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Forget ‘friluftsliv’: Why we should be looking to Indigenous scholars, not Scandinavians, this COVID-19 winter

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Without looking at your phone, do you know what time the sun rises and sets? Ever pay attention to when the geese start migrating south?

Focusing on the rhythms and patterns of nature — and drawing meaning from them — is just one of the simple things Indigenous scholars suggest people can do to help get through the long, dark days of winter and isolation during this pandemic.

“It’s a way to kind of place yourself in a larger context of these big questions, like: Why are we here? Who are we?” says professor Alex Wilson, a director of the University of Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal Research Education Centre and a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

In recent weeks, major media outlets around the world have turned to hardy Scandinavians for lessons about how to survive COVID-19 winter, homing in on the Norwegian concept of “friluftsliv”: the embrace of the open-air life.

“What is ‘friluftsliv’? How an idea of outdoor living can help us this winter,” read a headline in National Geographic. The Guardian followed with its own story: “Fjord focus: is Norway’s friluftsliv the answer to surviving a second lockdown?”

Lonely Planet jumped on the bandwagon with: “Embrace winter like a Norwegian this year by practising friluftsliv.”

But here in Canada, Indigenous scholars responded with the verbal equivalent of a shrug. No question, Scandinavians are credible sources when it comes to winter survival, they said. But Indigenous communities know a thing or two, as well.

Alex Wilson, a professor and director of the Aboriginal Education Research Centre at the University of Saskatchewan, encourages people to slow down during this pandemic and try "micro travel: travelling around your little environment where you are, learning all the relationships that exist outside your door or in your local park, or even studying the sky."

“It does sound romantic, romanticized, to learn from the Norwegians,” Wilson said.

“The one thing to note in all of this is us, in our traditional territories, we’ve survived and thrived for tens of thousands of years. So there’s a lot of knowledge — Indigenous knowledge — that has yet to be validated by Western institutions.”

Wilson is part of a growing movement in Canada to introduce Indigenous land-based education into school curriculums that relies less on textbooks and more on developing greater connections with our natural environment and finding ways to protect it.

It’s a style of teaching, she says, that goes way beyond “the junior high outdoor education class we all had to take where you go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, which is more about, ‘OK, let’s go outside and get some fresh air and do some physical activity.’”

Wilson says many of the lessons she and other land-based educators try to impart to students are useful for surviving the looming winter and ongoing pandemic isolation.

“Even though we may seem like we’re by ourselves, the thing about the land is it that it reminds us that we’re not,” she said.

Take this moment as an opportunity, she said, to slow down and explore your natural surroundings. She suggests “micro travel: travelling around your little environment where you are, learning all the relationships that exist outside your door or in your local park, or even studying the sky.”

She encourages people to ask themselves: Whose traditional territory are you living on? What’s the history? How did that history unfold and how did that impact the land? What can be done to repair some of the damage?

There’s a certain humility that comes from this sort of exercise, Wilson said.

“There’s so much loneliness right now and depression because of isolation, and social media is one way that people are reaching out. But I think it’s also contributing to some of it because of some of the toxicity online. This is a way to say, ‘Yeah I’m part of something bigger and I do have meaning here.’”

Wilson cites the writing of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. In 2014, she wrote a chapter for the journal Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, titled “Land as Pedagogy,” in which she describes the ongoing challenge of getting land-based learning recognized.

“I distinctly remember being in grade 3 at a class trip to the sugar bush, and the teacher showing us two methods of making maple syrup — the pioneer method which involved a black pot over an open fire and clean sap, and the ‘Indian method’ — which involved a hollowed out log in an unlit fire, with large rocks in the log to heat the sap up — sap which had bark, insects, dirt and scum over it,” she writes. “The teacher asked us which method we would use — being the only native kid in the class, I was the only one that chose the ‘Indian method.’”

In her adult life, Simpson describes the many years she spent with Curve Lake First Nation elder Doug Williams, who taught her to hunt, fish, trap, harvest birch bark and make maple syrup — the “most profound educational experience of my life.”

