Monday, 24 December 2012

Special Broadcast on the Almonte Train Wreck

Last week a radio piece entitled "The Night the War Came to Almonte" was aired on CJHR 98.7 FM Renfrew (Valley Heritage Radio) to coincide with the anniversary ceremony that took  place the evening of December 20th in Almonte.  The piece will air again on December 27th which marks the 70th anniversary of the 1942 Almonte Train Wreck.

The broadcast features, the voices of train wreck survivors Mervin Tosh (now deceased), John Southwell Sr. of Carleton Place, and Ed Muldoon of Ottawa. Accounts from the Dec. 28, 1942 edition of the Ottawa Evening Journal are read by Shirley Walsh of Carleton Place. Fiddle "lament" pieces recorded in the Almonte United Church in 2003 by Rick Legree of Mississippi Mills are featured throughout the piece. The broadcast ends with a performance of “Amazing Grace” by the Royal Scots Guard.

We hope you all get a chance to listen to it.

Should you not be able to recieve this station where you are, just go to and listen to the livestream on your computer.

A new book on the Almonte Train Wreck is available now. Proceeds will go to support the North Lanark Historical Society.  To order copies email

Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Beyond the Physical Space

Some of our supporters and other museum aficionados might have noticed recently that the Workers History Museum is featured in the current edition of Muse which is the official publication of the Canadian Museums Association.

This is a great accomplishment for our little museum and we are so pleased to have national coverage from such a respected magazine.

Virtual Museums: Trend or Evolution?

The feature article entitled, ''Beyond the Physical Space:Virtual Museums in the Trend'' was written by Anastasia Philopoulos and discusses how the internet and digital technologies have changed how people interact and communicate in the world and how the museum community is adapting to this Digital Age.

Combining technologies, the Internet, and museums is not a novelty.
-- Philopoulos, Muse, CMA

In the article Philopoulos talks with WHM President, Robert Hatfield to discuss the challenges and benefits of physical spaces and how the internet can help museum organizers wishing to open up a new institution. 

The Workers History Museum continues to strive to one day have our own physical space for a permanent museum in the City of Ottawa-- an office, an exhibition hall, a collections storage facility and a gift shop to call our very own. In the meantime we are pleased to be part of this online phenomenon and if you are reading this blog it is probably because you liked, favourited or subscribed to our Facebook, Twitter, Blog and YouTube pages. We use these tools to get the word out to the public about upcoming events and heritage projects being run by our museum in the City of Ottawa.

There's no cost...and there's no travel, you can just sit down at your computer at work, or in the evening at home and you can access our museum from anywhere in the world.
-- Robert Hatfield, qtd. in Muse, CMA

Read it NOW (need Flash Player)

So where is this great website I keep hearing so much about?

Now as soon as you read this steller article you will no doubt immediately try to visit our website at only to be met with a splash page telling you that our website is ''Coming Soon.''

We are sad to report that our website, which launched just last June was hacked into last October and has since been dismantled, however, we are pleased to announce that a new website is currently in development with a great design team committed to making it even more visually stimulating and interactive than the previous version. 

Look for it in the new year!

While we may not necessarily be a virtual museum at the present moment, we are most definitely a remote and mobile museum. Instead of asking you, our dear patrons to visit us, we bring our exhibits to you! We produce physical exhibits which we tour around to various venues, office buildings and museums in Ottawa and across Ontario. 

Our exhibit, The Struggle for Family Leave has been making the rounds almost non-stop since it opened last March and will continue to be on display in office buildings around Ottawa in 2013 with bookings right up to March 2013.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

WHM featured in History Slam Podcast. recently featured the Family Leave Project in their podcast, History Slam. 

The episode feautres host Sean Graham interviewing WHM board member, Arthur Carkner and Carleton University professor, Rosemary Warskett, both of whom sat on the Q&A panel during the family leave documentary launch in October. It's a great interview that discusses this history of Family Leave and the labour movement in Canada during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

History Slam. Episode Eleven - ''A Struggle to Remember: Fighting for our Families'' (posted December 12, 2012, approx. 55 mins).

Click Here to Listen Now 

You can also download the podcast on iTunes.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Road Trip: Family Leave Exhibit moves on to Hamilton

The Workers History Museum's exhibit The Struggle for Family Leave is currently being shown in Hamilton, Ontario at the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre, 51 Stuart Street, Hamilton, ON. The exhibit will be on public display in the WAHC Community Gallery until December 21, 2012.
Arthur in from the of the Workers Art & Heritage Centre, Hamilton, ON
To mark the opening of the exhibit, WHM Board Member Arthur Carkner and volunteer Barry Parkinson were in Hamilton on Friday, November 23rd at the Workers' Arts and Heritage Centre conducting a number of oral history interviews related to the history of family leave benefits as part of an on-going archival initiative undertaken by the WHM.

