Rivers Speak Community Play

Rivers Speak Logo reads "The Rivers Speak, Gigdoowag Ziibiik, Les Riveres Parlent"
Rivers Speak Logo

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Gigidoowag Ziibiik (Rivers Speak) Community Play.  This fantastic project was the culminating event of Thinking Rock Community Arts‘ efforts to engage community members in story telling and art making.  Since 2013 Thinking Rock has involved over 1500 individuals in hands-on making and storytelling with an emphasis on reflecting on local rivers and waterways.  This initiative also worked to create spaces for cross-cultural conversations and involve both Indigenous and settler communities. 

The Rivers Speak play included over 30 cast members of all ages and was held on the traditional pow wow grounds of Misswezhaging (Mississaugi First Nation).  This community art project was a joy to see come to fruition.  The play was based on the stories, oral histories, and memories collected by Thinking Rock since 2013.

The play intertwined settler and Indigenous perspectives on water, community, and family — it followed Marie (settler) and Ira (Indigenous) community members who lived locally but passed away within recent years. The play was guided by two local elders and the narration was a mixture of English and Ojibway.  It also included audience participation components – for example the audience walked through an outdoor living stage and were invited to participate in a round dance at the end of the play.

It was an extremely powerful experience to participate in as an audience member and it was beautiful to see such a nuanced story come together based on community narratives and memories.  The work undertaken by Thinking Rock is a great example of community engaged history, community arts and participatory story building. I’m looking forward to seeing what projects Thinking Rock tackles in the future.

Neys Provincial Park

Following a great trip to Pukaskwa National Park I kept up the natural history and camping adventure by spending a few nights at Neys Provincial Park.  I was struck by the difference in landscape between the two parks despite them being less than an hour away from each other.  Pukaskwa had very hilly, cliff views of Lake Superior and the shoreline was a rugged .  In comparison Ney’s had long open beach shorelines, sand dunes, and forested areas.

Prisoner of War Camp

Star embedded on lawn from POW era.  It is believed that the star was around the flag pole.
Star embedded on lawn from POW era. It is believed that the star was around the flag pole.

Prior to becoming a provincial park the land now encompassed by Neys was used as a Prisoner of War Camp known as Neys 100 during the second world war.  The camp housed high ranking German officers and others and was primarily staffed by veterans from the First World War.  There are bits of this history scattered throughout the present day park — building foundations, bits of embed stone, and other physical remnants are all interpretation points in the Park today.  Additionally the physical landscape was fundamentally changed by the POW camp, they flattened sand dunes and used many of the trees for lumber.  Trees were later replanted by the Boy Scouts but in standard plantation rows, leaving evidence of how the land has changed.

Point Trail

Boats on Prisoners' Point
Boats on Prisoners’ Point

We didn’t do nearly as much hiking at Neys as at Pukaskwa, but I did manage to explore a couple of the trails.  The Point Trail is a short 1 km trail that follows the shore of Lake Superior and ends at a rocky outcrop known as Prisoners’ Point.  The trail then connects to the Under the Volcano Trail that explores the shoreline stretching from the Point.  I explored a bit of this trail as well.  The trail was a relatively easy walk, albeit a bit wet when I walked it and it was well worth the puddle jumping to reach the views of the lake at the end.  There was a few interpretive signs but they were relatively sparse.  I did enjoy the one that talked about the remains of old boats located on the point– the boats were left over from the Prisoner of War camp era and the logging days of the region.

Dune Trail

This easy loop hike included an interpretive handout that visitors could take with them on the walk.  The handout included numbers which matched specific points on the trail and provided interpretive details about that area.  The handout included a bit of information about the role of the POW camp on the landscape but primarily focused on flowers, the dunes, trees, and the impact of local animal life on the landscape.  Unsurprisingly, I liked the fact that there was a physical thing to hold during the walk and that the interpretation was a bit more developed on this trail.

Visitors’ Centre

Beach at Neys Provincial Park
Beach at Neys Provincial Park

The Visitors’ Centre was only open during the last day I was at the park.  Despite this we managed to make a short visit to the Centre and check out some their primary interpretive space.  The displays were fairly standard for a provincial park, a lot of focus on the natural landscape with most material geared at families and including a number of touch and feel stations focused on children.  There was also a substantial section dedicated to the history of Neys 100 which included a model which demonstrated what the POW camp would have looked like.  The staff at the Centre were very friendly and seemed to know a lot about the history of the Park and were happy to answer questions about the way the landscape had changed.


Canadian Girls In Training: 100 Years With A Purpose

My most recent post, “Canadian Girls in Training: 100 Years With A Purpose” can be seen over at Active History.  I wrote this post after attending a local 100th anniversary celebration of CGIT and learning about the local impact of the organization.  The post also looks at the history of CGIT across Canada and the movement’s links to feminism and changing approaches to education.