“Doug has invested more time in my spiritual, emotional and intellectual education than anyone else in my life. Yet it is completely unrecognized, unsupported and disregarded by academic institutions.”

One institution that is trying to break that mould is Dechinta: Centre for Research and Learning. Based in the Northwest Territories, the school offers post-secondary courses centred around Indigenous law and politics, language, land-based education and community research.

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The school’s regional programmer, Noel-Leigh Cockney, who is Inuit and was raised in Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik, says it’s annoying when Western media outlets turn to Scandinavia for lessons about winter survival and ignore sources in the Canadian Arctic.

University of Saskatchewan master's of education students enrolled in the Indigenous land-based cohort examine pictographs during a canoe trip.

“Being on North America, I believe that we should get more credit for having survived up here for such a long time, but southern Canada and the U.S. don’t immediately think about that,” he said.

Living on the tundra can be dark and cold during the winter, he said. That’s why having a connection to the land — learning the migration patterns of caribou, for instance — was critical to his ancestors’ survival.

Asked what advice he has for surviving this upcoming pandemic winter, Cockney suggests not only adapting to the weather but adapting your lifestyle: finding activities that you enjoy doing outside.

It can be as simple as scheduling time to go out for a walk and exploring your backyard, he said.

“Everybody comes from a nomadic or land-based culture,” he said. “For us to really get back into that will allow us to not only learn about ourselves and the land we’re on but also reconnect to a part of ourselves that people may have long forgotten.”

Technology allows us easy access to a lot of things, he said. Try getting back into the “core” of learning: walk on a trail, touch things with your hands, learn about the plants and their uses.

There’s really no excuse not to, he says.

Too cold? Layer up.

For urbanites without ready access to trails, he suggests going to a craft store that sells natural hides or beads to make clothing or bead art, or finding wood to whittle and carve.

“Get back into the basic art form using natural materials.”

During this pandemic, Wilson says she’s been encouraged by the number of people who have been getting into gardening, and who have been reflecting on their consumer habits and the waste they generate.

Continue that education, she said.

“I always ask: ‘Where does your water come from?’ You’d be surprised how many people don’t know. They’ll say, ‘Well, the tap,’” she said.

“What if you don’t google it? What’s another way of finding out? That’s another challenge. Can you try to find out the answers or try to find out the relationships without using that technology?”



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How conspiracies like QAnon are slowly creeping into some Canadian churches

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Pastor John van Sloten of Marda Loop Church in Calgary had been thinking about, in his view, the theology behind wearing a mask. 

His basic premise was that if Jesus, who was God, took on a human body to mask his Godness for the sake of others, then Christians too should cover up their faces with a mask amid the pandemic.

So, he penned a column for a local newspaper and made it the subject of one of his sermons.

“I thought it was a pretty convincing theological argument,” van Sloten says. “But people just went nuts with it.”

Soon, the Facebook page for Marda Loop Church was flooded with angry commenters. One told van Sloten that he couldn’t possibly be a pastor with such beliefs. Another said he should be ashamed for “posting such nonsense.”

One commenter even posted a meme of Jesus displaying his middle finger to the reader.

“I thought that was creative,” van Sloten said. “A lot of it was repeating of the conspiracy theories that the whole masking thing is made up, that you’re drinking the Kool-Aid like the rest of liberal society.”

Comments flooded the Facebook page for Marda Loop Church in Calgary after Pastor John van Sloten wrote a column and preached a sermon on the theology behind wearing a mask. (Facebook)

Van Sloten said he’s received criticism, hate mail and even protests outside his church over the years, and has mostly ignored those instances that seemed like trolling.

But he said he’s also read about the advent of the baseless conspiracy theory QAnon in American churches — and feels that churches in Canada should be carefully tracking its possible journey north.

“The Christian church has always been exposed to heresies and incorrect thinking historically from the get-go,” van Sloten said. “Heresies come and heresies go, and this is the heresy du jour. And I think we ought to treat it like that.”

