150 Years of Canadian Business History Conference

8 09 2017



On Tuesday, I will be presenting a paper at the 150 Years of Canadian Business History Conference at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto.  I have upload both the program/brochure for the whole event plus a draft of my own paper, “Business and Multiculturalism: a Possible Master Narrative for Canadian Business History

Abstract: Researchers from across the social sciences, and in several management disciplines, are now increasingly interested in the role of business in promoting the peaceful coexistence of ethnocultural groups. Today, Canada is an outstanding example of harmonious ethnic diversity. Business played an important role in the emergence of this successful society. The newly renascent field of Canadian business history is in need of theoretically informed master narratives if it is to continue to grow. This paper proposes that the study of the role of business in the emergence of multicultural Canada be one of the organizing themes for the field of Canadian business history.

I would like to thank the organizers for their very hard work in arranging this conference. A major thanks to the donors who made it possible to cover the costs of presenters.

Video Blog Post on Smart Globalization: The Canadian Business and Economic History

26 02 2014

AS: Ok, here is a plug for our new book Smart Globalization: The Canadian Business and Economic History Experience (University of Toronto Press, 2014). It’s not a flashy book trailer of the sort US academic presses are doing– just a webcam shot of me talking about the book for a few minutes.  You can order the book here.

Description of Our Forthcoming Book on Globalization and Canadian Business History

26 07 2013

AS: Later this year, University of Toronto Press will be publishing an edited collection on the history of Canadian business in the global economy called Smart Globalization. My co-editor is Dimitry Anastakis of Trent University. I was asked by someone at the publishers to write up a short précis of the book. Here it is.

This book will use the Canadian historical experience to speak to present-day debates about how nations should respond to globalization. Neoliberals believe that if a nation is to prosper in the global economy, it should adopt a policy of complete economic liberalization (i.e., the elimination of all tariffs and other trade barriers). Neo-mercantilists, in contrast, believe in development through the selective embrace of globalization and the intelligent use of industrial policy. Ha-Joon Chang, who recommends a neo-mercantilist strategy for today’s developing nations, has said that the countries which are today wealthy acquired their wealth by adopting protectionist measures, not a policy of laissez-faire. The research presented in this edited collection will use Canadian history to test the claims the neo-mercantilists makes about economic history.  Canada is one of the world’s most successful countries in terms of average living standards. The chapters in this collection will show that Canada’s success stemmed from neither complete openness to globalization nor policies of autarky or self-sufficiency. Since the time of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada has developed through a complex policy mix we call “smart globalization,” a term we have borrowed from Dani Rodrik. This book should interest historians, economists, and policymakers in Canada and other countries.

Lever Brothers in North America

13 02 2013

Warning: Self-Promotion Alert

The journal Business History has just published an article I wrote: A successful British MNE in the backyard of American big business: Explaining the performance of the American and Canadian subsidiaries of Lever Brothers 1888–1914 See here.

Ad for Sunlight Soap, 1915.


By the 1880s, Lever Brothers, an ancestor of today’s Unilever, was had emerged as a major player in the British soap industry. Its brands, such as Sunlight, could be found in all parts of the United Kingdom. The firm then decided to become a multinational. After 1888, Lever Brothers expanded into the United States and Canada. The surviving archival evidence suggests that the Canadian subsidiary was more successful than the American one in the period before 1914 (after that point the US operation became very successful . My article tries to explain why this was the case. It considers a number of factors that help to explain why this was the case. Some of the factors considered, such as differences between the Canadian and American tariffs, Canada’s more robust system of trademark protection, and differences in anti-trust law in the two North American countries. These are all themes very familiar to business historians. I also draw on the literature on identity economics and argues that the greater success enjoyed by Lever Brothers in Canada was, in part, rooted in Canada’s strongly British identity. The impact of identities on the policy makers, managers, and consumers who collectively shaped the two North American subsidiaries is assessed.

New Position in Canadian Business History

16 04 2011

The Department of History of the University of Winnipeg invites application for a tenure track position at the rank of Assistant Professor in Canadian History. Applications are encouraged from all research specialties.
Preference will be shown for candidates with a demonstrated ability to teach business history. The selected candidate will be expected to teach Canadian history survey courses.
Applicants must have a Ph.D. by the time of the appointment. The successful candidate must have a strong commitment to research and undergraduate teaching. Publications will be an asset.
Subject to budgetary approval, the position will commence on 1 July 2011.
Applicants must submit a covering letter, curriculum vitae, one sample of research, and teaching dossier (including course outlines and course evaluations if available), and must arrange for letters of reference from
three referees. Deadline for the receipt of the applications and references is 15 April 2011.

The search will continue until such time that the position is filled. Address all communications to:
Professor Eliakim Sibanda, Chair
Department of History, University of Winnipeg
515 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, MB., R3B 2E9
Phone: 204 786 9012
E-mail: e.sibanda@uwinnipeg.ca
The University of Winnipeg is committed to employment equity, welcomes diversity in the workplace and encourages applications from all qualified individuals including women, members of visible minorities, aboriginal persons and persons with disabilities. In accordance with Canadian Immigration requirements, this advertisement is initially directed to Canadian citizens and permanent residents of Canada.

Three Cheers for the National Business Archives of Canada

16 06 2009

I was very excited to discover the existence of a new organization, the National Business Archives of Canada.

From its website: “The National Business Archives of Canada is a non-profit organization with a focus on education, culture and society. This unprecedented national business heritage project aims to commemorate the events that have shaped Canadian business history: from the incorporation of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1670, to the introduction of the first BlackBerry by Research in Motion in 1999.

In the near term, the Archives will exist as a virtual centre and digital knowledge base of artifacts and historical resources. In the longer run, a business centre, library and public exhibit gallery are planned. Officially launched in a public ceremony on March 31st, 2009, the Archives are celebrated by a Mosaic Mural art installation at Brookfield Place in downtown Toronto. The mural depicts the most significant events in Canadian business history.”

I think that this is a wonderful, wonderful initiative. The single greatest problem facing business historians is access to corporate archives. A few companies, most notably the Hudson’s Bay Company, make their archives available to researchers. The HBC has also done a good job of telling researchers what is in their archives and that it is all available for use. Many companies, however, keep their archives totally closed to outsiders. They do so for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the sheer administrative hassle of scheduling visits by academic researchers. Other companies have documents that they are willing to share with researchers but do a poor job of promoting awareness of their archives.

The United Kingdom has long had a Business Archives Council (BAC), which maintains a directory of records available to researchers. This list includes a short description of the documents at each company as well as the details of a contact person. Business history is a much bigger part of the historical profession and the undergraduate historical curriculum in the UK than it is in Canada. The secondary literature on the history of business in Canada is also very incomplete: most of the existing historiography is the very small number of firms with relatively open archives. As a result, Canadian historians know a great deal about the minutiae of the fur trade and almost nothing about huge swathes of the economy.

I’m convinced that one of the reasons why business history is so vibrant in the UK is the existence of a centralized clearing house for information about company archives. In the 1970s, there was an attempt to set up something similar to the BAC in Canada, but it folded within a few years, apparently due to lack of funds. I suspect that the current initiative will be much more successful, as it has received the support of Deloitte, TD Financial Group, and CN.