Throwback Thursday: Robert McIntosh, “The Boys in the Nova Scotian Coal Mines: 1873-1923”

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Westray Mine disaster, which killed 26 coal miners on 9 May 1992. In remembrance, our Throwback Thursday piece examines the working world of the children who toiled in Nova Scotia’s coal mines around the turn of the twentieth century.

Robert McIntosh, “The Boys in the Nova Scotian Coal Mines: 1873-1923”

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No ordinary teacher: A remembrance of Terry Punch

By John Macleod

Known throughout the Maritimes and beyond as a genealogist Terry Punch, in writing his obituary, characterised himself as “a retired educator … active in historical and genealogical circles.” A victim of cancer, he died on April 11, 2017, three months and four days after his 80th birthday.


Terry Punch, 1937-2017

Well known in the Maritimes as CBC radio’s “resident genealogist,” his appearances on the regional call in program Maritime Noon began in 1987 and were widely anticipated. Throughout the Maritimes listeners queued up on the phone lines to pitch their genealogical problems his way. With his encyclopedic knowledge of immigration patterns, genealogical sources, and the origins of family names, strike outs were rare and the insatiable appetite of many Maritimers for genealogical information was usually met with some new facts offered to each caller until his last appearance this December.

The funeral home’s online guest book is a source that didn’t exist for most of Terry’s research lifetime. Among the many entries of those who only knew him through the radio, there emerges a second theme of remembrance seen through the words of many former students. “He was not only my teacher, he was a mentor and friend.” “No ordinary teacher…Terry dealt well with current events too: teaching us the importance of opposition to the Vietnam War, the Nixon administration and to the virulent discrimination that sparked the race riots of the day.” “Terry was that teacher who you always remember as the one who changed your life & your future.”

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Andrew Parnaby reviews Andrew Molloy and Tom Urbaniak, eds. Company Houses, Company Towns: Heritage and Conservation

Andrew Molloy and Tom Urbaniak, eds. Company Houses, Company Towns: Heritage and Conservation. (Sydney: Cape Breton University Press, 2016)

By Andrew Parnaby

A colleague of mine recently purchased a house in Sydney, Nova Scotia.  While the sale went smoothly, insuring the property proved tricky. If the new dwelling was in the vicinity of a company house, his insurance broker reported, premiums would be higher and quite possibly no policy would be issued. There are hundreds of company houses on Cape Breton Island. They were built in the late 19th and early 20th century for coal miners and steelworkers in the emerging industrial zones of Glace Bay, New Waterford, Sydney Mines, and Sydney. Many are still inhabited, sometimes by descendants of the original working families who bought them, but many more sit neglected and empty. And in that state, according to my colleague’s insurance provider, they represent a significant risk to owners of adjacent properties. In this view, company houses are not just worthless; they are significant liabilities, like the amperage of an electrical service or the potential for sewer backup or flood. The editors and contributors to this collection of essays, not surprisingly, hold an altogether different perspective. They posit that company houses not only embody a history of industrialization, immigration, and community formation, but also provide the raw materials for thinking about heritage, public policy, social entrepreneurship, and economic development in post-industrial contexts.


Andrew Molloy and Tom Urbaniak, eds. Company Houses, Company Towns: Heritage and Conservation. (Sydney: Cape Breton University Press, 2016).

Constructed by employers to attract and retain workers, often in remote and inhospitable environments, company houses served an important ideological function historically: a better built environment, so the argument went, could bevel the hard edges of class antagonism. Yet as the authors of this volume illustrate, paternalist gestures of this kind assumed different forms depending on the employer, employees, and geographical setting. This is the collection’s dominant theme; the case studies dedicated to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and Bell Island, Newfoundland introduce it well. In both examples, the Dominion Steel and Coal Corporation (and its corporate predecessors) was key. It mined iron ore on Bell Island and shipped it to Cape Breton where it was combined with locally sourced coal to make steel. As the essays by Richard MacKinnon and Gail Weir reveal, modest company houses were built in both locations by the same company, with similar architectural styles popping up in Wabana, Sydney, New Waterford, and Glace Bay.

