Tag Archives: 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.

Romanticism, Then and Now, Now and Then

The Romantic world was a time of revolution, protest, politics – and climate change. With the release of his fascinating new book, Romantic Revelations author Chris Washington shares how, two-hundred years later, the focus remains anthropocentric.


The Romantic world I explore in Romantic Revelations was a time of climate change, particularly exemplified by 1816, “the year without a summer,” in which the Shelleys and Byron hunkered down in a chateau reading ghost stories and failing to write them. Well, except Mary of course who completed Frankenstein. It was also a time of revolution and protest although that was not the focus of my book. But a few recent developments with global implications for climate change seem to me to resonate with Romanticism as a mode of thinking in, with, and against the Anthropocene.

On October 31, 2018, a thousand plus members of the Extinction Rebellion collective assembled in London at Parliament Square to protest government inaction on climate change. Over the course of the next several weeks, dozens of arrests were made at multiple Extinction Rebellion stagings of civil disobedience.

And yet, for all the good climate change protests like Extinction Rebellion arguably do in continuing to bring attention to this urgent issue and to pressure governments to take action, stated aims and goals of such protests very often fail to include nonhumans as subjects of attention, care, preservation, and life. The focus remains anthropocentric: how do we save the human species from the result of its own self-death-dealing, from the destruction of the natural world that they have in fact destroyed? A certain species-wide narcissism seems to persist. We must save ourselves at all costs.

Consider then a new study of climate change that might temporally locate the Anthropocene elsewhen. Scientists at the University of Cambridge have shown how the genocidal settler colonialism of the Americas killed around 90% of the Indigenous population – 56 million people – and that Indigenous genocide produced other catastrophic results, including the drastic cooling of the earth’s climate that may be the inauguration of what we think of as contemporary climate change. Their study reminds us that not only may the history of the Anthropocene be different than we think but that we tend to think of climate change as the extinction of “we” humans as a collective, but it is also of course deeply linked to colonization, racism, sexism, ethnocentricism, and speciesism, affecting non-white euro-populations more drastically than “we” often take into account. And as another recent study finds, humans have killed off 60% of different animal populations in the last 50 years.

Romantic Revelations does not directly address either Extinction Rebellion (which occurred after its writing) or the genocide of Indigenous peoples. However, the book does speak to such events.

Romanticism offers a radical hospitality, a kind of ethos perhaps, that we desperately need to adjust to and attempt to survive in the Anthropocene. This hospitality demonstrates a need not for a politics based on democratic equality, but rather for a new type of social living arrangement that affords equality to all humans and nonhumans on the basis of difference. To put it in terms of the ongoing climate change protest movements of today, Romanticism resists calls for a universalized humanity. It asks us instead to recognize differences amongst humans and to accept those differences in an intersectional fashion that invites others in precisely because of difference, precisely because difference should be celebrated. The radical hospitality of Romanticism seeks to multiply difference rather than cling to the dangerous belief in this thing called a “human.”

Mary Shelley’s second novel, The Last Man (1826), opens onto similar problems of extinction and climate change. In the book, straggles of leftover humans sludge through a world devastated by plague and pestilence. While the novel appears to aggressively inhabit and propose a kind of nihilism, I find such texts to be hopeful. Because it is only when all hope is lost, when there is no hope, that hope can emerge – that, after all, is the nature of hope. Post-apocalyptic Romanticism, in other words, is ultimately about happy endings. Or so it is if we heed the call of hospitality, especially towards those nonhumans who we overlook in our narcissism-fueled climate discussions and everyday practices of full-throttle capitalistic consumption. Given that these same practices are what created the crisis in the first place, it appears that our rapacious eating of animals, say, needs to stop. It may well be, even, that the only way to save ourselves is to save those who cannot save themselves.

Hospitality of this Romantic sort is also, then, a kind of love towards the other, a love that can extend to collectives or to interpersonal relationships. Consider, for instance, this nonhuman vignette. Two insects from 54 million years ago found preserved in amber, preserved in an embrace, a final act of loving and love, a preservation, perhaps, of their love? Except we don’t know whether they are in love. Maybe to assume so is to anthropomorphize them. We don’t know anything about them other than that they are suspended in an act of reproduction that does not reproduce. Perhaps this amber tableau offers a metaphor for humans as well. While we may think we are reproducing a human species for the future the truth is there may be no future for humans. It would seem a wise reminder that we should love each other now, while we can, before our fate is sealed in amber.


