Jane Errington reviews Gail G. Campbell’s “I wish to keep a record:” Nineteenth Century New Brunswick Women Diarists and Their World

Gail G. Campbell. “I wish to keep a record:” Nineteenth Century New Brunswick Women Diarists and Their World (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017).

By Jane Errington

As Gail Campbell reminds us, reading someone else’s diary takes us into a foreign land. And yet, in this evocative analysis of the diaries of three generations of 28 nineteenth-century New Brunswick women, there is a sense of immediacy that is compelling. “I wish to keep a record” takes us into a world that has a myriad of women’s voices – rural and urban, young and older, single, married, and widowed. Unable to find diaries of Acadian, Indigenous, or Afro-Canadian women, Campbell never claims that this study reflects the broad cultural landscape of the province. Moreover, as she is careful to point out, diaries, by their very nature, are a reflection of an individual’s sensibilities. But all these women “belonged” to New Brunswick and Campbell persuasively argues that this gave a particular shape and rhythm to their lives, one quite different than that of immigrant women or even those from other parts of the Maritimes.  And “I wish to keep a record” evocatively chronicles the complexity and diversity of her subjects’ experiences over time and space, as they negotiated the changing circumstances of their families, their communities, and of the colony as a whole.


Gail G. Campbell. “I wish to keep a record:” Nineteenth Century New Brunswick Women Diarists and Their World (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017).

Before delving into the diaries themselves, Campbell first “sets the stage” – introducing her subjects, and providing an overview of women’s lives and the economic, social, and political transformation of the province over the century. There is also a fascinating chapter on “A Historian’s Craft” that recounts Campbell’s own journey trying to tickle out her subjects’ “stories.” Among other things, she highlights the need to try to understand the particular circumstances within which each diarist chose to keep a record as well as the impact that broader economic, social, and political forces had on her life.

The heart of this book, however, is Campbell’s analysis of what the diaries, taken together, can actually tell us about women’s experiences and how they responded to and shaped their world. Through a modified life course, thematic organization, we follow various women from “flirtation and courtship” to their response to death and dying. Each chapter draws extensively on the diaries of two or three women, often supplemented by extant correspondence to help elucidate the entries. Over arching each chapter is a realization that these women’s experiences were rooted in family and kin. And at the same time, they were part of local communities and networks, and were aware of and often participated in the wider world, whether through school, work (both paid and unpaid), church, involvement in politics and social reform, or travel to exotic parts of the world. Confronting the trope of separate spheres head on, Campbell convincingly illustrates that these women’s experiences need to be understood within concentric circles that radiated out from the family but were not bound by being relegated to the private sphere.

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Stephen Kimber reviews Michael Dupuis, Bearing Witness: Journalists, Record Keepers and the 1917 Halifax Explosion

Michael Dupuis. Foreward by Alan Ruffman. Bearing Witness: Journalists, Record Keepers and the 1917 Halifax Explosion (Black Point, NS: Fernwood Publishing, 2017).

By Stephen Kimber

As a practising journalist for more than 40 years and a teacher of journalism for more than 30, I am sometimes puzzled by the lack of scholarly attention paid to the role reporters play in our understanding of history, and perplexed also by the all-too frequent “just-journalism” dismissals by some academics of these first rough drafts of history. Journalistic reporting is usually considered less reliable than participants’ diaries and letters, official records, and transcripts. While there is some merit in that, it is also fair to note that self-serving diary entries, or transcript mis-statements (deliberate or inadvertent) all come with caveats too. At its best, journalism provides a rich trove of detail, incident, and anecdote that help us to see the world as witnessed by those who lived it at the time. This is especially true of reporting on disasters.


