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President Deborah Morrison and Director Joel Ralph were on hand at the 2013 MagNet Conference in Toronto to accept the CMC ACE (Canadian Magazine Conference Award for Circulation Excellence) Award on behalf of Canada's History.


Deborah Morrison and Joel Ralph


Deborah Morrison and our two circulation consultants, Scott Bullock and P.J. Brown

Posted: 05/06/2013 3:48:25 PM by Jen Sguigna | with 0 comments

The Heritage Fairs program has been operating across Canada for twenty years, but some readers may never have heard of it. Most of you will likely remember science fairs from your school days. Heritage Fairs are much like those, only with history as the focus for student projects.

Quite possibly the largest public–participation activity organized around Canadian history, the events last year involved over 110,000 students presenting projects in more than one thousand schools. Hundreds of thousands more parents, grandparents, and representatives of the heritage community also come out to support the students at their schools and at regionally organized exhibitions in about one hundred communities across the country. The fairs have been an unqualified success from the beginning.

It all began in 1993. On May 12 of that year, more than 1,500 Manitoba children in Grades 4 to 11, representing French, english, Ukrainian, and northern schools, took over an entire floor of the Winnipeg Convention Centre to participate in the first Heritage Fair. Back then, the Charles R. Bronfman Foundation’s popular Heritage Minutes were flooding television screens, and the creators of the series were looking for ways to get Canadians — particularly young Canadians — more actively involved in the exploration of Canada’s past. The foundation challenged a volunteer team of Winnipeg–based teachers and history community representatives to help it design a program that would better connect children to the stories of their local history and heritage. Students could use whatever means and media they chose — including videos.

In the months leading up to the first public exhibition, the students researched Canadian history topics. Their mission was to find fresh, engaging ways of presenting the stories they discovered and to prepare them for a public exhibition. Linda McDowell, then a curriculum advisor with Winnipeg’s largest school division, was among the small group of volunteers who helped to organize the event. “It was the most frustrating and exhilarating experience of my life!” she declared. “We were always afraid no one would come.”

In the first year, the event came together because of people’s personal contacts. Each volunteer phoned his or her own network, and by exhibition day they not only had the schools’ participation but had enlisted the help of museums and historical societies to put on workshops and demonstrations throughout the day. McDowell still remembers the moment ten minutes before opening when she looked across the hall to see one of her colleagues holding back an estimated five thousand visitors who had come to support the students.

“Social studies was lagging — just as it is again now — largely because people focus on subjects where there is a provincial test. At least history and social studies can have this,” McDowell said, referring to the fairs. She and her husband continue to judge at neighbourhood schools. “The projects are not just the Nellie McClungs and Wayne Gretzkys — not that we don’t want them to know this, but the learning can go deeper. I recall one girl who had taken all the records and chequebooks from her grandma’s store, and from that developed a project about what it was like to run a rural store. This is something you can’t get from the Internet or an encyclopedia.”

Following the successful Winnipeg pilot project, the CRB Foundation launched a heritage fair the following year in Fredericton, New Brunswick, with similar results.

By 1995, the project was operating in six provinces and subsequently has become an ingrained part of the school year for students in all provinces and territories.

McDowell says the group always knew the program had the potential for success. “We certainly hoped it would be national. Anything like the footing of the science fair was what we were aiming for. And it has more than fulfilled our expectations for all sorts of reasons.”

A key challenge, McDowell adds, was finding ways for the provinces and their students to work together to enhance the program. “Even within the province, it’s often hard to move beyond a school division.”

That national coordinating role fell to the CRB Foundation and later the Historica Foundation. However, in 2009, Historica, now known as the Historica–Dominion Institute, formally ended its partnership with the program. Canada’s History stepped in to help provide national coordination and fundraising support for the fairs.

The national challenge has not been an easy one, although goodwill for the program abounds. Canadian Heritage’s Youth Take Charge program has been very supportive of efforts to launch a new national component. In it, the best students from these fairs create journalism–style videos about their project and present them online at YoungCitizens.ca.