As iron ore, coal, and steel production expanded, immigration swelled; Newfoundlanders were especially mobile within the region. In time, diverse working-class cultures took root in these purpose-built communities. Company houses became family homes. Yet by the early 1960s, DOSCO’s industrial complex had collapsed as domestic markets for steel, coal, and iron ore contracted sharply. The downward spiral of deindustrialization on either side of the Cabot Strait was underway. Never built to last in the first place, company houses on both islands (with few exceptions) entered into a period of neglect, decline, and eventual abandonment. Across the country, a similar pattern of boom and bust unfolded in the mid-to-late 20th century, including in Elsa, Yukon. Once home to one of North America’s largest silver deposits, this company town, as Barbara Hogan demonstrate, was dismantled after mining ceased there in 1989. Only “vestiges” remain, part of a depleted frontier landscape that contemporary Cape Bretoners and Bell Islanders might easily recognize.

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Canada: The Story of Us panel discussion

Watch Acadiensis co-editor Sasha Mullally represent Atlantic Canada (and champion a version of the past that includes the Atlantic region) on a CBC panel discussing their new Canadian history documentary series, Canada: The Story of Us.

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Harper Relief

The following post is the sixth in a series that features collaboration between the Acadiensis blog and the students in Jerry Bannister’s undergraduate and graduate Canadian Studies and History classes at Dalhousie University.

by Shawna McKay

Why has it become so easy to dismiss the words that our new and “improved” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says? Why have we decided to place Trudeau on a pedestal and consider him to be the hero Canada needed to be saved from Stephen Harper? It seems to me that we embrace Justin Trudeau with arms wide open because we are currently in a post- Harper euphoria. We became so involved with how the media was portraying Harper and turned our backs against him. We have neglected everything Harper stands for because of a mob mentality that has been spread around our country, mostly for the sole reason that he is not the person we want to be supporting.


Official Portrait of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Source

We have not seen a big change between the policies inflicted by Stephen Harper during his time in parliament and how Justin Trudeau is conducting himself and the government so far during his time in parliament. Although the Liberal party made many big promises during the course of the election, not much has taken place to support their words. It is obvious that Justin Trudeau is favoured over Stephen Harper. The media has sculpted Trudeau in a way that illustrates an attitude and personality of confidence and newness. He was privileged by having Pierre Elliott Trudeau as his father. But the argument that Trudeau has attained such a high level of success cannot be said to have been achieved because of who is father was. Pierre Elliott Trudeau was a great teacher, leader, and father and that is why our new Prime Minister is a qualified individual to run our country. Justin Trudeau is completely benefiting from the sense of Harper relief that many Canadians are feeling.

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Book Review: Neil S. Forkey on Edward MacDonald, Joshua MacFadyen, and Irené Novaczek, eds., Time and a Place: An Environmental History of Prince Edward Island.

Edward MacDonald, Joshua MacFadyen, and Irené Novaczek, eds. Time and a Place:  An Environmental History of Prince Edward Island. (Montréal and Kingston:  McGill-Queen’s University Press and Charlottetown: Island Studies Press, 2016)

By Neil S. Forkey

I am not an historian of Prince Edward Island.  However, I am an environmental historian of Canada.  The latter fact allows me to recommend this fine collection of essays on one of Canada’s more interesting bioregions to others in the field.  The assembled authors have produced a welcome addition to the ever-growing body of literature on the nation’s environmental history.  These scholars highlight the Island’s uniqueness by exploring topics ranging from the period before European colonization to the present-day concerns of resource scarcity.

Time and a Place

Time and a Place: An Environmental History of Prince Edward Island

The volume is divided into six parts.  Framing the work is an introduction by Edward MacDonald, Joshua MacFadyen, and Irené Novaczek, along with an epilogue by Claire Campbell. (An appendix on environmental laws, compiled by Colin MacIntyre, is also included). Between these poles are three parts.  In Part I, there are introductions by John R. Gillis (writing broadly about islands in human history) and Graeme Wynn (who situates PEI’s historiography in an environmental context).  The analyses narrow in Part II. David Keenlyside and Helen Kristmanson probe Aboriginal history.  The forests, c. 1720-1900, are taken up by David Sobey.  Rosemary Curley deals with the province’s fauna from prehistory to the present.  Finally, Novaczek brings to light the subsistence and commercial uses of sea-plants (particularly Irish moss).

