner in which the anniversary of Confederation – 1 July 1867 – has been celebrated in an official capacity has varied widely over the years. Parliament Hill has hosted acts as disparate as Ukrainian Shumka dancers, world-renowned jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, a ballet pas-de-deux, the Calgary Safety Patrol Jamboree, and pop stars from René Simard to Anne Murray. In more recent years, the official celebrations have featured Canadian pop, country, and indie musical stars, including Metric, Carly Rae Jepsen, Marianas Trench, Marie-Mai, and Serena Ryder. The format of the official celebrations has ranged from displays of military pageantry to ethnic folk festivals to variety shows featuring big-name stars. In some years, the government sponsored extravaganzas on Parliament Hill that were televised across the nation. In others, the Ottawa celebrations were downsized and downplayed in favour of funding community-based celebrations. Yet amid this diversity of form and content, what perhaps is most surprising is the fact that, prior to 1958, the federal government had organized only two celebrations of the anniversary of Canada’s founding – in 1917 and 1927, the fiftieth and sixtieth anniversaries of Confederation. Apart from these major events, July 1st passed practically unobserved at the national level. As the chapters in this volume by Forrest Pass, Gillian Leitch, Lianbi Zhu, and Timothy Baycroft demonstrate, there were a number of different ways that Dominion Day was observed in various communities across Canada in the decades following Confederation, but the federal government was absent from these events as either an organizer or funder.

Government-sponsored annual celebrations of July 1st were instituted when Canada was passing through a period of national re-examination. By the mid-1950s, many Canadians no longer took for granted that Canada had a well-defined national culture, primarily rooted in British traditions. Changing immigration patterns and increased discontent from francophone Quebec led to a questioning of Canadian identity. A declining British Empire and changing trade relations prompted some to call for a rethinking of Canada’s role in international affairs and of its relations with the United States. In its 1951 report, the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences (the Massey Commission) called on the federal government to assume a role in the promotion of Canadian culture. Many wondered what Canadian culture and identity would look like by the 1967 centennial.

While a host of different ethno-cultural groups, artists, authors, and lobbyists advanced various prescriptions for how Canadian identity and culture would and should develop, the federal government was also seeking to exert some direction over an “official” Canadian culture that it would sanction and support through various programs and policies. The celebrations that it sponsored for July 1st are a fascinating case study of the type of national identity and culture that it wanted to support. As the following discussion will demonstrate, these celebrations varied substantially from year to year, as different government ministers, bureaucrats, and interest groups tried to shape a tradition of national, state-sponsored celebrations of Canadian identity and culture. This was a highly contested process, which extended not only to the content of these state-sponsored celebrations, but also to their structure and form. An examination of the celebrations of what was variously termed Dominion Day, Canada Week, Canada’s Birthday, and ultimately Canada Day provides a crucial window into the federal government’s emergent cultural policy and how it was wedded to the broader political objectives of the day. These objectives and policies shifted substantially from when these celebrations were initially instituted in 1958 to the forms that they would assume by the late-1980s and beyond. These shifts were shaped by four major forces: changing conceptions of the meaning of the Canadian nation and the place of individuals and communities within it; divergent opinions of what elements of Canadian culture should be included in official celebrations; political and economic factors that defined the desirable formats of the festivities; and an evolving conception of what role the mass media could and should play in fostering mass participation in these events.

