Canada 150

2017 was a significant year in Canada, given the 150th anniversary of Confederation, and our Department hosted a series of lectures and exhibits to reflect on this anniversary. To make these accessible to a widespread audience, we have produced podcasts of the lectures that you will find links to below. Simply click on the title of the lecture below, and you will be able to listen to podcast free of cost. Our many thanks to Sheyfali Saujani and Kimberly Main, PhD candidates in the Department, for all of their work in producing the podcasts. We have also preserved the programme and description of the events below.

Canada by Treaty: Negotiating Histories: Co-curated by James Bird, Heidi Bohaker and Laurie Bertram, this new pop-up exhibit is a response to 150th Anniversary of Confederation. The exhibit is intended for a general audience—for students grabbing a coffee between classes, or staff or faculty taking a break in the library—to learn about the long history of treaty making, and how and why these agreements were essential to the foundation of modern Canada. Please visit the Canada by Treaty webpage, for information about where you can visit the exhibit.

The Other 60s: A Decade that Shaped Canada and the World: this was a daylong conference that brought together scholars from across Canada to discuss the global context in which the Canadian federation emerged. It included a plenary address on Métis, treaty-making, and Confederation by Jean Teillet, a legal scholar and lawyer specializing in Indigenous rights and treaty negotiations, and author of a forthcoming history of the Métis Nation.

Creighton Lecture: This is an annual event, and the Department’s only named lecture. Professor Elsbeth Heaman (McGill University) delivered the 2017 Creighton Lecture, discussing the complicated academic and political uses of “civilization” in Canada during the 1860s and their afterlife.

Ten Minute Talks: A series of short talks delivered by faculty members in the Department, discussing a few of the key issues surrounding Confederation.

We very much hope that you will find the exhibit and series of talks informative and a cause for reflection.

Canada By Treaty: Histories of a Negotiated Place

Canada by Treaty: Histories of a Negotiated Place is a mobile “pop up” exhibit intended to invite viewers to explore treaties as agreements with Indigenous peoples that allowed non-Indigenous people to live on and own land in what is now Canada.  The exhibit responds to the 150th Anniversary of Confederation by explaining in accessible language how and why these agreements were essential to the foundation of modern Canada.

The exhibit will be displayed in the Map Room at Hart House from Thursday 27 April to Sunday 28 May 2017, and from there it will move to the rotunda at University College from Tuesday 30 May to Thursday 29 June. After a stay in the Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the exhibit will be on display in the lobby of Sidney Smith Hall  as of Monday 10 July. The exhibit will then be travelling to colleges and libraries across St. George campus as well as to the Scarborough and Mississauga campuses.  

For more information and resources, please visit Canada by Treaty

Canada By Treaty is co-curated by James Bird, Nehiyawak (Cree), and Department of History Professors Laurie Bertram and Heidi Bohaker. The exhibit draws on content created by students in Professor Bohaker’s Fall 2016 joint fourth year/graduate seminar HIS419H: Canada by Treaty: Alliances, Title Transfers and Land Claims.

Co-curators Laurie Bertram, Heidi Bohaker, James Bird  Undergraduate students from Prof. Bohaker’s HIS419, helping to prepare content for the exhibit

The Other 60s: A Decade that Shaped Canada and the World

Saturday, April 22, 2017 from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
George Ignatieff Theatre, 15 Devonshire Place

In order to mark the 150th Anniversary of Confederation, on Saturday 22 April 2017 the Department of History hosted a day-long conference titled “The Other 60s: A Decade That Shaped Canada and the World.” The conference discussed the global context in which the Canadian federation emerged in the 1860s and, ultimately, aimed to provoke a larger public discussion. Podcasts for all of the talks are now available for free, by clicking on the titles of the talks below.

