Category: News

Remembering Pete Seeger: The Ottawa Connection

Pete SeegerLast month, we marked with sadness the passing of the great musician and activist Pete Seeger. We also learned the interesting story behind his appearance in Ottawa back in 1958.

Pete Seeger had been blacklisted in the US since 1953, a victim of McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee, and many venues were closed off to him. But three enterprising young workers in Ottawa each put up $25 – a huge amount of money at the time – to bring Pete Seeger here. He played on November 27, 1958, at the Fisher Park High School Auditorium.

One of these men, Gil Levine, had a seven-year-old daughter at the time. We asked Tamara Levine to share her memories of that night. “I’d been raised on the music of the Weavers and Pete and remember the concert well,” she said. “I got to wear my patent leather party shoes and go on stage to pick a name out of a hat for the winner of the prize of a Pete Seeger album.”

Tamara was at Pete’s last Ottawa concert in 2009, along with the two other organizers of the 1958 event, Max Sternthal and Harvey Glatt. Gil couldn’t be there this time – he was to pass away later that year.

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time for every purpose, under Heaven

Stories from the Railway

Get swept up in the tales of romance on the rails, as guest speakers share stories of love and marriage, community and family.

* Kay Leeson, a local war bride, tells us of her journey by train to Smiths Falls to start a new life with her husband after the war.

* Maureen Halpenny, daughter of Harold Halpenny, a local Engineer, transports us back to her youthful adventures while growing up as a child of the railway. Discover how the railway helped to shape her family and her community.

* Donna Stewart, an Ottawa-based storyteller, brings to life the story of two young people who found love in the midst of the Almonte Train Wreck in the 1940s.

Tickets are $10. The event will be held at the Rideau Canal Visitors Centre Auditorium at 34 Beckwith Street South, in Smiths Falls. This event is a fundraiser for the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario.

For any additional information or to purchase your tickets in advance, please contact the Railway Museum of Eastern Ontario at (613) 283-5696 or purchase tickets online.

Announcing the J. Calbert Best Boardroom

The Workers’ History Museum is thrilled to hear that the Public Service Alliance of Canada is naming their Halifax Regional Office Boardroom after Cal Best! The organizers credit our work for sparking renewed interest in this co-founder of their union, and ultimately leading to this decision. Our video Simply the Best and its accompanying travelling display will be shown at the official opening. We are a virtual museum with real world outcomes!


December 6th – National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

December 6th is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women in Canada. Established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada, this day marks the anniversary of the murders in 1989 of 14 young women at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal. They died because they were women.

December 6, 2013, marks the 24th anniversary of the Montréal Massacre. As well as commemorating the 14 young women whose lives ended in an act of gender-based violence that shocked the nation, this day represents an opportunity for Canadians to reflect on the phenomenon of violence against women in our society. It is also an opportunity to consider the women and girls for whom violence is a daily reality, and to remember those who have died as a result of gender-based violence. And finally, it is a day on which communities can consider concrete actions to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

Violence against women and girls remains a serious problem in Canada, from overt acts of hatred such as the Montréal Massacre to culturally based offences and everyday acts of coercion such as sexual harassment and domestic abuse.

Women and girls are more likely to experience certain types of serious violence and assault:
• On average, 178 females were killed every year between 1994 and 2008.
• In 2008, there were 146 female victims of homicide in Canada. Of these, 45 were victims of spousal homicide.
• Young women are particularly vulnerable. Between 1997 and 2006, young women (aged 15 to 24) were killed at a rate nearly three times higher than for all female victims of spousal homicide. During the same period, the rate of sexual assault for girls (under age 18) by family members was four times higher than for boys.

Some groups of women in Canada are particularly vulnerable to violence:
• The spousal homicide rate for Aboriginal women is more than eight times that for non-Aboriginal women.
• Immigrant women may be more vulnerable to family violence due to, among other things, economic dependence, language barriers, and lack of access to resources.
• Senior women are twice as likely as senior men to be victims of violent crime perpetrated by a family member.

Reprinted from the Status of Women Canada

Sad News

Pat McGrath, former Workers’ History Museum Director and Trustee, died peacefully on Tuesday, November 26, 2013, at the age of 60. Pat was a dedicated, hard-working union activist and a good friend. She was a great supporter of the Workers’ History Museum. Her cheery disposition, outgoing personality and positive outlook made her a wonderful WHM ambassador, particularly within the labour movement and at events such as Colonel By Day. She will be sorely missed.

