Over the Causeway, Stories are Told: Studying Cape Breton Out-migration History as an Out-migrant of Cape Breton

By Dana Campbell

Every Cape Bretoner knows the heartache of leaving home – or, of having a loved one leave home. While the Sydney steel plant and the numerous coalmines use to prosper, most of the heavy industry in the industrial heartland has now been closed for nearly two decades. The flatlining of the island’s economy coincided with an economic boom in Western Canada and, as result, many thousands of Cape Bretoners have been leaving home to find better employment and economic prospects in other parts of the country.  This has not only affected those residing within the industrial hub of Sydney, but people across the island of all ages and demographics. If it’s not families packing up and moving on, its young men and women leaving directly out of high school.

Having been born in Cape Breton in the early 1990s, I never saw the island in its heyday/golden age, but I did witness the final closure of the Sydney steel plant in 2001. On 19 January 2001, an article in the Cape Breton Post stated in very simple yet, charged terms, “Sydney’s designation as a steel town ended Thursday with word Swiss-owned Duferco Steel Corp. backed out of the deal to buy SYSCO.”[1] The failure to sell the steel plant spelled the end of an era in Cape Breton. Although out-migration had been occurring for many decades from the island at this point, this decision further exacerbated it. In his October 2001 article for the Cape Breton Post, Jim Guy highlighted how “since 1996 over 6000 Cape Bretoners left the island for greener pastures.”[2] These numbers foreshadowed what was to come. He suggested that the population of Cape Breton would be less than 100,000 if the decline kept up at the present rate.[3] According to Statistics Canada, by 2011 the population of Cape Breton sat at 135, 974. Five years later in 2016, the population of the island was 132,010.[4] Despite the total population of the island not dropping as drastically as he had suggested, the decline is evident.


Family photo: Here is a photo of my mother, myself and my two sisters a few short weeks before we made the move to Alberta. Back row (left to right): my mother Lisa, my older sister Nikkie. Front row (left to right): myself, my younger sister Kaylin.

The year following the plant’s closure, my own family moved to Alberta. We came home in 2008 following the economic recession, a return I am still thankful for today. My parents instilled in me from a young age that leaving Cape Breton was a necessity if we were to have any shot at a decent future. At the same time, though, my sisters and I were raised with a strong sense of pride and belonging to Cape Breton. My pride in being a Cape Bretoner has never wavered, despite the economic disparity that exists on the island.

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Writing Stories about the History of Canadian Medical Malpractice Law

By R. Blake Brown

 Every historian hopes that their work will engage and interest the public. However, when I told friends and family the topic of my first book – a history of the jury system in nineteenth-century Canada – I was often met by polite smiles or half-hearted statements along the lines of “Oh…that’s ‘interesting’.”

I received better responses when informing people of the topic of my second book, which examines the history of gun control in Canada. Almost everyone – whether they be cab drivers, friends at the curling club, academic colleagues, relatives, high school classmates, or security staff at archives – expressed interest in the topic. It became apparent to me that most people had an opinion about gun control, even if they did not own a firearm or had never been affected by gun violence. Continue reading

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In Appreciation of Beckey Daniel

By Gail Campbell

The retirement of Beckey Daniel at the end of this month [ed. note: Today is Beckey’s last day at Acadiensis] marks the end of an era in the history of Acadiensis. For nearly forty years, Beckey has been the voice of Acadiensis at the other end of the phone. For many readers and contributors, hers was the name most closely associated with the operations of the journal.

Phillip Buckner, the longstanding founding editor of Acadiensis, credits Beckey with stabilizing the administration of the journal and establishing the routines that helped give the journal its formidable reputation. His successor David Frank agrees that she provided the essential continuity as departmental members rotated in and out of the editorship. For more than two decades Beckey and whoever was then serving as editor were the two people who made up the journal’s “editorial team”, occasionally with the aid of a reviews editor, and, eventually, a French-language editor.

