Allan J. MacEachen and Cape Breton Island: A Transient Legacy?

by Lachlan MacKinnon, Will Langford, and Andrew Parnaby

Warm tributes for Allan J. MacEachen poured forth after his death — from politicians, journalists, and colleagues. Prime Minister Trudeau was especially effusive.  And rightly so.  MacEachen’s parliamentary career and legislative record was unrivalled in 20th century Canadian political life – “peerless” in the prime minister’s words.  He was also deeply loved by the people of Cape Breton.

Yet amidst the tributes and reminiscences, contrarian Parker Donham struck a somewhat discordant note via Twitter: “AJMcE’s impact on #CB monumental but transient.  Coal. Steel. Heavy H2O. Sheep. NEP. All gone.  Was self-reliance also a casualty?”


Finance Minister Allan J. MacEachen, giving the budget speech in 1981. (Fred Chartrand. / Canadian Press file photo)

Many of the tributes stressed Allan J’s national contributions – namely universal healthcare.  Others highlighted the ways in which he stuck up for the region.  Indeed, an official obituary described how MacEachen’s “first-hand exposure to the vulnerability of working families in early 20th-century Canada” prompted him to battle for miners’ pensions, minimum wage reforms, and other areas of social spending.

Certainly, these accomplishments had a nation-wide impact, but what of his contributions to the island, specifically? Were these impacts, as Donham asks, transient?

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Jason Hall reviews Jeffers Lennox, Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690-1763

Jeffers Lennox. Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690-1763 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017).

By Jason Hall

In Homelands and Empires, Jeffers Lennox posits that “[c]ompeting notions of territory and environment, manifested in European ideas of empire and Indigenous protection of homelands, shaped the kinds of military, economic, and cultural interactions that took place in the Northeast” from 1690 to 1763 (13).  Lennox successfully supports this intriguing thesis with nuanced arguments grounded in detailed archival research.  His  book is composed of six chapters that are organized around major geopolitical and military events such as William Phips’ capture of Port Royal (1690), the fall of Port Royal (1710), the Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1725-1726, the founding of Halifax (1749), the 1750-1755 boundary negotiations between France and Britain, and the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).

homelands and empires

Jeffers Lennox. Homelands and Empires: Indigenous Spaces, Imperial Fictions, and Competition for Territory in Northeastern North America, 1690-1763 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017).

While many historians have structured studies as if imperial projects quickly overshadowed or erased Indigenous homelands in the Northeast, Lennox reveals that Indigenous homelands not only persisted as the dominant geographic entity between 1690 and 1763, they were integral to French and British understandings of the region.  At times, European officials even used the presence of Indigenous homelands to define and defend their imperial claims from rival European nations.  Lennox also shows that during most of this era, the imperial “fictions” that cartographers boldly projected onto maps were barely tangible beyond dilapidated forts and scattered settlements, and Europeans often lacked sufficient geographic knowledge to manifest imperial claims through diplomacy or force.  In contrast, the Mi’kmaq, Wulstukwiuk, Passamaquoddy, and Abenaki knew their homelands intimately.  Their superior geographical knowledge helped them defy imperial expansion and remain the strongest power throughout large tracts of the region.  

This book is one of the best examinations of historical cartography ever written for the Northeast, and the 41 maps reproduced in the text provide a rich visual complement to Lennox’s carefully crafted arguments.  His investigation of the intricate relationships among specific maps and diplomatic negotiations is fascinating.  Moreover, Lennox’s discussion of how French and British popular magazines disseminated geographical knowledge and garnered support for imperial expansion, skillfully situates cartographic projects within a transatlantic context and enriches our understanding of how literate Europeans perceived and manipulated North American geography.

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ACS Conference Deadline Extension!

Call for Papers: Atlantic Canada Studies Conference
“Coastal Exchanges: Networks and Influences”
May 4-6, 2018

 The Departments of English and Theatre, History and Classics, Politics, and Sociology of Acadia University invite proposals the 2018 Atlantic Canada Studies Conference, to be held at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada on May 4-6, 2018.

