Paradoxes, Politics, and Calculated Silence

by Lauren Naus on July 22, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Patrick Lacroix

Immigration and immigrant integration made a sudden and unexpected eruption into Canada’s federal election in 2015. The Conservative Party was determined to prevent Muslim women from wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. The New Democratic Party’s commitment to civic nationalism and its openness on this issue may have cost it valuable votes. The “niqab issue” set the NDP apart from the Conservative and Liberal parties and seemed to contribute to its rapid fall from grace in Quebec.

In a recent contribution to the Canadian Journal of History, I study some of the antecedents to the place of immigration policy in Canada’s current partisan debates. This interest stems from my major research paper as a graduate at Brock University in 2009-2010. I was then studying the Catholic Church’s approach to minority rights in post-war Canada, a project that demanded attention to political parties’ and religious stakeholders’ views of immigration policy.

Early on, I was struck by the richness of the literature on the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the CCF, the predecessor to today’s NDP), especially its advocacy of human rights. But few scholars have studied the party’s approach to immigration, something I found puzzling. Ever curious, I went back to the sources—the party’s founding documents, official newspaper, manifestos, and campaign platforms. Scholars’ silence began to make sense: the party itself had sometimes been wholly silent on immigration policy. This was, I suggest, a calculated silence that reflected divisions within the party and commitments to contradictory principles.

Lacroix_Woodsworth J.S.Library and Archives Canada. MIKAN no. 3193170 Title: J.S. Woodsworth at work.

The founders and early leaders of the CCF were staunch allies of the labour movement. They opposed any vast influx of people—especially those seen as racially subaltern—as a way of protecting “old-stock” Canadians’ working conditions. Yet many of the same leaders embraced a universalism influenced by socialist theory and, paradoxically perhaps, the Social Gospel.

These contradictions forced difficult debates upon the CCF during the Depression, but its future tack became apparent as it pressed the Canadian government of Mackenzie King to accept Jewish refugees from Europe on the eve of World War II. Following the war, the party called for an end to ethnic and racial discrimination in admissions to Canada. It remained committed to economic nationalism—with its attendant protection of Canadian workers—but now embraced a civic nationalism that became most evident in its human rights advocacy.

I hope that my CJH article and some of our more recent political developments will spur scholars to further investigate the place of immigration policy in the history of Canadian partisan politics.

A graduate of Bishop’s University and Brock University, Patrick Lacroix is now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of New Hampshire. His dissertation reconsiders the intersection of faith and politics in the United States under John F. Kennedy.

Patrick Lacroix’s article, From Strangers to “Humanity First”: Canadian Social Democracy and Immigration Policy, 1932–1961” is available in the Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire Vol. 51 Issue 1. Read it at CJH Online or on Project MUSE.

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Written by guest blogger, Scott Johnston 

As I discovered in graduate school, and while researching the article I wrote for the CJH called “Boy Scouts and the British World: Autonomy within an Imperial Institution, 1908-1936,” identity is a curious thing. It is flexible beyond all logical reasoning, even allowing humans to simultaneously hold multiple contradictory beliefs. Group identity is just as complicated, because those who share an identity often disagree about what it means to be part of that group, be it or ‘Canadian,’ or ‘British,’ or a ‘graduate student.’ But identity is a concept that academics need to engage with. From Brexit to Black Lives Matter to Truth and Reconciliation, identity politics continue to dominate current affairs. In all these cases, it is clear how contested and changeable identities are. I find this flexibility absolutely fascinating to explore.

It is very easy to equate a shared identity with unity. As historians, we would be lost without using groups’ monikers as shorthand to examine motivations, causes and effects. But divisions within identities can be just as revealing. “Boy Scouts and the British World” exposes some internal divisions in identity by demonstrating how fractured the Boy Scout movement was in the first thirty years of its existence. The Boy Scout organization is often considered a monolith of imperial culture, a tool for extending Britishness to Canada and colonies across the globe. This ‘Britishness’ was a vision of middle class masculine vigour, infused with racial rhetoric of a people restored and reinvigorated by experiencing comradeship in the great outdoors. A parallel organization, the Girl Guides, offered a similarly charged version of femininity. Children in these organizations were meant to find fellowship in doing their bit for the mighty project of empire. But this vision of Scouting was far from universally accepted. James Robertson, the Chief of the Canadian Boy Scouts, was constantly at odds with the movement’s founder, Robert Baden-Powell. Their conflicting understandings of what it meant to be a Scout, let alone what it meant to be ‘British,’ ‘Canadian,’ and ‘French Canadian,’ made for some spectacular clashes and crises. These crises are the focus of my article.