Brewing Monopoly in Ontario: Northern Breweries Ltd.

Soo Falls Brewing Company, Sault Ste Marie, 1932. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries
Soo Falls Brewing Company, Sault Ste Marie, 1932. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries

Northern Breweries Ltd. was a Canadian brewing company founded in 1907 by the Doran, Mackey, and Fee families. Located in Northern Ontario the company played a significant role in many northern communities and the built history of these facilities are still being considered locally.

The company originally started in Sudbury as the Sudbury Brewing and Malting Co. in 1907.  They later expanded throughout Northern Ontario by purchasing Soo Falls Brewing Co in Sault Ste Marie in 1911, Kakabeka Falls Brewing Co. in Fort William in 1913, in 191 they established a division in Timmins, and in 1948 they purchased the Port Arthur Beverage Co.

Prior to 1960 each of these breweries operated under their independent names.  In 1960 they were amalgamated and became collectively known as Northern Breweries.  Each of these local operations have distinct community based histories but the Northern Breweries company as a whole also has a history that has implications outside of the communities it operated in.

From 1942 to 1992 the breweries eventually known as Northern Breweries had a monopoly on draught beer in Northern Ontario.  If you were at a bar in the North and asked for a pint you got Northern Breweries beer. The first 30 years of this monopoly was provided by an agreement amongst brewers and the LCBO.  The last 20 years of protection was mandated under Ontario provincial legislation.

The Second World War resulted in the protected Northern Ontario draught market. The Wartime Alcoholic Beverages Order limited brewery production and to limit transportation resources in May 1942, wide distribution of beer in Ontario and Quebec was prohibited. Specifically, the order proclaimed,

No brewer shall sell or offer for sale or deliver any draught beer, ale, stout or porter which has been brewed in any brewery in the Province of Quebec or in any part of Ontario lying to the south of the 46th parallel of latitude, to any retail liquor store or place which is situated in any part of Ontario lying to the north of said parallel of latitude.

A similar provision prohibited breweries north of the 46th parallel from selling to the south. This measure effectively ensured the protection of Doran’s draught market. When WWII ended the Wartime order ceased however brewers and the LCBO continued to respect the artificial line separating Northern Ontario from Southern Ontario brewers.[i]

This informal agreement was brought into question in the 1970s with the sale of Northern Breweries to Canadian Breweries Limited.  This sale fundamentally changed the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ and Southern brewers indicated new interest in selling in the North.

In 1972 Arthur Wishart authored “Report of the Inquiry Into the Brewing Industry, Northern Ontario by A.A. Wishart” on the daught brewing industry in Northern Ontario that looked at the economic and social impacts of opening the North to competition.  Brewing in the North came a point of public debate.  The report emphasized the geographic nature of Northern Ontario and the high cost of shipping draught beer to the North, suggesting that the Southern brewers had little to gain from Northern expansion.

The fact that in 1972 the Ontario government passed legislation that essentially made Doran’s Northern Breweries a monopoly in the North is somewhat unusual.  The main argument for keeping the monopoly was the need to preserve Northern Ontario jobs and the potential negative socio-economic that allowing draught competition would bring. It also highlighted the contributions from the North to Provincial and Federal coffers and Doran’s submission to the report emphasized the role of the brewer in Northern communities and its place as a good ‘corporate citizen.’ Ultimately the monopoly was preserved because the Ontario government was “committed to a policy of encouraging industry to locate in northern Ontario.” Regional development took precedence over free enterprise.[ii]

Even with the protected draught market Doran’s sales began to drop. Coinciding with this decline in sales, in 1977 employees of Doran’s Northern Ontario Breweries purchased the Company from Canadian Breweries becoming the first employee owned brewing company in North America. Under this new leadership the company began to market outside of Northern Ontario. In the 1980s craft brewing also developed in Ontario creating a whole new set of regulatory discussions on the provincial level.

By the 1990s Northern businesses wanted to offer a wider range of draught beer. Starting in 1991 licensees were able purchase draught outside of the North if they transported it themselves. In 1992 the draught market in Sudbury was opened to all brewers, the rest of Northern Ontario followed in 1993.

The 1990s saw the decline of Northern Breweries sales even further. A revival of the company was attempted in 2004 when it was purchased and rebranded by an investment group. But in 2006 Northern Breweries closed its doors for the last time.

Today, many of the communities which housed Northern Breweries buildings are considering how to preserve this part of their local labour history.  In Sault Ste Marie, Riversedge Developments purchased the historical ‘Brewery Block’ and is in the midst of tearing down parts of the building and working on adaptive reuse plans for other portions of the site. Right now the Soo Falls brewing stack still stands as a reminder to locals of the rich brewing history in Sault Ste Marie.

