Dr. Lachlan MacKinnon is an Associate Professor of History and Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Post-industrial Communities at Cape Breton University. His research explores industrialization and deindustrialization in the Atlantic provinces, regional economic development policy and working-class history of 20th century Canada. His work explores military service in Canada in the context of the rapid industrialization of the Cape Breton coal field during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
An Immigrant Life in the Highland Unit: Anthony Sumiejski and Canadian Identity
This presentation focuses on the life of Anthony Sumiejski – a Polish immigrant to Cape Breton Island who arrived in 1909 to work in the Sydney Steel Works. Sumiejski’s life is documented through narrative accounts found within a series of letters between Sumiejski and a friend who lived in Sydney. These letters trace the story of Sumiejski’s arrival in Cape Breton, his decision to enlist in the Nova Scotia Highlanders Regiment and return to Europe to fight in the First World War, his capture in the aftermath of Vimy Ridge, and his ultimate death in a German prisoner-of-war camp.
MacKinnon deftly uses the story of Sumiejski to explore the ways that Canadian soldiers used letter-writing as a mechanism of identity construction, how this soldier’s experiences reveal his sense of Canadian belonging and the ways that such sources may only provide one view into such a complicated story.