The Chinese Immigrant in the City: Reflections on Race, Class and Gender in the Public Spaces of St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1895-1949

by Miriam Wright

I first became interested in Chinese immigrants and public spaces through a public history project on the Chinese in Newfoundland my partner, Bob Hong, and I were part of a few years ago. In doing the research for the project, we were struck by the disjuncture between the historical presence and impact of the Chinese immigrants, and their near absence in both the academic literature and the popular images of Newfoundland and St. John’s.[1] Rather than being an invisible minority, Chinese immigrants were relatively numerous and had a highly visible presence in the city, with over 500 individuals (almost all men) arriving in the first half of the 20th century. Considering the population of St. John’s was about 20-30,000 in this period, those numbers are significant. Chinese immigrants also opened dozens of businesses including laundries, cafés, and restaurants throughout the commercial and downtown residential areas of St. John’s.


Hop Wah Laundry, St. John’s, 1922. From City of St. John’s Archives.

The more recent literature on Chinese immigrants in North America emphasizes that the Chinese were never isolated but were part of diverse urban neighbourhoods.  In exploring the ways Chinese immigrants interacted with their neighbours, this research provides a richer view of urban life and the social and economic relationships that shaped it. Patrick Dunae et al. in their study of race and space in Victoria’s Chinatown, draw on the ideas of Henri Lefebvre who said space is “not only supported by social relations but is also producing and produced by social relations.”[2] This allows us to think about how the dynamics of race, class and gender get played out in public spaces in the city. I would argue that taking this approach, and looking at the encounters and relationships between people – Chinese immigrants, non-Chinese men, women and youth – in the streets and commercial establishments of St. John’s should help us start to think about the history of this city differently.

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James Howley’s The Beothucks and the historian’s imagination

by Jeff A Webb

As a much younger man I worked as a crew member on a couple of important archaeological sites in Newfoundland and Labrador. Among the pleasures of that work was the teamwork, in contrast to the largely solitary historical research in which I am now engaged, and of literally uncovering the past was immensely rewarding.  Kneeling in the middle of a sixteenth century Basque tryworks as the wind blew in from the ocean, it was easy to imagine the men who once worked in that exact spot. It was evocative to sit in a sleeping hollow in an eighteenth century Beothuk house and uncover finely made tools that had last been touched by those remote and mysterious people. (Forgive the romantic prose; we know the tropes of remoteness and mysteriousness say more about us that they do about the Beothuk.) In contrast to much of my undergraduate experience in which I learned of the past through the publications of historians, hardly a day passed that I didn’t feel that we were adding something to what was known.


The Beothuks

Archival research can spur the imagination too. Sometimes a letter in the archive speaks so eloquently that we can imagine the voice of the author. I once happened upon a letter to Joe Smallwood, while he was the Barrelman, from my wife’s grandfather. Handwritten letters always seem more intimate that typewritten ones, and in that instance my imagination read the letter in Clayton’s voice.

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The Legacy of Coal: The Staple Trap

by David Frank

The writing is on the coal face wall, and it has been there for more than half a century. King Coal is on the way out, and beyond the coal country there is not much lamenting.

It was once a way of life for tens of thousands of Canadians, and for more than a century it was the country’s main source of industrial energy. At the end of the Second World War, coal still supplied more than half of Canada’s energy needs. But in the next decade coal was widely replaced by hydro, oil and gas.

With the environment minister’s recent confirmation that the federal government is phasing out the burning of coal by 2030, we seem to looking at the final chapter.


The View from Underground, Dominion Coal c. 1945 (Source: Reel #10023, Series #1134, United Mine Workers of America, District 26, Public Archives of Nova Scotia)

Some provinces may find ways to continue using coal while also satisfying emission standards. Some may continue to import coal from overseas. There is even news of a small mine development on Cape Breton Island. And it is unlikely British Columbia will stop mining coal for export across the Pacific.

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Taking Silence Seriously: A Musing on Method and Oral Histories

By Sharon Myers

“How are you related to all these people down there?”  This seemingly innocuous question went unanswered in an oral history interview with then 82-years-old Rosella McCarron-Gallant. Twenty years ago, Island historian and broadcaster Dutch Thompson approached McCarron-Gallant to record her memories of the tale of Minnie McGee.

