Aboriginal History in Ontario’s Cottage Country

This was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca

LAC DAPDCAP97038 MIKAN No. 3192578Frequently, when I am ‘up north’ and discussing my research on northeastern Aboriginal peoples during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I am asked one of two questions:  Why were there no Aboriginal people living here?  Or, what happened to the Aboriginal people who were here?

The questions are good ones, and reflect the absence of Aboriginal people from general discussion of Muskoka’s (and much of cottage country’s) past.  Though it is changing, many of cottage country’s local museums, community websites and history books focus on the arrival of Europeans and creation of the towns with which we are familiar today, leaving the discussion of Native people to a short handful of sentences to mark what took place before Europeans arrived.  Aside from Bruce Hodgson and Jamie Benidickson’s The Temagami Experience, which doesn’t exactly focus on the heart of cottage country, and Patricia Blair’s Lament for a First Nation, there are few scholarly monographs or articles that address Aboriginal people in central Ontario.  Like in many places across Canada, history in this part of Ontario is told as a veritable clear-cutting of the past where Aboriginal people were replaced by the lumber industry and subsequent European settlement of the region. Continue reading “Aboriginal History in Ontario’s Cottage Country”

The People’s Citizenship Guide

Originally posted to ActiveHistory.ca

Tonight, at McNally Robinson [please click for event information] in Winnipeg, The People’s Citizenship Guide: A Response to Conservative Canada will be launched.  This short 80-page book is a direct response to Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, which has been widely critiqued for its restrictive and overly-politicized definition of Canadian identity (for examples or critiques see the Globe and Mail, Andrew Smith’s blog, my summary of initial reactions on AH.ca, Ian McKay’s podcast on the right-wing reconception of Canada). As in the official immigration guide, The People’s Citizenship Guide’s editors, historians Esyllt Jones and Adele Perry, have brought together a diverse group of scholars in order to succinctly reflect on the nature of Canadian citizenship and modern-day Canada. Continue reading “The People’s Citizenship Guide”

Music as a Gateway to Understanding Historical Practice

By Matenadaran [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This piece was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca.

In the mid-1990s, the music of the Wakami Wailers set me on the path to becoming a historian.  Singing the old songs from eastern Canada’s nineteenth-century lumber shanties, this group of former Ontario Parks workers instilled in me a sense of the past and its importance for understanding present realities.  By connecting some of Ontario’s premier provincial parks and province’s lumber industry, the Wailers encouraged me to consider the complex interconnection between logging and recreation in central Ontario (i.e. Muskoka and Algonquin Park).

I have come to realize over the decade and a half since I first discovered the Wailers that popular music can serve as a useful entry point for understanding the past.  This should not come as a surprise.  Approaches to teaching and learning, such as John Bigg’s SOLO taxonomy, emphasize the importance of understanding foundational concepts before higher order thinking can take place.  Popular culture serves as an easy way to establish these concepts by capitalizing on students’ everyday experience.

Music can be used to teach about the past in at least seven overlapping ways (feel free to add other categories and examples in the comments section): Continue reading “Music as a Gateway to Understanding Historical Practice”

Museum Closures, Heritage and Cultivating a Sense of Place in Toronto

This piece was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca.

“Places possess a marked capacity for triggering acts of self-reflection, inspiring thoughts about who one presently is, or memories of who one used to be, or musings on who one might become… When places are actively sensed, the physical landscape becomes wedded to the landscape of the mind, to the roving imagination, and where the latter may lead is anybody’s guess.” – Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 107.

Just as I read these words last week, the Toronto Star disclosed municipal plans to close three of the City of Toronto’s ten museums.  Montgomery’s InnGibson House and the Zion School House – museums outside of the downtown core and closely allied with the Etobicoke and North York Historical societies – are on the chopping block due to municipal cutbacks.  This decision builds on the recently announced closure of the Air and Space Museum at Downsview Park, one of a few other museums in the north end of the city.