For several decades now, scholars have been attuned to Atlantic Canada’s place in the Atlantic World, and this water-based framework can be extended downward into local economic, social, and cultural networks in the region. Rivers, straits, and bays were the transportation infrastructure of the region, well into the 20th Century. Did these networks and influences survive the triumph of land-based transportation?

Themes and ideas that this conference addresses include:

  • Indigenous narratives
  • Naming and claiming space
  • Linguistic and cultural expression
  • Literary and visual arts
  • Social capital networks within and across regions
  • Political literacy and public opinion
  • Immigration and outmigration
  • Demographics
  • Gender and generations

The deadline for submission of proposals is 24 November 2017. Proposals should be less than 250 words, and the author should include a brief biography or c.v. Proposals for panels or workshops are welcome. While the selection of papers is rigorous, the conference has an impressive history of bringing together internationally-recognized academics, junior scholars, and independent researchers in productive and provocative sessions. Registration fees will be waived for graduate students, and students who are presenting can apply for financial assistance.

For more information, contact

Dr. Stephen Henderson


Dr. Claudine Bonner

PO Box 182
Acadia University
Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada
B4P 2R6

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Reflections on writing Maroon and M’ikmaq History

by Ruma Chopra

My recently published essay in Acadiensis, “Maroons and Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia, 1796-1800,” studied the relationship between a group of deported ex-slaves from Trelawney Town (Jamaica) and the Mi’kmaq during an era of European imperial warfare. The archives drew me to consider the two groups’ entanglement within a world created by white and black loyalist migrants, and imperial rules. I wanted to reflect on the intertwined lives of people who had very different histories, yet who would – for about four years – share a range of similar experiences. I was taken by how their experiences resonated with one another but also the ways in which their futures diverged. Both groups had military skills, both were seen as family-based communities, both had long experiences adapting to European exigencies. The Maroons, benefiting from the anti-slavery attention, left for Sierra Leone, hoping to transform into British colonizers. The Mi’kmaq struggled to hold their land against colonizers.


Maroon leader, Nanny, on Jamaica’s $500 bill.

There is a tension shared by scholars who work on black history and indigenous history – perhaps not dissimilar from the concerns shared by those who work on Atlantic Canada in general (Three years ago, Jerry Bannister’s “Atlantic Canada in an Atlantic World? Northeastern North America in the Long 18th Century” raised important questions about the limits of the Atlantic framework.) On one hand, there is a shared history with the imperial and Atlantic world. There is also a history shared with the U.S. South. (In some narratives, the Caribbean has become simply an extension of U.S. plantation history.)

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Table of Contents for the latest issue of Acadiensis

A new issue of the journal Acadiensis is hot off the press, with plenty of exciting new research on the Atlantic region, the latest Past and Present features, a number of review essays and historiographical commentaries, and a tribute to Herb Wyile.


Micah A. Pawling
Wəlastəkwey (Maliseet) Homeland: Waterscapes and Continuity within the Lower St. John River Valley, 1784-1900

Stephen Hay
How to win Friends and Trade with People: Southern Inuit, George Cartwright, and Labrador Households, 1763 to 1809

Penney Clark and K.M. Gemmell
“The school book question is a farce”: Free Textbook Provision in Nova Scotia, 1864-1944

Philippe Volpé
De l’ACJA à l’ACIC ou de l’Action nationale à l’Action catholique : associations jeunesse et mobilisations collectives en Acadie, 1908-1942

Stephen Harold Riggins
Sociology by Anthropologists: A Chapter in the History of an Academic Discipline in Newfoundland during the 1960s


Julien Massicotte
L’ambivalence acadienne : discours et identité à l’heure de la Confédération

Martha Elizabeth Walls
Confederation and Maritime First Nations

Phillip Buckner
Beware the Canadian Wolf: The Maritimes and Confederation


Barrington Walker
Exhuming the Archive: Black Slavery and Freedom in the Maritimes and Beyond

Yves Frenette
Mémoire et historiographie acadiennes : autour de deux livres

J.T.H. Connor
Community Roots, Global Reach: The Hospital as Academic Medical Centre


Lianne McTavish, Andrea Terry, Susan Ashley, Heather Igloriorte, and Kirsty Robertson
Critical Museum Theory/Museum Studies in Canada: A Conversation


