Remember / Resist / Redraw #02: Chloe Cooley, Black History, and Slavery in Canada

Last month, the Graphic History Collective (GHC) launched Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical History Poster Project to intervene in the Canada 150 conversation.

In January, we released two posters. Poster #00 by Kara Sievewright and the GHC introduced and explained the goals of the project. Poster #01 by Lianne Charlie, which was showcased on and CBC, kicked off the series with a critical examination of 150 years of colonialism in the Yukon.

Earlier this month, in recognition of Black history month, we released Poster #02, which looks at Chloe Cooley and the history of slavery in Canada and features the amazing art of Naomi Moyer and the powerful words of historian Funké Aladejebi.

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High Quality Marijuana Regulation

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By Jonathan McQuarrie

Prepare for an onset of advertisements asserting the cleanliness and quality of Canadian marijuana. As marijuana dispensaries emerge from informal networks towards formal supply chains shaped by storefronts and licensed growers, marijuana growers and retailers will increasingly have to sell their product on the basis of quality, cleanliness, and standardization. The process of formalizing the marijuana market has some intriguing parallels to the efforts of Canadian producers and manufacturers to create formal, standardized categories for tobacco at the turn of the 20th century. The tobacco precedent suggests that rigorous standards present a major threat to smaller producers who may see opportunity in the emerging legal marijuana market.

Canadian manufacturers and agricultural modernizers sought to form a tobacco industry from the precedents set by Indigenous peoples, as well as the strong tabac canadien that had been raised by French-Canadian farmers in small garden plots. Racist metrics of quality and expertise caused colonial Canadian farmers and manufacturers to largely reject Indigenous tobacco cultivation practices, beyond acknowledging them as a precedent to legitimize tobacco farming in Canada or using racist images of Indigenous peoples, such as the “Cigar store Indian,” to evoke a sense of timelessness for their products.[1]

In doing this, Canadian tobacco interests, combined with a federal interest in both regulating and promoting Canadian tobacco for tax and export purposes, gradually conformed to a rigorous classification for tobacco, based on leaf size, colouration, curing methods, and other factors. A tobacco farmer didn’t simply grow tobacco; they grew burley, flue-cured, or cigar tobacco, and even then, a wide range of varieties were selected based on flavour, germination period, resistance to pests, and so on. The tobacco farmer’s success was then judged by the manufacturer, or later, at tobacco auctions, which had complicated grading systems. By the 1960s, a farmer’s tobacco crop was adjudicated by over 60 government-regulated grades, based on colour, leaf location and damage, cure, and other factors.

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The Presence of the Past: The Possibilities of Virtual Reality for History

Sean Kheraj

For the past year, I’ve been thinking a lot about virtual reality and its potential applications for historians. Can we use virtual reality to better understand the past? Can the experience of virtual reality alter historical thinking? Can we now build time machines, teleporters, and holodecks using virtual reality?

These questions may be overly optimistic or idealistic. I may look back on this article a year from now and shake my head and chuckle at my naive enthusiasm for this technology. But for now, VR has got me thinking about the future of history.

VR stands apart from other multimedia technologies primarily because of its ability to generate a sense of presence. Thomas B. Sheridan describes this as a “sense of being physically present with visual, auditory, or force displays generated by a computer.” He proposed three measurable physical variables to determine what he called “telepresence” and “virtual presence”: (1) extent of sensory information; (2) control of relation of sensors to environment; and (3) ability to modify physical environment. Does VR have the potential to generate a sense of the presence of the past?[i]

John Bonnett’s concluding remarks in his 2003 article on the 3D Virtual Buildings Project in Journal of the Association for History and Computing suggest that I’m not alone in my enthusiasm. He wrote, “3D environments are instruments, and if properly exploited they stand to provide historians with substantial gains in their capacity to teach, represent and analyze the past.” Remarkably, Bonnett’s outlook on the future of 3D environments predicted some of the most recent developments in virtual reality and augmented reality technologies:

