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Posted: 17/05/2012 4:24:14 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments
Posted: 17/05/2012 4:14:02 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

Further to my post a couple of weeks ago about taking your kids to the museum, Jack and I recorded this video. I promise I didn't coach Jack on this.

Posted: 17/02/2012 2:15:11 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

Over the past year Canada's History has been working on special editions of Canada's History Magazine and Kayak: Canada's History Magazine for Kids celebrating Canadians and their impact around the world.

In preparation for the project I attended a meeting of the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation last summer here in Winnipeg. At university I had taken several development courses and considered it as a possible career path. The picture I had of international development was young Canadians under 30 going abroad to help with development projects.

Instead what I saw at this meeting we're Canadians who had been working in development for over forty years. They worked with small local organizations that we're often very specific in the goals that they had set out. While Canada and the West share a rocky history of development, it's impossible to doubt the dedication and enthusiasm of the thousands of Canadians who have made it their life's work to improving living conditions around the world.

In the special issue of the magazine we profile seven Canadians who made an impact around the world, including George Atkins, the founder of Farm Radio International. I had the chance to sit down with George's daughter Louise Atkins in December at her home in Ottawa. You can watch the full interview here, but I've left a clip of some of the photos she shared below.  

It's a great story and one of many great Canadians that we're profiling in the magazine and online here at 

Posted: 14/02/2012 2:11:49 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

One of the best parts of being a parent is rediscovering what makes museums and history so much fun. My son Jack and I make a pretty regular tour of the museums in Winnipeg. Saturday mornings we pack our lunch and head out on the road to our local historic sites.

Our trips started with walkthrough tours of the Manitoba Museum here in Winnipeg. Viewing their new digital exhibit about what Churchill Manitoba looked like millions of years ago was an instant highlight along with the dioramas of Buffalo, Elk, and Polar Bears. Throw in some fossilized million year old turtle poop and you have the makings of a good visit.

From there we moved out to the Western Canada Aviation Museum and the Winnipeg Railway Museum. Both locations don’t always have the best interpretation and story boards, but they do have fantastic restorations of aircraft, trains, and trucks that helped build Manitoba. Climbing on board with Jack reminds me of the sense of wonder that these great pieces of equipment would have caused when they loomed across the prairies carrying passengers and freight.

Now at the risk of sounding a little too much like a museum nerd, Jack really does have a great time and will often request which museums we visit now. Exploring museums from a child’s perspective is a great way to remind yourself how fun a museum can be.

It’s something that I wouldn’t have considered at all a few years ago. When I first went to the Aviation Museum before Jack was born I noticed they were advertising tours for preschool classes. At the time I was generally concerned that museums were being turned into glorified educational institutions that were ignoring anyone over the age of fourteen (something I am still concerned about, but perhaps more forgiving of). But having done the tours now I think it would be a great experience that more parents should explore with their kids.

I never would have thought museums would impact a two-year-old but they do and I can’t wait to explore even more museums in the years to come.

Posted: 23/01/2012 10:09:26 AM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

Photo courtesy of Sandra Regier.

Today Canada’s History is announcing the first ever recipients of the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Community Programming. It’s the terrific culmination of several years of work celebrating local history projects and expanding our national awards program. Read the full press release here.

I was really fortunate last week to actually visit our first English recipient in the community of Saint-Joseph, Ontario and to speak with members of their historical society. I can’t imagine a community that better encapsulates the idea and values of this award.

Their project was the production of a play about local icon Narcisse Cantin. I’ve been educated fairly well on his story over the last week, but you can read about his plans to turn Saint-Joseph into a modern day mega city at one end of a major canal stretching between Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

I was headed to Saint-Joseph to interview representatives about the project for our website [video coming soon, and you’ll see why in a moment]. Normally we interview a spokesperson about a given project, film some b-roll, and move along. But the Historical Society would have none of that and I can understand why after conducting interview with over 40 residents and children.

Seeing a project that required the contributions of so many people raises my hopes for what any community can accomplish. Everything from the will behind the project to make it happen, the writer, the director, the fundraiser, selling ads, building a theatre out of straw bales, researching the community history, creating an exhibit, making sure everyone was fed – it’s was a true community production that seemed to deeply touch everyone involved.

When I arrived everyone was prepared with their questions to answer for the video and they were well fed and taken care of during the three and half hours of interviews. We even interviewed for another two hours in the morning and managed to get a tour of the city in before I had to jet back to Winnipeg.