Tony Tremblay
Herb Wyile

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MSVU faculty’s open letter to Frank Magazine regarding El Jones

The following open letter was written by the faculty of Mount Saint Vincent University in response to a racist cartoon of El Jones that appeared in Frank Magazine. It was originally published in Halifax’s The Coast newspaper. It is reprinted here in an effort to expand its impact beyond Halifax.

by MSVU Faculty

As faculty members at Mount Saint Vincent University and concerned members of the Halifax community we write to express our outrage at the racist caricature of El Jones, our colleague at MSVU, that appeared in the pages of Frank Magazine. The cartoon showed Jones, along with Halifax’s Poet Laureate Rebecca Thomas and others, at a recent protest of Halifax`s Edward Cornwallis statue.

We object strongly to the racist depiction of Jones, who was singled out for ape-like representation in a manner entirely stylistically consistent with the long, odious tradition of racist caricatures of Black and brown people. Animalistic representations of people of African descent originated in and maintain racist ideas of Black people as subhuman, uncivilized, unintelligent, and dangerous. For hundreds of years they accompanied pseudo-scientific colonial attempts to “prove” the inferiority and inhumanity of entire peoples to facilitate their brutalization, dispossession, and exploitation. They were visual markers of Jim Crow, apartheid, slavery, and genocide. To contextualize this depiction is not to censor satire, it is to identify the way racism works in an everyday way. The explanations about the non-racist intent behind the depiction offered by the Frank editorial team and the cartoonist are disingenuous and duplicitous, attributing ill intent to those who might perceive the cartoon in a racist way rather than taking responsibility for intentionally crafting and circulating that representation. In 2017, at a moment charged with issues of racial injustice, Frank Magazine depicted a celebrated activist, artist, academic, and educator who has been publicly addressing issues of white supremacy and racism, and who is a member of Nova Scotia’s Black community, as a monkey.

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Growth Fantasies and the Shrinking City: Researching the Saint John Experience

by Gregory Marquis

In 1867, Saint John was one of the top cities in the new Dominion of Canada.  For decades its chief rival was Halifax. During the early 20th century the Nova Scotia capital, in terms of population, began to outpace the New Brunswick city and by 1971 Halifax had one third more residents than Saint John. In the meantime both regional metropoli had been surpassed in size and influence by cities in central and western Canada. Saint John then entered a period of long-term population decline which continues to this day. The 2016 census revealed that there were fewer than 59,000 people in the city although the larger Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) totalled 126, 202. And the Saint John area was no longer the biggest urban agglomeration in the province: the Moncton CMA had grown to 144, 202. Given a continued trend towards a shrinking population in both the city of Saint John and the CMA, it is likely that within a few decades the CMA will be surpassed by the greater Fredericton area (population 101,760 in 2016).[1]

Old North End 2017

Old North End – Saint John

For a Baby Boomer who was born in the city of Lancaster (amalgamated with Saint John in 1967) and attended public school and two years of university in Saint John, and who has taught at UNB Saint John for nearly two decades, researching and writing the city’s history is not simply an academic exercise. It is part lived experience. For example, I lived through the Bricklin episode of the 1970s, the building of the Coleson Cove thermal plant and the Point Lepreau nuclear power station; attempts in the 1980s to revitalize the central business district with the Trinity Royal heritage district and the construction of the Market Square complex; the closing of the Saint John Shipyard and Dry Dock and the Atlantic Sugar Refinery; the proliferation of call centres and the expansion of the information technology sector; the opening of Harbour Passage, a waterfront walking trail; and the completion of two terminals to handle cruise ships which arrive mainly during two months of the year. I have witnessed the city tackle longstanding issues such as raw sewage piped directly into the harbour, poverty and a shortage of decent affordable housing. ‘Harbour cleanup,’ spearheaded by an environmental organization, ACAP Saint John, has been achieved thanks to support from three levels of government. Serious poverty and housing issues remain, although a host of organizations are working in these areas.

