Posts Tagged ‘racism in canada’

“Seventy kilometers north of Kenora, in Ontario’s Lake of the Woods region, among a series of rolling, densely forested hills between two lakes, is the Ojibway community of Grassy Narrows, or the Asubpeechoseewagong First Nation. It is home to about 1,000 people.

As you travel north towards it, the lakes and rivers are crowded with pleasure craft, tourists and sportsmen. The closer you get, however, the sparser the pleasure-seekers get – until eventually you find a Chernobyl stillness heavy among the trees.

Nobody wants to touch the waters around Grassy Narrows.

Between 1962 and 1970, the Reed Paper company dumped more than 9,000kg of mercury into the Wabigoon and English river systems here. Slowly, that mercury poisoned the waters, and made the walleye – the cornerstone of the local fishing-based economy and the staple food of the local First Nations people – unsafe to eat.

On 6 April 1970, shortly after detecting the spill, by then nearly a decade old, the Ontario provincial government closed the region’s fisheries and moved to cut off the source of mercury.

That date, 6 April, serves as a dividing line for the few surviving elders of Grassy Narrows today: a line between a growing, employed and prosperous traditional community, and an era of disease, government inaction, and Ojibway resistance.”

– Robert Jago, “The Warrior Society rises: how a mercury spill in Canada inspired a movement.” The Guardian, October 16, 2018.

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“Jail and the Workingman.” Kingston Daily Standard. Editorial. October 9, 1912. Page 04.

According to the annual return of Governor Corbett, of the county jail, there was a total of 162 prisoners committed during the year ending the 30th September 1912, of whom eight were females. The occupations of these prisoners were: Baker, 1; blacksmith and boilermaker, 1; bricklayers, 1; butchers, 1; cabinet makers, 5; carpenters, 8; cigar makers, 2; clerks, 1; engineers, 1; farmers, 3; hotelkeepers, 1; laborers, 109; masons, 1; moulders, 2; painters, 2; sailors, 1; servants, 6; teamsters, 1; tinsmiths, 1; woodworkers, 1; no occupation, 7; soldiers, 2.

In looking over these figures one is at once struck with the large number of laborers, 109, as against 49 of all other occupations. Two-thirds of the whole number are laborers. It may be said that laborers constitute the majority of working people and for that reason the proportion constitute the majority of working people and for that reason the proportion is not out of the way. That probably is true, but laborers do not make up two-thirds of the population of Kingston, and there are not 109 times as many laborers as there are bakers, or blacksmiths, or clerks or engineers or masons; for we find only one of each of these classes of workmen in jail during the year. The number of laborers imprisoned is clearly out of all proportion to their number in the community.

Only one explanation can be offered for this condition of affairs. A lack of education is at the bottom of it. A boy who is allowed to drift through school and leave it at an early age and is then placed at some work which leads to no trade, business or profession lands among the class of laborers when he reaches man’s estate. He is without a trade or business training and almost always without education except the merest rudiments of it.

The parent who thus neglects his child, who fails to make him attend school or who does not send him to learn a trade or business is almost criminally blameworthy. In Canada there is no excuse for allowing any boy to drift into the class of laborers. Here, there is every chance for any boy to get a fair education or to learn a trade. In the first place, it is the fault of his parents, in 99 cases out of a hundred if the boy does not get that chance; in the second place it is the fault of the State for for not passing and enforcing such laws as will compel the parents to look to the welfare of their children by seeing either that they are properly educated for the professions or are taught a business or trade. Our foreign immigration will provide us with all the laborers we need; it is a disgrace to Canada to have any of her sons among the class of criminal laborers, not because labor is not honourable, but because the people of Canada should be educated to work of a higher nature than that of the mere laborer.

The statistics furnished by Governor Corbett shows that of the 162 prisoners, 12 are Canadians – that is just 112 too many.

