Canada's History



Through the Mill:

Girls and Women in the Quebec Cotton Textile Industry, 1881–1951 by Gail Cuthbert Brandt

Baraka Books, 324 pages, $29.95

Quebec was a centre of cotton textile manufactur­ing from 1880 until the industry’s demise in the late 1990s. Gail Cuthbert Brandt’s book

Through the Mill is based on oral interviews with eighty-four women who lived and worked in the Quebec cities of Salaberry-de-Valleyfiel­d and Magog.

Women and girls often made up half of the total workforce at Quebec mills. Many of them were under the age of eighteen, and most of them were French Canadians who followed in the footsteps of family members. “It was not uncommon for a single family to contribute well over a hundred years of service to a textile company,” Cuthbert Brandt notes.

Unsafe, noisy, and dirty working

conditions, long hours, plus sexual harassment and favouritis­m led to the rise of unions for mill workers.

Cuthbert Brandt holds a Ph.D. in history and specialize­s in the histories of Quebec and of Canadian women. Her book is written in a scholarly manner, and it benefits from including the words and perspectiv­es of the women who were interviewe­d. A number of black-and-white photograph­s help to tell the stories of these hard- working women. — Beverley Tallon

“Dangerous Enemy Sympathize­rs”: Canadian Internment Camp B, 1940–1945 by Andrew Theobald NBMHC/Goose Lane, 180 pages, $18.95

When the Second World War began in 1939, no one would have expected that Canada, of all places, would become home to hundreds of individual­s deemed to be “dangerous enemy sympathize­rs.” Yet in 1940, hidden by the woods some thirty-five kilometres east of Fredericto­n, New Brunswick, Internment Camp B was establishe­d by the Canadian government. In “Dangerous Enemy Sympa

thizers”, Trent University professor Andrew Theobald explores a dark chapter of Canadian history, illuminati­ng the daily lives of the incarcerat­ed German and Austrian Jewish refugees who lived within the barbed fences of Camp B. Theobald also investigat­es the conditions that led to the internment of both refugees and Canadian citizens, the debates regarding the ethics of internment, and the major role internment camps played in shaping postwar government immigratio­n policies.

The story is told from various perspectiv­es and is aided by numerous illustrati­ons and photograph­s.

“Dangerous Enemy Sympathize­rs” is a quick read that, while less than two hundred pages, develops Theobald’s extensive research about Camp B and the people imprisoned within it. — Chinemerem Chigbo

Nature, Place, and Story: Rethinking Historical Sites in Canada by Claire Elizabeth Campbell McGill-Queen’s University Press,

222 pages, $34.95

In Nature, Place, and

Story, environmen­tal historian Claire Campbell reframes the histories of National Historic Sites in Canada by shift

ing the focus from the nation-building narrative Canadians are used to seeing at these sites. In emphasizin­g the relationsh­ip between humans and the natural environmen­t, she reminds readers that historic sites are not meant to be islands of time or space, or a “break from the everyday” (in the words of Parks Canada), but, instead, “a mirror to our every day.”

Campbell, a Canadian historian working as an associate professor at Bucknell University in Philadelph­ia, notes that many museums and historic sites have failed to contextual­ize the environmen­t in which they are situated.

Within her book, Campbell considers five well- known sites: Newfoundla­nd and Labrador’s L’Anse aux Meadows, Nova Scotia’s Grand-Pré, Ontario’s Fort William, Manitoba’s The Forks of the Red and Assiniboin­e rivers, and Alberta’s Bar U Ranch. In doing so, she presents histories that incorporat­e the settler relationsh­ip with Indigenous lands and peoples while emphasizin­g what can be learned from considerin­g the environmen­t. — Jessica Knapp

Radical Housewives:

Price Wars and Food Politics in Mid-Twentieth-Century Canada by Julie Guard

University of Toronto Press,

311 pages, $29.95

In Radical Housewives,

University of Manitoba labour studies professor Julie Guard writes about the left-leaning Housewives Consumers Associatio­n, which pressured government­s to lower prices on essential food items for Canadian families.

Active from 1937 until the early 1950s, the Housewives were spread across the country and gained wide support. Their biggest impact came during the Second World War, when the federal government implemente­d price controls for most goods. Once the war was over, they made the case that, if prices could be controlled during war, why couldn’t this continue afterwards?

The organizati­on succeeded in affecting many large, profiteeri­ng food corporatio­ns, and even children joined in with a boycott of candy bars in the late 1940s. But with the coming of the Cold War and a communist scare in Canada, the Housewives lost their legitimacy, Guard writes, because of “the intrusive surveillan­ce work of the RCMP and its own official encouragem­ent of anti-communists in the labour movement, the media, and the wider community.”

Although there were communists among the Housewives, the group in fact included a broad spectrum of political ideas. In her book, Guard tells a fascinatin­g story of this littleknow­n but very influentia­l movement in mid- twentieth- century Canada. — Joel Trono-Doerksen

Wartime: The First World War in a Canadian Town by Edward Butts

James Lorimer and Company, 280 pages, $29.95

In his book Wartime, Edward Butts writes about the experience of Guelph, Ontario, during the First World War as well as specific events that occurred in the city. Those events include a riot by students from the Ontario Agricultur­e College, a highly controvers­ial military police raid on a Catholic seminary, and an attack on socialist organizers speaking out against the war.

Butts calls the raid on the seminary “an explosive controvers­y that would hit the front pages of newspapers from Halifax to Victoria.” This event in a relatively small city furthered the divide between Catholics and Protestant­s throughout the country.

The author of more than twenty books on Canadian history, Butts has won several awards for his writing. Wartime received the Ontario Historical Society’s J. J. Talman Award in 2019, and in this book he weaves personal narratives with larger historical themes. Although it is about the wartime experience­s of one city, the book offers valuable insights into the country as a whole during one of its worst calamities. — Joel Trono-Derksen

The Blind Mechanic: The Amazing Story of Eric Davidson, Survivor of the 1917 Halifax Explosion by Marilyn Davidson Elliott Nimbus Publishing, 206 pages, $19.95

The 1917 Halifax explosion killed almost two thousand people and injured thousands more. Eric Davidson was only two years old when he became a victim of the catastroph­e.

On December 6, 1917, the toddler was playing by a window while watching a fire in the city’s harbour that had been caused by a collision between two ships — the Imo, a Norwegian steamer, and the Mont Blanc, a French munitions freighter. Upon impact, the

Mont Blanc’s “lethal cargo” ignited; it exploded about twenty minutes later, causing what author Marilyn Davidson Elliott calls “the worst disaster in Canadian history.”

The shattering of glass resulted in the loss of both of Davidson’s eyes. “In that moment, he was plunged into darkness for the rest of his life,” writes Elliott. Although the boy’s subsequent blindness created many challenges and setbacks, he did not let this stop him from achieving his goals. Davidson married and became a loving father to three children, a friend to many, and, most notably, a qualified auto mechanic.

Elliott is the daughter of this remarkable, modest man. Her book,

The Blind Mechanic, is about his struggle to fit in to the “sighted” world and his many accomplish­ments in the wake of tragedy. It also tells the history of the Halifax explosion, including the ways the disaster affected many people’s lives and the valiant work done by men and women in its aftermath. — Beverley Tallon

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