Author Archives: Laura Larsen

About Laura Larsen

Laura Larsen is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan. Her dissertation explores rail rationalization and agricultural policy under the Pierre Trudeau Liberal government.

The Last Day and still lots to see!

The last day of a conference always seems a little sad to me since it’s a day to say last good-byes while still catching all the panels and activities possible.

My first panel was The Stories Staples Tell; Resource Economies in Canada with Colin Coates (York University), Jim Clifford (University of Saskatchewan), Andrew Watson (University of Saskatchewan), and Anne Dance (Memorial University).  The panel began with a discussion of how the staples thesis has been set out and what new digital history techniques can add to this area.  Coates showed how text mining can help to show previously overlooked staple products or unnoticed distribution trends. The use of digital history techniques  enables large numbers of documents to be examined and analyzed in different ways.  Coates gave an  example of a Wordle analysis of Innis’ classic work which showed an emphasis on fish, fur, and wheat.  He also explained the Trading Consequences site and closed the presentation with the suggestion that this type of research can propose new stories of economic activity.  Since the staples thesis has become so widely known – a classic – I was excited by the idea of re-examining it in this way and the idea that a more micro-level approach might yield new insights.

Up next were Jim Clifford and Andrew Watson who used the Trading Consequences site in their own work on London’s Ghost Acres which uses a MediaWiki and examines how commodities production in other places supported and fed the city of London.  Canadian cheese, for example, dominated the overall cheese imports to Britain.  As it’s a big project with lots of potential commodities to examine Watson suggested that they would be interested in collaborative work.  A blog on the NiCHE site about this will be coming soon!

Anne Dance brought the panel into more contemporary times with a look at the last three decades of dealing with contaminated sites in Canada. She suggest looking at the Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory to get an idea of the scale of the issue but also provided a map of the sites – there were a lot of points on it!  Her work uses a lot of grey literature and government reports.  Since my own project also uses a lot of similar literature it was great to hear it discussed within another context and to get another perspective on its uses and limitations.  Dance noted that the next part of the project will be to look at the same topic with a “bottom up” approach.   The reclamation approaches initially took a southern approach to northern sites which meant that solutions, such as the importation of fresh topsoil, were impractical.  The shift to more northern-focused solutions has created jobs in reclamation and a new spin on the idea of contaminated sites; remediation is now portrayed less as fixing failure and more as economic development and investment in the future. With the rise in the remediation industry could this, Dance mused, become a new part of the staples story?

After this panel I decided to  go to the poster exhibit.  It was great to see the posters from many different historians show-casing such a wide range of topics from emotional labour in community engaged research to representations of Western Canadian identity on menus (aptly put behind the coffee the CHA office was offering).  The posters for me were a way to get a quick snapshot of research.  Sadly I didn’t come across many of the poster presenters to ask questions but next year I’ll make sure to attend the presentation session so I can do just that.  I’ve tweeted photos of all the posters if you’re curious about them. Next up I headed to the Expo where I spent an enjoyable time browsing through the books on offer.  I always have trouble deciding on which books to buy when I have only a little room in my suitcase for them.  Fortunately I was able to get books shipped to my home which made the decisions easier especially when some of the books I wanted were available only for pre-order.

I presented in the afternoon.  Shout out to the audience members for showing up at the last panel of a very busy day!  My panel was Sustaining a Fragile West: Environmental Myths and Realities will Claire Campbell (Bucknell University) and Frances Reilly (University of Saskatchewan).  I enjoyed having a chance to share my own research with an audience and to see the presentations from my fellow panel members.  Reilly presented on the Alberta Rat Patrol and how its early messaging echoed messaging around the fear of communist encroachment.  Campbell looked at the Bar U Ranch and how its history is celebrated without putting ranching into its context as an extractive industry.  My own presentation focused on the changes in the nitrogen balance and soil fertility of the Saskatchewan RM of Wise Creek which was part of the international Sustainable Farm Systems Project.

With the panels done and the CHA officially finished it was time to take the evening to enjoy Calgary.  A friend took me to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary where I was delighted to see geese, deer, and swallows.  As we walked across a bridge we came face to nose with a porcupine!  After mutual and careful observation we both decided to return the way we’d come.  The porcupine sighting was a delightful end to my Calgary Congress and CHA experience.   I want to thank the CHA Graduate Students’ Committee for giving me this chance to share my experiences at the CHA with all of you.  I hope you enjoyed Congress as much as I did.

Goodbye Calgary!