Imagined Communities and Invented Traditions: A Bit of Theory

Canada was led by six prime ministers between 1958, when official federally sponsored Dominion Day celebrations were launched, and the early 1990s, by which point a standard structure for Canada Day celebrations had been settled upon. Each prime minister had different ideas about the direction of the country, and each government approached the celebration of July 1st with a clear aim of fostering a sense of national community by inventing a nation-wide tradition. In this respect, these governments were engaging in processes of creating linkages between Canadians and crafting the ideology and identity of the Canadian “imagined community,” to use political scientist Benedict Anderson’s useful concept. Anderson explored the processes by which individuals came to think of themselves as members of communities, and ultimately nations, even though they lived great distances from each other and would likely never meet most of their fellow citizens in person – a geographic challenge that is particularly significant in a state as vast as Canada. Anderson argued that a number of different elements fostered a sense of commonality among members of national communities. The development of a national mass media through print capitalism was crucial to this process. Anderson posited that a diverse group of people reading a given newspaper, for example, albeit in different locations, would feel a sense of community because all these individuals were reading the same news, at the same time, about the same people whom the publishers had decided were important for their readership to learn about. This was a way of creating a sense of shared national experience for people who did not necessarily live in immediate proximity to each other. As will become clear, organizers of Canadian celebrations sought to create similar shared experiences for citizens, whether in person or mediated by television, on their national day. This project relates to the argument of Maurice Charland, writing in a Canadian context, about how Canadian governments have attempted to deploy a form of “technological nationalism,” first by building railways and transportation networks, and then by constructing radio and television communication systems to bind together a geographically vast country through a web of shared telecommunications.

Historians Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s concept of “invente traditions” is also directly pertinent to this analysis. Hobsbawm, Ranger, and their colleagues were among the first to seriously investigate the development of rituals and how they were tied into nation-building projects. Specifically, they argued that many so-called rituals and national traditions were in fact relatively recent inventions. These traditions – anthems, folk activities, and the like – were assumed to have ancient historic roots, yet many were in fact invented by governments and elites to provide cultural reinforcement for relatively new national political boundaries. Although Canada’s political boundaries were more or less well established by the 1950s, the nation’s identity and culture were clearly in flux, and the state took an active interest in shaping the direction in which they would evolve. As Stuart Ward discusses in chapter 13 in this volume, such a phenomenon was common to many settler countries throughout the British Commonwealth, and they engaged in similar processes of state-directed efforts to craft new or modified national identities using commemorative and celebratory events.

The case of the celebration of July 1st appears to fit well into these theoretical models of nation building. In June 1868, Governor General Monck called for a celebration of the anniversary of the formation of the Dominion of Canada and “enjoin[ed] and call[ed] upon all Her Majesty’s loving subjects throughout Canada to join in the due and proper celebration of the said Anniversary on the said FIRST day of JULY next.” There was uncertainty, however, as to whether this proclamation meant that 1 July was a legal holiday. A bill put forth the following year by Thomas McConkey, Liberal member of Parliament for Simcoe North, to make Dominion Day a legal holiday ran into stiff opposition from both Liberal and Conservative MPs, largely because of lingering hostile feelings towards Confederation from Nova Scotia. Indeed, William Chipman, an anti-Confederate-turned-Liberal MP from that province, argued that it would be a “day of lamentation” and further evidence of the powerlessness of Nova Scotians should the bill succeed. McConkey opted to withdraw the bill after second reading.

It would be a further decade before a Senate bill introduced by Dr Robert Carrall of British Columbia led to Dominion Day being officially made a public holiday in 1879. In the Senate debates on the Dominion Day bill, it became clear that July 1st was being observed as a de facto holiday in Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia, but not necessarily in the other four provinces. Moreover, representatives from Nova Scotia noted the lingering bad blood over Confederation in their province, while Conservative Senator Clement Cornwall of British Columbia objected to the bill because the Terms of Union of that province’s admission to Confederation were as yet unfulfilled. The bill was, however, adopted by the Senate and swiftly passed through the House of Commons that year.

Although Dominion Day was legally a public holiday from 1879 onwards, very little was done by the federal government to officially observe the day over the first ninety years following Confederation. The fiftieth anniversary celebrations in 1917 were largely overshadowed by the First World War. The only major anniversary celebration was the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation in 1927, an event that included a national radio broadcast from Parliament Hill. Robert Cupido has considered how the radio broadcast might have reached many Canadians with the means to afford radio receivers, but contends that many others would have been excluded from these celebrations because of a lack of access to this technology. Jane Nicholas has considered how the Diamond Jubilee celebrations served to reinforce particular conceptions of gender, shoring up a bourgeois masculinity threatened by the modern era. As Robert Talbot points out, the Mackenzie King government saw the Diamond Jubilee as an opportunity to advance a bicultural conception of Canada through the festivities.