Michael Dupuis, Bearing Witness: Journalists, Record Keepers and the 1917 Halifax Explosion

Michael Dupuis’s Bearing Witness: Journalists, Record Keepers and the 1917 Halifax Explosion is a case in point. A history teacher from Victoria, British Columbia, Dupuis has made something of a career documenting the roles reporters played in seminal events in Canadian history, including the Winnipeg general strike, the Regina riot, the sinking of the Titanic, and now the Halifax Explosion. A relentless researcher, Dupuis sifted through mountains of reportage to show how the explosion narrative unfolded from fragmentary wire service bulletins, to newspaper dispatches, through sketches and magazine stories. Significantly, however, Dupuis also pieced together brief biographical sketches of the journalists whose work he includes, even tracking down descendants for information about their lives.

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In Memoriam: Sheila Andrew reflects on W.A. “Bill” Spray, 1938-2017

by Sheila Andrew


W.A, “Bill” Spray made a significant contribution to Atlantic history, including his books on The Blacks in New Brunswick and New Brunswick: Its History and its People. He showed the significance of local events as in his work on the history of the Anglican Church in Chatham. His last book Church, Politics, and STU: the Relocation of St Thomas University from Chatham to Fredericton presents an intriguing insider’s viewpoint and he would have been grateful to Anthony Rhinelander for editing it to the standards Bill would have wanted before his memory problems began.


W.A. “Bill” Spray, 1938-2017

He was also a valuable member of the St. Thomas History Department as a colleague and a teacher. Although his own focus was on New Brunswick, he helped the department to shape a wider curriculum and was a positive and friendly contributor to discussions. His classes were popular and he played a fine game of croquet at the History Club’s celebration of Victorian Games. All of us in the department at that time remember departmental parties with him and his wife Carole at their house. It was a continuing pleasure to visit them for a cup of tea and a chat, even as Bill’s memory problems grew worse. Many of us have books that he was pleased to give us then from his impressive library.

Sheila Andrew was a colleague and friend of Bill Spray. She is Professor Emerita in the Department of History at St. Thomas University.

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150? Canada’s Sticky, Messy History

by Margaret Conrad

What is this place called Canada? The second largest country in the world geographically, it is difficult to grasp the whole. Some peoples and provinces are nations unto themselves and resentment against the dominant centre in outlying regions runs deep.

Even agreeing on a founding moment in Canada’s past can be a challenge. While 1867 works quite well for the four original provinces in Confederation (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec), it tends to obscure significant developments before that date and to discount other areas of northern North America that have been absorbed into this improbable experiment in empire building.

As a result of our different perspectives, not all Canadians feel moved to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial. Indigenous peoples have served notice that they find little to celebrate in 150 years of Ottawa’s rule and the Parti Québécois has made plans to counter Ottawa’s program of “comfort history” with a series of events showcasing “the Other 150” for Quebecers. Together, the books reviewed here, five of them aimed at a broad popular readership and three taking an academic perspective on Confederation, reflect the diverse points of view that lie at the heart of Canada’s complex identity.

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Tear Down the Statue?: The Edward Cornwallis Debate

By Martha Walls and Corey Slumkoski

In Halifax, the issue of naming parks, buildings and other public sites after British soldier and “city founder” Edward Cornwallis has been contentious and longstanding. A May 2016 decision of Halifax City Council to not debate the renaming of public landmarks bearing Cornwallis’ name did not silence the matter. In April 2017, at the urging City Councilor Shawn Cleary, the city endorsed a plan to establish an expert panel to further consider the Cornwallis issue, though with little momentum since. Recently, a Canada Day attempt by five men who claimed membership in a racist right-wing fraternity called the “Proud Boys” to interrupt a protest by Indigenous people in a ceremony at the foot of the symbolic Cornwallis statue in a downtown park has again thrust the issue into the public spotlight.