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“I have the honor to report to Your Excellency that I have visited twenty-two
Gaols in Canada West, where I have found little or no discipline or classification of
prisoners. In the construction of most of the Gaols in Canada West, the health of
the prisoners has rarely received a thought; it is true that the highest spot has often
been selected as a site for the Court House and Gaol, yet it is lamentable to see the
cells partly under ground and badly ventilated. In many Gaols, the effluvia from the
water closet, where there is no sewer, can be felt all over the Gaol; add to that, a
number of persons sleeping together in warm weather, or yet in cold weather, where
every crevice is carefully shut, and it will create no surprise to see prisoners affected
with disease that sends them to an early grave.

Hamilton Gaol is situated in one of the most wealthy Counties in the Province;
in the year 1851, it had four hundred and nineteen prisoners within its walls. The
cells are eight feet nine inches by nine feet nine inches, partly under ground, with
one small loop-hole for light and air; the door opens into a dark passage; Six human
beings are incarcerated in each of these cells night and day, with a tub in place of a
water-closet. The prisoners complain of vermin; it is impossible to be otherwise. 

The Sheriff attends at Court House daily, but does not visit prisoners, unless specially, called upon to do so, being in a state of disgust with the condition of the Gaol, and wholly ‘unable to ameliorate the condition of the prisoners, either morally or
“physically.” There is no yard to give the prisoners air or exercise, hence, a three
months’ confinement in such a Gaol, must shorten life more than a sentence of three
years in the Provincial Penitentiary, where they have every care, with pure air and exercise. In a moral point of view, such a prison is equally ruinous, as there is no classification,
except the females being kept in a cell by themselves, where they freely converse
with the male prisoners. … I found the male and
female, the sane and insane, the tried and untried, the young and the old, the black
and the white, all congregated together: throughout the day, having the range of the
Gaol, where any amount of criminality might be carried on.”

– Andrew Dickinson, Inspector, Provincial Penitentiary, “REPORT

16 Victoria. Appendix (H.H.), September 11 1852, from Appendix to the Eleventh Volume of the Journal of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, Session 1852-1853. 

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“Campers have for years parked their RVs at the Turtle Crossing campground along the Assiniboine River in Manitoba, without knowing that it’s situated on the site of unmarked graves of more than 50 Indigenous children who died at the Brandon Residential School.

But Anne Lindsay, a researcher and former archivist with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba, has spent nearly 10 years looking for and trying to identify the bodies. So far, she has identified children ranging in age from 7 to 16, dating back to the early 1900s.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that more than 3,200 children in total died at residential schools, where more than 150,000 Indigenous children were sent from 1883 to 1998 as part of a program of forced assimilation.

According to the Commission’s report, child abuse was “institutionalized” at residential schools and the entire system represented an attempt at “cultural genocide.”

Among its 94 calls to action was one to determine how — and how many — children died at residential schools and to determine where they are buried.

But some say that, so far, all they’ve seen is apathy.

“We hear from residential school survivors who tell you of these things happening, of mass graves existing, and everybody always denies that those stories are true,” said Arlen Dumas, the grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. “Well, here’s one example…there will be more.”

Lindsay found the unmarked graves by using an old, hand drawn map made by a former student of the Brandon Residential School.

Current campground proprietor Mark Kovatch, who is the third owner of Turtle Crossing, told CTV News that he had no idea his property held a burial ground. He said that he is co-operating with the City of Brandon and a local First Nation to uncover the grave site.

“Their preference was to repatriate the bodies up to the site of the old residential school and to try and have a memorial up there,” he said.

Harshly disciplined and poorly nourished, children at residential schools often died from illnesses such as tuberculosis, pneumonia or influenza. But others died from the hard labour they were forced to endure or died by suicide. Twelve children died after the Cross Lake school in Manitoba burned down in 1930.

“They operated equipment, which in the early 1900s was far less safe than farm equipment we know today,” Lindsay said. “They were also just physically run down from the amount of labour they were doing.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report said that “the failure to establish and enforce adequate standards, coupled with the failure to adequately fund the schools, resulted in unnecessarily high death rates at residential schools.”

The work of Lindsay and others in trying to identify the thousands of children who died at the schools is a difficult one, in part because governments and churches have not always been forthcoming with relevant documents or have provided documents in poor quality.

