From Wanting In to Opting Out: Home Sewing and Fashion Then and Now

My mom’s first project was cut from this pattern.

Cayley Bower

I’m a third generation home sewist.[i] My grandmother lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War—the height of the make do and mend movement—and made clothes for herself and her family with such skill that they were indistinguishable from store-bought items yet came at a fraction of the cost. My mother started sewing in 1970 at age 11 when it became clear that the family’s clothing budget couldn’t possibly keep up with her desire to dress like Goldie Hawn on Laugh In. My mom remembers her first project vividly: After choosing a pattern (a shift dress with short sleeves and a Peter Pan collar) she laid out the paper pattern pieces and cut the fabric—the dress was made from fabric salvaged from the skirt of one of my grandma’s old dresses—and then sewed the pieces together, though she had to pick out the side seam and re-sew it eleven times before it was straight. In the end, though, she got the Goldie Hawn dress of her dreams and the skills to have a wardrobe of fashion-forward clothes at a fraction of the cost of store-bought. My mother, like countless women, since the sewing machine first emerged for sale over a hundred years before, sewed her own clothes so that she could participate in and gain entry into a consumer fashion market that was beyond her financial means.

The desire for fashionable clothes that were otherwise prohibitively expensive was a significant motivation for home sewing from its inception in the 1860s and 70s until the early 1990s when foreign manufacturing made ready-to-wear fashion dramatically cheaper. When I started sewing in the early 2000s, the pastime was thoroughly passé, but this has changed in recent years as sewing has experienced a resurgence. This resurgence, however, comes with a major shift; home sewing appears to be characterized less by women wanting into the consumer fashion market and more about opting out.

A graded pattern has multiple sizes on the same pattern.

Using fashion as an expression of class and individual taste is nothing new.   Continue reading

What We’ve Learned About Ontario’s Multicultural History

By Allana Mayer

There are lots of digital divides. There is a literacy divide (understanding the production of the things you see), an access divide (having the infrastructure in the first place), and then there are representation divides – seeing people like you in the materials that circulate online. As archives and heritage organizations increasingly digitize and share their unique historical collections, it can sometimes feel like we’re widening that gap in representation, not closing it. I experienced this firsthand on a recent historical research project focusing on Ontario’s multicultural history.

OurDigitalWorld is a nonprofit that works with hundreds of Ontario libraries, archives, historical societies, and interest groups to make digitized historical materials online and accessible. With funding from the Government of Ontario through the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, we are undertaking a series of projects bringing together materials from across Ontario to explore the histories of women and multicultural communities. We’ve assembled three virtual exhibits: one on Ontario’s women’s history, one on black history, and one on Japanese history.  These exhibits include artifacts, photos, news clippings, manuscripts, maps, and drawings from over 50 cultural heritage organizations in Ontario.

The first stage of the project was to build the virtual exhibits and to show what can be done when we bring hundreds of heritage collections together. The next stage will allow for an expansion of these virtual exhibits and develop curriculum resources which will  allow Ontario public school educators to bring these primary sources into the classroom. We plan to produce a range of educational resources including: exercises and activities, homework assignments, assessment rubrics, presentation slides and handouts, and multimedia modules that students can explore, appropriate for a variety of grade levels.  All of this material will be made openly available under Creative Commons licenses, so that people can reuse and adapt them however they want.

I’m a regular reader of Active History and always find myself inspired by its content. In fact, after reading about Ontario’s history curriculum, I reached out to Dr. Samantha Cutrara to talk about this stage of our project. We’ll be working together this summer, schedules permitting, on ways to bring primary sources to Ontario students. I also spoke to teachers, archivists, and librarians who have experience using primary materials in the classroom—to talk about archival literacy and how best to share and teach with materials that deal with trauma, such as oppression of and discrimination against underrepresented groups.

Continue reading

What Does Canadian History Look Like? A Peek into University Classrooms before CHA 2018

By Thomas Peace

It’s that time of the year again.

Over the coming weekend, historians will join our colleagues in the social sciences and humanities in Regina for the annual Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities, during which the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) will meet.

This year, the CHA has been organized around the theme of “Gathering Diversities,” reflecting upon how both our understanding of the past and historical methods have been shaped by diverse and divergent perspectives. You can read the program here.