Program for The Other 60s: A Decade that Shaped Canada and the World

Heidi Bohaker & Paula Hastings (University of Toronto): "The Broader Significance of the 1860s"

Steve Penfold (University of Toronto): "Why We Shouldn't Talk About Confederation in 2017"

Just about every History Department in the country has jumped on the Confederation bandwagon. Funding has been secured, conferences organized, podcasts recorded, exhibits produced, books published, and interviews given. And thank heaven, since the (mostly) critical approach of these efforts has produced much interesting work and has challenged the commemorative impulse of Canada150. Still, I will argue that even critical histories of 1867 reinforce the sense that Confederation is a “meta-event” in need of particular examination. But if we take the nation-building premises of Canada150 seriously, we might be better to simply ignore Confederation for the entire year and focus on other issues. In that vein, I will present one possible alternative narrative for 2017: the creation of Canadian space through treaty, border making, and internal connection. While Confederation was part of these processes, it was rarely central to them. Historians might examine Confederation, then, but that we shouldn't tie these efforts, even strategically, to 2017. 

Brian Gettler (University of Toronto): "Recolonizing Confederation: Indigenous Policy and the Making of Canada"

The British North America Act mentions “Indians and lands reserved for the Indians” in a single sub-clause, assigning responsibility for both to the federal government. Though the act’s framers appear to have spent virtually no time considering the subject, we would be mistaken to imagine that Indigenous peoples, their lands, and the state’s policy with respect to both did not matter in the context of Confederation. This paper will focus on policy, suggesting the need to emphasize the colonialism implicit in Canada’s founding moment. Though the Euro-Canadian men who assembled in the mid-1860s in a series of cities on two continents to create the Dominion of Canada may not have explicitly acknowledged it, they drew on a developing sense of political community predicated on the supposedly legitimate dispossession of Indigenous peoples. Over the decades preceding 1867, policy and the small number of bureaucrats charged with its development and implementation had played a critical role in rendering this dispossession natural, necessary, and, indeed, noble. In this context, the “Fathers of Confederation” felt no need to do anything other than confirm the central government’s responsibility for Indigenous policy. In this reading, Confederation is both critical and a non-event; it underscores the new nation’s assumption of its inherited colonialist mantle while simultaneously indicating the continuation of established structures, policy, and practice. It is in this sense that the paper calls for a “recolonization” of 1867 – rather than a new dawn, the year marked the reaffirmation of British North America’s commitment to the colonial project.

Jean Teillet, IPC, OMN: Abstract: "We Get a Piece and We Get a Say: Approaching Confederation from the Perspective of the Métis Nation of the North-West"

This talk will address how Canada first approached and then bungled the incorporation of the North-West into Confederation; how the Métis forced better terms; and how Canada retaliated. The 1860s were a brutal but honest preview of what life in Canada would be like for the Métis Nation.

P.E. Bryden (University of Victoria): " 'Putting Flesh on the Bones': The Meaning of the BNA Act in Confederation-Era Canada"

Canadians are a peculiarly constitutional people. In the last 50 years, we have spent 20 years watching (with interest) the efforts to patriate the BNA Act; 10 years watching and then participating in the efforts to broaden the Constitution Act; five years wrestling with the idea of secession; and an amazing month watching something that would be watched in few other nations – the prorogation crisis. The constitution isn’t quite hockey, but it has been embraced by Canadians in strangely emotional ways; neither the BNA Act of 1867 nor the Constitution Act of 1982 are quite our Declaration of Independence, but both are surprisingly close despite their near total absence of soaring rhetoric.

This paper examines the beginnings of Canadian efforts to give meaning to the constitutional framework that the British North America Act provided. It does so not in the usual way of examining judicial decisions or political pronouncements, but rather through the way that real people understood this new constitution. Using selections from the private correspondence of 1867, and the commentary in the popular press across the country, this paper will illustrate how Canadians – and Canada-watchers in places like Prince Edward Island and British Columbia – understood the new constitutional framework of nation.