In an age of austerity, as Sean Kheraj noted last week, all public institutions supporting culture and heritage are vulnerable. But these cuts do not just reflect cutbacks in the culture and heritage sectors. In a city already bereft of recognized historical sites outside of the downtown core, this municipal decision reinforces urban and suburban differences in how Toronto’s past is told. If places have the power to shape our self-perception and how we situate ourselves in the world, as Basso and others have suggested, how has the uneven distribution of historical places influenced the culture and politics of Canada’s largest city? Continue reading “Museum Closures, Heritage and Cultivating a Sense of Place in Toronto”

The Return of the History Wars

This piece was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca.

Last week a story in Le Devoir caught my attention.  The headline read: ‘Quebec’s history has been left behind by the universities.’  The article reports on a study lamenting the quality and quantity of history-specific training in Quebec universities.  More importantly – and this is what caught my attention – the spokesperson for one of the study’s sponsors, the Coalition for the History of Quebec, argued that the teaching of political and economic history had been subsumed by an over emphasis on social and culture history.  After reading this critique of Quebec’s university history departments, I realized that the so-called ‘History Wars’ are still alive and well in the Canadian public sphere. Continue reading “The Return of the History Wars”

Renaming Schools: A society in dialogue with its past

After a six month hiatus to put the finishing touches on my dissertation and have a baby, I have re-entered the blogosphere.  This appeared on ActiveHistory.ca earlier this week.

It should come as no surprise that the recent controversy over the renaming of a junior high school erupted in Nova Scotia.  On 22 June 2011, the Halifax Regional School Board voted unanimously to change the name of Cornwallis Junior High.  The school board was concerned about the legacy of Edward Cornwallis, the city’s founder, who in an effort to secure the town site placed a bounty on Mi’kmaq heads.  The board’s decision has caused considerable controversy and according to the media it seems that many people want the school’s name retained.  The changing of the school’s name, however, fits within a long history of name changes in Nova Scotia.  It presents a good opportunity to reflect on the diverse roots that make up Nova Scotia’s population and the province’s relationship with its past.  Renaming landmarks is a sign of a growing and evolving society that is in critical dialogue with its past. Continue reading “Renaming Schools: A society in dialogue with its past”

Building Digital Literacy and the University Curriculum

This post was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca and Teaching the Past.

The digitization of information, and the growing technologies used to manipulate and analyze it, is rapidly changing the context of the classroom. A couple of weeks ago Ian Milligan, one of my fellow editors at ActiveHistory.ca, reported on the growing debate over the use of laptops and other technology (like cell phones) during class time.  Milligan makes a compelling argument for the importance of allowing students the use of their computers in the lecture hall. Although I agree with much of what he has written on the subject, the use of technology in history courses poses a more complicated problem than simply addressing whether it should or should not be used: Where does digital literacy fit in the university curriculum and how should it be taught? Continue reading “Building Digital Literacy and the University Curriculum”

Strengthening Community through Digitized Local History

This piece was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca.

The most common question I get when people ask where I live is: “Why are you still living there?” I live near Jane-Finch and York University in Toronto, a neighbourhood better known for its crime and distance from key services than its rich cultural and community life. Over the past five-and-a-half years, however, I have learned that my neighbourhood’s bark is worse than its bite. I like where I live and a recent Toronto Public Library history project does a really great job at demonstrating some of the reasons why. Continue reading “Strengthening Community through Digitized Local History”

Remembering Francis: Sharing life and sharing the past

This post was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca

On Friday night I sat down at my computer to write out a post for this morning and nothing came.  Last week was a busy week for me and it was filled with a number of surprises (some pleasant, some less so).  One of the major events of the week was the death of my friend Francis. Continue reading “Remembering Francis: Sharing life and sharing the past”

Hands-on History: Are the archaeologists leading the way to a new mode of public engagement?

This post was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca

I have a confession.  As much as I love being a historian, I am not a huge fan of spending most of my day sitting at a desk reading.  Some days I am pretty sure that I can feel my fat cells multiplying and the muscle cells slowly decaying.  Most days I long to literally practice active – blood-flowing – history.  About seven ago, I tried to remedy this challenge by becoming involved in archaeology.  After a couple of brief glimpses into an archaeologist’s world, I found myself challenged by the practices of the discipline and increasingly by the way in which the programs of which I was a part engaged the public. Continue reading “Hands-on History: Are the archaeologists leading the way to a new mode of public engagement?”