An American conspiracy comes north

The QAnon conspiracy theory originated in 2017 on the imageboard 4chan after a user identified as “Q” claimed they had insider information on the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Through a series of anonymous posts, Q propagated the conspiracy that Trump was battling against a child-trafficking ring that included “deep state” government officials, prominent Democrats and members of Hollywood.

Followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory include members from both secular and religious groups, and aren’t made up specifically of those people who participate in the Christian faith.

And though QAnon may have begun as a distinctly American conspiracy, its tentacles have since been attached to governments and notable individuals around the world.

“Prime Minister [Justin Trudeau] has been mentioned in Q drops since the start of QAnon,” said Marc-André Argentino, a PhD candidate at Concordia University who studies QAnon. “We have some significant influencers [based in Canada].

“Amazing Polly [a QAnon influencer based in Ontario] was at the root of the Wayfair conspiracy theory. It’s not like Canada is just taking the American aspect, but they’re adapting it to its own context.”

Typical QAnon conspiracies connected to Canada involve the belief that Trudeau is one of the “deep state elites” who need to be removed from office to “awaken and liberate” the country.

Marc-André Argentino, a PhD candidate at Concordia University in Montreal, says QAnon offers believers a symbolic resource that helps people explain why bad things are happening in the world. (Ted S. Warren, File/The Associated Press)

Growth among QAnon adherents within secular and religious communities is steady, and underpinned by different motivations, Argentino said.

But he said he expected there could be an easy path for the religious community to understand apocalyptic language in the political context, making it potentially easier for members to accept QAnon.

“[Religions and conspiracy theories] have this function where they permit the development of symbolic resources that enable people to define and address the problem of evil,” he said. “So whether you want to know why something is happening, whether you’re blessed or cursed — God or the devil — it’s the same thing with QAnon.

“This conspiracy theory is providing a mainstream narrative for things like a pandemic, or war, or child trafficking … It’s just a natural pathway for a lot of evangelicals in the U.S., especially considering how evangelicalism is closely linked to American politics.”

‘How could you believe this?’

When the pandemic started, Jessica DiSabatino, lead pastor at Calgary’s Journey Church, felt confident in keeping to one of her church’s “high values” — that not all members shared the same views, and that was OK.

But as lockdown dragged on and the church lost its face-to-face contact, she noticed some things that worried her. 

On social media, DiSabatino watched as the debunked Plandemic video was retweeted and watched hundreds of times by people in her congregation.

Inevitably, DiSabatino began hearing of QAnon from people around her, and began to read more about it. 

“There is like a religious fervour about it,” she said. “The more I read about it, it seems like a replacement religion, where everything has a reason.

“And I think people want to feel like they’re on the inner workings of something, particularly when we don’t have a lot of power.”

Jessica DiSabatino, lead pastor at Calgary’s Journey Church, says she feels she needs to confront conspiracy theories when they arise in her congregation, while still respecting those who believe them. (Submitted by Jessica DiSabatino/Google Maps)

Seeing posts emerge on social media about QAnon from her congregation, DiSabatino soon felt herself struck by a new feeling — was this going to cause fractures within her church community? Was all the work she had done being undone by this conspiracy?

DiSabatino could even feel herself getting angry. As friends in her life began voicing their openness to QAnon, she thought to herself — “How could you believe this? What is wrong with you?”

“These are some of my friends who I love. And what I’ve had to say to them, in the end, is this cannot define our friendship,” she said.

Looking for ‘the big story’

DiSabatino soon realized her own anger toward what she viewed as someone’s irrational beliefs would drive a further wedge between them — and didn’t begin to uncover what might be motivating those beliefs.

“I don’t think I can say nothing,” she said. “But I also think it’s a very personal thing — so I’m not going to get up and preach a message about why I think QAnon is crazy.

“Partly, because I think different people come to conspiracy theories for different reasons. I think sometimes you’ve got hurt that is unimaginable in your life.”