This paper is part of a larger project examining the cultural history of the constitution from Confederation to the present. It shows the way in which ordinary Canadians understood and used the constitutional framework outside of the courtroom in their everyday correspondence and communication. Understanding what Canadians made of the BNA Act in the first years after Confederation is the first chapter of this larger study.

Michel Hogue (Carleton University): "Setting the Plains on Fire: How Indigenous Geo-Politics and the U.S.-Dakota War Shaped Canada's Westward Expansion"

In the years following the outbreak of war in Minnesota in 1862, hundreds of Dakota refugees fled north onto lands administered by the British Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). The Dakotas' arrival at Red River occurred just as Americans redirected troops from Civil War battlefields to consolidate American expansion in the West, as British officials considered the future of HBC governance of Rupert's Land, and as Canadian politicians pressed for the acquisition of the West in their discussions for a political federation. In the nexus of events that followed the so-called Dakota War, Canadian, U.S., British, and Indigenous politics interacted in ways that fundamentally reshaped the borderlands of the northeastern Plains and set the context for Canada's westward expansion in the 1860s.

The crises prompted by Dakota migrations in the early 1860s therefore allow us to revisit Canada’s political origin stories and, specifically, the stories attached to Canada’s plans to extend its territorial dominion across the continent. This article shows, first, how the region's politically-independent and numerically-dominant Indigenous peoples influenced Euro-North American territorial expansion well into the 19th century. Dakota migrations, after all, took them deep into Ojibwe, Metis, Assiniboine, and Cree homelands and required intense diplomatic negotiations with those neighbours and rivals. Indigenous politics were fundamental to the geopolitical conversations about the region's long-term political fate. Indeed, by taking seriously the political histories of Plains Indigenous peoples, the article highlights the varied actions and priorities of Plains Indigenous peoples and offers a way to assess how they survived and asserted power amid the wrenching displacements of the era. By exploring how Indigenous actions registered at the local, national, and international levels, the essay shows how these different scales intersected and how Indigenous actors shaped events at each of these scales, including the conversations surrounding the creation and expansion of the Canadian federation across the Northwest.

Todd Webb (Laurentian University): "Evangelicalism, Liberalism, and the Origins of the Lord’s Dominion in Mid-19th Century Canada"

As various forces came together in the 1860s to create conditions favourable to the founding of the nation-state of Canada, another series of factors led to a rapprochement among the Methodist groups in the colonies of British North America that, only a few decades earlier, had been divided by doctrine, politics, geography, and history. In 1874, that process of evangelical union led to the formation of both a Methodist Church in Canada and what its clerical and lay members hoped would be the Lord’s Dominion – the cultural and spiritual equivalent of the political Dominion formed in 1867.

Since the members of the various branches of Methodism in British North America made up the largest Protestant group in those colonies by the 1860s, previous scholars have carefully examined the process that led to the union of 1874. What those historians have either overlooked or downplayed, however, is the transatlantic context of that process. This paper will make the argument that the formation of the Lord’s Dominion was tied to the rise of a new force in Methodism in both British North America and Britain. The development and triumph of Methodist Liberalism on both sides of the Atlantic during the 1860s, mirroring the elaboration of political Liberalism in the home country and the colonies, made possible the creation of a new religious federation in the midst of a new political federation.

This paper will examine what will seem, to many modern readers, like a strange symbiosis between evangelicalism and liberalism by drawing on new research in archives in Britain and Canada. In addition, it will make use of the denominational and secular press, as well as the official publications of the Methodist churches in Britain and Canada.

Mark McGowan (University of Toronto): "Uncomfortable Pews: British North America’s Religious Groups Ponder Confederation"

Almost nothing has been written about the engagement of the the colonial Christian churches in the Confederation movement. Fifty years ago the only two extent scholarly essays dismissed the Churches as being insignificant in the process leading to confederation. New approaches and new questions posed at the sources suggests that, in at least the case of the Catholic Church in the British North American provinces, this earlier judgement dismissing the Church's activities in the period may have been premature. Employing their more subtle methods of influencing the political landscape on issue of importance to the Church, selected Catholic bishops made strenuous efforts to secure linguistic and cultural rights; constitutional protection for state-funded denominational schools, and promoted reassurances of Catholic loyalty to the Crown, when the peace was threatened by insurgents from the Fenian Brotherhood. 