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19th Annual History Across the Disciplines Conference at Dal: Contested Space: Navigating Perspectives of Place, Personhood and the Pas

The Dalhousie Graduate History Society will be hosting the 19th Annual History Across the Disciplines Conference from 31 March-1 April 2017. This year’s theme is “Contested Space: Navigating Perspectives of Place, Personhood and the Past.” Conference presentations will take place in the Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building, 6100 University Avenue, Dalhousie University.

Follow along on twitter at #dalifaxhistory2017

Friday, March 31st: Welcome & Keynote (Rowe 1014)

5:30pm – Registration Begins

6:00pm – 8:00pm: Keynote Address

Diana Lewis – “Canada 150: An Indigenous Perspective”

8:00pm: Meet and Greet – Dalhousie University Club

Saturday, April 1st: Conference Panels (Rowe 1009)

9:30-10:30 – 20th Century Military and Diplomatic History

Moderator: Dr. John Bingham

Breanna Denton – “Cold Warriors, Colonizers, and the Contemporary: Determining the Causal Dynamic in the Shaping of Modern Society”

Vlad Malaska – “Canadian and American Aviation, 1910-1930”

Liam Caswell – “Rising the Sun: British Political and Public Support for Japanese Hegemony in Korea and Manchuria During the Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905”

Deborah George – “Dr. Cluny MacPherson: Reflections on the Life of a Newfoundland Physician and Soldier”

Click through for the rest of the conference program

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“What is Canadian Studies?” #GenYAsksY and the Classroom of Canada

The following post is the fifth in a series that features collaboration between the Acadiensis blog and the students in Jerry Bannister’s undergraduate and graduate Canadian Studies and History classes at Dalhousie University.

by Joy Ciccarelli-Shand

On October 26th, 2016, I attended a public forum entitled “The Precarious Generation: Millennials Fight Back,” hosted on Parliament Hill by NDP MP Niki Ashton. I was there as an observer, nothing more, but I was jittery and excited – it was my first time being at any kind of conference, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Precarious living, in case you haven’t encountered the term before, is characterized by a work experience that is short-term, low-paid, contract, and without benefits. Conditions like this are not only the norm for many young people, but the only kind of work we’ve ever known. Precariousness contributes to a number of social issues, including poorer health, higher stress, greater mental illness, and an inability to contribute to the tax base. Finance Minister Bill Morneau recently spoke about precariousness in the House of Commons, saying that workers should get used to the “job churn.” Of course, Canada’s youth will be the ones generally bearing the brunt of this, as we support our aging parents, our failing economy, and our ailing planet without any of the securities that past generations have had.

Attending “The Precarious Generation” forum proved to be quite the education. I felt compelled to go, in part, because in the last couple of years, I’ve become much more involved with activism both at my university and in my community of Halifax. I’ve served on my student union council, marched in protests, written on sidewalks, attended meetings, panels, readings, and lectures. Coming to understand and engage with political issues like precarious work is an ongoing process that for me feels like surfacing from the bottom of the nearby ocean. And it has been, largely, a process of learning about history: colonial history, labour history, the histories of race, gender, and queerness. It has been about learning the history of oppression and injustice, all of it situated in this place we call Canada.