People of faith are [looking] for a big story that explains why things are the way they are.– John van Sloten, pastor of Marda Loop Church in Calgary

Van Sloten said conspiracy theories and church can often fill the same void, because they’re trading on the same faith and desire for an authoritative voice — something exacerbated in a time rife with turmoil and anxiety.

“People of faith are also looking for a big story that explains why things are the way they are,” he said. “So again, these desires — these good desires, in all of us, I believe, as a theologian — they’re ultimately meant to be directed to a grand narrator who can be trusted, who is authoritative.

“They’re being co-opted by conspiracy theories, by people who want control by making cognitive shortcuts and just getting an answer because they’ve got to get an answer soon.”

Conspiracists functioning almost as prophets

Colin Toffelmire, associate professor of Old Testament at Ambrose University College in Calgary, says there has been a historical vulnerability to conspiracy thinking in some versions of evangelicalism or fundamentalist Christianity.

“I think that’s related to the history of how some Christians in North America have thought about history and science, especially,” Toffelmire said.

“For example, there’s this long-standing objection in evangelical subculture to really well-accepted scientific theories, like the theory of evolution by natural selection.”

There has been a long-standing objection in evangelical subculture to some well-accepted scientific theories, like Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, said Colin Toffelmire, associate professor of Old Testament at Ambrose University College in Calgary. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Those objections — centred in versions of Christianity that believe that everything in the Bible is exactly historically and scientifically accurate — could make certain individuals suspicious of mainstream ideas in science and history, Toffelmire said.

“Some of that is kind of hard-baked into some versions of North American evangelical subculture,” he said. “And so that is, I think, almost like an entry point. That suspicion of authority becomes an entry point for very strange conspiracy theories, like the QAnon conspiracy theory.”

Joel Thiessen, professor of sociology at Ambrose, said though churches should be aware of the rise of QAnon, he wasn’t sure that it was yet a prominent concern in Canada.

But taking an example from the United States, he said it appears that more conservative Christian groups tend to gravitate toward conspiracy, potentially because they may feel they are becoming marginalized in secular society.

“[They feel] they are losing positions of power that conservative religious groups have historically had, particularly in the U.S., to a lesser extent in Canada,” Thiessen said.

“There’s an emerging sense among some conservative groups that they have lost power in governments, in education, in media and so forth.”

Joel Thiessen, a professor of sociology at Ambrose University College, says there has been a perception among conservative religious groups over the last half-century that the media has moved in a more secular or progressive direction. (Submitted by Joel Thiessen)

Thiessen said that those in conservative religious groups who gravitate toward conspiracy still represent a small minority of churchgoers. 

But those who end up believing the conspiracy, Thiessen said, may typically be drawn to it for much of the same reasons others in society are. 

“You have potentially charismatic or polarizing figures, who almost function like prophets within these sub-narratives within society,” Thiessen said. “I think because of physically distanced communities and congregations not gathering together as frequently, people are perhaps not even watching their own online religious services. That means they aren’t being socialized.

“It actually makes this a rife time for such groups to actually capitalize on those opportunities. No doubt we’re seeing those things unfold before our very eyes.”

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Post-secondary students call for changes to online exam rules as cheating concerns rise

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Canadian colleges and universities are in the midst of midterm exam season. But with many students forced to trade in-person lectures and labs for online learning during the pandemic and experts reporting rising cases of academic misconduct, students as well as some instructors are raising the alarm about the software being used to assess them.

Cheating is nothing new, but academic integrity experts have flagged that academic misconduct — which includes plagiarism, falsifying information, submitting work completed by someone else and unauthorized collaboration and sharing of test questions or answers — has been on the rise worldwide since the pandemic began.

“It’s not anything that’s specific to one university, college or higher educational institution. It’s really been a response to the stress that people are experiencing under these unique conditions,” said Amanda McKenzie, director of the University of Waterloo’s office of academic integrity.

“It’s been a pivot for everyone, instructors and students alike, and that means we really have to shift in the way that we’re providing our instruction to students, as well as the way that we assess students.”

