K’jipuktuk to Halifax and back: Decolonization in the Council Chamber

This post was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca

For nearly nine decades visitors to Halifax, arriving by boat or train, were welcomed to the city by Edward Cornwallis. Encased in bronze, Cornwallis stood tall, his stern face peering towards travelers pouring out from the city’s main train station and the famed Pier 21, site of first arrival to Canada for over 1.5 million immigrants. In 2018, Cornwallis was removed from his prominent perch at the south end of Barrington Street. Yesterday evening, Halifax Regional Council solidified that decision, voting to accept a report from an expert task force on the Commemoration of Edward Cornwallis and Commemoration of Indigenous History.

The Edward Cornwallis statue, in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia, on July 15, 2017. (Ben MacLeod, Wikimedia Commons)

From a global perspective, the timing of the Halifax report could not be better. Released just six weeks after protesters in Bristol toppled a statue of Edward Colston, a prominent philanthropist whose wealth was built upon the human trafficking of enslavement of Africans, the issue of public commemoration – specifically of individuals involved in imperial and corporate systems of enslavement and oppression – remains front and centre around the world.

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What’s really killing Canadian History?

This post was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca

Last week marked the twentieth anniversary of Jack Granatstein’s provocative polemic Who Killed Canadian History, a book that laments the perceived steep decline in Canadians’ knowledge of our past.

It is rare for any book to have such staying power. Earlier this month, for example, the book was drawn upon extensively in an op-ed column for my local paper, The London Free Press. In the column, history teacher Michael Zwaagstra warns about the dangers of historical thinking and how the growing influence of this inquiry-based pedagogy has eroded the teaching of historical content.

Granatstein’s book and Zwaagstra’s op-ed column are polarizing. They force people to take sides in a debate that has mostly been unproductive. Either you are in favour of a strong chronological narrative about Canada or you focus on so-called marginal topics and – according to Zwaagstra – the development of historical thinking skills.

The binary is false.

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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”