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A Great and Noble Partnership: Going Forward In Uncertain Times

The following post is the fourth in a series that features collaboration between the Acadiensis blog and the students in Jerry Bannister’s undergraduate and graduate Canadian Studies and History classes at Dalhousie University.

by Aaron Clark

John Mack Faragher published A Great and Noble Scheme in 2006. It is now 11 years later, and I believe this book makes some important points for us to consider today; particularly, in light of recent events and trends in politics. The point I find most relevant today is made explicitly in his conclusion where he claims that we must understand Acadian history as a mix of Acadian, French, British, Canadian, and American influences.[1] Even a traditionally Canadian event, like the Deportation, had American involvement at the heart of it. Considering we are now facing the reality of President Trump, the question becomes how will that affect Canada. Our two nations are closely linked together, and this provides Canada with an opportunity and obligation to try to mediate American policy in whatever way we can. As America’s closest neighbour, we have had generally good relations with the United States. Through this relationship, Canada must try to do what it can to prevent or curb some of Trump’s more destructive campaign promises. At the same time, we will be trying to walk a tightrope between mediation and maintaining good relations.

It may be comforting to act like ostriches with our heads in the sand, and say that because we are Canadian, American events are not our problem. However, this ignores how closely we are tied to our American neighbours. Faragher’s narrative reinforces how this has been true for longer than there has been a United States or a Canada. For as long as Europeans have settled in North America, the various colonies had interconnected relationships. In a sense, they can be considered one big family, but not always a happy one. As with most families, there was sporadic fighting and sometimes bloodshed. English privateers were responsible for the destruction of some early Acadian settlements.[2] Events came full circle when Massachusetts Governor Shirley helped plan and orchestrate the Deportation. In the aftermath of the Deportation, some Acadians settled in American colonies; most notably those who became today’s Cajuns. Canada and America have been too closely linked for too long for us to simply ignore our neighbours to the South. Our countries are like siblings; we may have our differences, and even have trouble understanding each others motivations, but we still have to get along and live in the same house. This is an important point to remember as we as a country figure out how to come to grips with the election of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister Trudeau and President Trump. Image Source: AP.

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Book Review: Carole Watterson Troxler on Rebecca Brannon, From Revolution to Reunion: The Reintegration of the South Carolina Loyalists.

Rebecca Brannon. From Revolution to Reunion: The Reintegration of the South Carolina Loyalists. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2016).

By Carole Watterson Troxler

Rebecca Brannon (James Madison University), has distilled a well-researched 2007 dissertation of about 500 pages to a cogency deserving close attention from students of the American Revolutionary Era. Her breezy essay style delivers rapid-fire insights to engage readers and stimulate further examination of little-explored elements of American nation building. The use of secondary sources is selective and less critical than it might be but generally appropriate for her purpose: to understand the rapidity, success, and meaning of the reintegration into South Carolina social and political life of seventy percent of the 232 men proscribed in the 1782 Confiscation Act, and that within a mere two years. Most of the others were absentees or British merchants. The study is limited to 1782-1784 and is not concerned to treat Lowcountry and Upcountry loyalists equally, because the study is based on actions of the legislature, where Lowcountry concerns were paramount. Court action was not part of the machinery for dealing with loyalists in South Carolina. County courts organized after 1785 legislation created twenty new interior counties.


Rebecca Brannon, From Revolution to Reunion: The Reintegration of the South Carolina Loyalists

Brannon credits the successful reintegration of proscribed men primarily to the efforts of the men themselves, whose wartime actions against the revolutionary cause varied considerably. Individually they petitioned the state legislature for relief from confiscation and fines, after preparing their ground with neighbours with whom they shared a continuing relationship and often family ties. She stresses the psychological effectiveness of their humble apologies (which avoided admitting any ill deeds). Crucially, revolutionary co-signers and supporters demonstrated a widespread local willingness to continue mutually beneficial pre-war community relationships. Beyond the petitions themselves, Brannon draws from careful readings of correspondence among the petitioners and the legislators.

She credits Adeanus Burke, John F. Grimke, and Christopher Gadsden for effective public pronouncements in favour of clemency for loyalists, as they were unimpeachable revolutionaries. Burke in particular traveled through the backcountry to convince “middling sorts” of the value of reintegrating loyalists. A recent arrival, he could rise above accusations of backscratching among the elite. Using his position as circuit judge, he urged amnesty to keep loyalists from troublesome behaviour and to maintain the legal equality of white citizens. Brannon notes the effectiveness of newspapers in spreading such arguments, claiming “80 percent of rural white South Carolinians could read” (107).

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