Chris Washington is Assistant Professor of English at Francis Marion University, and the author of Romantic Revelations: Visions of Post-Apocalyptic Life and Hope in the Anthropocene.

Becoming a Writer of Jewish Fiction

Can a novel be taught as history? Author Sharon Hart-Green shares her experience as a writer of Jewish fiction, and argues that fiction readers not only acquire factual knowledge, but emotional affinity. Here’s why her poignant new novel belongs in classrooms this fall.


I must admit that before writing Come Back for Me, I felt a sense of trepidation about writing a Holocaust novel. Since neither my parents nor grandparents are Holocaust survivors, I did not believe that I had the “right” to do so. At the same time, I was caught between two opposing pulls: the feeling of obligation to somehow give voice to those who were brutally murdered, and the knowledge that no book could ever do justice to what they suffered. How could I possibly resolve what seemed to be an impossible dilemma?

I believe that I was able to negotiate a solution to this impasse by taking what I would call an “indirect” approach:  writing about the lingering effects of the Holocaust on two generations of Jewish families, rather than trying to write directly about the Holocaust itself. Since I had grown up in a neighbourhood full of Holocaust survivors and their children, I felt well equipped to undertake this task. This allowed me to explore the event through the experiences of those who survived as well as how it affected their offspring. History, after all, is composed of many layers of experience, and if I could approach it from this indirect angle, then perhaps I would be able to unearth some truths about it that could not be otherwise revealed.

Indeed, one of the most effective ways to teach about history is through fiction. Why? Because fiction beckons the reader to enter another person’s life – to “live” that life on an emotional level – even if only for a short while. That is not to underestimate the value of learning from history books as well; to be sure, reading about the rise and fall of great leaders and analyzing the causes and effects of historical change is vital. However, historians rarely tell stories about ordinary people. Fiction has the unique ability to draw a reader into the personal life of everyday individuals. In fact, this might be the best way for readers to learn most deeply about a historical period. When reading about characters from other eras, they not only acquire factual knowledge, but also emotional affinity.

Yet teaching about the Holocaust through the use of fiction is a particularly complex matter, partly because the enormity of the Holocaust itself makes it a difficult subject to convey in any form. How can any of us fathom that it was only seventy-five years ago that a regime arose which attempted to systematically murder every man, woman, and child of Jewish descent in all of Europe? The victim toll alone is so massive that most people who read statistics like “six million” can barely grasp what that means.

However, I think that if a work of Holocaust fiction is written with historical accuracy, it can serve as an invaluable resource for teaching about this dark period, especially in schools. By this I mean that a writer of fiction must be absolutely unwavering in representing the brutal facts of this event before taking on this task. I say this because some novelists in recent years have tried to commercialize the Holocaust, and in doing so, misrepresent it, sometimes in grossly distorted ways. For example, there have been some novels that inject elements of romance into their storylines in order to make their plots more exciting. (The Tatooist of Auschwitz is only one such example.) What does this convey to the reader? It gives the impression that the Holocaust “wasn’t all that bad,” which of course is not only a contemptible distortion of history but it also trivializes the suffering of the victims.

I hope that writers continue to write fiction about the Holocaust – about the factors leading up to it, the people who were destroyed by it, and the world that allowed it to happen. My main hope however is that they do so with caution and with a deep sense of duty to represent it with accuracy. It is the least we as writers can offer as a gesture of respect to those who perished.


Sharon Hart-Green has taught Hebrew and Yiddish literature at the University of Toronto. Her short stories, poems, translations, and articles have appeared in a number of publications. Come Back for Me is her first novel.

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.

#BalanceforBetter: Our Top Titles for International Women’s Day

This International Women’s Day, who will you celebrate? From radical housewives to the future of work, from violence to trafficking to politics and law, this week we’re highlighting top titles that celebrate women’s achievements, participate in a larger conversation, and reflect diverse and global voices.