Compounding the problem is that school officials routinely failed to report the deaths to authorities, choosing instead to bury the children in unidentified cemeteries on school grounds rather than to send them home to their families. For nearly one-third of the deaths, no effort was made to record the name of the student who died. In even more cases, they did not record the cause of death.

A meeting is scheduled in September to discuss next steps. Dumas hopes that Indigenous families — long excluded from conversations surrounding the deaths of Indigenous children at residential schools — will be invited.”

– Zig Zag, “Unmarked graves of children from residential school found beneath Manitoba RV park.” Warrior Publications, September 1, 2018.

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“Today is the 85th anniversary of the Christie Pits Riot, a pivotal moment in the fight against fascism and Nazism in Toronto and Canada in the early 1930s.

The riot saw Jews and Italians take direct action in self-defence against a Toronto “Swastika Club” that was displaying swastika banners and inciting hatred during a baseball game in the Christie Pits park.

Their courage in standing up to these racists helped to stop the growth of Swastika Clubs and represented a serious setback for the city’s fascists and Nazis at a time when antisemitism was dangerously on the rise.

This terrible history of overt antisemitism in the city and country is mostly forgotten now, though a close friend of mine came across a striking example of it in newspaper archives that occurred within my own community, Long Branch, also in 1933.

Long Branch is now a fully developed part of Etobicoke, a suburb of Toronto that borders Mississauga in the west of the metropolis.

But in 1933 it was a separate, sleepy community that had many cottagers and summer vistors in it due to its lake front aspect and its famous beaches.

As the Globe and Mail article relates, the municipality of Long Branch decided to ban all Jews not from Long Branch (and there were likely not many of those) from its beaches. Despite the obvious racism at work the town’s Deputy Reeve Charles Brock tried to claim it had nothing to do with race!

This history of racism and resistance resonates again now especially with a US administration openly sympathetic to white supremacist narratives,  the rise of the far right across Europe and the growth of homegrown fascist and racist groups in Toronto and Canada.”

– Michael Laxer, ““Ban on Jews” – A 1933 antisemitic beach edict in Long Branch reminds of Toronto’s past on the anniversary of the Christie Pits Riot.The Left Chapter, August 16, 2018.  

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It is almost two years since the last nail was pounded into a
new home at Becher Bay Indian reservation on Vancouver
Island. Not an historical event perhaps, but a warrior-like
achievement for inmates from nearby William Head

Since then the only building underway at the remote institution
near Victoria is the change from minimum to medium
security. Poles for posts, and concrete slabs for perimeter
towers will denude the ornate scenery on which William
Head is perched: answering public demand for greater inmate
containment. Cost of the upgrated security is expected
to be $100,000.

When the Indian home was being constructed it heralded a
new community venture for 20 inmates – all eager to
show the expertise they’d gained from classroom instruction.
Now they watch construction that might keep them
from going outside again to build another home for an
Indian family.

The Becher Bay project is the last of 13 permanent buildings
William Head inmates have helped construct since
1961. Twelve were built within the institution
grounds – Becher Bay was the first in the outside community.
And thereby hangs an inmate tale of well-doing.
Although credit for the Becher Bay house should go to Tom
Horsley, William Head’s vocational training director, teamwork
by the Canadian Penitentiary Service and the Department
of Indian Affairs and Northern Development moved the
project into front-line activity.

According to Tom Horsley, “We wanted to build something
like this for a long time. Never could find a way around the
red tape that withheld decision.” Patience won out. Officers
from the two departments got together and $9,600 was allocated
the job.

Still smiling two years after the first excavator dug deep into
forest soil, the happy vocational training director explained
that for years building instruction had been an up and down
affair at William Head. “We built two houses every year to
teach inmates the building trade. Then pulled them down.
The material was used again and again. Inmates got fed up
with putting muscle energy into erecting a well-built house.
And it was pretty hard to get them enthusiastic when the
time came to build again.”