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A Tour and a Party

Today I was feeling comfortable on the U of C campus – the signs were familiar and I could landmark from the statues that are scattered around the campus. The first panel I chose was one of which looked interesting but wasn’t related to my area. Canadian Children’s Television History: Nationalism, Regulation, and the Formation of Canadian Identities made me curious because I had enjoyed a presentation at another conference on the NFB film Ti-Jean Goes West and how it represented region and children in Canada so I wanted to see more work about Canadian media.  I also admit to being hopeful that as a media history panel there would be some clips for childhood cartoons.

It did not disappoint!  Prior to the panel beginning they played the theme from The Racoons to get the audience in the proper mood.  Katherine Rollwagen (Vancouver Island) looked at how Canadians thought of television when it was first being introduced into Canada by looking at the Fowler Commission.  There was a concern making sure Canadian content would be played and that it would be educational for young viewers.  Matthew Hayday (University of Guelph) looked at the battle to keep Sesame Street as part of regular television programming when the CRTC ruled that it did not count toward Canadian content.  He showed a letter from one mother to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau that appealed to him as a fellow parent.

Letter to Prime Minister

A letter to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

After this panel I hoped the C-Train to downtown Calgary – a quick and easy 15 minute ride.  At Centre Street I saw the Calgary Tower and found my way to the Glenbow.  Prior to getting to the CHA I had signed up for the CHA Aboriginal Studies Group organized tour of the Glenwbow museum.    When I first saw the email I was immediately enthusiastic about doing the tour because it promised a tour of the backrooms and, as a friend of mine who works in museums told me, the backrooms always have the best things.   The first part of the tour was led by Sheldon First Rider, a Blackfoot educator, who took us through the Niitsitapiisini: Our Way of Life exhibit and told us his personal journey as a member of the Blood Tribe.  It was an honour to hear his story.   It seemed to me that many people were thinking about what we had just seen and heard as we headed to lunch.  The spicy butternut squash soup and complimentary buffet provided the tour with an opportunity to reflect and to take time to chat informally with each other.

The first stop after lunch was the Archives and Library at the Glenbow where we saw the shelves holding thousands of photo negatives in the archives collection, and learned about the collection’s focus on the area directly around Calgary.  The oldest book in the library is a manual on treating horses, reflecting the interests of the Glenbow’s founder Eric Harvie whose collecting started the library and museum collections.  Afterward we rode the elevator to the archives floor where we were met by the curator who had pulled several artifacts from the Glenbow’s collection of Indigenous artifacts.  One of them was a carved stone bison which was shortly to be going on tour.  We were lucky to see it since it is a piece that tours often.

The bison carving

We were also shown masks, treaty medals, and a coat made from seal intestine, to name just a few.  As part of our viewing of the collection items we also heard about the Glenbow’s protocols for working with Indigenous peoples to repatriate artifacts and collaborate with them in terms how items are collected, stored, and displayed. The tour ran long but it was one of those tours that you don’t want to end since amazing pieces continued to be revealed. The last was a car hidden by a piece of sheeting. It turned out to be the car from Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas’ Pedal to the Meddle art piece.  But all good things must end and we emerged into the lobby of the Glenbow as the afternoon was waning.

With only a couple hours before Cliopalooza began I decided to enjoy what downtown Calgary offered.  In my wandering I found a lovely walking path by the river and managed to spy not just the usual ducks enjoying the water but a beaver as well.  The statues that dot the downtown made useful landmarks and after investigation one of those statues turned out to be pictured on the front of the front cover of my CHA program guide.

Cliopalooza was held in the Legion 1 building where the CCF was first founded in 1932. Naturally as somebody with an interest in both grain and agrarian politics this was my first stop on arriving at Cliopalooza. The evening was a great way to run into old friends who I’d missed seeing at the day’s events and the dance floor was full of historians.

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Day 1 – CHA in Calgary

Good evening from the first full day of this year’s Canadian Historical Association (CHA) Conference at Congress 2016. This year we’re on the University of Calgary (U of C) campus and I’ll be your Graduate Student Anglophone blogger for this year.

First, a bit about me. I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Saskatchewan focusing on trains and grains or to be more formal grain transportation history during the Pierre Trudeau-era and the associated environmental and human implications. As you might have guessed my interests lie primarily in Canadian, Environmental and Transportation history. Looking through this year’s program I saw a diverse array of panels that are of obvious interest to me and others that sound like they would provide me with a glimpse into a new area of scholarship. When I attend any conference I always try to find a balance between seeing panels that are within my areas of interest and trying those that might point me in new directions.

I arrived at Congress after having the opportunity to participate in NiCHE’s  CHESS program which was an intensive weekend of learning about bison around Banff National Park and the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site. After registration with Congress, a process that included a tantalizing peak at the offerings from various publishers, I picked up my CHA program. Fortunately the CHESS group I was with included some U of C alumni who acted as tour guides for those of us who were new to campus.

