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Posts Tagged ‘public history’

Party Boat, 2011, from Sarah Anne Johnson's "Arctic Wonderland" series.

Party Boat, 2011, from Sarah Anne Johnson’s “Arctic Wonderland” series.

(For the introduction to this series on national narratives click here.)

Last year an archaeological discovery was announced from the northernmost region of the world, one that could change the way we think about history – and it all started with a yarn. (more…)

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"The Impending Nisga'a' Deal. Last Stand. Chump Change" (1996). Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun.

“The Impending Nisga’a’ Deal. Last Stand. Chump Change” (1996). Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun.

(For the introduction to this series on national narratives click here.)

It is a breezy July morning, and a group of weary men are trudging their way up a sloping hill. In their midst they carry a 10-metre long plank of wood. A smaller beam has been nailed perpendicularly to the plank’s upper third to form a cross, the symbol of their God.

The men are nearing the end of what had been a long and difficult voyage along the shores of this strange, new continent. Their captain, Jacques Cartier, led them here in search of a waterway that would lead to the riches of the Orient. That discovery, however, would have to wait. Finding only false starts and dead ends, Cartier and his crew have at last decided to turn return home, and all preparations are in order for the perilous journey back across the Atlantic. No doubt looking forward to their return, it is easy to imagine the minds of Cartier’s men on the sights and smells of their home ports as they work through this final task: the raising of a cross on the banks of a great bay. (more…)

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Detail from BC artist Jin-Me Yoon's "A Group of Sixty-Seven."

Detail from BC artist Jin-Me Yoon’s “A Group of Sixty-Seven,” 1996.

Last year, Canadian cinephiles were treated to a wonderfully curious documentary in Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell. Moved to uncover her own family’s murky history, Polley sets about interviewing close friends, old acquaintances, and key players in order to dig into the rich strata of her past. The film’s brilliance arises from a peculiar curatorial decision on the director’s behalf: rather than sort through the often conflicting stories of her interviewees to find a narrative that most closely approximates “fact,” Polley chooses to let each story speak for itself amidst the voices of the others, thereby allowing each perspective to take a shape of its own. Though the juxtaposition of these would-be narratives, Stories We Tell rises far above a typical family drama to say something truly profound about the stories from which truth, like a mirage, appears to emerge.

The stories we tell help define and give meaning to every aspect of our lives, from personal relationships – as Stories We Tell so deftly illustrates – to the places we inhabit. Long before the first Europeans arrived in the land now commonly referred to as Canada, the original inhabitants of the country had fostered a great number of rich story telling traditions as a way of understanding and being in this place, and you can bet that new stories were fostered and cultivated from the moment that Leif Ericsson laid his Viking eyes on the vast forests of Newfoundland. In the many centuries since that fateful encounter, historians, artists and politicians alike have spent a great deal of time and energy try to pin down the elusive nature of this country. It would seem that Canada is ever in question, and has been so since well before there was a “Canada” to speak of. (more…)

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The Hon. James Moore, talking about... something.

The Hon. James Moore, talking about… something.

As plans for the Canadian Museum of History continue to ramp up, I find myself wondering exactly whose Canada will be presented behind the glass displays of our new national museum. Our current government has taken a peculiar interest in Canadian history and national narratives – most notably, in the 1812 Bicentennial celebrations, and, now, in their unfolding plans for Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

If you have been following this blog for a while, you will know that one of my motivations in writing it is my belief that talking about our history is important. The way we perceive the past influences the decisions we make in the present. That old adage rings true, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

There is no doubt that the Harper government’s policies have gotten Canadians talking about the past. Who beforehand had even heard of the War of 1812? The question that lingers in my mind is what histories are we still not talking about, and how do they inform our present actions? (more…)

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Royal Proclamation of 1763

“God Save the King”: Royal Proclamation of 1763

Think of the great dates in Canadian history and what comes to mind? Probably 1867, or possibly 1982. I’d even allow 1812 (begrudgingly).

What probably doesn’t come to mind is Oct. 7, 1763, the day King George III issued the proclamation that enshrined aboriginal rights in British North America. In doing so, he helped to spark a revolution and layed the foundations for a distinct political and legal tradition in what would become Canada. It’s kind of a big deal. (more…)

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The Canadian government’s decision to spend some $28 million on War of 1812 commemorations in a time of apparent fiscal crisis elicited all manner of responses.  For some it represents a baffling use of resources. Others question the prudence of commemorating a forgotten war given the concurrent milestone anniversaries of institutions like Parks Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, CBC Radio and Medicare. There are also those who herald the 1812 commemorations as a long overdue investment into our country’s history.

There is some truth in each of those responses, but what strikes me above all is a sense that we have lost an opportunity here. (more…)

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John “Angry Beaver” Baird

My post today concerns a comment made by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird on the latest outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza. In his speech to a Jewish community gala, Baird refers to “the phoenix-like rising of the modern state of Israel, from a barren desert to the dynamic country we see today.” (For the full speech, click here.)

Now, I’m not sure that it’s possible to make a comment about Israel/Palestine without offending someone. I’m not sure that it’s desirable, either. But that’s not the fray I want to walk into today. Instead, I’d like to consider Baird’s comments from a standpoint somewhat (but not completely) outside the current conflict. (more…)

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