In a similar way, graduate school is full of crises of identity. Trapped between the knowledge that you are pursuing a prestigious degree at the highest level of education, and on the other hand feeling inadequate and unprepared to share your work with ‘real’ scholars can be challenging. The CJH’s graduate essay competition is a fantastic opportunity for graduate students to get a feel for academic publishing without the pressure that can often accompany submitting work to a journal. I am honoured to have won the award this year, and to have my work published in the CJH, but I feel that (having lost in previous years), the process itself was just as valuable as winning. Going through peer review and corresponding with the editing staff are useful experiences for any graduate student, and my work has improved because of it. I strongly encourage graduate students to take a chance and submit their work to the competition. I am sure there are many gems of well-written and well-researched papers out there that do not see the light of day because of the fear of failure. Click submit. It will be worth it!

Scott Johnston’s article, Boy Scouts and the British World: Autonomy within an Imperial Institution, 1908–1936“is available in the Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire Vol. 51 Issue 2. Read it at CJH Online or on Project MUSE.

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Medical History on the Move

by Lauren Naus on July 15, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Lucas Richert

The most recent issue of Canadian Bulletin of Medical History/Bulletin canadien d’histoire de la médecine is now available and it’s thrilling times for the new editors, Erika Dyck and Kenton Kroker. Tackling such engaging and topical subjects as transfusions in France, eugenics, HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, and Thalidomide, among others, the journal is on the cutting-edge.

For the uninitiated, CBMH/BCHM is Canada’s leading history of medicine journal. It’s been around since 1984 and its aim is to situate the history of health, medicine, and biomedical science within local, regional, and international contexts. There are many terrific years ahead.

I’m incredibly excited to be working with CBMH/BCHM and University of Toronto Press over the summer months. It will be my pleasure to help out with journal’s migration to the UofT’s publishing platform. As part of this transition, we are moving all of the back issues onto UofT’s server, and in some cases enhancing them, with abstracts and keywords. The journal is about to publish its 66th issue, so there are lots to consider!

As the journey commences this summer, I’ll be posting and tweeting about the process – all of the amazing stops and bumps in the road, as well excellent articles and contemporary health and medicine issues dating back to the mid-1980s. I’d guess holidays would come first, but I encourage you to share and participate in the voyage as much as you can!

For more updates, follow @DrLucasRichert on Twitter and visit

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Written by guest blogger, James Carson

I recently attended my son’s high school graduation. At the end of the emcee’s recognition of territory the audience stood and erupted in a raucous ovation. There were even whoops, hoots, and hollers, a joy in something right was being done. Would this have happened ten or twenty years ago? No. Two? Probably not. One? I’m not sure.

The recent Liberal victory and the promulgation of the Truth and Reconciliation Report have pivoted Canada away from the dreary Indian Act and opened the possibility of a “sunny” way forward. Symbolic gestures and statements—like at the graduation ceremony or in Kingston’s recent naming of a school after Molly Brant– matter because they re-frame public mores and provide the cues that young citizens will mind. More substantive issues like healthcare, water, employment, and governmental relationships, meanwhile, remain complicated and only time will tell if new attitudes can work new wonders.

Where do historians fit in all of this?

For years scholars have deployed critical insights and measured reflections against powerful national narratives of discovery, of expansion, and of state, and we have achieved much. But there is something about the moment in which we now find ourselves that seems to demand more. I think it is asking us to build something new too.

My recent article on re imagining the traditional story of the martyrdom of Jean de Brébeuf seeks to chart one such way forward, in step with others, to ground the study of the past in indigenous languages, knowledges, and imperatives–to the best of my abilities, limited as they may be. It is a scholarship of hope and implication more so than of objectivity and conclusion, and it enacts an epistemological shift away from one set of foundational assumptions towards other ones, elusive ones, vital ones. As this new historiographical strand takes firmer and sharper shape over time, we would do well to appreciate it self-consciously, to acknowledge its moment and its incipient potential–all while accepting that the historical practice of reconciliation will no doubt proceed in fits and starts. Some attempts will be artfully elegant. Others more tentative and speculative. Some even fumbly.

Creating something new, though, is always difficult. We will need to bear in mind the need to balance a rigorous critical eye with a forgiving generosity. If it is to remain true to its moment and to its intent, historiographical reconciliation will be driven by a spirit of open-ended inquiry that is less preoccupied with the valorization of accuracy and far more interested in the elucidation of certain credible truths.

