Only rarely have historians in Canada examined the country’s history from the perspective of the grassroots activists, including migrants, labourers, feminists, environmentalists and First Nations communities, who fought to change social norms and political conventions.
This past semester, Winter 2014, the students of HIST 370 explored the country’s history from the perspective of activists who identified ills and injustices and undertook to transform the country’s social and political landscape. Truth be told, activists’ ambitions were rarely so grandly stated. Rather, most undertook reforms at the local level, effecting change on a small scale that often reverberated nationally, and even globally.
Topics covered in class included the social reform movement of the 1890s, civil and human rights campaigns, efforts at redress and reconciliation and environmentalism. The breadth of topics disguised a serious lacuna in the depth of research currently available on social and political movements in Canada. Research on all of these movements, and others, remains sorely under-developed. Too often, activism is reduced to a single sentence in a text concerned with other issues, if it is mentioned at all. To fill this yawning gap, the students of HIST 370 undertook primary research in the McGill University Archives, telling the important story of how local activists, or their critics, sought to change the world in which they lived and how, on some occasions, their successes and failures reverberate to the present day.
The results of the semester’s hard work are available on the pages below (in case of technical difficulties, simply copy and paste the URL into your web browser):
Japanese Cultural Association of Montreal: http://mcgillxjapxredress.wordpress.com
John Humphrey: http://johnhumphreyarchives.wordpress.com
Madeleine Parent (union career): https://blogs.mcgill.ca/madeleineparentunioncareer
Madeleine Parent (post- union career): http://madeleineparent.wordpress.com
Montreal Council of Social Agencies: http://mcsayouthintervention.wordpress.com
Montreal Parks and Playgrounds Association: http://montrealparks.wordpress.com
Pointe Ste-Charles (Carrefour d’Éducation): http://lecarrefour.omeka.net
Pointe Ste-Charles (Public Housing): http://pscpublichousing.wordpress.com
Rocke Robertson: www.canadastudentprotests.wordpress.com
It is hoped that readers will consult these pages and take away, not only information about some unsung heroes, but also gain an appreciation for how history from the ground up looks very different from conventional narratives. These alternative vantage points are a reminder of the importance of making room for multiple voices and perspectives in discussions about the nature of change and progress.
To the staff of the McGill University Archives: thank you for your generosity and your constant efforts throughout this past semester. These projects would, quite literally, not have been possible without your support. Your work is a testament to the importance of ensuring that archival and heritage institutions are adequately resourced. To the students of HIST 370: thank you for your creativity, your intelligence and your sensitivity in bringing these projects to fruition. The history of political and social movements in Canada is much richer for your efforts.