The tools that many institutions are employing this year include remote proctoring software designed to monitor students taking online exams and programs that lock down computer systems — for example, to block the opening of a side chat, new browser window or additional program — as they complete a test, quiz or exam. 

WATCH | What’s it like to log on to a remotely proctored exam: 

David Draper from the University of Alberta Students’ Union demonstrates how to log on for a remote-proctored exam and why students are concerned about the assessment tool. 2:13

With this new generation having grown up so comfortable seeking and sharing information online, “it’s really important at higher educational institutions that we’re clear about what they can access, what they should access and how they should use that information,” McKenzie said.

“If you’re accessing information on the internet to answer questions, without answering them yourself, you’re not really learning that content.” 

There are some courses or departments at Waterloo that have e-proctoring in place for exams, McKenzie said, noting that in certain cases, these may be linked to outside requirements from professional agencies (e.g., for board or licensure exams).

However, she said that the southwestern Ontario school encourages its instructors begin by considering other assessment methods. 

“Every institution has probably considered proctoring tools,” she said.

“It’s not our first choice.” 

‘It’s really important at higher educational institutions that we’re clear about what [students] can access, what they should access and how they should use that information,’ says Amanda McKenzie, director of academic integrity at the University of Waterloo. (Submitted by Amanda McKenzie)

At the University of Alberta, school officials have published information about effective assessments for online studies, including highlighting methods that offer an alternative to the “typical sit down, block off an hour to write an exam,” said David Draper, vice-president academic of the University of Alberta Students’ Union, in Edmonton.

“But there are a lot of professors who are still doing the sit-down, e-proctored exams,” said the fourth-year arts student. “It just locks down your computer, turns on your webcam and just focuses in on you and scrutinizes every single one of a student’s actions for the entire time.” 

Students have come forward to the students’ union raising concerns about these programs, he said.

‘We’re being monitored way more intently than ever before on our exams, and our overall mental health is degrading,’ says David Draper, vice-president academic of the University of Alberta Students’ Union. (CBC)

Exam anxiety ‘magnified’ to nth degree

Some students with disabilities have told him that they rely on specific screen-reader software that’s incompatible with remote proctoring software. Students of colour have had problems where the application doesn’t recognize their faces, and they’re told repeatedly to move somewhere with better lighting, Draper said.

“In a regular year, exam anxiety has a massive impact on students.… When you have your entire life, your entire location scrutinized to immense detail, that just gets magnified up to the nth degree,” he said.

“We [have a greater] workload for classes, we’re being monitored way more intently than ever before on our exams and our overall mental health is degrading.”

Kristin Smith, vice-president advocacy of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU), has heard similar worries from her peers in Winnipeg. 

“Students obviously have a lot of anxiety around being watched through a camera while they take an exam, and specifically they were concerned that some of their movements would be unduly flagged as being suspicious and then lead to false accusations of academic dishonesty,” said the third-year arts student.

They’ve asked a wide range of questions, she recounted, from more general (What if I need to use the restroom? What happens if I lose my internet connection?) to specific privacy concerns (Could my photo and identification information be leaked? Will my information be used for advertising?).

“What a student should be focusing on during an examination is demonstrating their knowledge, not having to think about every movement, having this anxiety about whether they’re going to be flagged.” 

‘What a student should be focusing on during an examination is demonstrating their knowledge, not… having this anxiety about whether they’re going to be flagged,’ says Kristin Smith, vice-president advocacy of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union. (Submitted by Kristin Smith)

The UMSU assembled a list of recommendations for the university’s consideration of assessment during the pandemic, including the use of remote proctoring. Though Smith said she and her colleagues recognize that some courses may require e-proctored exams, “it just has to be implemented correctly.”

Being considered cheaters before submitting any work

The adoption of certain kinds of assessment tools can make students feel like they’re being considered cheaters or academically dishonest before they’ve even submitted any work, according to academic integrity expert Ceceilia Parnther. 