Daniel Samson (Brock University): "Cosmopolitanism in James Barry’s Diary: The Atlantic World Views of a 19th-Century Nova Scotia Miller"

James Barry was a miller in Six Mile Brook, Pictou County, Nova Scotia. He was also a printer, a fiddler, and dissenting Presbyterian. He lived in the middle of nowhere – on a brook, off a river, off a harbour, off a gulf, just an ocean away from the colonial metropolis – but lived very much at the centre of the Atlantic world of ideas. That world was British in the 1840s/50s, increasingly American in the 1860s/70s. But at no time was it identifiably Canadian.

As an evangelical intellectual, petit-bourgeois reformer, he engaged with the world of ideas, with the worldly concerns of his business, and with the other-worldly domains of faith. He turned his attention to his Bible, his wife, his neighbours, prices, British and American politics, Bell, and his only child – a daughter, Josephine. But Barry had nothing to say about Confederation; his 1860s were taken up with other matters. While a supporter of the Liberal reformers led by Joseph Howe and William Young, and a subscriber to two leading reform newspapers – the Eastern Chronicle and the Pictou Observer – Barry was more concerned with the souls of himself, his wife, and their daughter, his health, and the day-to-day conditions of their lives.

We might, then, be tempted to dismiss Barry as a narrow-minded provincial man, yet another example of the “parochial localism” some writers believe characterized19th-century rural Nova Scotia. But this was not the case. Barry was a quintessentially modern man. While a devout Presbyterian (indeed, a Morisonian – a Presbyterian sect that seemed to believe that Presbyterians were becoming too Catholic!), he was nonetheless worldly in his concerns. Most of all, he loved books. He bought dozens in these years, most coming from Glasgow and Edinburgh, most somehow connected to the religious controversies of the day, a good many related to history, science, and the political controversies of the day.

This essay examines the worldview of an ordinary rural Nova Scotian man, and reflects on the worlds that inspired discussion in the cosmopolitan countryside that was Six Mile Brook in 1867.

Brad Miller (University of British Columbia): "British North America and International Law in the 1860s"

The decade before Confederation was a moment of intense engagement with international law in the British North American colonies. On a massive array of issues, governments and jurists were debating not simply how best to organize state power within the borders of what became the dominion, but also when and how global regimes of law could reach across those boundaries and determine how that power worked. Put another way, at the moment that the framework of modern Canada was being formed, domestic self-government was being increasingly subjected to transnational rules.

The U.S. Civil War compelled colonial courts and officials to both define and apply amorphous and contested international laws of armed conflict and neutrality. Likewise, new international regimes of corporate and shipping law shaped the operation of colonial capitalism, and led to clashes with imperial governments that sought to usher Britain’s colonies into the expanding community of law-abiding nations. Finally, international changes in the laws of marriage and divorce led to sweeping debates about the interplay of domestic morality and the rule of law between states. Using these targeted case studies to examine British North America’s international legal history in the decade before 1867, this paper highlights how historians must understand the infrastructure of Confederation within the context of the intensifying international legal order.

David Wilson (University of Toronto): "Irish Nationalisms and Canadian Confederation"

This paper assesses the relative influence on Canadian Confederation of two forms of Irish nationalism that were associated with the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s – revolutionary republicanism and constitutional nationalism.  From the former came the Fenian Brotherhood, one faction of which believed that the best way of liberating Ireland lay in hitting the British Empire at its most vulnerable spot – Canada.  From the latter came the movement for home rule under the Crown, combining legislative autonomy with membership of the British Empire.