Apart from the jubilee, Dominion Day was primarily observed as a day off work, when Canadians would head to their cottages, host a barbecue, attend a sporting event, or otherwise enjoy the beginning of summer. As is evident from Forrest Pass’s chapter, for example, many towns and cities organized community-based celebrations, but nothing was done at the national level to try to make July 1st a celebration of Canadian nationhood. As the chapters by Marcel Martel, Joel Belliveau, Brittney Anne Bos, and Allison Marie Ward demonstrate, Empire Day was the site of similar municipally organized parades and school-based activities, while Victoria Day, after it was adopted as a national holiday in 1901 (discussed in Chris Tait’s chapter), was an occasion for picnics, leisure, and fireworks displays. One should be careful not to assume that these and other holidays that lacked federal state ceremonial events and pageantry were devoid of importance or meaning. The fact that they were holidays was itself of significance to Canadians, and indeed labour movement leaders could attest to the complicated nature of how individuals responded to holidays. While union organizers wanted workers to march in parades and attend formal picnics on Labour Day, many were happy to have the day off for rest and relaxation with family and friends.

From 1958 onwards, each federal government attempted to develop or modify the tradition of celebrating July 1st. The manner in which this process unfolded was shaped by different conceptions of what sort of culture Canada should (or did) have, the extent to which organizers wanted to explicitly tie cultural celebrations to national unity, and varying conceptions of what form of celebration would best foster a sense of a common Canadian culture. In the first thirty years of these celebrations, various models were tested to foster new traditions. Yet, inconsistencies in approach and content appear to have delayed the implantation of a tradition of celebrating July 1st as a national holiday.

Part of the delay in settling on a format for these celebrations and determining their content can be accounted for by the heated debates about Canadian identity that were ongoing in the immediate postwar period. Such debates have been the subject of an important and growing body of scholarship. As authors in a series of volumes edited by Phillip Buckner and R. Douglas Francis have observed, these were decades in which Canada was rethinking its relationship to the British world. It was also a period in which Canadians simultaneously embraced economic, defence, and cultural ties to the United States while also worrying that Canada would lose its distinctive identity. It was these fears, in part, that prompted the creation of the Massey Commission in 1949. This commission recommended steps to bolster Canadian culture, but its vision was clearly rooted in “high culture” institutions such as literature, dance, theatre, and universities – all elements that were closely tied to Canada’s British heritage. The Massey approach largely ignored, when it was not overtly disdainful of, the more “popular” forms of culture from the United States, including radio, popular music, popular fiction, and the emergence of television. It would not be until the 1960s that the Canadian government began to try more actively to champion a “Canadian” popular culture. This ambivalence about “high” versus “popular” culture would play out in significant ways in how July 1st was celebrated.

If Canada were to move away from its traditional, British-oriented cultural identity, there was active debate over what direction this move might take, to what extent it should occur, and whether all Canadians would embrace it. José Igartua and Bryan Palmer have both argued that, by the 1960s, the traditional model of Canadian identity had broken down. Palmer contends that no new culture had replaced it, while Igartua contends a bilingual, multicultural identity was emerging as its replacement. Chris Champion, on the other hand, sees a British influence even in the new symbols that were emerging, such as the new Maple Leaf flag, while Gary Miedema argues that public religion persisted in Canada’s public commemorations. Canada’s First Nations occupied an uncertain place in this evolving Canadian identity, although their presence and contributions were increasingly seen as important. How they were conceived as “fitting in” changed over time and fluctuated between assimilationist messages and ones that were more open to cultural preservation. Such challenges to traditional British cultural identity have been and continue to be present throughout post-Confederation history in both national and provincial celebrations, but a new discourse on multiculturalism was emerging, however tenuously, by the 1960s. That other ethno-cultural communities would seek to be included in a redefined Canadian identity is not surprising, given how extensively many ethnic communities had been excluded from full participation in Canadian society, as Lianbi Zhu and Timothy Baycroft’s chapter on Chinese-Canadian protest activity on Dominion Day shows. While many French-Canadian and Acadian minority communities welcomed this new openness, Québécois nationalists often failed to see themselves in these new models of Canada. Indeed, Marc-André Gagnon’s chapter clearly shows how Québécois leaders explicitly observed a celebration that was a rival to its English-Canadian counterpart. Also, as Eva Mackey points out, even if, by the time of Canada’s 125th birthday celebrations in 1992 the federal government were articulating a new model of a bilingual, multicultural Canada that showed increased openness to First Nations, there was still a mass of white, unmarked “Canadian-Canadians” who neither accepted this new identity nor saw themselves reflected in it. Even if many Canadians did accept this new national identity, some were more interested in how their local and regional identities were articulated and addressed. Certainly the process of defining, articulating, and promoting new conceptions of Canadian identity was hotly contested, which helps explain the tumultuous process of inventing a tradition of celebrating Canada’s national holiday, to which we now turn.