And to be honest, I don’t think we could have explained the impact of this project without each and every interview. I was really lucky to be a part of it and hopefully you can take a chance to read about their project and our first French recipient from the wonderful community of Saint-Basil-le-Grand.

And this is just the start to our awards season!

Posted: 30/11/2011 1:59:37 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

It didn’t take long. This week the war of words over commemorations around the War of 1812 are already starting to heat up. The opening salvos in the campaign were lobbed this week by Jeffrey Simpson in a column in the Globe and Mail and a rebuttal in the National Post by historian Chris Champion.

Each makes some very valid points that are masked under the political rhetoric thrown in both directions. To Simpsons main point, that the war was “among the dumbest ever fought,” he’s probably right. It wasn’t a particularly smart war to be started, but that doesn’t change the fact that it happened and that the outcome was extremely important in the eventual development of Canada.

Simpson’s biggest concern is that the event will be constructed into a nationalistic event that portrays the war as a gallant fight to save Canada, when “Canada” as we know it was only in its earliest stages. “There was no sense of being ‘Canadian’ at the time,” Simpson implores. The war was “between the United States Republic and an outpost of the British Empire.” You can’t have Canadians fighting for a Canada that doesn’t actually exist yet.

Simpson is making a political argument rather than a historical one, designed to attack the current Conservative Government more than retelling accurate history. Ironically, it’s exactly what he’s suggesting the Conservatives will do themselves over the next three years, substituting politics for history.

Likewise, Champion probably overplays his hand, exactly what Simpson is expecting in the coming commemorations. Champion’s response is that in fact there were significant Canadian traditions that existed at the time and carry on today, such as Charles de Salaberry and his Voltigeurs Canadiens. “The Battle of Crysler’s Farm two weeks later has long been known as ‘The battle that saved Canada,” he replies. Perhaps it has been known as that for a long time, but not likely at the time of the battle itself.

The War of 1812 was not a war between Canada and the United States, it was a war between Britain and the United States that was largely fought on Canadian soil. Champion is right when he says that Canada likely would have been absorbed into the United States had they been victorious, even if that wasn’t necessarily why the Americans went to war in the first place. The war had significant consequences for Canada and for the First Nations. But it was as much a war between British, Americans, and First Nations rather than Canadians that we think of today.

On a positive note, there is open and heated public debate about the War of 1812. It’s a major moment in Canadian history, one that deserves to be commemorated, retold, and debated. Let us know what you think about this debate by going to our forum and posting your own thoughts. How do you think the War of 1812 should be commemorated?

Posted: 12/10/2011 9:57:14 AM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

Here is the completed full Bren Gun video and feature on Fort Rodd Hill in Victoria. This past April they were kind enough to show me around their amazing national historic site and to give me a once in a lifetime opportunity to fire a Bren Gun. Thanks to Dave, Bob and the entire crew. It was an awesome experience!

Posted: 13/09/2011 2:09:36 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

This week we sent out our Teaching Canada's History newsletter for middle and senior high teachers, which got me thinking that this is going to be a great year to teach Canadian History. The coming year is going to bring out some anniversaries that provide great learning opportunities in the classroom.

I spent my summer reading up about the War of 1812. It's a fascinating campaign that truly had the opportunity to change the course of history in Canada. I would recommend starting with Pierre Berton's two volume work on the campaign: The Invasion of Canada and Flames Across the Border. It's easy to read and will provide you with great stories and starting points in the classroom.

It's also the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Selkirk Settlers in Manitoba and the 95th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 2012.

I've also spent the summer thinking about the wonderful projects from our Governor General's Award Finalists. We've posted a full article about the 18 finalists and posted podcast interviews with each individual. It's inspiring to hear what other teachers are doing in the classroom and the approaches that they are taking.

Finally we've also posted brand new lesson plans and classroom resources to help teachers get started. Have a great school year!

Posted: 01/09/2011 9:50:25 AM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Parks Canada we've been out visiting some of our favorite National Historic Sites. This is the trailer to my upcoming video firing the Bren Gun at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site in Victoria, British Columbia. Look for the full video later this week!

Posted: 08/08/2011 4:24:40 PM by JOEL RALPH | with 0 comments
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Joel Ralph

Joel Ralph is the Director of Programs for Canada's History Society. He is interested in the history education and the use of technology in the classroom.

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