Students are being asked to jump through hoops — showing where they live, being in an interruption-free space with bright lighting, having an internet connection that doesn’t drop, maintaining consistent eye contact or interaction with a webcam, keeping still and/or silent — in addition to knowing the course content, she said.

“When you have things like this that are embedded now as part of a course and students have to navigate who they are and what they look like to take exams, it presents an entirely new set of challenges, and it increases anxiety,” said Parnther, an assistant professor in the department of administrative and instructional leadership at St. John’s University in New York.

Whether or not a student is actually cheating, a feeling of being watched or judged to a different standard can fuel anxiety that contributes to lower achievement “but also a likelihood that a student might consider doing those things that would help them to get an edge.”

WATCH | Professor outlines why students might consider cheating:

Professor Ceceilia Parnther explains why some students might feel inclined toward academic misconduct during the pandemic. 0:59

“The question becomes ‘what do we do, as institutions, to create the conditions where students feel they have the opportunity to be engaged, that they understand what their responsibility is in the learning process?'” Parnther said. 

“We’re never going to stop students from cheating.… But I think that we can get students more engaged and more invested in feeling like doing honest work matters.” 

Rethinking how to teach, assess students

The act of moving most students online hasn’t turned more students into cheaters, according to Sarah Elaine Eaton, an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education. 

She said that approximately a decade of research prior to the pandemic showed that in cases where the same course was taught in-person and online, there was less cheating in the latter instance. Instead, she blames the rise of academic misconduct on the uncertainty of the pandemic itself. 

“We have people teaching online who have never taught online before. We also have students learning online who have never learned online before. So we have a situation where expectations are not clear, assessments may not be appropriate for the online environment and students may not understand what is OK to share,” said Eaton, whose research focuses on academic integrity.

Sarah Elaine Eaton, associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education, says she’s proud of the students raising concerns about the use of online tools in how they’re being assessed. ‘Institutions should have been asking those questions before they signed the contracts.’ (CBC)

The pandemic has challenged educators to rethink how they teach and assess students, in particular, those instructors who haven’t changed their methods for years, she said. 

While a multiple choice test might be appropriate in some cases, there are also a host of alternative ways to gauge what students have learned, Eaton said, from one-on-one oral exams via Zoom to collaborative group projects to having students create a podcast or infographic. 

Student groups have also recommended essays, papers, open book and take-home exams, as well as assignments or quizzes weighed more evenly throughout the course (versus one massive final exam), as different assessment methods that don’t require online proctoring software and are more likely to curb academic misconduct from the start.

WATCH | Schools implement online exam monitoring to stave off cheating but spark controversy:

With post-secondary students learning from home, universities implement new virtual exam monitoring software to avoid cheating during midterms but it comes with limitations. 2:00

Eaton believes the questions students have raised about some of these online tools — about privacy and specific student populations placed at a disadvantage, for example — are ones everyone should be concerned about.

“I’m actually super proud of the student groups that are driving that conversation because institutions should have been asking those questions before they signed the contracts,” she said.

Still, she said many Canadian schools are re-evaluating how they assess students as the pandemic continues. 

They’re considering questions such as Can we have exams with real proctors who are teachers that have a relationship with students?” Eaton said.

“Can we do in-person if the exams are absolutely needed, so that we can preserve the integrity of the exam and also help to preserve the mental health of our students?”

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Sharing stories of Old Montreal’s Black History

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Rito Joseph’s passion for history was sparked by conversations with his father, on the way to school, when he was growing up in the Saint-Michel neighbourhood of Montreal.

“He taught me so much about Haitian history and the Haitian Revolution,” Joseph said.

But learning about Black Canadian history only happened as an adult.

Joseph is self-taught, having studied the works of Canadian historians, authors, and educators, including David Austin, Dorothy Williams, Charmaine Nelson and Afua Cooper.

Those studies are the basis for “Tourist In My City” — the walking tours he leads through Old Montreal and Little Burgundy, teaching Montrealers about the Black history in those neighbourhoods.