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The 25th Anniversary of Women’s History Month

By Gail G. Campbell

In 1992, the Canadian Committee on Women’s History and Status of Women Canada produced a newsletter to announce and promote our first Women’s History Month.  On 9 March of that year, as part of the celebrations of Canada’s 125th birthday, the Honourable Mary Collins, federal Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, had declared October to be Women’s History Month. Each year since that time, the government has designated a theme to celebrate the contributions of women, past and present, who have helped to shape our country.


The idea for Women’s History Month was suggested by women’s organisations and women in the academic community, as a way of publicly recognising the significant, often overlooked contributions of women to Canadian society. It was not a new idea. Since 1988, the United States has celebrated March as Women’s History Month. And when, in 2000, Australia inaugurated its first Women’s History Month, it also encompassed International Women’s Day on 8 March. In Canada, October was chosen to include the celebration of the anniversary on 18 October of the decision in the court case Edwards v. Canada, known as the Persons Case, which led, in 1929, to the recognition of Canadian women as persons under the law.

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The Legalization of Cannabis in New Brunswick

by Michael Boudreau

Canada first criminalized drugs in 1908 when the federal government passed the Opium Act which made it an indictable offence to manufacture, possess, or sell opium for non-medical purposes.  Marijuana was added to the list of illegal substances in 1923.  These drugs were prohibited because it was felt that they were physically, morally, economically, and socially debilitating to individuals and to the nation itself.  There was, in other words, a moral imperative behind the criminalization of drugs in Canada.[1]

Under the Narcotic Control Act, which replaced the Opium Act, anyone convicted of possessing marijuana could face up to seven years in prison.  Unlike alcohol, which by the end of the Second World War had gained widespread social and cultural acceptance, drugs were deemed to be a direct threat to the moral fibre of Canadian society.  Moreover, drug users were depicted as deviants or “fiends” who could only be dealt with by a harsh legal response.  In this sense, drugs have long been encased in a discourse of “moral panic” in Canada; a panic that reached its nadir in the 1920s when many of the country’s stringent drug laws were created, and then gradually subsided.  But the fear, and the stigma, that was associated with drugs never entirely disappeared.

The debate in Canada over drug-use resurfaced in the 1960s with the rise of the counter-culture.  This was a culture, embraced by many young Canadians, notably “hippies”, that publicly flouted, and mocked, conventional behaviour.  And marijuana became a potent symbol of the counter-culture and the social rebellion that it encapsulated.[2] The federal Minister of Health in the early 1970s declared that marijuana was representative of youth “alienation” across the country. Very few Canadians smoked “weed” prior to 1960, but from 1960 onwards, its popularity, and availability, increased, and so too did the call for its legalization.  Those who advocated legalizing drugs, or at least reducing the penalties for possession, mainly young people, argued that marijuana was a harmless, recreational drug, similar to alcohol.  They also felt that thousands of Canadians should not have to carry the burden of a criminal record for using a small amount of marijuana.

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New Waterford’s Fatal Day: Memorializing the New Waterford Colliery Explosion, 1917-2017

by Lachlan MacKinnon

On 25 July 2017, a large crowd gathered at Colliery Lands Park in the small Cape Breton town of New Waterford to remember the worst colliery disaster in the history of the island’s coal fields. Bobby Burchell, a former coal miner and UMWA representative, spoke to those gathered, “We do remember and we do honour those that worked in the mines. Almost everybody who lives in Cape Breton is touched by a mining tragedy.” One hundred years prior, at approximately 7:30 a.m. on 25 July 1917, a massive explosion rocked levels six and seven of the Dominion No. 12 Colliery. When all was told, 65 lives were lost – men and boys alike, some as young as 14 years old – with dozens of other injuries from rock and gas. As horrified family members looked on, draegermen took the dead and injured, one by one, out of the mine.


Memorial to the miners killed in the 1917 explosion of Dominion No. 12 Colliery.

With the entire town grieving, it did not take long for the miners, their families, and company officials to begin looking into the causes of the disaster. The Dominion Coal Company immediately placed the blame on “human error;” a union man, 45-year-old John McKay, was negligent in his duties – officials declared. McKay, stationed on level six, was himself killed in the ensuing disaster.

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