Canada’s Residential Schools

Since the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C. and now the discovery of what are believed to be 751 unmarked graves near a former residential school in Saskatchewan, I have been reading a lot of angry, sad and accusatory Facebook posts regarding the tragic legacy of Canada’s Residential Schools.

This is understandable given the fact that such revelations must be jarring and alarming to those who claim ignorance of the residential schools, a network of mandatory boarding schools for Indigenous children funded by the Department of Indian Affairs and administered by Christian churches throughout Canada starting in the late 19th century (the 1870s) and lasting until well into the 20th century (the 1990s). Shockingly, the last residential school in Canada didn’t close until 1996.

However, blaming the education system and former teachers for your lack of knowledge about the schools concerns me as a former high school History teacher (1978-2008) who always included lessons about the schools in my classes using the available resources and information, which admittedly were scarce at the beginning of my career. One individual even suggested there is a large nationwide conspiracy of silence about the schools on the part of schools and teachers.

Let’s set the record straight. Much of what we now know about the schools was uncovered by the federal government’s mammoth Truth and Reconciliation Commission established in 2008 and which concluded in 2015 with the publication of a six-volume, 4,000-plus-page report detailing the testimonies of survivors and historical documents from the time to wide public acclaim and media attention that year. Accordingly, schools and teachers were asked to include information from the Commission’s findings in their classrooms.

Still, if you genuinely do not have any knowledge of the residential schools and their horrific legacy, please take the time to read this primer published by CBC News shortly after the Kamloops discovery. It should go far in answering most of your questions.

RY, June 25, 2021

Ontario’s Public Schools – To Open or Not to Open?

It would be an understatement to suggest that Ontario’s public schools have experienced a couple of years like none before.

Students have been in school, yanked out of school and placed in front of PCs and laptops for poorly organized and designed remote learning, and then called back to school for in-person learning, only to be yanked out again.

As of May 27, students remain at home perched behind their computer screens counting down the days until this debacle is over.

And yet, there is talk of sending students back to their schools for the remaining few weeks of the waning 2020/21 academic year.


Let me repeat that, WTF?

While in-person learning in the schools may not pose much of a health risk to returning students, is it really necessary to disrupt their year even more?

I think not.

Let’s leave things as they are and start planning for a safe return to in-person learning in September.

Let’s also give some significant thought to how we can help students “catch up” after two years of disrupted learning.

And as for talk of a so-called “Hybrid Model” of learning/instruction that combines in-person and remote methodologies, let’s not even think about going down that rabbit hole.

Hopefully, years from now when COVID-19 is behind us, we can look back on these last two years as a learning experience of what to do and what not to do in regard to our kids’ learning.

RY. May 27, 2021.

From The Vault: A Photo-History of London, Volume II 1950-1975 Reviewed by Rick Young.

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  So, it is with From The Vault: A Photo-History of London 1950-1975, the follow-up to Volume I (2017) which covered the years up to 1950. Featuring over 1250 images drawn from the archives of the London Free Press held at Western University’s Archives, the second volume documents the people, places, and events of the post-World War II period.

It should appeal to all Londoners interested in their city’s recent history, but especially to those who self-identify as Baby Boomers, who will recognize many of the images – and may even see themselves in some of them.

Jennifer Grainger, local historian and author and past president of the London and Middlesex Historical Society and the London branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, returns to head up the project.  Once again, she is joined by Western University Archivist Emeritus, Robin Keirstead, and London Free Press Editor-in-Chief, Joe Ruscitti, in bringing this ambitious publication to fruition.

In her Introduction, Grainger outlines the tremendous changes London experienced after 1950, including its population growth from 94,647 to 243,928 in 1975, the expansion of the city’s boundaries and growth of suburbs, and its transition from a predominantly Anglo-Saxon population to a more ethnically diverse and multicultural one.

The book is organized into 26 self-contained Chapters, each focussing on some aspect of post-war London life.  Topics covered include hospitals and health care, schools, transportation, cultural life, the Thames River, sports and leisure, the Western Fair and Canada’s 1967 Centennial. Local contributors like James Stewart Reaney, Bill Brady, and Tom Dalby lend their expertise and wealth of knowledge in Introductions to several of the chapters.