In this vision of computing, users in near future will wear computers with the computational power of today’s desktops, and the size of today’s personal digital assistants. These computers, in turn, will be connected to wireless networks to access and post information, and to head mounted displays the size of glasses to display information. I mention this newly emerging field because it is already making a contribution to the way we represent the past, and the way we tell stories. In principle, it should be possible in the next 10 to 20 years to produce something akin to the holodeck from Star Trek. We will not be able to interact with objects without the mediation of glasses or gloves. But we should be able to generate representations of ancient Rome or 19th century Paris, and project them onto football fields.fields.[ii]

Smartphones with stereoscopic viewers (Google Cardboard, Daydream View, Gear VR) and tethered VR/AR headsets like the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Microsoft HoloLens have brought us closer to that holodeck-like experience. Immersing yourself in a 3D representation of nineteenth-century Paris is not a fantasy. It can be done now.

In this article, I’d like to show some examples of how VR can be used today to, in Bonnett’s words, “teach, represent and analyze the past.” Continue reading

Policing Gay Sex in Toronto Parks in the 1970s and Today

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Tom Hooper

In the foreground, Toronto’s Marie Curtis Park, site of the 2016 arrests. Toronto and Region Conservation.

From September to October 2016, members of the Toronto Police conducted a six-week undercover investigation in Marie Curtis Park, located in the city’s west end.  72 people were charged with engaging in sexual acts.  Police Constable Kevin Ward has argued “it is a multi-faceted issue,” linking park sex with sex offenders, drugs, and alcohol.  Although 95 percent of those charged are men, police contend that sexuality was not the primary factor.  The problem is that there is a history of police unapologetically targeting men having sex with men in Toronto’s parks.

In September 1968, as the government of Pierre Trudeau was contemplating changes to the regulation of homosexuality, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police held their annual meeting.  They were overwhelmingly opposed to reform, proclaiming “there is too great an erosion of our moral principles.”  Echoing the idea that this is a ‘multi-faceted issue,’ they argued “the search for homosexuals for partners often leads to assault, theft, male prostitution and murder.”  Despite these fears, one year later, Trudeau’s Omnibus Bill was in effect.

The change to the law regulating homosexuality in the Omnibus Bill was merely a partial decriminalization.  Gross indecency, the provision outlawing gay sex, was not removed from the Criminal Code.  Rather, the Omnibus Bill added an “exception clause,” which allowed adults over 21 years old to be grossly indecent, provided they did so in private, and that only two people were present.  Queer activist Tim McCaskell noted, “all that Criminal Code amendments had done was to recognize the obvious.  The state could scarcely effectively surveil all the bedrooms of the nation.”  Using the loophole created by the exception clause, the police mobilized to charge men with gross indecency in spaces outside of the bedroom, namely, bathhouses, washrooms, and parks.  The limitations of the 1969 reform were highlighted by a group of queer activists on Parliament Hill in August 1971.  This protest was dubbed “We Demand.”

In 1971, Philosopher’s Walk, a pathway behind the Royal Ontario Museum connecting Bloor Street and Queen’s Park, was known as a gay cruising spot.  Continue reading

Does the Crowd Matter? The Moral Economy in the Twenty-First Century

By Tom Peace

Women’s Marches Then and Now

Over the past couple of weeks people around the world have taken to the streets in order to call politicians, business leaders, and civil servants to account. Though similar, no one event was the same. The Women’s March was carefully planned over two months between the US election and Inauguration Day; its purpose was to give voice to the open misogyny expressed by Republicans during the campaign. A week later tens of thousands flooded US airports to support travelers detained due to the idiosyncratic and illegal presidential travel ban targeting Muslims.[1] Two days after that, here in Canada, we mourned the killing of Azzedine Soufiane, Mamaou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Ibrahima Barry and Abdelkrim Hassane as they left a Quebec City mosque following prayers. Again, thousands took to the streets across the country voicing concerns over the rise of hate speech and its enablers.