Canadian historians have often pointed to the relationship between the Fenian raids of 1866 and Canadian Confederation, arguing that the raids contributed to the growth of national feeling in British North America and highlighted the need for common defence.  I contend that the influence of the Fenian raids on Canadian Confederation has been exaggerated, and that although the influence of Irish constitutional nationalism was less visible, it may well have been more important in the articulation and definition of Canada’s “new nationality.”

Melanie Newton (University of Toronto): "A Tale of Two Empires: Race and Revolution in the 1860s Caribbean"

Bill Waiser (University of Saskatchewan): "Our Country is No Longer Able to Support Us"

Canadian territorial expansion to the North-West was a planned feature of the 1867 confederation deal (section 146 of the BNA Act). Indeed, no sooner had confederation become a reality, then Canadian negotiators sat down with the Hudson’s Bay Company directorship in London over the winter of 1868-69 to discuss the dominion acquisition of Rupert’s Land. But the tendency to focus on this real estate transaction (and the subsequent Red River Resistance) overlooks the fundamental change that was occurring in the western interior in the 1860s. Bison numbers were already in steep decline by the mid-19th century, but the drier climate of the 1850s had not only reduced the carrying capacity of the northern plains but kept herds from coming north for winter shelter.

A decade later, bison were generally to be found only in Blackfoot country beyond the Battle River and out of reach of bands along the North Saskatchewan. The Cree, Assiniboine, Saulteaux and even some Métis responded by joining together into large hunting parties that entered enemy country in force. The resulting battles took a terrible tool, as did another smallpox epidemic in 1869-1870 when the disease spread north from the Missouri country, first to the Blackfoot and then the Cree. It is little wonder, then, why Indigenous groups felt under siege by the end of the decade and turned to the Canadian government to enter treaty. As Sweetgrass, the leading chief in the Pitt district, told the new lieutenant governor, “Our country is no longer able to support us.”

Ruth Sandwell (University of Toronto): "The 1860s and the Origins of Canada’s Transition to Fossil Fuels"

As concerns about climate change are pressing contemporary Canadians to re-think their heavy dependence on fossil fuels and contemplate a post-carbon future, historians are beginning to show new interest in the ways that Canadians experienced the earlier energy transition that transformed the country in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, a growing number of historians internationally are putting new emphasis on the significance of that energy transition, arguing that the shift from the organic energy regime of wind, water, wood and muscle power to the industrial energy regime of coal, oil, gas and later electricity was the necessary, if not sufficient, ‘cause’ of industrialization and modernity.

The 1860s marks the decade when fossil fuels made their first major impact on Canadian society as part of the highly variable, often gradual shift from the organic energy regime, characterized by low energy use and reliance on (relatively) tiny amounts of energy from local rural environments, to the mineral energy regime of fossil fuels and electricity, characterized by high energy use, dense population clusters, and increased standards of living.

This paper will situate Canada’s somewhat idiosyncratic energy transition in an international context, and go on to explore Canadians’ first society-wide experiences of fossil fuels in the 1860s. It will argue that while coal was just beginning to make a slow and gradual impact on transportation and industry in the 1860s, Canadians’ rapid and widespread adoption of (mostly) Ontario-produced petroleum for lighting in that decade lead the transition to fossil fuel energy, and with some significant social, economic and environmental consequences.


The 2017 Donald Creighton Lecture

Elsbeth Heamen in a black shirt against a white wall

Elsbeth Heaman, McGill University
"The Civilization of the Canadas in the 1860s"

Saturday, April 22, 2017, Upper Library, Massey College
4 Devonshire Place, Toronto
6:00-9:00 p.m.

Professor Heaman examines the complicated academic and political uses of “civilization” in Canada during the 1860s and their afterlife. Modern history emerged as a scholarly discipline around the history of civilization but Canadian legislators, even as they boasted of their racialized civilizing mission, constitutionally divested the nation state of anything but “commercial and political interests.” History as a discipline and as a cognitive activity suffered from that devolution of social and cultural identities: it narrowed, depoliticized, and fragmented across different academic fields. Professor Heaman's lecture is available to listeners free on SoundCloud.