McGee and her family lived in poverty in the rural, eastern-most county of Prince Edward Island.  In April of 1912, all six of the McGee children died in very close sequence while exhibiting the same symptomology.  Attention turned to McGee who was found guilty of the only charge brought against her: the murder of her oldest son Johnnie.  Sentenced to hang, McGee confessed to brewing matches in the children’s tea and in sweetened water, thereby causing their deaths by phosphorous poisoning.  Her death sentence was eventually commuted but penitentiary officials soon thought her insane and she was returned from Dorchester to Falconwood Hospital, Prince Edward Island’s mental asylum.  Except for a brief sojourn to Kingston Penitentiary, McGee spent the rest of her life under the mantle of Falconwood Hospital.


Dutch Thompson

McCarron-Gallant’s interview is one in a collection of over 1000 hours of oral histories collected by Dutch Thompson, now available through the University of Prince Edward Island’s digital archive, “Island Voices.”[1] Island Voices offers rich material to scholars who study rural life in the early 20th century.  Yet as rich and as instructive as that material often is, it is equally enigmatic and challenging on occasion.  The primary enigma I consider here is silence.

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‘A hierarchical world of Scottish military settlers’: the diaries of Jacobina Campbell and Hector MacLean

By Bonnie Huskins

Murray Young and Gail G. Campbell eds., A Calendar of Life in a Narrow Valley: Jacobina Campbell’s Diary, Taymouth, New Brunswick, 1825-1843 (Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 2015).

Jo Currie, Keith Mercer, and John G. Reid eds., Hector Maclean: The Writings Of A Loyalist Era Military Settler (Kentville: Gaspereau Press, 2015).

When we think of American Revolutionary War loyalists, we usually think of civilian refugees. However, the loyalists who resettled in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were also comprised of `Provincials’. Provincials were members of the corps raised in British North America to fight for the British Crown. Many of these regiments eventually disbanded in the Maritimes. Robert Dallison, in his book Hope Restored, discusses the challenges faced by disbanded soldiers in settling their land grants in New Brunswick, as well as the upward mobility of the “favoured Provincials” who were selected for government posts and militia appointments.[1] Despite Dallison’s analysis, we still know very little about the daily experiences of these military settlers. Two recent published diaries help us to fill in this gap. A Calendar of Life in a Narrow Valley: Jacobina Campbell’s Diary, Taymouth, New Brunswick, 1825-1843  and Hector Maclean: The Writings Of A Loyalist Era Military Settler examine the formation of a Scottish “rural squirocracy” in Taymouth, New Brunswick  and Hants County, Nova Scotia.[2] They also provide insight into the rhythms of pioneer life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


Murray Young and Gail G. Campbell eds., A Calendar of Life in a Narrow Valley: Jacobina Campbell’s Diary, Taymouth, New Brunswick, 1825-1843 (Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 2015).

Hector Maclean was a Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of the 84th Regiment (Royal Highland Emigrants), which was charged with the defense of Atlantic Canada during the revolution. At the conclusion of the war, Maclean settled in Hants County, near present-day Kenetcook. Dugald Campbell, a Lieutenant in the 42nd Highland Regiment, was charged with arranging the settlement of a detachment of his regiment along the Nashwaak River in New Brunswick. Like a Scottish clan chief, he assigned very small lots to the rank and file, choosing the “most desirable location in the Highland grant” for his own family. His daughter Jacobina kept a daily account of life on this land grant.[3]

Both diaries illustrate the formation of a “hierarchical world of military settlers.”[4] Dugald was clearly one of the “favoured Provincials.” He became a prominent surveyor, judge, and office holder. Originally the family belonged to Fredericton’s loyalist gentry, but when Dugald died in 1810, the family members were forced to move to their land grant in Taymouth. Jacobina’s brothers continued to exhibit the family’s respectability by serving as justices of the peace and as militia officers. Jacobina would eventually move to Fredericton and probably ended her days with her brother’s family in Upper Canada. Hector Maclean acquired a 2000 acre farm lot in Hants County, his own town lot, and acquired other lots as they were vacated, probably by members of the 84th Regiment. Like the Campbell brothers, he also served as a justice of the peace for Hants County and a justice for the Inferior Court of Common Pleas. Although his letters and diaries stop in 1787, we know that he married in 1788 and had one son and eight daughters. He spent more time in Halifax, probably because he was elected to the House of Assembly. And, like Jacobina’s brothers, he became involved in militia affairs, specifically recruitment efforts for the Royal Nova Scotia Regiment.