As I participated in, and continue to think about the meaning of, these movements, my attention often turns to the historiography of the crowd. Continue reading 2.0

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Our new look

Today we’re re-launching with a new look and a more secure online presence. Over the past year or two we’ve been tinkering with the site in an effort to improve readability and make older content more accessible: we’re hoping that this modest makeover will help a bit with those goals. Among the new features–besides our trimmed-down logo–are better scaling on mobile and tablet devices, and more convenient access to the post archive, whether through the “Features” tab, a keyword search, or simply clicking on any of the tags or categories that appear below every post.

Behind the scenes, we’ve switched over to a more reliable and secure server, and connected with Rob Clifford at Calico Logic for tech support. You won’t see much difference on the front end; just a site that works the way it should.

As always, this new version of the site is a work in progress. Please don’t hesitate to leave comments or e-mail if you have ideas, bug reports, or suggestions… actually, on that note, give us a few days to get the email accounts back up and running. In the meantime, email

We’re taking donations!

While revamping the webpage, we’ve also created an opportunity for you to support Active History financially through a new donations tab. Over the past eight years, the site has survived primarily through the volunteer labour of the editors and our contributors, with support from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, York University, the University of Saskatchewan and Huron University College. As the project and website have grown larger, requiring more online resources and support, we have increasingly felt it important to have dedicated funds available for upkeep: to keep the servers running, to solve technical problems, to make sure that the more than 1,000 blog posts, papers, podcasts and exhibits on have a stable and secure home.

It has always been our goal to support projects that align with our goals. Over the coming months, we will also roll out programs that will use donated funds to help seed new Active History projects and recognize exemplary practices of Active History throughout Canada. Huron University College has agreed to support the donations system and account, which is subject to all of the college’s fiscal oversight mechanisms, with co-editor Thomas Peace acting as coordinator for this new initiative. Inquiries can be directed to him at

Canada, UFOs, and Wishful Thinking

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Matthew Hayes

Novelty UFO in Moonbeam, Ontario. Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve ever done even a cursory search on UFOs, chances are you’ve come across that mythical American investigation, Project Blue Book. It officially ran from 1952 until 1969, at which point the infamous Condon Report denied any scientific basis to UFOs and the US Air Force shut down its investigation. Depending who you talk to, the American projects remain shrouded in mystery and intrigue. I imagine even the most diehard skeptics would be forced to admit that the US probably still has classified documents they’re not yet willing to release. Who knows what they might contain.

But as interesting as all that is, what excites me more is the fact that we Canadians also have UFO documents. And quite a lot of them too. Approximately 10,000 of them, all housed at the national archives in Ottawa. I know this, because I currently have copies of every single page sitting on a hard drive on my desk. And I currently have several ATIP requests in for several hundred (or even thousand) more. When I tell people what my dissertation project is, one of the most common responses is: “I didn’t even realize Canada had a UFO archive.” Last time I was at Library and Archives Canada, I told an archivist that I was studying Canada’s UFO documents, and was authoritatively told: “Well, this isn’t serious work.” There may have been a tentative question mark tacked onto the end of that statement.

In truth, it’s not really an archive at all. More like a keyword search.[1] Those 10,000 documents are spread around all over the place, but are clustered mainly in Department of National Defence and RCMP files. They start around 1945 and go all the way to the mid-1990s, when it seems the Canadian government had had enough, and stopped collecting reports of UFO sightings. There are sighting reports galore. Thousands of them. And they run the gamut from hilarious to baffling to downright boring. Continue reading

Trump & Mexico: Interventionism Again?