Elsbeth Heaman, a historian at McGill University, received her PhD from the University of Toronto. She works broadly on topics of social, political, and cultural history. Recent and forthcoming books are A Short History of the State in Canada (University of Toronto Press 2015) and Tax, Order, and Good Government: A New Political History, 1867-1917 (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2017).

The Creighton Lecture honours the contributions and legacy of Donald Creighton, Professor of Canadian History from 1928 to 1971.

Canada 150: Ten Minute Talks

2017 is the 150th anniversary of Confederation, and Canadians are engaged in a yearlong reflection on the history of their country. To mark this important anniversary, the University of Toronto History Department organized a series of Ten Minute Talks, which saw faculty members present brief but informative introductions to key issues surrounding Confederation. Perspectives were often critical, and many speakers drew attention to what Confederation did not do as much as what it did.

Three of these talks have been edited into these short and accessible podcasts.

Two of the podcasts examine the question of indigenous perspectives. Professor Heidi Bohaker, an expert on First Nations history, discusses the importance of treaties in the making of Canada, pointing to the imperial agenda of the “Fathers of Confederation” – many of whom saw the annexation of the Northwest as key to the whole project – and to the necessity of placing the subsequent treaty making process at the centre of our understanding of Canadian nation-building. Professor Brian Gettler, who studies the relations between the Canadian state and First Nations, reminds us that “Indian Affairs” played a small part of in the Confederation negotiations, as many of the imperial and colonial dynamics of nation-building were decided elsewhere. Nonetheless, he argues, the Canadian state’s handling of indigenous questions reveals some of the fundamental dynamics of the Confederation project.

Professor David Wilson, a specialist in Irish and North American history, discussed the Irish influence on Confederation, taking a novel approach that downplays the well-trodden path of the Fenian Raids and looks instead to the evolution in the thinking of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, a noted Irish political activist and later Canadian politician.

Our many thanks to Professors Sean Mills and Steve Penfold, and PhD Candidates Kimberly Main and Shayfali Saujani for organizing this series of talks.


Tuesday 17 January:
Professor Steve Penfold, “Confederation??! A Brief Guide to Surviving 2017,” 3:00-4:00 p.m., SS2098. Steve Penfold specializes in the social, cultural, and political history of twentieth century North America, and is the author of The Donut and A Mile of Make-Believe.


Tuesday 7 February:
Professor Heidi Bohaker, “Confederation and Treaties,” 3:00-4:00 p.m., SS2098. Heidi Bohaker’s research and teaching interests include Anishinaabe political history in the Great Lakes region; Native American writing, communication systems, and material culture as sources for history; treaty relationships; federal government policies toward indigenous peoples in Canada; and digital history. She is a  co-founder of Great Lakes Research Alliance for the Study of Aboriginal Arts and Cultures and Co-Curator for the Canada by Treaty exhibit.


Tuesday 14 March:
Professor David Wilson, “The Irish Origins of Canadian Confederation: A Slightly Twisted Perspective,” 3:00-4:00 p.m., SS2098. David Wilson has a background in modern North Atlantic history, and he specializes in Modern Irish History and the Irish in North America. His latest book is Thomas D’Arcy McGee, Volume 2:  The Extreme Moderate.


Tuesday 4 April:
Professor Brian Gettler, “Recolonizing Confederation: Indigenous Policy and the Making of Canada,” 3:00-4:00 p.m., SS2098. Brian Gettler’s research focuses on First Nations’ economic, political, and social history and the history of Quebec and Canada since the Conquest. His book manuscript is entitled: Colonialism’s Currency: A Political History of First Nations Money-Use in Quebec and Ontario, 1820-1950.