CHESS participants arrive at Congress. From @anneriitta

CHESS participants arrive at Congress. Courtesy of @anneriitta

Sunday evening I looked at Andrea Eidinger’s great Beginner’s Guide to the CHA (if this is your first CHA definitely take a sec to check it out!) which also came with her recommendations for panels to see.

I like to tweet the panels I’m at so you can always scroll through my twitter feed (@triticum_red) but here’s a quick overview of the panels I saw today.

Monday morning I had an early start with a panel that started at 8:30 am. Thanks to the help of the Congress volunteers it was easy to find my way to Science A-13 and the morning’s first panel Limited Identities, Limited Loyalties: Western Canadian Agriculture, Exhibition, and Empire in the First World War. Will Pratt (University of Lethbridge) opened the panel discussing agricultural production on the Treaty 7 Reserves that included communal equipment and successful harvests. Shannon Murray (Calgary Stampede) followed with an examination of how the messaging of the Calgary Exhibition (yes, the famous Stampede wasn’t in Calgary for a time!) during the war years and Andrew McEwen (University of Calgary) closed the panel by showing the issues, including prices and transportation distances, surrounding the purchases of remounts in Canada. To me this was a great example of a panel were the presentations had obvious ties to each other so that the information from one presentation complimented other presentations.

I had wanted to also see Canadian History Blogging: A Conversation Between Editors and was lucky to find that attendees to that panel were live-tweeting it. Following the #CHASHC2016 hashtag was the closest I could get to being in two panels at once. For me, following #CHASHC2016 is a great way to find out about other sessions where there may be ideas or people who I want to try to follow up with.

Next up was the keynote address Memory and Mobility: Grandma’s Mahnomen, White Earth with Jean O’Brien (University of Minnesota). I think the sign of great talk is when the floor is opened for questions the audience needs a second to gather their courage to ask and then the questions come quickly. Judging by that metric this was definitely an excellent key note! O’Brien deftly intertwined her family’s personal history – as recorded by her Grandmother – with the larger narratives in USA history about Indigenous labour, dispossession, and mobility.  It was a reminder that family histories can be just as important as the “big” histories and that those family histories can speak to them.

Lunch was spent in the Congress social area with friends. As one would expect at lunch time the social areas was bustling with activity and I caught bits of a lot of conservations that were commenting on the morning’s presentations from many different associations. This was our lunch time conversation too along with a hearty dose of agonizing over what panels to see in the afternoon. We all wanted to make the 1:00 pm start so lunch was done quickly as we hurried back across to the Science A building. Having gone the same way in the morning the route was starting to feel a little familiar!

Having my own experience trying to request access to documents I really wanted to see Information Commissioner of Canada Suzanne Legault’s presentation. It did not disappoint! We got a clear overview of the recommended changes her office is suggesting to the Access Act. The Canadian Access to Information Act is considered the grandfather/mother of Access Acts. Greg Kealey (University of New Brunswick) and Bill Waiser (University of Saskatchewan) provided commentary on Legault’s talk and they both emphasized that access to information is critical not just for historians but for Canadians as a whole. Legault noted that there are public consultations on access to information happening now that need input. Bill Waiser reminded the audience that the CHA has been advocating on our behalf about access but it’s important that CHA members also raise their own voices to show support for better access. As Kealey pointed out access to information is important to democracy.

After that it was obvious that the best follow up would be Hot Docs: The Politics of Archives, Ethics, and Protocols with Steve Hewitt (University of Birmingham), Patrizia Gentile (Carleton University), Isabelle Perreault (Université d’Ottawa), Christabelle Sethna (University of Ottawa) and Marie-Claude Thifault (Université d’Ottawa) discussed archival documents they’ve worked with that have sensitive information or potentially upsetting revelations in them. It was a provocative panel and Sethna suggested that perhaps a best practices guide needs to be developed for how to work with declassified or sensitive documents.

Science A building at U of C where I spent a lot of the day.

Science A building at U of C where I spent a lot of the day.

I’m grateful to all the other CHA attendees who were tweeting from panels because the afternoon was filled with panels that I was curious about. Through twitter I got to see snippets of panels on Dominion Experimental Farms, Acadian Soldiers, Energy use in Canada, and Indigenous land use to name just a few examples.

If you want to see where I’m at during the day without waiting for the blog follow me @triticum_red. Cliopalooza is tomorrow evening and I hear it’s always fun. Until then I’m spending the last of the evening trying to pick tomorrow’s panels.

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