Between 1971, when Acadiensis was established, and 1979 when Beckey arrived at Campus House, five secretaries came and went. The secretary then being in the gift of the History Department, which, with 18 members at its peak, had three secretaries, Beckey was also responsible for serving the four members of the Department whose offices were located in Campus House. She recalls her arrival at Campus House in the company of the Department’s senior secretary, who informed her that Phil Buckner was away, but had left instructions that nothing on his desk was to be touched. This may have made Beckey a little apprehensive, but it also amused her, which perhaps prepared the way for her long and happy working relationship with Phil. Continue reading

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Reimagining the Creation: The ‘Missing Indigenous Link’ in the Origins of Canadian Hockey

By Paul W. Bennett

Few subjects in Canadian sport arouse as much passion as debating the origins of ice hockey, Canada’s mythical national pastime.  Hockey fans, hobbyists, and even a few sports scholars have been known to “mix it up” off the ice when the discussion inevitably returns to the hotly contested matter of “Creationism” versus “Evolution”: where and when did hockey first emerge?  Today avid hockey history partisans pour over obscure archival records, mine surviving newspapers, date Mi’kmaq hockey sticks, and assess decaying wooden pucks for further clues to hockey’s origins.  The popular Anglo-Canadian quest for the genesis of hockey continues unabated among defenders of rival geographic claims. One of the interesting things about these different claims, however, is that they all reflect a Euro-centric perspective on the development of the game.


Mi’kmaq making hockey sticks from hornbeam trees in Nova Scotia about 1890. Source: Wikipedia (open source).

For all the writing and talk devoted to debating hockey’s origins, we may be missing a critical piece of the history, obscured by settler colonialism: Indigenous presence on the land and its role in the development of Canadian sport. The settler colonizers, in Wolfe’s oft-quoted maxim, “come to stay: invasion is structure not an event.”[1]  If we accepted this point, if we confronted the limitations of the dominant setter colonial perspective and approached the whole question though a broader Indigenous lens – such as that of the Mi’kmaw people[2] – how might our conceptions of hockey’s origins change?  From that vantage point, the origin and evolution of the game begins to look more like a dynamic process of cultural exchange and transformation.  It involves stepping back and practicing what the Mi’kmaq call “two-eyed seeing.” This is, according to Mi’kmaw elder Albert Marshall, when we “ learn to see” from one eye with indigenous knowledge and the best of “Aboriginal ways of knowing,” and from the other eye with the “best in the Western (mainstream) ways of knowing” – and “learn to use both eyes together, for the benefit of all.”[3]

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Sara Spike reviews Pam Hall’s Towards an Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge: Excerpts from Chapters I and II (St. John’s: Breakwater Books, 2017)

Pam Hall. Towards an Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge: Excerpts from Chapters I and II (St. John’s: Breakwater Books, 2017).

By Sara Spike

What does knowledge look like? Artist and ethnographer Pam Hall offers a compelling model in Towards an Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge: Excerpts from Chapters I and II. Building on Hall’s forty-year career as an interdisciplinary artist engaged with place-based knowledge in rural Newfoundland, this book documents the community ethnography project at the centre of her recent PhD from Memorial University.

A handsome hardcover art book, the Encyclopedia opens with a substantive introduction, offering Hall’s reflections on local knowledge and rural culture. She reveals local knowledge to be the accretion of place-based sensory training, embodied, situated, and specific, but always in conversation with other knowledges, other places, other knowers. The settler communities of rural Newfoundland have always been connected globally to other places through circuits of colonialism and capital. As Hall notes, “here and away remain part of daily conversation” (20).


Pam Hall. Towards an Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge: Excerpts from Chapters I and II (St. John’s: Breakwater Books, 2017).