For the past several years I have examined the words most commonly used in the titles presenters have assigned to their papers, transforming the conference program into word clouds, in an effort to provide a cursory overview of the breadth of subjects being presented at the meeting. Occasionally, I have complemented this analysis with some sort of parallel examination of another aspect of the Canadian historian’s craft. One year it was abstracts from journal articles, another year it was past CHA programs, and last year it was a flash-in-the-pan #Canada150 TV special called The Story of Us.

Figure 1. Common words used in Canadian-history course descriptions.

This year, as I was preparing for my own CHA presentation, which is based on our decision at Huron University College to stop teaching the pre-Confederation Canadian History survey course, I decided to look at academic calendar descriptions of first- and second-year introductory courses to Canadian history in order to get a better sense about how Canadian history is being taught across the country. Here’s what I discovered: Continue reading

Podcast: The Broader Significance of the 1860s

On April 22, 2017, Heidi Bohaker and Paula Hastings  delivered their talk “The Broader Significance of the 1860s.” The talk was part of “The Other 60s: A Decade that Shaped Canada and the World,” a symposium hosted by the Department of History at the University of Toronto as part of its Canada 150 events.

This talk is part of our History Chats podcast series. You can subscribe to the History Chats feed wherever you get your podcasts.

The “Lost Stories” Project: A Tool for Introducing Students to Questions about Historical Markers, Public Memory, and Commemoration

This is the final essay in a five part series featuring the Lost Stories Project.

By Scott Pollock

It seems as of late that whenever I turn on the news, or pick up a newspaper, I am confronted with another story about historical markers, public memory, and commemoration. Recent examples range from the debate over the possible re-naming of Sir John A. Macdonald public schools, to the on-going controversy over the Langevin Block in Parliament, and the confrontations that have occurred as a result of the removal of Confederate statues in some areas of the United States. Interestingly, though perhaps not surprisingly, I have also found that many of my high school students are engrossed in these issues, which they will quite happily debate with one another. This seems to me to be something of a pedagogical opportunity — a moment in which teachers can, ever so carefully, encourage their students to think more deeply about what “history” is, how it is constructed, and why we choose to remember particular stories.

The idea of engaging in this sort of discussion may be somewhat frightening (perhaps very frightening) to some of my colleagues teaching in K-12 classrooms. This is understandable as philosophic discussions about the nature of history, commemoration, and historical consciousness have not traditionally been a part of K-12 history education (often they aren’t part of an undergraduate history education either, but that is a topic for another day). There is, however, an ever-growing body of research both within Canada [1] and the rest of the world [2] that indicates students are capable of understanding and thinking critically about these issues when they are given appropriate support. In fact, the existing research seems to indicate not only that students can deal with these sorts of questions, but that they enjoy the opportunity to do so [3]. Given this, I think it is time for K-12 history teachers within Canada to devote time and space within their crowded curricula to raise questions about public memory and commemoration. The challenge is to figure out how to do so.

The Lost Stories Project is in the process of developing a set of resources for teachers who are interested in addressing these issues with their students. Continue reading

Revived Stories Promote Reconciliation Across Cultures and Across Time

This is the fourth in a five part series featuring the Lost Stories Project.

By Keith Thor Carlson

The same week that a mob of torch-carrying white supremists marched through Charlottesville Virginia protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee a group of Indigenous and settler Canadians gathered in Hope BC to celebrate the erection of a cedar memorial pole commemorating the Stó:lõ boys who had been kidnapped during the 1858 Fraser River gold rush.  Carved by Chief Terry Horne, the work depicted a Stó:lõ father and his son reaching for one another, but their hands not quite connecting.  The pole was a work of commemorative public art, part of the Lost Stories Project. The creation of Terry Horne’s carving and the story that it tells are at the heart of Sandra Bonner Pederson’s film, Kidnapped Stó:lõ Boys.

Image 4.1: Commemorative Pole by Chief Terry Horne. Courtesy Sandra Bonner Pederson

According to obscure records in the colonial archives, the Stó:lõ boy depicted in Horne’s carving was but one of the “great many” who had been kidnapped by “vicious white men” (American miners) and taken to California. The father’s name was Sokolowictz. He tried repeatedly over four years to secure his son’s rescue and repatriation.  Ultimately these efforts were in vain.  The boy died in the custody of his kidnapper, and today he remains buried in the Sacramento pioneer cemetery under the name Charley Crum – the moniker assigned him by his abductor George Crum.  Sokolowictz’s fate is unknown, but Indigenous oral traditions recorded forty years after the kidnappings shed light on the ways the kidnappings affected families.  One Stó:lõ father is described as having searched frantically in the woods for his kidnapped son only to die of grief a few days later. Continue reading

The Yees Return to Regina

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This is the third in a five part series featuring the Lost Stories Project.