Staff at William Head still remember the excited inmate
reaction when the Becher Bay proposal was put to them.
Carpentry instructor Bob Hunter admits the inmates kept
pushing the idea, “they were so hep on getting the job
started.” All 20 chosen had various building skills. For each
one on-job training meant a year’s credit toward a four-year
apprenticeship diploma. Looking back, staffers Tom Horsley,
Bob Hunter, and masonry instructor Jim Bremner, admit

it was exciting to see the three-bedroomed house grow.
More so, knowing a needy family would benefit.

Seldom did the inmate-builders slack, even in wet weather.
And, because it was a training project, greater care and
precision went into every phase. For the Indian couple and
their six children, entering the cathedral-styled front of the
two-storey house was like starting life again — they’d
never had such a pleasant home. For the inmates, the
Becher Bay house stands out as a job they’d welcome
again. But there are many forms and parole demands to
satisfy before another venture can start.

Although hammers and fret saws are silent, inmates and
vocational instructors at William Head have good reason to
believe in their building program — 12 other buildings in
the institution complex vouch for this — all built by

It’s 13 years since inmates first heaved concrete slabs, and
lifted heavy beams into place at William Head — the start
of an inmate building boom.

Three years previously, in 1959, the Canadian Penitentiary
Service had taken over the Department of Health and Welfare
holding depot at William Head. Emigrés, mostly from
the far east, were held there in quarantine until health

checks, particularly for smallpox and the bubonic plague,
cleared them as landed immigrants. Some were held for
several weeks.

Small huts, and outdoor kitchens, home to the lower-deck
passengers, dotted the Parry Bay coastline of Vancouver
Island where William Head Institution is now located. But
first class passengers were given first class treatment, in a
special building apart from the less-fortunate hordes; a long,
terraced frame building built in 1914. Where once heavily
laden immigrants struggled ashore to await health clearance,
inmates now await parole.

As quarantine huts were vacated by outgoing passengers,
they were torn down to make way for permanent structures
for incoming inmates. Some were stripped and relocated on
the property. Inmate labor helped build or rebuild almost all.

The first two, a visiting building and a greenhouse, were
erected in 1961. Why priority was given to the greenhouse
records do not divulge. Next year a guardhouse was built
immediately inside the gate entrance. Wood-framed, it
needed frequent painting — the elements at William Head
have no mercy.

In the following year two more buildings, a small concrete
block construction, used to store inflammable goods, and a

fire hall were completed. By 1965 most of the old quarantine
buildings had gone, and a sentry tower erected. One landmark
remained – the first class passenger quarters. This
building was also demolished two years later and a school
and auditorium erected. In the next five years a kitchen,
dining room, works.office, and mason shed were added.
Then came the building-of-the-year, an inmate vocational
training shop.

To an outsider the long, one-storey, modern building may
not appear unique. To William Head inmates its the cream of-the-bunch.
Twenty-one inmates earned their spurs erecting
it during a year-long building program, 1972-1973. With
pride, they claim it their own.
Well they might. It is the only time CPS has paid for inmate
labor at the minimum federal hourly wage rate – which
started at $1.75 and went to $1.90. For a 40 hour week, the
21 inmate-builders earned a solid pay packet. For Tom
Horsley and his shop instructors, it was the beginning of a
new building-era. Every inmate and staff flexed muscles to
construct a building-to-remember. They didn’t know then the
Indian reservation home would also be a milestone.

Classrooms for carpentry, masonry, sheet-metal work, and
other building instruction goes on in the new building.
There’s every opportunity for inmates to learn a trade that
can help them after release. Carpenter instructor, Bob
Hunter, says most of the “boys” do well. A few slack. Seldom
when on a real job, such as the Becher Bay project.
One year later where are the 21 inmate-builders? What did
they do with their well-earned pay?

Most have left William Head. Either paroled or transferred to
another institution. Five still remember: One became an expert
plasterer. He saved his money. Sent some to a needy
sister, paid off a debt, kept the rest for his release. Another,
after working three months as a plumber, sent a good-sized
cheque to his family. He too retained some for his release.