However, sustained support from corporations and the private sector has been difficult to come by, with notable exceptions from Scotiabank, which ended its funding last year, and Great–West Life, which has just renewed its support for a second year. The muted response from corporate Canada is surprising, particularly at a time when Canadian history is rising in popular interest because of the number of national anniversaries approaching. Heritage Fairs is a program that has demonstrated grassroots reach into communities throughout the country. What it doesn’t have is an opportunity for students to take their projects beyond the regional level and to connect with other students and stories from other parts of the country. The financial investment they need to become a truly national force is relatively modest.

The program also needs more community support. Self–sustainability for the fairs at the local level requires a strong volunteer commitment from historical institutions and interested individuals who can help with event organization, presenting workshops for students, judging projects, and as sourcing prize donations from area businesses.

We often hear concerns that kids today simply aren’t learning about our history. Here’s a program that is working effectively to change that. Now twenty years old, it has already produced a generation of young adults who, we believe, are likely to be more conscious of our past and more committed to history and heritage stewardship as a result. It’s a program that merits your time and your support. For further information about a local program near you, visit our website: CanadasHistory.ca/HeritageFairs.

Posted: 22/05/2013 10:28:36 AM by Jen Sguigna | with 0 comments

It must be obvious, even to those most critical of the current Idle No More movement, that we’ve reached a point where we need to revisit the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the federal government. And yet, I’m guessing most Canadians are like me, feeling ill–equipped with any real historical understanding to guide such an important conversation.

First Nations persons have half the median income of non–Aboriginals and are three times less likely to graduate from high school. We’ve seen the atrocious conditions on some reserves; many have inadequate housing, and more than eighty–five per cent of people on reserves live under permanent drinking water advisories (according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives). Indeed, Aboriginal people are ten times more likely than the average Canadian to live without any running water at all.

And yet, billions of dollars are being invested in these communities each year — a point many Canadians find grating, given the apparent lack of return on investment. In a recent Ipsos Reid poll, a clear majority of respondents believed Aboriginal people receive too much support from taxpayers. The findings suggest public opinion is against more discussion about land claims or resource rights, particularly if the result is only greater transfers of lands or funding, or both.

This is the most recent example of centuries of misunderstanding about Aboriginal aspirations. I believe the leaders of Idle No More and of the Assembly of First Nations genuinely seek meaningful conversation as a first step in changing a status quo everyone finds unacceptable. But effective change to public policy requires us first to correctly identify the problem. It is here where I believe the glacial pace of change originates. Most Canadians simply don’t understand the problem. Our lack of understanding of the historic relationship between First Nations and the federal government is so ingrained that we don’t even think it is our problem.

Whether by design or by neglect, Canadian history curricula have for generations relegated First Nations to an anthropological wonder at the point of first contact. We do a fairly good job of teaching children about the different First Nations, but don’t follow up with any real education about the Aboriginal experience thereafter.

I know that some provinces, notably British Columbia and Manitoba, have recently introduced some quality Aboriginal studies courses. But they are optional and are separate fields of study, not part of standard Canadian history courses.

Admittedly, Canada’s History could do a better job in covering Aboriginal history. And, speaking personally, I feel embarrassed about how little I really know.

My history education included nothing about the historic treaties with First Nations. The Royal Proclamation of 1763, as far as my Grade 11 history exam went, was the document laying out the terms by which French and English would co–exist within Canada when Quebec was ceded to the British.I don’t remember ever discussing its significance in laying out the process for negotiating treaties with First Nations.

In my first–year university political science course, I was expected to know the division of provincial and federal jurisdictions outlined in Sections 91 and 92 of the British North America Act. But at no time was there an examination about the repercussions they would have with respect to the ability to manage Aboriginal claims over natural resources. And finally, while we explored women’s electoral voting rights in depth, in hindsight I think it shameful that the systematic disenfranchisement of Aboriginals until 1961 was largely ignored.

Canada is not a Machiavellian nation, or at least I choose not to believe so. For some Canadians, it might be difficult to accept that our forebears made tragic decisions regarding First Nations peoples — including the choice to virtually ignore their place in the story of Canada.