The Secret History of Pride

Pride Month

To celebrate Pride Month, we have developed a blog series with weekly posts, designed to allow UTP authors the opportunity to share with us what Pride means to them, and to discuss a whole manner of Pride-related topics.

Our final contribution to our Pride Month series comes from Sex and the Weimar Republic author Laurie Marhoefer. Marhoefer shares what Pride means to her, explores the history of gay rights activism, and notes how Pride has changed over the past century.


Pride, which in my neighborhood in Seattle rivals Christmas for importance (we already have our flags and signs out and the marches are two weeks away), came out of a historical event, the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969. Stonewall wasn’t the beginning of gay rights, however. Gay rights has a much longer history. A lot of it isn’t nearly as sexy as Pride (at its best) can be.

The fight for legal equality for “homosexuals,” as they came to be called towards the end of the nineteenth century, seems to have begun in a Swiss alpine village in the 1830s, if it did not begin with the French Revolution.

Well before the Second World War, many people around the world (and a majority of Germans, I’ll bet) knew that there were same-sex loving individuals who claimed to be members of a “sexual minority” (rather than debauched sinners, as the Christian worldview had it) and argued for the repeal of laws against same-sex sex. Very few people agreed with the homosexual emancipationist view of things. But some did, particularly the homosexuals themselves.

The thing was, this movement for gay rights may not have made you want to wave the rainbow flag around. It was kind of conservative. My UTP book, Sex and the Weimar Republic: German Homosexual Emancipation and the Rise of the Nazis, explores that movement, led by Magnus Hirschfeld and others. Those activists fought Germany’s law against sodomy. But they did so by vilifying sex workers, creating an implicitly white gay subject, and buying into eugenics. By the 1920s there was a robust independent trans rights movement, too, and it was also invested in making trans people “respectable.”

Before the late 1960s, for most gay activists the goal wasn’t to be out and proud. It was to get the police to stop arresting people for having consensual sex in private. People wanted to quietly live out their otherwise conventional lives. A giant parade of homosexuals and gender-benders would have horrified them.

Pride is different. It is from the 1970s, not the 1830s or the 1920s. Some of Pride’s roots are in radical, antiracist, anti-imperialist left-of-center gay and trans activism. Though it hasn’t always lived up to those beginnings – for more on that, see what I wrote here – it sometimes does. The pro-sex fabulousness of Pride, and the in-your-face claim on public space that Pride makes, that’s from the 1970s, baby.

That’s what Pride means to me. Gay rights isn’t always left-of-center. It never exists outside of another, broader political vision, and those visions can be pretty darn right-of-center. But Pride can be a better moment in queer and trans politics, a leftist, antiracist moment, one that echos a time when queer and trans people set out to transform the world into a more just one, not just to quietly fit in to an unjust world.


Laurie Marhoefer is an associate professor in the Department of History at the University of Washington.

Celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day

June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day, a day for all Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures, and outstanding contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples.

To celebrate this day, we’re providing an exclusive excerpt from the latest book by author John Borrows, winner of the 2019 Canada Council Molson Prize. Law’s Indigenous Ethics examines the revitalization of Indigenous peoples’ relationship to their own laws and, in so doing, attempts to enrich Canadian constitutional law more generally. Organized around the seven Anishinaabe grandmother and grandfather teachings of love, truth, bravery, humility, wisdom, honesty, and respect, this book explores ethics in relation to Aboriginal issues including title, treaties, legal education, and residential schools.