An excellent Table of Contents and Index allows readers to quickly locate items of personal interest, making From The Vault the penultimate “Coffee Table Book.” In this writer’s opinion, it is not the type of publication that can or should be read in one sitting. I suggest that you place it in a prominent area like a coffee or bedside table where it can be read at leisure.

As someone who has been involved in London’s arts and culture community for over 50 years – first as a musician, then as the publisher of the independent arts magazine The Beat Magazine from 2009-2014, and now as an arts and culture freelance writer – I was immediately drawn to the chapters on Cultural Life and Rock ‘N’ Roll.

Photographs of the former cavernous Loew’s Theatre, where I saw numerous movies, the old  Kiwanis Memorial Bandshell in Victoria Park, and local celebrities like Tommy Hunter, Greg Curnoe, Guy Lombardo, Gordie Tapp, Clare Bice, Johnny Noubarian, Victor Garber and James Reaney brought back many fond memories, as did ones of the inaugural Home County Folk Festival in 1974 and various parades down London’s streets.

Of particular interest to me is the Rock “N’ Roll chapter which is prefaced by an excellent Introduction by retired Free Press arts and entertainment reporter, James Stewart Reaney, who draws reference to the infamous April 26, 1965 Rolling  Stones concert at Treasure Island Gardens that was cut short by a “riot” after only 15 minutes.

I was at that concert and remember the screaming and rush to the stage when the Stones began their set. When the music abruptly halted in the middle of the song “Off The Hook,” all hell broke loose, and people began overturning chairs.  Seeing the photos of the Stones in their dressing room, fans being carted off by police, and the pile of chairs left behind by the “riot” makes me feel like it was only yesterday.  (As an afterword, the Stones promised to return to London to finish the concert at some point in the future. As of 2020, fans are still waiting for their return.)

A photo of a young Bev Camp, London’s “Dancing Cowboy,” twisting at Wellington Square Mall in 1962 captured my eye, as did one of The Dave Clark Five in concert in 1964 (another concert I attended).

To be sure, photographs of the Western Fair in its heyday and the opening of Storybook Gardens and the escape of its most famous occupant, Slippery the Seal, will bring back many memories for London Boomers, as will those of local haunts like the Richmond Café,  Three Little Pigs Pantry, the Latin Quarter, and Hotel London.

In short, there is something for everyone in this amazing work of photo-history. It would make an ideal belated Christmas gift for Londoners, old and young.

From The Vault: A Photo-History of London, 1950-1975 is available at all major book stores and online at Cost is $44.95

Rick Young is a retired high school History teacher (1978-2008). He played drums in numerous local bands and was the Publisher of The Beat Magazine, an independent arts magazine from 2009 to 2014.

Remembering Firecracker Day (May 24)

When I was growing up in the 1950s, Victoria Day (May 24) was known informally as Firecracker Day.

It was a highly anticipated night when families in my East London neighbourhood pooled their resources for a big after dark backyard display.

In those days, kids were also allowed to buy firecrackers by law in the weeks leading up to the 24th. They came in all shapes and sizes, but everyone’s favourite was the Cannon Cracker. Buddy’s Booth on Hamilton Road always had the best selection.

The highlight of the night was the burning of the School House. All the kids cheered with glee.

This all changed when Dominion Day became Canada Day and supplanted Victoria Day as the night for igniting major fireworks displays.

Who else remembers Firecracker Day?

Fresh Cream, 1966

Only Rock superstars Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce had the audacity to call their new supergroup Cream, as in “cream of the crop.” In fact, they were the first Rock supergroup.

Cream’s 1966 debut album, Fresh Cream, was unlike anything heard before. Here you had three musical virtuosos playing together, yet each approaching his instrument like a soloist.

Tunes like their cover of Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, Sleepy Time Time, Rollin’ and Tumblin’, and, of course, Ginger Baker’s extended drum solo on Toad were proof that the group was the best of the best. I remember buying the album at London’s Bluebird Records because I thought it had a cool cover.

It’s another album that had a significant influence on my musical career and tastes.