James Caron’s article, “Brébeuf Was Never Martyred: Reimagining the Life and Death of Canada’s First Saint,” has been published in the Canadian Historical Review Volume 97, Issue 2 2016. Read it today at CHR Online – or on Project MUSE –

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Coming to Terms with the Murderer

by Lauren Naus on July 7, 2016

Written by guest blogger, John Dale

My essay grew out of work undertaken at York University on American novels with protagonists who were murderers. I found myself interested by the degree to which the reader became sympathetically engaged with the murderers and by the variety of methods employed by different authors to achieve this engagement; these methods demonstrating, to some extent, a historical dependency.

In determinist novels with murdering protagonists like Frank Norris’s  McTeague and Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy genetic or sociological influences can be appropriated to ‘excuse’ the criminal protagonist. Explanation, of course, reduces horror. The first reaction to news of a grisly murder or ghastly air crash is to ask ‘why’ and ‘how’; once this question is satisfied the shocking event can be more readily absorbed into our experience. But even in these determinist novels there is a significant subtext. McTeague and Clyde Griffiths (the ‘hero’ of An American Tragedy) are no mere cold exemplars of deterministic effects. As the novels unfold narratological means are deployed to increasingly tip the balance of sympathy in the direction of the murderer. In McTeague, for example, this is particularly noticeable in the strangely nuanced account of the murders. Just before the first murder, the victim, Trina, McTeague’s wife, is described in such deprecating terms that sympathy with her is minimized, and the actual deed of murder is hidden from the reader’s gaze. It is also significant that Collins, the real-life murderer on whom Norris based McTeague, was arrested almost immediately after his crime. McTeague, on the contrary, embarks after Trina’s murder on a wandering journey through the Californian mountains in the course of which the reader develops empathy with him as a survivor.

By the mid twentieth century the status of the deterministic world-view was reduced and environmental influences were no longer available to ‘explain’ the transgressions of such proto-existential fictional murderers as Frank Chambers (in James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Humbert Humbert (in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita). Nevertheless these characters succeed to engaging the reader to the point of complicity. The sheer dominance of their characterizations, and the appeal of their wit, derails criticism of their transgressions. This is the subtext of McTeague and An American Tragedy writ large. It is also an inversion of the classic (though much criticized) explanation of the appeal of detective fiction—that the detective is a figure of majestic autonomy who restores order to a troubled world. Frank and Humbert are indeed figures of majestic autonomy, but their efforts are devoted to their own survival and success in despite of the world.

John Dale’s article, Coming to Terms with the Murderer: Explanatory Mechanisms and Narrative Strategies in Three American Novels with Transgressive Protagonists, will be published in the Canadian Review of American Studies. Read it today at CRAS Online –

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Why I Write About Satanic Panic

July 5, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Joseph P. Laycock As a scholar of American religious history and new religious movements, the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s has been a recurring theme of my work.  In the 1980s it was widely believed that organized cults of criminal Satanists operate throughout America, murdering hundreds of people a year in human […]

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Happy Pride!

June 30, 2016

Toronto’s Pride Festival has quickly evolved to be the largest Pride celebration in North America. To celebrate we’ve made a select collection of articles on the history, culture, and diversity of the LGBTQ community available for FREE until Monday! There are some really interesting reads below, make sure to check them out! “Love is love […]

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June 20, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Joel Fishbane @joelfishbane   In 2006, some prognosticating theatre critic from the Montreal Gazette named the six “lions of indie theatre”. I was one of them; playwright Annabel Soutar was another. Nearly all those artists have moved on from producing theatre (myself included), but Annabel has persevered and so it is […]

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State Strength, Non-State Actors, and the Guatemalan Genocide

June 13, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Frederick M. Shepherd My article, “State Strength, Non-State Actors, and the Guatemalan Genocide: Comparative Lessons,” emerged from my scholarly and political interests going back several decades.  As a student and political activist, my interest came out of concerns for social justice, prompted by the Reagan administration’s obsession with Central America in […]

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The Writings of Michèle Mailhot and Marcelle Brisson: Exploring Quebec’s Religious Past

May 31, 2016

Written by guest blogger, Myreille Pawliez, Victoria University of Wellington. An old Catholic school in Montreal, © Myreille Pawliez In Quebec, every village is dominated by a disproportionately large church and presbytery, and every town is peppered with imposing stony seminaries, colleges and schools. These tangible mementoes of an ultra-conservative Catholic Church which had a […]

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