This coming Saturday, 15 July 2017, Mi’kmaq have organized another protest at the feet of Cornwallis. Having demanded assurances from the city that the Cornwallis statue will be removed by Natal Day, the day that commemorates Halifax’s “founding” by the British, organizers promise to “peacefully remove” the statue if such a guarantee is not made by Saturday. Promoted via social media and reported on by various news outlets, Halifax Mayor Mike Savage, the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs, and the Executive Director of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre have all weighed in, calling for temperance in the protest. Still, as other Mi’kmaq and their supporters endorse the protest and have received no city assurances about the statue’s imminent removal, the protest is slated to go ahead. Cornwallis’s fate remains unknown.

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“Sesquicentennial Cerebrations”

With the July 1 sesquicentennial fading from view, the time is right to turn a critical eye to what the the last 150 years of the Canadian state has meant for Atlantic Canadians. With this in mind, the print journal has a series of “Past and Present” essays that look at the impact of Confederation on a number of groups. What follows is an excerpt from Donald Wright’s introduction to this important series.

by Donald Wright

cerebration, n. the working of the brain; thinking.

Reviewing six new books on the state of the nation put Ramsay Cook in a combative mood during Canada’s centennial year. And so he came out swinging in “Canada’s Centennial Cerebrations,” throwing the first punch in a carefully selected epigraph that in effect compared Canada’s “academic nationalists” and their “contemplations of the Canadian navel” to Chairman Mao and his teachings: “The unity of our country, the unity of our people, and the unity of our various nationalities,” Mao instructed, “are the basic guarantees of the sure triumph of our cause.”1 In Cook’s defence, Canada’s “National Liberation Frontists” could be insufferable and their appeals to national unity and the national cause, however defined, could be tiring. Besides, he had grown up on the Prairies and he understood that what was called nation-building in Ontario was really Ontario-building and that if the National Policy meant tariff protection for Ontario manufacturers it meant more expensive farm machinery for Prairie farmers. He also distrusted appeals to the unity of Canada’s nationalities. The Prairies were a mosaic, he said, not a melting pot, and to suggest otherwise was wishful thinking.2 Cook therefore urged historians to re-think their “frame of reference”: “Instead of constantly deploring our lack of identity, we should attempt to understand and explain the regional, ethnic, and class identities that we do have. It might just be that in these limited identities that ‘Canadianism’ is found.”3


Ramsay Cook

In a second and less well-known paper, presented to the Royal Society a few months later, Cook picked up where he had left off. Nationalism was a political and intellectual dead end, he said, and the nation, used as a “central focus,” had “distorted” Canadian historical writing in English and in French and “narrowed” our understanding of the past. Again, he urged historians to develop different categories of analysis, including region, ethnicity, and class in order to write “the social, intellectual, religious, economic, labour, and agricultural history of Canada.” He also reminded his audience that “were it not for the anthropologists we should know almost nothing of the North American Indian”: is it because, he asked, Indians “muddy the otherwise clear image we have of our nation, one and indivisible?”

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Acadiensis Board Chair Gregory Kealey named to the Order of Canada

Everyone here at Acadiensis would like to offer a hearty congratulations to Acadiensis Board Chair and labour historian Gregory S. Kealey on being named to the Order of Canada in recognition of “his sustained academic contributions to Canadian labour relations history and for his administrative leadership of several universities in Atlantic Canada.” This is an honour well-deserved. Congratulations, Greg!

For more information please see the following story on the CBC news website: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/nb-2017-order-canada-1.4185790

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Remember Where You Came From

The following post is the seventh 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 Stefanie Mracic

When growing up Canadian born with an immigrant grandfather from the former Yugoslavia there has always been a push for knowing my heritage and background of Serbia and Croatia. At countless family gatherings my grandfather would arrive with some type of document or memory about his native country. I never fully understood his passion for a country he left until I became a Canadian studies double major and found myself eager to look back on the documents and read my family’s history.


Canadian and Croatian Flags

This past summer when I was home from university he came over with a binder full of pictures and maps about his village, his time in refugee camps and how he was involved in World War Two. Along with these he had more recent pieces, one of which was an article he wrote in The Markham Economist & Sun in December 2009 titled “Don’t forget your mother tongue”.  This was a response piece under letters to the editor from another article written called “Learn English, leave old country behind”.