Excerpt from Law’s Indigenous Ethics

1. Zaagi’idiwin – Love
2. Debwewin – Truth
3. Zoongide’ewin – Bravery
4. Dabaadendizowin – Humility
5. Nibwaakaawin – Wisdom
6. Gwayakwaadiziwin – Honesty
7. Manaaji’idiwin – Respect

The following chapters examine these gifts, each in their turn. As noted, these are the Seven Grandmother/Grandfather Teachings of the Anishinaabe, as made popular by Elder Eddie Benton Benai. This work discusses how these principles can apply to Indigenous peoples’ relationship with the Canadian state and those of the broader world. In so doing, this book advances an ongoing research agenda that explores the relevance of Indigenous law in contemporary legal affairs.

The Seven Grandmother/Grandfather Teachings are found in constitutions, by-laws, teacher’s guides, school walls, books, blogs, posts, songs, stories, and other artist works across Anishinaabe-akiing (Anishinaabe territory). Reference to these teachings has greatly expanded through the last twenty-five years. I have been told that it is not really “traditional” to organize our laws in this manner; it has been said that they are “new” and therefore not really Anishinaabe. Some of these people believe that Indigenous authority can be rooted only in antiquity, thus rendering suspect any invention, interpretive reorganization, or expansion of Anishinaabe world views. Constitutional originalism has long been used to exclude or marginalize Indigenous peoples.

I have not been able to determine the origin or longevity of the Seven Teachings. Their present arrangement may be a recent phenomenon, though I have no evidence one way or another. Fortunately, it might be advantageous to my thesis if the contemporary organization of the Seven Grandmother/Grandfather Teachings was of a recent vintage. Their use, expansion, and development across Anishinaabe-akiing might demonstrate that Indigenous law is being made, created, and invented in the present day. I have long argued that it is not necessary that every law be old to be standard-setting for present-day Anishinaabe communities. Indigenous law can be a living and dynamic force if not tethered to what is regarded as being integral to aboriginal communities prior to European contact or sovereignty. The Seven Grandmother/ Grandfather Teachings could broaden our legal imagination if they are regarded as current expressions of Indigenous authority in the modern world, regardless of whether their origin is old or new.

As with my other books, this work examines Indigenous law through the lens of one specific group – the Anishinaabe. I consider Indigenous law from an Anishinaabe perspective because this is what I know best. I am Anishinaabe and a member of the Chippewas of the Nawash First Nation. I have worked with Anishinaabe law for over twenty-five years. My reserve is called Neyaashiinigmiing on the western shores of Georgian Bay, a four-hour drive north of Toronto. The Anishinaabe more generally live within the Great Lakes watershed, surrounding large parts of Lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan. We also occupy farmlands and woodlands north of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. We likewise have reservations/reserves in the forests and prairies of northern Minnesota, North Dakota, and southern Saskatchewan. There are even isolated Anishinaabe communities as far west as Montana, Alberta, and British Columbia. It is a big group. Anishinaabe people form part of the largest Indigenous nation in the United States and Canada, rivalling in size the Navajo, Cherokee, Cree, and Lakota nations.

In taking this approach, I must stress that this book is not intended to be representative of all legal traditions in Canada, though I do hope it opens space for them to interact with Canadian law in their own unique ways. As I have tried to explain in my work, there are diverse viewpoints concerning law’s nature and scope within and beyond Indigenous legal orders. While I recognize the distinctiveness of each Indigenous legal regime, there is value in beginning our enquiry with a specific Indigenous lens. Ideas are presented from one group’s perspective in order to open  doors to alternative possibilities in Canadian law.

Thus I do not write about Anishinaabe legal principles because I regard them as superior in any way; they are just as helpful and misleading as any other legal tradition across the world. I write from a particular perspective because law must flow from identifiable contexts.  At the same time, I draw more general lessons from Anishinaabe law, because Indigenous peoples’ laws (including Anishinaabe laws) must be relevant in international, national, and local settings. Other Indigenous legal orders will be just as valuable, if not more so, in facilitating resurgence and reconciliation across the land and beyond. Indigenous law grows from a place, but it cannot always be contained by that place, at least in some of its manifestations. This is the case with every legal tradition, including those indigenous to Canada. Therefore, while I use Anishinaabe ideas in this work, they must be viewed as signalling what is possible when Indigenous law interacts with Canadian law more generally.