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Why National History Matters

[Ed. This essay is cross-posted with our partners at Borealia.]

by Jerry Bannister

Nations matter. National cultures matter. And national histories matter. As we try to understand what has happened in the United States, we should keep those three things in mind. There will be endless discussion of all the proximate causes of Donald Trump’s victory – such as the conduct of the Director of the FBI, mistakes by the Democrats, dislike of Hillary Clinton, economic problems in the rust belt – but little of it will confront a critical underlying issue: the national culture of the United States. Trump’s margin of victory is too big and too broad to be written off as simply a failure of the Clinton campaign, or a conspiracy engineered by rogue elements of the FBI to embarrass her in the final days of the election. There is something much larger and deeper going on, something rooted firmly in American history.


For historians, Trump’s election comes as the trend toward transnational history continues to spread across North American universities. For anyone following trends on social media, especially twitter, Canadian history seems now to be so yesterday. The talk now focuses on decolonization, settler colonialism, and other post-national perspectives that reject seeing history through a national lens. These perspectives emphasize how national boundaries are arbitrary, how national institutions are oppressive, and how national cultures are barriers to social justice. For those on the radical end of this scholarly spectrum, Canadian studies belong in the dustbin of history. Like the trend in favour of economic globalization, the transnational movement in historical scholarship has something inexorable about it, as if anyone who questions it is questioning the very direction of history.

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Citizenship and Newfoundland’s Decision to Join Canada

by Raymond Blake

Why Newfoundland chose in 1948 the status of a province of Canada rather than independence has long been debated. It is time we extend our gaze from the machinations of politicians and bureaucrats to rhetoric or, more specifically, to consider the role of new notions of citizenship in the lead-up to the 1948 referenda. Changing perceptions of citizenship is the central medium through which we can explain Newfoundland’s decision to vote for Canada.

By the early 20th century citizenship came to signify something more than civil, legal and political rights, more than membership in a particular national community; it came to mean that citizens were entitled to certain social and material rights by virtue of their common status as citizens. This was the emergence of social citizenship, associated with social rights that came largely with the emergence of the welfare state that promised not only a measure of economic security but also the provision of improved public services that came to include electrification, health care, adequate public education, adequate transportation, and running water and flush toilets, or the right to participate fully in the modern standards then prevailing in society.

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Royden Loewen reviews Evangelia Tastsoglou, Alexandra Dobrowolsky and Barbara Cottrell, eds. The Warmth of the Welcome: Is Atlantic Canada a Home Away from Home for Immigrants?

Evangelia Tastsoglou, Alexandra Dobrowolsky and Barbara Cottrell, eds. The Warmth of the Welcome: Is Atlantic Canada a Home Away from Home for Immigrants?  (Sydney: Cape Breton University Press, 2015).

By Royden Loewen 

This book presents work from social scientists (sociologists, social anthropologists, and leisure studies specialists) from mostly Atlantic Canadian universities on a topic of national importance: immigration and integration.  The project is straightforward enough and addresses a fundamental Maritime concern: to consider ways to secure a greater share of the nation’s immigrants and seek a higher retention rate of those who come in the first instance: as Howard Ramos and Yoko Yoshida demonstrate, Atlantic Canada receives half the national average of newcomers and endures an astonishing rate of secondary migration, mostly to Central Canadian metropolises.  Much of the book analyzes the immigrant experience through this lens and thus by definition considers the shortcomings in their experiences: their underemployment, sense of isolation, racial discrimination, and domestic and work-place gender-based abuse.  Most of the contributors follow up with suggestions on how governments might address this problem, usually with expanded and more sensible social and economic programming.  As a problem-oriented work, the implicit answer to the question of whether “Atlantic Canada is a home away from home,” is ‘no’.