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Patrick Mannion reviews Gerhard P. Bassler’s Escape Hatch: Newfoundland’s Quest for German Industry and Immigration, 1950-1970.

Gerhard P. Bassler. Escape Hatch: Newfoundland’s Quest for German Industry and Immigration, 1950-1970.  (St. John’s: Flanker Press, 2017)

 By Patrick Mannion

In Escape Hatch, Gerhard Bassler (Professor Emeritus of history, Memorial University of Newfoundland) provides a nuanced, transnational analysis of Newfoundland Premier Joseph R. Smallwood’s New Industries Program of the early-1950s. Following Confederation with Canada in 1949, the economy of rural Newfoundland remained almost entirely dependent on the cod fishery, where wages were far less than those available to labourers in mainland Canada. The new province was therefore faced with the threat of a mass rural exodus to the west. To combat this, Smallwood’s administration devised a policy of unprecedented economic diversification and industrialization which became known as the New Industries Program. Owing to circumstances on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as the expertise and personal connections of Smallwood’s Director of Economic Development, former Latvian finance minister Alfred A. Valdmanis, much of the investment, leadership, equipment, and skilled labour involved in the New Industries Program came from Germany. Fifteen European-run, land-based manufacturing enterprises were established, producing a diverse range of goods – from rubber boots and fine leather purses to car batteries. Although there were some exceptions, the New Industries Program is generally considered a failure. Few of the companies ever turned a profit, and most had ceased to exist by the 1960s.


Gerhard P. Bassler. Escape Hatch: Newfoundland’s Quest for German Industry and Immigration, 1950-1970. (St. John’s: Flanker Press, 2017)

The product of decades of research, Bassler’s book provides a superbly-detailed examination of Smallwood’s New Industries Program. Ongoing economic problems in Central Europe, coupled with an intense fear of expanding communism, made North America an attractive option for German industrialists. Desperate for industry and investment, Newfoundland offered them generous terms before other provinces or states were willing to court German business; an “escape hatch” from the postwar situation. Contrary to the claims of some post-Confederation historians, the failure of the New Industries Program owed as much to an absence of infrastructure in rural Newfoundland (a lack of “usable roads, an efficient railway, a regular postal service, dial phones, and cheap, sufficient electrical power”) than to poor management and corruption (226-227). Furthermore, Bassler argues that the Program brought tangible, long-term benefits to Newfoundland. Close to a thousand immigrants arrived from Germany, Austria, and Latvia; mostly skilled workers. Many remained in the province and played a key role in improving and modernizing local infrastructure in the later 1950s and 1960s. Rather than a dismal, corrupt failure, the New Industries Program “marked an important watershed in Newfoundland’s transition from a pre-industrial, fishing-oriented, and monocultural former British dominion towards a modern, urbanized, and multicultural Canadian province” (229).

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Jason Hall wins the Canadian Aboriginal History Prize for best article (2016)

Everyone at Acadiensis would like to congratulate Jason Hall for winning the Canadian Aboriginal History Prize for best article (2016) for his “Maliseet Cultivation and Climatic Resilience on the Wəlastəkw/St. John River During the Little Ice Age,” from the Autumn 2015 issue of Acadiensis. Says the adjudication committee, “Weaving together documentary sources and oral traditions, Hall’s reconstruction of the history of Maliseet plant cultivation on middle reaches of theWəlastəkw/St. John River over the last millennium offers a powerful challenge to received notions about Indigenous economies, the impact of European contact, and the significance of the Little Ice Age in the Northeast. At Meductic, thanks to a favourable microclimate and Maliseet ingenuity, techniques of maize cultivation persisted through climatic changes that doomed the practice elsewhere and prepared the ground, quite literally, for the later establishment of European agriculture there and elsewhere in the region.” Congratulations Jason on an honour well-deserved!

To read Jason Hall’s prize winning article click here.

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