The opening of the exhibit coincided with the Canadian Labour International Film Festival (CLIFF) which was also being hosted by the WAHC. Two films were screened as part of the opening event, one of which was our very own A Struggle to Remember: Fighting for Our Families. The second was Drink 'Em Dry, a documentary about the five week lockout of the workers at Moosehead Brewerey in New Brunswick and the novel tactics used by the workers. A lively discussion occurred after each film, which were both enjoyed by the crowd.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Book Review: Working People in Alberta

--edited by Alvin Finkel, with contributions by Jason Foster, Winston Gereluk, et al, AU Press, Edmonton, 2012, 345pp.

Working People in Alberta: A History was written in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) in 2012.  It was published with the assistance of the Alberta Labour History Institute (ALHI) and received financial support from the AFL, assistance which was provided with “no strings attached”.

Anniversary commemoratives—even labour ones--sometimes fall victim to a certain sanitization of the history of the organizations they are written to celebrate.   The published products of such efforts, while appropriate for the coffee table, are lessened as works of significant historical value.

Fortunately, this is most emphatically not the case with Working People in Alberta. On the contrary, this book is an in-depth and invaluable resource covering the history of working life as complex and diverse as the physical geography of Alberta itself.  From far-flung communities in the Rockies, foothills, forests, badlands, and plains emerge the stories of the women and men “who built Alberta” and who did so despite the ravages of colonialism, capitalist exploitation, the gendered division of labour, racism and the determination of governments and employers to supress the labour movement and union struggles.  These stories, it should be noted, put to rest the notion that Alberta is a “placid province” where oil industry wealth has eliminated all communitarian convictions in favour of individualist conservative ones.

Not limited just to the AFL’s 100 years, this beautifully illustrated book is really a “social history of working people, including both unorganized workers and the trade unions”.  Significantly, it begins with the history of work during the 13,000 years or more when First Nations people were the sole inhabitants of what is now Alberta.  Chapter 1, “Millennia of Native Work” looks at the dynamic organization of work in their communities and the social relations between individuals and the well-being of the collective—all “undergirded by Native spirituality”.

This is followed by an exploration of how traditional First Nations economies and societies were affected by fur trade companies and their workforces, and the influx of European goods and ideas, as well as the commercialization of the previously “ceremonial and subsistence relationship” between First Nations and the bison.  The subsequent European settlement period was marked by brutal attacks on and racist marginalization of Native and Metis peoples, “unequal treatment of natives and whites with respect to farming”, and as industries developed, “exploitation and class divisions as well as resistance” among workers and minorities.

The bulk of Working People in Alberta consists of a chronologically organized account of workers’ experiences and struggles and the political events surrounding them and is accompanied by descriptions of the political economy in which they were grounded.  In the late 19th century, when European settlement was reflected in the development of farming, initial industrial projects to support the needs of agriculture (railway construction and coal mining) saw the emergence of an industrial working class. Barbaric working conditions imposed by employers, the Master and Servant Act , the North West mounted Police and a total lack of medical facilities gave rise to unrest and strikes, initially without union organization.  Later, (such as in the Lethbridge coal miners’ strike of 1906) strikes were led by the radical IWW and in other cases, by more conservative craft-based unions. 

Remaining chapters involve interviews with the actors in events as well extensive use of “the documentary record”.  One explores the founding of the AFL in 1912 and World War I and the inter-war period of “relative economic stagnation”, the 1921 – 1935 period when the United Farmers of Alberta took provincial power, the “growing class consciousness” among urban Alberta Workers, the impact of the Depression years and the appearance of the Communist movement and the CCF as political manifestations of the “reinvigorated industrial union movement”.

Other chapters assess changes to working-class life upon the discovery of huge gas and oil deposits in the 1940s and 50s in the context of the anti-labour Social Credit government; the impact of the “Boomer” generation as it entered the work force and the coming to power of the equally anti-labour Progressive Conservatives; the 1980s (described as possibly “the most radical period of labour history in Alberta to date”) within the context of emerging neo-liberalism but punctuated with such memorable events as the three general strikes of the United Nurses of Alberta and the still-resonating six-month Gainers’ strike of 1986; and finally the triumph of neo-liberalism in the 1990s and beyond, the domination of the energy industry, collapse of province’s manufacturing base and the struggle of the labour movement to resist this onslaught.

The final two chapters of Working People in Alberta emphasize two important themes:  how women workers and care givers have been “disproportionately victimized” (all too often manifested within the labour movement itself), and the racialization of work in Alberta as reflected in the treatment of aboriginal workers and the racist policies launched against non-white immigrants and workers of colour over the years (including the somewhat spotty record of labour in addressing this reality).  While unions have made major strides in recent years to take on both of these issues, it is the honesty and insistence on presenting an unvarnished history of the victories and set-backs of workers and the union movement in Alberta that makes this book so compelling.  

Special thanks to guest blogger and reviewer Evert Hoogers