Hall challenges the authority assigned to quantitative, data-driven knowledge at the expense of “the qualitative, the embodied, the value-laden, and many individual and cultural ways of knowing that form and inform our embedded relationship within our now endangered ecosystems” (23). The Encyclopedia centres rural knowledge but also disrupts binaries of local/global and official/vernacular, encouraging instead an embrace of “both-and-more” (19) as a path toward the sustainability of rural communities.

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For the Duration: Don MacGillivray (1942-2018)

By David Frank

It is hard to know where to start, but let me try by mentioning two of the people Donnie helped to rescue from the obscurity of local history. Archibald Russell, a labourer from Conception Bay, was one of twelve men killed in separate calamities at the Sydney steel plant during its first year of operation in 1901. His skull was fractured by a loose block and tackle.[1] A generation later there was Eddie Crimmins; in the words of Dawn Fraser that Donnie often recited: “he came from Port aux Basques, Besides a chance to live and work, He had nothing much to ask. And yet he starved, he starved, I tell you, Back in 1924 . . . .”[2] Two men, both drawn to industrial Cape Breton in the early twentieth century in search of work, and both victims of an economy that failed to value their hopes or protect their lives.

DONNIE PIC 94-95-24610

Don Macgillivray, ca. 1980, at a time he was spelling his surname without a capital “G”. Even without a cloth cap, you can see a hint of Keir Hardie, the Scottish coal miner and founder of the Labour Party, a spokesman for his class who had no wish to join the power elites of his time. Beaton Institute of Cape Breton Studies, Reference number: 94-95-24610.

Donnie grew up on Park Street in Ashby, the largely Anglo-Celtic working-class Sydney neighbourhood hard by the roads leading to the steel plant, where his father was employed on the open hearth. Unlike most young working-class men and women of his generation, Donnie would eventually go on to university and a career as a scholar and teacher. But this trajectory was not apparent from the start.

When he ran into some trouble with school discipline, Donnie’s father, known to all and sundry as “Duffy”,  took him around to see George MacEachern. George was one of the founders of the steel union and known for his radical politics as well as his wise counsel. What was the offence? Was there a matter of principle involved? Will other students support you? Donnie accepted the penalty and returned to school but never stopped being skeptical about the unwarranted exercise of authority. Continue reading

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New Issue of Journal of New Brunswick Studies/Revue d’études sur le Nouveau-Brunswick

The editorial board of the Journal of New Brunswick Studies/Revue d’études sur le Nouveau-Brunswick (JNBS/RÉNB) is pleased to announce the release of its latest issue.

The new issue can be accessed at http://stu-sites.ca/jnbs

JNBS/RÉNB is an online, multi-disciplinary journal that publishes peer-reviewed research about the province in English and French. The only journal of ideas in New Brunswick, it publishes thoughtful writing that engages a wide readership in ongoing conversations about the province.

PLEASE NOTE: If you have bookmarked or tabbed JNBS/RÉNB for easy access, we have had to change our url address as a result of upgrades to our host server. The journal’s new address is http://stu-sites.ca/jnbs. Please update your bookmark or tab with the new address.

For more information about the journal, contact editor.jnbs@stu.ca.

Le comité éditorial de la Journal of New Brunswick Studies/Revue d’études sur le Nouveau-Brunswick (JNBS/RÉNB) est heureux de vous annoncer que son dernier numéro est maintenant en ligne.

Vous pouvez y accéder en vous rendant à : http://stu-sites.ca/jnbs

Journal of New Brunswick Studies / La Revue d’études sur le Nouveau-Brunswick (JNBS/RÉNB) est une revue pluridisciplinaire dans laquelle sont publiés des articles évalués par les pairs, portant sur la province et ce, en anglais ou en français. Unique en son genre dans la province, RÉNB/JNBS vise à publier des articles réfléchis qui intéresseront un vaste lectorat dans le but d’alimenter les débats sur le Nouveau-Brunswick.