[i] Daryl White. “Draught, Development, and Discourse: The Northern Ontario Draught Beer Monopoly, 1972-92.” Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études canadiennes 47, no. 2 (2013): 5-28.

[ii] Wishart, A.A. 1972. Report of the Inquiry Into the Brewing Industry, Northern_Ontario. by A.A. Wishart Q.C. n.p.: Toronto: : s.n, 1972., 1972.

Passing Laws, Just Because: Sault Ste Marie Language Resolution

Downtown there’s a parade
But I don’t think I want to go
Smart as trees in Sault Ste. Marie
I can speak my mother tongue
Passing laws, just because
And singing songs of the English unsung
-“Born in the Water”, The Tragically Hip

If you’re not from Sault Ste Marie you might not understand the local reference made by The Tragically Hip in their song “Born in the Water.”  The song is about the Sault Ste Marie Language Resolution and the historical connections of the city to the French community.

On January 29, 1990 the Sault Ste Marie City Council passed the Sault Ste Marie Language Resolution which resolved that English was the sole working language of the city government. This resolution was not the only its kind to be passed in Ontario. But Sault Ste Marie was the largest community to pass this type of legislation. The Language Resolution drew national coverage to the City and the issue came to the forefront during the Meech Lake Accord debate.

The French Language Services Act in Ontario protects the right of individuals to receive provincial government services in French in specific areas of Ontario. The act outlines 26 designated areas which guarantee French language government services. In these areas Francophones make up a minimum of 10% of the population.  Services provided by municipalities are not covered under the act and it’s up to each municipality to decide if they offer services in French.  The French Language Services Act was adopted on November 6, 1986; and came into effect in 1989.

Sault Ste Marie is included under the act as all of the Algoma District is a designated area. The timing of the Sault Ste Marie Language Resolution, less than a year after the Services Act came into effect speaks volumes.

Coinciding with the timing of the French Language Services Act in 1987 local controversy erupted when a group of local Franco-Ontarians lobbied for a French school to be opened in Sault Ste Marie. In 1988 a group of Franco-Ontarian parents led by Solange Fortin took their case for a French language education environment to the public board of education.

In response to this lobbying the Sault Alliance for the Preservation of English Language Rights (SAPELR) was formed and began working with the Alliance for the Preservation of English in Canada (APEC).  APEC was actively campaigning against the French Languages Services Act and ultimately was successful in convincing 47 of Ontario’s 839 municipalities to pass resolutions similar to the Sault Ste Marie Language Resolution. In Sault Ste Marie SAPELR and APEC were responsible for a petition being brought to city council demanding English only services.  The petition was signed by 25,000 people out of a population of approximately 85,000.

At the time of the Resolution about 4% of Sault Ste Marie’s residents identified as Francophone. But historically Sault Ste Marie has strong ties to the French community, was founded by French speaking missionaries, and once served as a meeting place for traders and travellers from a range of cultures In the days following the resolution Sault Ste Marie was on the national news and served as a flash point during the Meech Lake Accord.  The anti-French backlash was felt by many Francophones in the region and a number of French families moved away from Sault Ste Marie as a result.

In 1994 the Language Resolution was struck down and in 1999 the city council minutes were amended to show that the 1994 Resolution was unjust. In 2010 City of Sault Ste Marie Mayor John Roswell apologized to French Canadians for the City’s actions. One might be able to brush this instance off as the fault of a misguided city council and blame APEC’s influence for the passing of the Resolution.  But the damage to the local French community and the tensions which underpinned the resolution still exist today.

This past summer a Service Ontario outlet in a small community east of Sault Ste Marie was threatened with closure because of its non-compliance with the French Language Services Act.  The outlet is staffed by a single person and provides a vital service to a community that would otherwise have to drive an hour to renew license plate stickers and access other Service Ontario programs. The sole staff person at this location does not speak French.

Currently if someone requests French language services another Service Ontario outlet where French speaking staff are available will be contacted using speaker phone. In the past five years this service has not been accessed once.  After much local lobbying, including a Rick Mercer style YouTube rant, the Service Ontario outlet is staying open.  Many of the people protesting this incident were concerned about the impact on access to services in the community and were not anti-French in their comments.  But some were quick to complain about bilingualism and “French privilege”.  Personally this incident highlighted how quickly things can escalate and the ongoing tension between French and English speaking Canadians.

Today French Language education is available in the Sault, the Le Centre francophone provides French language community programming, city hall flies the Franco-Ontarian flag, and the Franco-Ontarian community continues to preserve its rich heritage.  And almost every time The Tragically Hip come to town they play “Born in the Water” and remind a community of misguided past decisions.