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Joseph Tohill

A lesson from the past? US marines raise flag in Veracruz, Mexico, 1914

If there’s any truth in the old adage that those who don’t know their history are condemned to repeat it, then Americans are in for a rough four years. The administration’s sometimes calculated but always casual disregard for the truth (some would say, reality) has become a hallmark of the administration’s first few weeks in office, beginning with false claims about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd (“largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period”) and following up with a daily dose of “alternative facts.” Along with its flagrant disregard for the truth, the Trump administration has so far demonstrated a profound ignorance of America’s history, as evidenced by Trump’s recent comments at a Black History Month event about noted abolitionist Frederick Douglass. (Douglass, he said, “has done and amazing job and is being recognized more and more.”)

Trump clearly had no idea who Douglass was. For any president not possessed of the towering self-regard of Donald Trump, this would have been a moment of acute embarrassment—a gaff that would have had White House representatives rushing to clarify the president’s remarks and reassure the public (and especially the African American audience) that of course the president knows who Frederick Douglass was. Instead, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer’s response to a reporter’s request for clarification about what Trump meant by Douglass being “recognized more and more” demonstrated that he, too, had no idea that Douglass is no longer alive, having died 122 years ago.

Of course, history doesn’t actually repeat itself, nor does an ignorance of history really condemn anyone to repeat the mistakes of the past. But there are lessons that we can draw from past mistakes. In the realm of foreign policy, one of the most important is surely that intervening militarily in other countries in the name of stability has rarely produced the intended result, or, when it has, it has been at tremendous cost to the recipients of American ‘help.’ Continue reading

Remembering the Voyage of the St. Louis

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By Laura Madokoro 

Museum Jewish Heritage Twitter feed, 1 Feb 2017

The past two weeks have witnessed a bewildering amount of activity in the United States with regards to the admission, and exclusion, of migrants and refugees from seven majority-Muslim nations. On January 25 and 27, President Donald Trump issued two Executive Orders that immediately barred Syrian refugees from US resettlement, barred permanent and temporary migrants from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen for 90 days and slashed US refugee resettlement efforts in half, while suspending the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days, except for a small number of Christian minorities fleeing religious persecution.[1]

The response we have seen has been mixed. Outrage and protests in the United States and around the world, with swift actions by lawyers and state authorities, but also a 49% approval rating for Trump’s actions. At the time of writing, a federal court in Washington had lifted the ban and the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals was hearing arguments from both sides about whether the ban could be legally re-imposed. All expectations are that a Supreme Court challenge is imminent. These are sobering, sobering times to say the least.

As someone who researches the history of refugees, I have been unmoored by the speed and viciousness with which the Trump Administration has acted against a select group of migrants. I am at the same time buoyed by the strength of popular protests and the efficacy of activists and legal experts in pushing back against actions that are seemingly unconstitutional and definitely unconscionable. Yet as a historian I remain disquieted by the ease with which the Administration has disregarded decades of work designed to shelter people fleeing dangerous circumstances from the very discriminatory policies that it is now advancing. Continue reading

The ‘Right’ to Bear Arms in Canada

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R. Blake Brown

Canada’s National Firearms Association is one of several voices advocating for the rights of gun owners

The recent mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque risks reopening Canada’s gun control debate.  Any such debate will sound familiar. Proponents and opponents of firearm regulation since the 1970s have largely repeated the same arguments. If you listen carefully, however, you may hear a different argument that until recently has not been part of mainstream public discourse: that Canadians have a constitutional right to possess arms.

This idea has an influential new champion: John Robson. Robson possess a PhD in American History from the University of Texas at Austin. He writes columns for the National Post, produces a blog: John Robson Online: True Canadian Values in a Complex World, and makes documentaries with titles such as “Magna Carta: Our Shared Legacy of Liberty.” In advertising his most recent documentary, “A Right to Arms,” he asserts that “your right to bear arms is as Canadian as maple syrup.”[i] Robson also suggests the existence of such a right in a recent article published in the Dorchester Review, entitled, “Armed Canadians: A Brief History.”[ii] He claims that the English constitution, and by extension the Canadian constitution, traditionally included a individual right to possess firearms.

Robson’s suggestion in the Dorchester Review that Canada received such a right, however, does not withstand scrutiny. Continue reading