Nota bene : Si vous avez mis en signet ou en onglet JNBS/RÉNB pour un accès plus rapide, nous vous avisons d’un changement concernant l’adresse url du journal, rendu nécessaire par des mises à jour liées à notre serveur d’hébergement. Voici la nouvelle adresse du journal : http://stu-sites.ca/jnbs.

Veuiller réviser votre signet ou votre onglet en fonction de cette nouvelle adresse.

Pour de plus amples renseignements, écrivez à : editor.jnbs@stu.ca.

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Lisa Pasolli reviews Laurel Lewey, Louis J. Richard, and Linda Turner, New Brunswick before the Equal Opportunity Program: History through a Social Work Lens (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018)

Laurel Lewey, Louis J. Richard, and Linda Turner. New Brunswick before the Equal Opportunity Program: History through a Social Work Lens (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018).

By Lisa Pasolli

New Brunswick’s Program of Equal Opportunity ushered in dramatic reforms to the cultural, social, political, and economic landscape of the province in the 1960s. When it came to the delivery of social services, Laurel Lewey, Louis J. Richard, and Linda Turner note, Equal Opportunity’s impact was “unprecedented” (178). Responsibility for welfare was transferred from municipalities to the province and, with the help of new revenue generated by tax reforms and a more efficient bureaucracy, the Louis J. Robichaud government was able to standardize and improve services in health, welfare, and education.


Laurel Lewey, Louis J. Richard, and Linda Turner. New Brunswick before the Equal Opportunity Program: History through a Social Work Lens (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018)

New Brunswick before the Equal Opportunity Program reminds us what Robichaud was facing when he took office in 1960. In this collectively-authored and ambitious study, Lewey, Richard, and Turner survey the “patchwork” and “mosaic” landscape of social welfare across New Brunswick, the efforts of welfare workers and volunteers to ameliorate the harsh conditions of poverty, and the tentative (and mostly ineffective) forays into publicly-provided welfare in the early decades of the 20th century. Through ten wide-ranging chapters that cover everything from the contours of the New Brunswick economy to close analyses of the lives of the first Acadian social workers, they extrapolate  three main threads: the structural inequalities that made social need more acute among specific groups; the logic of a capitalist, resource-based economy that allowed wealth to be concentrated in the hands of the few; and the fact that religious, non-governmental, and charitable organizations bore the majority of social welfare responsibilities for many decades before Equal Opportunity was introduced.

The strongest of these threads is the attention to the structures of “prejudice, paternalism, and colonialism” (79) that generated disadvantage and need. The first two chapters set the tone of the book by providing deep historical context of the peoples and economy of the province; as the authors point out, “in New Brunswick’s history lie all the ingredients for a recipe for disaster and hardship for entire communities” (8). We learn, for example, that Acadian children in institutional care were chronically underfunded throughout the 20th century, that the establishment of Children’s Aid Societies occurred much earlier in anglophone counties than elsewhere in the province, that the Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik were routinely denied access to social services, and that state-provided “social care” in Indigenous communities was often about assimilation. Continue reading

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“bad characters”: The Execution of George & Rufus Hamilton in Fredericton, 1949

by Michael Boudreau

The execution of George and Rufus Hamilton in Fredericton at 2:00am on 26 July 1949, the last execution in New Brunswick’s capital, underscores Constance Backhouse’s assertion that the legal system “played a principal and dominant role in creating and preserving racial discrimination.”[1] These men lived on the margins of society due to their poverty and lack of formal education.  Moreover, their “negro racial extraction” further compounded their marginalization in a predominately white community.  Similarly, being “colored” meant that in the eyes of many residents of Fredericton, the leap from committing petty crimes to murder was, while shocking, also understandable, if not inevitable.  Indeed, many Canadians believed that Blacks, especially Black men, were prone to violence and as George Elliott Clarke has noted, racialized murderers were seen to represent inferior cultures.[2]