On March 8, we’re joining groups worldwide in the call for a more gender-balanced world.

Let’s turn the page.


Disrupting Breast Cancer Narratives: Stories of Rage and Repair

Resisting the optimism of pink ribbon culture, these stories use anger as a starting place to reframe cancer as a collective rather than an individual problem. Emilia Nielsen looks at documentaries, television, and social media, arguing that personal narratives have the power to shift public discourse.

Female Doctors in Canada: Experience and Culture

The face of medicine is changing. Though women increasingly dominate the profession, they still must navigate a system that has been designed for and by men. Looking at education, health systems, and expectations, this important new collection from experienced physicians and researchers opens a much-needed conversation.

Wrapping Authority: Women Islamic Leaders in a Sufi Movement in Dakar, Senegal

Since around 2000, a growing number of women in Dakar have come to act openly as spiritual leaders for both men and women. Learn how, rather than contesting conventional roles, these women are making them integral parts of their leadership. These female leaders present spiritual guidance as a form of nurturing motherhood, yet like Sufi mystical discourse, their self-presentations are profoundly ambiguous.

Women and Gendered Violence in Canada: An Intersectional Approach

A significant expansion on the conversation on gendered violence, this new book from Chris Bruckert and Tuulia Law draws on a range of theoretical traditions emerging from feminism, criminology, and sociology. Find compelling first-person narratives, suggested activities, and discussions on everything from campus violence to online violence to victim blaming.

The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work

This book is a first. Two women from different generations debunk commonly held myths about older workers, showing how the future of work requires engaging employees across all life stages. Work-life longevity is the most influential driver transforming today’s workplace – learn how to make it a competitive advantage.

Indigenous Women’s Writing and the Cultural Study of Law

How do Indigenous women recuperate their relationships to themselves, the land, the community, and the settler-nation? Through a close analysis of major texts written in the post-civil rights period, Cheryl Suzack sheds light on how these writers use storytelling to engage in activism.

Responding to Human Trafficking: Dispossession, Colonial Violence, and Resistance among Indigenous and Racialized Women

In the first book to critically examine responses to the growing issue of human trafficking in Canada, Julie Kay reveals how some anti-trafficking measures create additional harms for the very individuals they’re trying to protect – particularly migrant and Indigenous women. An important new framework for the critical analysis of rights-based and anti-violence interventions.

Becoming Strong: Impoverished Women and the Struggle to Overcome Violence

What role can trauma play in shaping homeless women’s lives? Drawing on more than 150 in-depth interviews, Laura Huey and Ryan Broll explore the diverse effects of trauma in the lives of homeless female victims of violence. This essential read offers not only a comprehensive examination of trauma, but also explores how women may recover and develop strategies for coping with traumatic experiences.

Lissa: A Story about Medical Promise, Friendship, and Revolution

Two young girls in Cairo strike up an unlikely friendship that crosses class, cultural, and religious divides. The first in a new series, Lissa brings anthropological research comes to life in comic form, combining scholarly insights and rich storytelling to foster greater understanding of global politics, inequalities, and solidarity.

Ms. Prime Minister: Gender, Media, and Leadership

News about female leaders gives undue attention to their gender identities, bodies, and family lives – but some media accounts also expose sexism and authenticate women’s performances of leadership. Offering both solace and words of caution for women politicians, Linda Trimble provides important insight into the news frameworks that work to deny or confer political legitimacy.

A New History of Iberian Feminisms

Both a chronological history and an analytical discussion of feminist thought from the eighteenth century onward, this history of the Iberian Peninsula addresses lost texts of feminist thought, and reveals the struggles of women to achieve full citizenship. Learn what helped launch a new feminist wave in the second half of the century.

Radical Housewives: Price Wars and Food Politics in Mid-Twentieth-Century Canada

This history of Canada’s Housewives Consumers Association recovers a history of women’s social justice activism in an era often considered dormant – and reinterprets the view of postwar Canada as economically prosperous. Discover how these radical activists fought to protect consumers’ interests in the postwar years.


Want to keep learning? Visit International Women’s Day for more details about this year’s #BalanceforBetter Campaign.