A third recalled the tremendous physical and mental training
the project gave him. Early to bed and early to rise was a
daily grind at first, but soon became a habit. Keeping regular
working hours wasn’t difficult either. In fact, “… it was a
boon to have a regular job.”

“It’s too easy to get bored in the pen,” he said, looking at
little used, flabby muscles. He too saved – for his release.
The fourth man had been a truck driver. On the project he
learned carpentry. Apart from learning how to work at regular
hours, he gained a course credit. His wages helped to
support his family. Were there another call for volunteers
he’d be the first to answer. “I felt great when I was out
working everyday.”
Admitting to being a loner, the fifth man said his greatest
benefit was “fitting in with the gang.” Also a truck driver, he

became a sheet-metal worker on the vocational training
shop, responsible for heating and air-conditioning. Most of
his wages went to his parents.

All five wanted to know “when can we get going again?”

Besides replenished bank books, working conditions were
the same as for any other building contract. No work, no
pay, was the rule. Few were sick; then only a cold or pulled
back muscle. Of the 21 who started, three were laid-off, and
two fired for laziness. One lazybone repented and returned.
From their weekly salary each man paid for room and board
in the penitentiary. Income tax and unemployment insurance
was deducted, and each man paid for workboots and
extra clothes.

Doug James, works officer at William Head, is certain the
building program is a good rehabilitation incentive. He also
believes “taking away the temporary absence pass kills

Until T/A’s are granted again, building more homes at
Becher Bay or elsewhere is at a standstill.

Mr. James hopes the pass system will start again, “these
men get fidgety when not working.” He agreed not all inmates
qualified for T/A’s. Said screening was important,
especially when working on a large project. “But cheap
labor destroys a man’s good intention to work.”

Totaling inmate work time on the vocational training shop,
Doug James arrived at 15,747 hours. In 10 years inmates
have worked approxinnately 250,000 hours erecting various
buildings at William Head he said. The cost of materials was
approximately $506,699. Records of inmate pay were

Building a liveable house and useable classrooms have
given inmates a taste of regular work hours. Now they’d like
a regular paid job again — even while serving a penal

– Mona C. Ricks, “Hammer And Nails
A Home Can Make.” Discussion, Vol. 2, No. 1, March 1974

Photograph captions from top to bottom:

1 & 2) 

What was once a government
quarantine camp for emigrants
arriving on the Canadian west
coast, is now a federal penal
institution. Looking at William
Head on Vancouver Island
today there are few signs of the
long wait many passengers
had before continuing to their
destination. Taken over by the
Canadian Penitentiary Service
in 1959, the camp’s flimsy
quarantine huts and kitchens
used by lower-deck passengers
have been tom down

3 & 4) 

First-class passengers were
separated from other travellers
in majestic quarters; a long,
frame building, set well back
from the coastline. Built in 1914
it became an administration
building for CPS staff. Condemned
by fire officials, it was
demolished in 1967 and a
school and auditorium for inmates
erected. lnmates built
most of the institutional complex as it stands today. They
are particularly proud of the
vocational training shop…


Camp director Bob Muir gives
inmates a hand [cutting down trees].

6) Inmates on the job clearing
brush, trees.

7) Three-bedroomed house outside the institution grounds, on Becher Bay Indian reservation. 


An Indian family wait to enter their new home, built by inmates from William Head Institution, as Commissioner Paul Faguy unlocks the door.

9) Jim Bremner (left), masonry
instructor, and Bob Hunter
(right), carpenter instructor,
show how they conduct their
courses at William Head Institution
in the new vocational
training shop.

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“Got Five Years For Plundering Cottages,” Toronto Globe. July 25, 1912. Page 05.

Indian Found Guilty Of Theft From Grimsby Beach Residences.

(Special Despatch to The Globe.)
St. Catharines, July 24. – David Dockstader, an Indian, accused of entering J. D. Cran’s and J. B. Oliverson’s cottages at Grimsby Beach last December and stealing a large number of household articles, appeared before Judge Carman to-day. He was found guilty and sentenced to five years in Kingston Penitentiary. Mary Greene, a squaw, accused of a similar offence, was allowed to go.

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