When analytical frames shift away from “Western” legal frames, this can help us to see law in new ways. As a result, in this book I apply Anishinaabe law – as much for what it can tell us about Western law – as for what it reveals about Anishinaabe reasoning. The constraints, biases, and preoccupations of the common law and civil law systems are somewhat diminished when relevance and justiciability do not rest on their terms. Thus, this is very much a book about “Western” law too. I have written from an Anishinaabe legal perspective to ask questions that may be less likely to occur in Canadian law without Indigenous input.

These are questions like, How is love relevant to regulation and dispute resolution – particularly when considering treaties? What is the role of relative truth in the law – especially when considering law’s so called foundational sources and force? Is bravery a constitutional value, and can it be applied in an Aboriginal rights context? Does humility have a place in helping us understand Aboriginal title’s relationship with private property? Can wisdom be specifically invoked to require more holistic approaches to learning that take us outside the classroom and onto the land? Can honesty assist us in acknowledging Canadian law’s syncretic nature – and can this affect how we teach law? Can respect be activated to inculcate mutual responsibilities in Indigenous-settler relations – especially when residential schools and other assimilatory pressures are at issue?

Each of the following chapters will examine these seven questions/gifts from an Anishinaabe legal perspective. Though my views of Anishinaabe law reflect the research and experience of one person (me), I have tried to analyse the tradition from many different angles. You should not regard my views as being representative of their field; many people will disagree with me or emphasize different parts of the tradition with varied intensities. This book exists as an exercise of “issue identification.” It can be considered an invitation to people who work with other legal traditions to compare their views with those expressed in this book. Perspicuous contrast and vocabularies of comparison have long motivated my Anishinaabe trickster-inflected methodologies. This book follows earlier work in this regard.

When identifying issues, I am careful not to be overly prescriptive in linking Anishinaabe laws to the themes of each chapter (love, truth, bravery, humility, wisdom, honesty, and respect). Again, I am not the authority in these matters; the practice of Anishinaabe law is a collective endeavour. I am merely offering one set of limited views on a field. Moreover, Anishinaabe legal tradition requires that I leave some space between Anishinaabe law and constitutional issues raised in each section. This might be frustrating for some readers who are looking for more specific connections between the Seven Grandmother/Grandfather laws and Canadian constitutional law. I believe these connections are strong and I have tried to weave them carefully throughout the text. Nevertheless, there are places where these connections may seem somewhat ambiguous. This methodology is nonetheless deployed because Anishinaabe approaches require readers to activate their own agency in answering the questions presented herein. It would be inappropriate at times for me to be more directive. This has been called precept ambiguity by scholars who observe Anishishaabe life. Nuance is often valued over highly specific delineations, as will be the case as issues are identified throughout this book.

Furthermore, some of the “gaps” between Anishinaabe and Canadian law in this text illustrate the distance that still needs to be crossed in Canadian constitutional law. It is not always Indigenous law that is ambiguous. Canadian law is itself a cultural system that does not
effectively relate to Indigenous legal approaches, and this also leads to ambiguity in how systems may be connected as they continue to develop. At the same time, I have worked to provide interpretive highlights through the text, and to identify connections and possibilities for readers to make use of the seven teachings in relation to the broader legal issues explored in each chapter.


To read the full introduction, please click here.

John Borrows is a world-renowned law professor at the University of Victoria. He’s Anishinabe/Ojibway and a member of the Chippewa of the Nawash First Nation in Ontario, Canada. Dr. Borrows specializes in Indigenous legal rights and comparative constitutional law. He has written and spoken extensively on Indigenous legal rights and traditions, storytelling, treaties and land claims, and constitutional and environmental law. He is also widely recognized as an authority in the field of Indigenous law, and has received many honors and awards for his work with and for Indigenous peoples in many countries.