Today in Canadian History: The United Farmers of Ontario, Nellie McClung, and the "Greatest Canadian"

On this date in 1919, the United Farmers of Ontario (UFO) came out on top in the province on Ontario's 15th general election. Having won 44 seats - a minority in the 111 seat legislature - the party would forge a coalition government with Labour. While the UFO set about doing politics differently - including an aversion to party whips and leaders - they would ask co-founder E.C. Drury to serve as premier. He accepted, but first he had to win a seat in the legislature, as he did not run in the general election. He won his seat, and would serve as premier until 1923, when the Conservatives swept to power. While Drury's time in office was brief - he lost his own seat in 1923 - his government is credited with establishing Ontario's first Department of Welfare, promoting rural electrification, and the creation of the Province of Ontario Savings Office, which ran until 2003, when its assets were sold to the Desjardins Credit Union.

This date also marks the birthday, in 1873, of Nellie McClung, the author-suffragette-Alberta MLA (1921-26), who is perhaps best known for her role in the Persons Case, and Tommy Douglas, the Baptist minister-CCF/NDP member of parliament (1935-44)-Premier of Saskatchewan (1944-61), who is best known as "The Father of Medicare." Douglas would win The Greatest Canadian competition in 2004, having had his case argued by "Canada's boyfriend," George Stroumboulopoulos.

Today in Canadian Political History: birthdays and bum shields!

Today is an important day in the history of the Liberal Party of Canada. It marks the birthday of two prominent figures: the 15th Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliott Trudeau (in 1919), and Iona Campagnolo (in 1932), who served as a Member of Parliament (1974-79) and party president (1982-86). Campagnolo was also unwittingly involved in a minor political controversy in 1984 when cameras caught her old colleague - and Liberal party leader - John Turner patting her backside. As historian Paul Litt wrote in Elusive Destiny: The Political Vocation of John Napier Turner,

Turner had been warned about patting bums during the leadership race. The warnings didn’t register, because he thought he needed no advice on gender relations. There were a number of strong women in his life, and he treated them with respect. He encouraged women to enter politics and strongly endorsed women’s causes. When asked about the CTV clip, he remained unrepentant. ‘I’m a hugger ... I’m a tactile politician. I’m slapping people all over the place. That’s my style,’ he explained. ‘People are reaching out to me and I’m reaching out to them.’ And so he let the issue live on .... The media continued to broadcast the clips, generating editorials, cartoons, opinion pieces, and sly allusions in headlines. Feminists created a cardboard ‘Turner Bum Shield’ that got more media coverage than anything Turner said or did over the next few days.

Campagnolo would later serve as Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia (2001-2007). Following his life in politics, Trudeau spent his time working as a lawyer, being a father, writing some books, and canoeing. He passed away in 2000.


Playing Political Football with Canada's Sesquicentennial

A Canadian Press story published yesterday notes that the federal government "has launched a $4-million national ad campaign celebrating the fathers of Confederation and a country that has become 'strong, proud and free' more than two years in advance of Canada's 150th birthday in 2017." The problem with this, according to critics, is that the Harper government has blurred the lines between national activities, federal spending, and the prime minister's personal brand. As Mathieu Ravignat, the NDP Member of Parliament for Pontiac (Quebec) explained: "Given the past borderline partisan nature of their ads, we have to be careful about the messaging in these ads, as well as the costs." This is particularly concerning, Ravignat noted, because a federal election is scheduled to occur on October 19, 2015.

It's a sad situation when this country's history - and the celebration thereof - becomes politicized. Unfortunately, it's not surprising that it happens, given the cynical state of politics today in Canada.

The good news? Today I  picked up a copy of Elizabeth May's recently released Who We Are: Reflections on My Life and Canada and I'm looking forward to diving into it. Ms. May has been vocal in denouncing the toxic political climate in Ottawa, and has made numerous recommendations on how we can restore the public's faith in our elected officials and institutions. This is a topic addressed in her book, and I look forward to reading more of her creative ideas for fixing parliament.