The Warmth of the Welcome: Is Atlantic Canada a Home Away from Home for Immigrants?

The temptation in such a project is, of course, to forgo the academic exercise of analyzing a social phenomenon and rather simply collect evidence of a broken system with an eye to offering policy solutions which might well legitimate the authors’ own professional expertise.  True, the writers seem to share a particular cosmology, an underlying belief that middle class culture is good, that liberal governments must guarantee the rights of the individual, that the individual stands at the foundation of society, and that overcoming “difficulties [that] persist with respect to immigrant attraction and retention in the region” (15) is natural.   Therefore policy wonks and front-line workers will find this book relevant to their work.

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Public Order Policing in New Brunswick: 1972-2013

by Greg Marquis

New Brunswick has some of the lowest crime rates in Canada and public order generally is not thought of as a problem. This was not the case in the early Victorian era when Woodstock, Fredericton and especially Saint John were rocked by sectarian violence pitting native-born and immigrant Protestants against Irish Catholic immigrants. In 1875 social violence erupted in Caraquet over controversial provincial school legislation.  In 1914, Saint John experienced disorder surrounding a strike against an unpopular streetcar company.  In terms of public order policing controversies in the past four decades, events in New Brunswick have not reached the scale or seriousness of Oka (1990), Ipperwash (1995), the G7 in Toronto, (1988), Gustafsen Lake (1997); the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Vancouver (1997); the Summit of the Americas  in Quebec (2001); the Security and Prosperity Initiative of North America meeting in Quebec (2007); the G20 in Toronto (2010) and the mass student protests in Quebec in 2012 known as the Maple Spring where more than three thousand were arrested. While doing research for my recent book The Vigilant Eye: Policing Canada from 1867 to 9/11, I was reminded that for a province of its size, and supposedly conservative political culture, New Brunswick starting in the 1970s experienced a relatively large number of political and economic protests that drew police attention.[1]

St. Andrews NB July 1 2016

RCMP Marching on Canada Day. St. Andrew’s, NB, 1 July 2016.

The most recent example was the protest in Kent county in 2013 against ‘fracking’ (hydraulic fracturing). This pitted First Nations and other environmental protestors against SWN Resources, the provincial government and the RCMP.  Despite conciliatory gestures immediately preceding the operation, in October 2013 a large force of officers, collected from three provinces, launched an operation to enforce a court injunction against the protest. Although the RCMP discharged no firearms and claimed that plastic bullets were not fired, they did deploy non-lethal ‘bean bag’ rounds and pepper spray and arrested forty people. They also employed aerial surveillance and a tactical armoured vehicle. Six police vehicles were destroyed by fire and a number of individuals faced weapons charges. At present the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) Against the RCMP s still investigating a large number of complaints stemming from that incident. As of 2016 the investigation had amassed more than 1 terabyte of written documentation and video evidence, collected from more than one hundred civilian and RCMP witnesses.

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Dimensions of Difference in Child Care

by Lisa Pasolli

It’s relatively easy to identify the similarities in the state of child care across the country. In all of the provinces and territories, with the important exception of Quebec, families needing child care are faced with a shortage of spaces, long waiting lists, often astronomical fees, and conditions of questionable quality.

A closer look at each province’s child care programs, though, reveals subtle but important differences. Taking its cues from Quebec, PEI, for example, has recently initiated reforms to improve its child care programs. In academic analyses, scholars are beginning to pay closer attention to provincial policy variations that result from the “complex set of trade-offs between the quality, affordability, and availability of child care services.”[1]

As a historian of child care, I’m interested in the historical precedents entrenched in those trade-offs. This year’s Atlantic Canada Studies conference, with its focus on “Dimensions of Difference,” prompted me to think about how and why child care programs and policy in the Atlantic provinces may have been carved out along a path distinct from elsewhere in Canada. Is there something different about approaches to child care on the east coast? To what extent do those differences matter?

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