By Ronald Rudin

Mamie Wong left Regina in 1947, never expecting to return. But this all changed when she learned a story about her father that had been largely lost to her family for decades and which is now featured both in a public art project by Saskatoon-based artist Xiao Han and in the Lost Stories film Yee Clun and the Exchange Café by Regina-based filmmaker Kelly-Anne Riess.

Yee Clun was a Regina restaurateur who came to the attention of historians — if not his own family — because of his role in the 1920s in challenging Saskatchewan’s White Women’s Labour Law. Legal historian Constance Backhouse has provided a detailed discussion of this law in her 1999 book, Colour Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, showing how it was designed to prevent Chinese-Canadian businessmen (such as Yee Clun) from hiring white women.[1]

This was no small matter for Mr Yee given that in 1921 there were only four women among the 250 Chinese residents of Regina. The gender imbalance was a result of the discriminatory legislation of the time that worked against the immigration of entire families from China. It was through no fault of his own that Yee had no Chinese women to choose from, but this situation alarmed some Saskatchewan leaders who feared that sexual improprieties were inevitable if Chinese men were allowed to be in close contact with white women. As a result, the provincial law only allowed such hiring if the employer was able to secure a municipal license, and this is where Yee Clun became a public figure. Continue reading

Outside the Frame: The Making of Qamutiik: From the North to Ottawa’s Southway Inn

This is the second in a five part series featuring the Lost Stories Project.

By John C. Walsh

I played a lead role in the Lost Stories episode Qamutiik: From the North to Ottawa’s Southway Inn, serving as associate producer of the film. Due to this involvement, whenever I watch it I am able to see what sits just off the screen, somewhere outside the frame. There were moments, people, and things related to this project that were never filmed or were edited out. For whatever reason, knowing what is outside the frame affords me a unique viewing experience, and it is one I will share here.

I do so for two purposes: First, I want to shine some light on how doing public history is hard, often slow, and almost always unpredictable work. There are confines – budgets, deadlines, and often contracted “deliverables” – but the journeys taken in making public history projects, such as Lost Stories, create moments of both challenge and opportunity that no amount of planning can predict. And, secondly, I want to share a glimpse of personal experience that I hope enriches what you see when watching the film, and that underlines how the sharing of interpretive authority and resources produces effective and affecting public history.

Other than filming done at the home studio of the project artist, Couzyn van Heulven, I was on set, not only to make sure things went well but also to learn more about how a documentary film set operates. What I did not expect, was that I would become so involved: Continue reading

Public History is Messy

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This is the first in a five part series featuring the Lost Stories Project.

By Ronald Rudin

In mid-June 2017, I received a phone call from a senior official in the New Brunswick Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture. He wanted to talk with me in regard to the Lost Stories Project that I direct. We seek out little-known stories from the Canadian past, hand them over to artists to create works of public art, and document the process by way of short documentary films. The project was designed, in part, to show what happens when stories about the past are told in public space. When we see a piece of public art making reference to the past, it appears as if it couldn’t have told any other story, taken on any other form, or been located in any other location. The Lost Stories Project offers an opportunity to show that the process was far from straightforward since there are invariably numerous interests that need to be heard and challenges that had not been expected.

During 2017, with Canada 150 funding from the federal government, we created four new episodes from across the country, selecting from nearly 200 stories that were brought to us following a call to the public. While subsequent Active History posts this week will explore other episodes, my phone call was pertinent to one that I led, which told the story of individuals — mostly Acadians — who contracted leprosy and were in the 1840s confined to Sheldrake Island, near the mouth of New Brunswick’s Miramichi River; and until that phone call, everything connected with this particular episode had gone according to plan. Continue reading

Podcast: Setting the Plains on Fire: How Indigenous Geo-Politics and the U.S.-Dakota War Shaped Canada’s Westward Expansion

On April 22, 2017, Michel Hogue delivered his talk “Setting the Plains on Fire: How Indigenous Geo-Politics and the U.S.-Dakota War Shaped Canada’s Westward Expansion.” The talk was part of “The Other 60s: A Decade that Shaped Canada and the World,” a symposium hosted by the Department of History at the University of Toronto as part of its Canada 150 events.

This talk is part of our History Chats podcast series. You can subscribe to the History Chats feed wherever you get your podcasts.