2015 Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association -- deadline tomorrow

If you're thinking of submitting a paper for the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association -- but haven't quite gotten around to it --tomorrow is your deadline. The event will occur June 1-3, 2015, and will be held at the University of Ottawa. If you'd like more information, click here.

Happy Thanksgiving! (or, 'Why is Thanksgiving Day celebrated on different days in the United States and Canada?')

It's Thanksgiving Day in Canada today, but it won't be Thanksgiving Day in the United States until November 27. The fact that these namesake holidays occur in the neighboring countries over a month apart is well known, but the reason why isn't. As it turns out, these dates were chosen by the respective governments. In 1957 the Canadian government proclaimed "A day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest which Canada has been blessed -- to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October." The day became a federal holiday in the United States in 1863, and is affixed to the fourth Thursday of November due to an act of Congress that was passed in 1941. (Thanksgiving had been observed in both countries prior to this, but the specific date of these celebrations was ever-changing.)

Incidentally, the Columbus Day holiday, which commemorates explorer Christopher Columbus' landing in the Americas, falls on the second Monday in November in the United States.

To learn more about the differences between Thanksgiving Day in Canada and the United States, check out this article over at Mental Floss.

Comics and Historical Storytelling

A post of mine, "Graphic Environmentalism: An Interview with Comic Writer-Artist Steph Hill," is featured on the Active History website today. Steph is the person behind "A Brief, Accurate Graphic History of the Environmental Movement (Mostly in Canada)" -- if you haven't read it, I encourage you to do so.

I was an avid reader of comics as a youth, transitioning from the adventures of Archie and his gang to G.I. Joe to the superhero comics that were popular at the time, before losing interest in the medium sometime in the 1990s. In recent years I've been drawn back to comics, in large part due to the great stories that have been, and continue to be, told.

In the interview, Steph recommends some historical comics/graphic novels for readers. Did she miss any of your favorites? If so, feel free to add them in the comments below.

David Coon, New Brunswick Politics, and the History of Environmental Activism in Ontario

Image from

Image from

If you've been following coverage of the New Brunswick election that occurred yesterday, you may have heard that the leader of the provincial Green Party, David Coon, was elected in the Fredericton South riding. While David spent twenty-eight years with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick before entering the world of electoral politics, I actually first came into contact with him while researching the history of environmental activism in Ontario. As it turns out, he worked with Pollution Probe during the late 1970s. He explained in a far-reaching interview that it was a turbulent period at the ENGO, as they constantly struggled to meet payroll. (These cash flow problems would lead Energy Probe, then a part of the Pollution Probe Foundation, to separate and form the Energy Probe Research Foundation.) It was an exciting time as well, as Pollution Probe was in the midst of developing Ecology House, the energy conservation demonstration site that would serve as its headquarters throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. David was kind enough to share a photograph of Ecology House with me, which will appear in my book.

As it turns out, David is just the second Green Party candidate elected to a provincial legislature in Canada. In an interesting twist, David is married to Janice Harvey, one of the candidates that ran in the 1980 federal election as part of "the small party," an Elizabeth May-led group that ran on an anti-nuclear platform. Using E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful as their platform, the small party aimed to bring attention to the nuclear issue by running candidates against high profile members of the government. None were elected, but this group is historically significant insofar that it served as the root of the Green Party of Canada.

Environmentalism from Below Workshop

Image courtesy of Zoltan Grossman

Image courtesy of Zoltan Grossman

I had the opportunity to participate in the Environmentalism from Below workshop, which was held August 6-9 at the University of Alberta. It was a very productive event, featuring fifteen scholars from across Canada, the United States, and Europe. Many thanks to all in attendance for the constructive critique of my paper, which examined the relationship between population control and the Canadian environmental movement, as well as the organizers, Jonathan Clapperton and Liza Piper.

For more information on the event, you can check out Marianna Dudley's post on the Rachel Carson Center's blog, Seeing the Woods.