The tour in Old Montreal begins just outside the Champs-de-Mars metro station, where he asks participants if they know where they’re standing.

Place Marie-Joseph Angélique

Few people realize the spot is named Place Marie-Joseph Angélique, in memory of an enslaved woman who was accused of arson and executed in Old Montreal in 1734.

There’s no signage, no plaque, nothing to indicate the area has a name.

“I studied Quebec history from the early age and I don’t recall having any mention of Black history…or anyone who is a person of colour in my history class,” said Sarah Ouellet, who is originally from Quebec City and has lived in Montreal for 10 years.

“I’m just eager to learn more,” said Ouellet.

The tour visits various locations central to Marie-Joseph Angélique’s experiences in Montreal.

Joseph credits Canadian scholar Afua Cooper for much of the information he shares on the Old Montreal tour. The Dalhousie University professor is author of The Hanging of Angélique, one of several books Joseph recommends to participants.

Blackface in Old Montreal

Joseph also discusses the Royal Theatre, which was built in Old Montreal by John Molson and staged minstrel shows, also known as “soirées éthiopiennes.”

He explains Calixa Lavallée, composer of O Canada, performed in blackface shows there and audiences included Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States and John Wilkes Booth, an American actor who killed Abraham Lincoln.

Daybreak Montreal14:22Tourist In My City: Montreal Black history tours

Rito Joseph takes Montrealers on walking tours to uncover hidden parts of the city’s Black history. Daybreak’s Shari Okeke met up with him in Old Montreal. 14:22

That information is eye-opening for many in the crowd, including Simon Hudson, a Montrealer originally from Seattle.

Simon Hudson and Sarah Ouellet learned history on this tour that they never learned in school. ‘I’m just eager to learn more,’ Ouellet said. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

It’s “surprising to hear that kind of concentration [of those Americans] in a place like this,” Hudson said.

“[Montreal], has the connotation, as an American, for being you could say, just not as bad as the US,” he said.

Joseph communicates all this information with enthusiasm and a touch of humour, when possible, always keeping the crowd engaged.

But there’s no escaping the pain in many of these stories.

Sarah Desrosiers was particularly affected by stories about enslaved people who, after trying to escape, were caught and then branded with the fleur-de-lis symbol.

“The fleur-de-lis, it’s emblematic, it has a sense of pride but then slaves were burnt with it so that’s a bit shocking to me,” she said.

“I’m Black so I don’t really take any joy or pleasure in learning about any of this but it makes me even more mad that I’ve never known about it. My story has been hidden from me,” she said.

The history can be painful to learn but you don’t have a choice ‘because it’s the least we can do as a respect to our ancestors,’ said Grégory Mondésir who did the tour with his wife, Sarah Desrosiers. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

Joseph shares that frustration. It’s a motivation to keep telling stories he too wishes he’d learned in school.

“It says something … when they don’t want to teach you about yourself,” he said.

“That has to do with oppression too because education, we know, opens a lot of doors.”

School field trips

So Joseph is educating Montrealers through these tours, which started in June and are booked solid until November 1st.

Demand is still strong, so he’s considering adding extra dates in November, depending on the weather.

He also wants to offer the tours to schools as field trips.

Currently his “Tourist In My City” walking tours include outings in Old Montreal and Little Burgundy, and he is working on a virtual version in order to continue throughout the winter.

Joseph is planning to offer tours in more neighbourhoods next spring.

Rito Joseph reveals they’re standing at Place Mary-Joseph Angélique. There’s no signage indicating this spot is named in memory of an enslaved woman executed in Montreal in 1734. (Shari Okeke/CBC)

The goal is to spread as much knowledge as possible about Montreal’s history.

“It’s not so much about being French or being British or being Indigenous or being Black,” Joseph says.

“It’s about understanding that certain laws or certain beliefs we have nowadays come from the 19th, 18th, 17th centuries,”

“And if we don’t take the time to deconstruct [that history] we’re not going to be able to move forward.”

Walking through Old Montreal’s Black history 3:32

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