TJ Headline

The Telegraph-Journal Headline on the Hamilton Brothers Hanging

The double-hanging of the Hamilton brothers at the York County Jail (now home to Science East, adjacent to the popular Boyce Farmers’ Market) for the murder of a white taxi-driver, Norman Burgoyne, was considered by many to be a just conclusion to what the police had characterized as “one of the most brutal murders in the province’s history.”[3]  The press depicted thirty-four year old Burgoyne as a model of respectability.  He was a life-long resident of Fredericton, a veteran, a devoted husband, a father of three young children, and a successful businessman.  Burgoyne’s “battered” body was discovered locked in the truck of his taxi on a “lonely woods road” outside of Fredericton on Monday, 10 January 1949, two days after he had gone missing.  Following a brief investigation and a tip from a witness who had informed the police that George and Rufus were driving a car that resembled Burgoyne’s taxi, the Hamilton brothers were arrested on 16 January and held in custody until Rufus’s trial began in May.[4]

George and Rufus Hamilton lived precarious lives.  George, age twenty-three, lived with his wife and two children in a two-room house, with no running water, in the “Negro settlement” at Barker’s Point, on the city’s north side. According to the 1941 census, York County, which included Fredericton, had 294 “Negro” residents and Fredericton’s population was 10,062.[5]  George, who had a grade-three education, did not have stable employment and by his own admission he survived at times by stealing and gambling.  Rufus, age twenty-two, held a series of menial jobs and before he came to live with his brother he had been incarcerated in Dorchester Penitentiary. The trial judge, J. E. Michaud, in his charge to the jury, described George and Rufus as “bad characters…to put it in common parlance, I would say…bad eggs.”[6] Both men desperately needed money and devised a scheme to “bump” someone, drag them into an alley, and rob them.  But George surmised that this was a risky proposition, especially in broad day-light. So instead he suggested that they call a cab, have the driver take them to a “lonely place,” and then knock him unconscious and take his money. Continue reading

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The Concert Led Zeppelin Never Gave: The Lessons of the Strawberry Fields Festival

By Greg Marquis

For a few weeks in 1970, pop music fans on both sides of the Canada-United States border were excited by the prospects of a ‘second Woodstock,’ a multiple-day outdoor music festival that would include some of the top acts of the era, including Ten Years After, Mountain, Grand Funk Railroad, Eric Burden and War, the Youngbloods, Sly and the Family Stone and Led Zeppelin. Posters in the United States promised “three days of love, sun and sound” in “free North America” – Canada. Initially denied permission to stage the “international carnival” in Ontario, the promoters next tried to entice hip youth to “get high on sky and sun” on a 100-acre farm at Barrachois, near Shediac, New Brunswick.  The festival was scheduled to take place in early August, one year after the now legendary Woodstock Music and Art Fair in upstate New York. Yet Led Zeppelin, whose second album had topped the charts in Canada in 1969 and whose single “Whole Lotta Love” hit Number 2, never performed in New Brunswick.

SFF Bronny Davis 2

Strawberry Fields Festival. Image courtesy Bronny Davis.

This blog post had two objectives.  First, it provides a brief overview of what became the largest pop festival of the era in Canada, Strawberry Fields. More importantly, it suggests themes and an area of research that Canadian historians should consider exploring. Historians of the 1960s and 1970s have more or less ignored not only rock or pop music, but all forms of popular music, including jazz, folk and country and western. Yet popular music was a key part of the Baby Boom experience and Canada was one of the top markets in the world for recorded music. In Atlantic Canada, as well as the rest of the county, fans not only purchased recordings, they also listened to radio and watched television programs featuring music, heard and danced to it Legion halls, school gymnasiums, bars and concert settings and sometimes performed it themselves.  Despite this, historical writing on the Canada in the 1960s and 1970s tends to ignore popular music or treat it in a superficial manner[1]. With a few exceptions, research and publishing in the field has been dominated by ethnomusicologists, folklorists, communications studies experts, freelance writers and journalists. There is nothing wrong with these approaches, but it is time for historians to do their part. [2] Continue reading

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