Pat’s funeral will be held at St. George’s Church, 415 Piccadilly Avenue, on Monday, 2 December, 2013 at 11:00am.

In memoriam, donations may be made to the Workers’ History Museum, Station E, PO Box 4461, Ottawa, ON, K1S 5B4 or to a charity of choice.

Our sincere condolences to Pat’s family, her colleagues and her many, many friends.

Preservation and Activism in Lowertown East

In July 2013, I served as a volunteer on a Heritage Ottawa walking tour focusing on Lowertown East. The tour was guided by Nancy Miller-Chenier, Co-chair of the Lowertown Community Association’s Heritage Committee and long-time resident of the neighbourhood. Their work in Lowertown was started to save buildings from demolition by using historical research and community involvement to increase the number of buildings protected through historical designation. This has become important for Lowertown East, since much of what the workers built and lived in has already been demolished in an era of revitalization planning before efforts were made to preserve more of the heritage.

While structured around the buildings of the area, the tour had a social history aspect that highlighted the experiences of the predominately French-Canadian, Irish, and Jewish populations who once lived there. One neighbourhood, now known as “the Wedge,” exemplified this microcosm of working class life.


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Remembering the Civil Service: Call for Participants

Remembering the Civil Service: A Study of Aboriginal Labour Experiences in the Post-War Ottawa Federal Civil Service” is an oral history study designed to help self-identifying First Nation, Metis, and Inuit individuals share their stories about what it is like to work for the Canadian federal civil service in a student, temporary, or permanent position.

This is an important activity to participate in, because their voices as workers are missing from history and no one can address this part of the Canadian past better than they. Doing so will allow for greater public and academic recognition of their contributions to the Canadian economy and the country that we know in the present. It will also help scholars understand the transition period Canada went through to make the civil service a more inclusive workforce.

Interview materials (audio records and transcripts) may be deposited in Archives and Research Collections (ARC), the archive at Carleton University, so that these stories may be accessed in person and/or digitally. This may become a valuable cultural resource for interviewees and the communities to which they belong. Anonymity is available and sometimes recommended to those interviewed. In these cases, their participation will still be extremely valuable.

Taking part in the project can be as simple as participating in a one-hour interview. Anyone interested in participating (or providing friendly referrals to friends or colleagues) should contact Alisha Seguin or follow her on Twitter.

Sad News: Burnley Allan Jones Dies in Halifax

Burnley Allan “Rocky” Jones, labour/human rights lawyer and internationally acclaimed human and civil rights activist, suffered a heart attack and passed away in Halifax on Monday, July 29th.

Project Coordinator and Workers’ History Museum Board member Arthur Carkner said, “We have seen the passing of a great man, one who stood up and made a difference. On behalf of the WHM, we extend condolences to family and friends of Rocky Jones.”

Jones, 71, was admitted to hospital with heart trouble just days before he was scheduled to be interviewed by Juanita Peters for the WHM’s video on Black union founder and leader Cal Best. (The Cal Best video and supporting exhibit are being prepared for release during Black History Month in February 2014.) His passing is not only a huge setback for our project, but a great loss for the people of Canada.

Workers’ history commemorated in Rideau Canal plaque

On Thursday, 20 June, 2013, President Bob Hatfield represented the Workers’ History Museum as Peter Kent, Minister of Environment and Parks Canada, unveiled a plaque commemorating the national historic significance of the contributions of the Rideau Canal workers.

Hatfield remarked that it was a “moving ceremony,” especially noting the speech by Kevin Dooley of the Canal Workers Commemorative Group that made reference to the canal workers – the Irish and French Canadians in particular – who laboured to build the canal, and to the hundreds of workers and family members whose lives were sacrificed during its construction. “He made the connection between those people and workers today who are still being injured and dying at work,” said Hatfield, “and how that struggle for better safety conditions for workers is an important one, and an ongoing one.”

Ensuring that workers were recognized in this national monument was an important campaign for the WHM. An earlier designation of the Rideau Canal as a site of historical import credited Colonel John By, who supervised construction, but failed to mention those who actually built the canal: the Scottish and English masons and the labourers – the Navvies – who were largely Irish immigrants and French Canadians.

This oversight was contested by the CWCG. The WHM was among the groups that successfully lobbied Minister Peter Kent and other parties in support of the CWCG’s proposal. The contributions and sacrifices of working men and women are now enshrined on the plaque that stands at the Rideau Locks in Ottawa.

For more information about the ceremony and the struggle for recognition, please see Kevin Dooley’s report at True North Perspective.

By Cydney Foote, photo by Bob Hatfield.