Excerpts

  • 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.

  • An excerpt from 'Queering Urban Justice'

    The Toronto chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM-TO) organizes public interventions to resist anti-black racism in the GTA. One of the most prominent of these actions is the sit-in they staged to block the 2016 Toronto Pride Parade from moving until festival officials signed a pledge to be more inclusive of black and brown trans and LGTBQ people.  Within hours, news outlets across Canada were debating the merits of BLM-TO’s tactics (here).

    Two of BLM-TO’s founding members, Janaya Khan and Leroi Newbold, facilitated a public teach-in at the bookstore A Different Booklist.  A transcript of this event is published as “Black Lives Matter Teach-In” in QUEERING URBAN JUSTICE, a new anthology edited by Jin Haritaworn, Ghaida Moussa, and Syrus Marcus Ware, with Río Rodríguez. The following exchange is an excerpt (pages 141-143):    

    COMMUNITY MEMBER: Can you speak to what is unique about do­ing anti-Black racism organizing in Canada as opposed to other places?

    JANAYA: We know deeply, as I’m sure some of you who do different social justice work here know, of the uphill battle trying to talk about social justice in Canada. They’ll invalidate racism here and say we’re not as bad as the US. When did our standards become so low that we can justify real violence by saying we’re not as bad as the US? Because we don’t have Black people dying every twenty-eight hours like they do? When did that become the standards of justice for Black people? We are legitimately in a state of emergen­cy in Canada. We already were.

    One major issue we’ve faced here in Ontario is our Special In­vestigations Unit [SIU], that’s who we’re supposed to look to in the event that police use force against persons in this province. They were supposed to be a group of civilians, but they’re a group of ex-cops. According to their own report, from 2012 to 2013, there was a 22 per cent increase of incident reports of police officers using force against a person. There’s been a 51 per cent caseload increase for this small group of people. That tells us that our police are actually getting more and more militarized and aggressive, and that our SIU is not changing in order to be accountable to its populace. It is changing to better support police officers in their masquerading. In their pretence of justice and pretence of law enforcement, which has just really manifested itself around anti-Black racism and the killing of Black people.

    Here in Canada we recognize, particularly in Toronto, that it’s not about critical masses as much as it is about critical connec­tions. Everyone here in this space needs to be making critical con­nections. We need to be having conversations about anti-Black racism in Canada because for the first time, in a long time, people are talking about anti-Black racism here. In this era, Black Lives Matter Toronto is pushing that narrative. But revolution happens in cycles, and we’re going to honour our elders, and look towards our Indigenous people and our Black people, as we read more and more about what’s come before us. Histories of this work aren’t accessible, they are not archived, but guess what – we al­ready know they’re there because we have been living and sur­viving in those conditions. This is why a space like A Different Booklist is so incredibly important. Because it is literally a part of Black Toronto; it’s a part of Black Canada’s history. That is why we need to support it.

    Also, what we are dealing with here is fundamentally not about just the Harper government – get rid of it, get rid of it. What we’re dealing with is not just one party, politician, or institution. If we were to get rid of the current government, anti-Black racism would continue to exist. What we are dealing with is a belief system. It is a belief system that Black people are [inherently] inferior, and that we actually don’t feel pain, that we don’t hurt, that we don’t love. That is what anti-Black racism is. It manifests itself in lock­ing us up. There’s an article in the Toronto Star that said that Black youth spend the longest time in the Children’s Aid Society’s care. That’s an extension of the prison industrial complex. I was one of those youth; I grew up in that. I can tell you it did not help. It made things increasingly difficult. It made me known to the police. Why? Because they treated me as an adult, and I was twelve years old. And then fourteen years old. These are the contexts our orga­nizing is born out of.

    For more about Queering Urban Justice, click here.

  • An excerpt from 'Homophobia in the Hallways' by Tonya D. Callaghan

    On a cold day in March 2011, an inconspicuous, unremarkable group of students at St Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga, Ontario, did something remarkable, something that, in their school – indeed in Catholic schools across Canada at the time – was unthinkable. They requested permission to establish a club, a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) club in their school. To the unenlightened eye, their action appeared small, routine even. It was a logical request for an in-school club whose focus would be to make the school a safe space for lgbtq students and their straight allies by raising awareness about, and so hopefully reducing, school-based homophobia. It was not even an original idea; GSAs had originated in the United States almost 25 years before. Unbeknown to these students, they would soon be taking on a significant battle for Canadian LGBTQ rights. Their actions set off a series of events that would reverberate across the country.

    The students quickly learned that St Joseph’s school was not ready for such a club. A maelstrom ensued. The students, led by 16-year-old Leanne Iskander, encountered strong opposition first from their principal and then from administrators at the district level. By June, they remained in a standoff. The students vowed to continue their fight in the next school term.

    The establishment of a GSA in a secular Canadian public school barely seems an issue worth noting, judging by the lack of media stories about such attempts. There is, in fact, no formal mechanism in place to ban GSA clubs in non-religious public schools. Starting a GSA club in a secular public school has often, though not always, proved no more controversial than setting up an anti-racism or debate club. Students who join a GSA in a non-religious school have the right to broadcast their club meeting schedule over the school’s public address system, actively solicit other students for their club using posters and other means, meet on school property, and name their club a GSA without any concern over the use of the word gay. Note that publicly funded separate Catholic schools are accountable to civil, not church, authorities. Religious bodies do not have a constitutional or legal interest in separate schools, and, as such, Canadian Catholic separate schools are not private or parochial schools as many are in other countries.

    In Canadian Catholic schools, such as St Joseph Secondary School in Mississauga, however – a publicly funded school, I must emphasize – Leanne Iskander and friends’ request to establish such a club was rejected outright more than once and caused serious alarm, not only for the administrators of St Joseph’s but also for its school district, the Ontario bishops, and the Ontario provincial government.

    The increasingly public battle between this particular group of students in St Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School and their Catholic school administrators is significant because it represents the growing discontent between publicly funded Canadian Catholic schools and Canadian society at large. In Canada, same-sex legal rights have been steadily advancing – in 2005 Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize marriage equality nationwide (Rayside, 2008) – and Canadian gay Pride parades regularly attract millions of tourist dollars. In the publicly funded Canadian Catholic school system, however, advances in same-sex legal rights have been virtually non-existent. When trying to determine how to manage the existence of lgbtq people (students, teachers, aids, and support staff included) in Canadian Catholic schools, Catholic education leaders turn to Catholic doctrine rather than to their legal authority – Canadian human rights law. Catholic doctrine describes “homosexual acts” as “acts of grave depravity” that are “intrinsically disordered” and count among the list of “sins gravely contrary to chastity” (cited in Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops [OCCB], 2004a, p. 53). Needless to say, relying on Catholic doctrine as a guide for curricular and policy decisions makes Canadian Catholic schools hotbeds for homophobia.

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