Acknowledging this perspective, though, makes it easier to understand why the system is so fundamentally broken and gives me some optimism that we can change course for the future.

It’s going to be a rocky course correction. I know I will get a lot of flak for even suggesting we set out along this path. I’m willing to take it because the present situation requires us to be honest about the past. For most of us, it’s a past we’ve never known. But we need to listen — and learn — because our future depends on it.

Posted: 01/04/2013 12:21:16 PM by Jen Sguigna | with 0 comments

Is the rebranding of the civilization museum a nasty plot? Not really.

When the federal government announced it was rebranding the Canadian Museum of Civilization as the Canadian Museum of History, critics were quick to pan the decision as the latest evidence of a plot to simplify and militarize our history. How stunning to discover that we are now engaging in debate about our national history, rather than ruminating over whether or not we have one. When and how did that happen?

Noted Canadian historian Marcel Trudel once wrote, “there is nothing more dangerous than history used as a defence, or history used for preaching; history used as a tool is no longer history.” It’s as much a caution to be heeded by critics as it is for the federal government.

There are some inconvenient truths about key investments Ottawa has made over the past five years. These include permanent funding for the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax and for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg; these mark the first times our national museum infrastructure has been located outside of the Ottawa region.

The government also provided a $20-million fund for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, designated exclusively for public education about residential schools, and a $34-million investment in programs that inform the public about injustices experienced at different times in our history by Canada’s Chinese, Italian, Indian, Japanese, and Ukrainian communities. These initiatives address some of the most difficult and complex aspects of our national history and give the communities most affected a voice to retell these stories.

These commemorative initiatives came about because of the historic apologies made by the federal government. They were extraordinary milestones, as is the War of 1812 bicentennial. If every fifty or one hundred years we mark the only time Canada’s “separate existence” has been directly threatened, that is hardly overplayed. Moreover, I believe the “official” version of the story has improved with greater focus on the involvement of Aboriginal Canadians.

We happen to be at a period in time where many significant political and military milestones in our history are approaching. It’s not a plot; it’s just how it all happened. It would be ludicrous to suggest that the one hundredth anniversary of the First World War, the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Holland, the centennial of women securing the right to vote, or the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Confederation should go unmarked in any special way. While it is important to commend the positive investments this government is making in history, the picture is far from perfect. There is the continuing debacle over the establishment of the Portrait Gallery of Canada. Glaring omissions in the juggernaut of new commemorative investments include the fiftieth anniversary of medicare, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the repatriation of the Constitution. And we should be very concerned about a recent decline in funding to other areas of historical infrastructure.

There have been reductions in access to Library and Archives Canada, cuts to Parks Canada’s interpretive and educational services, and the complete shuttering of the national census. All are very distressing. These cuts run deep. Sustained neglect means there will be fewer stories to commemorate in future.

History requires context and perspective to be well understood. Perhaps the reason this government (like most of its predecessors) has had such a fragmented approach to our past is that there has never been a single cultural institution in the country given the mandate to focus on it. This is, in part, the extraordinary opportunity the Canadian Museum of History represents.

Mark O’Neill, the museum’s CEO, says a key priority will be to work with museums and cultural entities across Canada to share collections and create travelling exhibits. The museum recently initiated a series of public consultations and expert round tables in eight cities to discuss the role and mandate of the new institution. This collaborative process will not be a panacea for everything that’s been cut — or all that we require — but it is good start. There is no easy road to build such a museum well.

The reimagining of the Canadian Museum of History will unfold over the next five years, regardless of which party wins the next federal election. It will shape a generation’s perspectives and attitudes toward our history. For this reason alone, it merits our full attention and support. We should not squander this opportunity by playing petty politics with our past.

Posted: 21/01/2013 11:51:43 AM by TANJA HUTTER | with 0 comments

James MooreThe federal government announced plans today to rename and refocus the Canadian Museum of Civilization as the Canadian Museum of History. The plan includes a major remodeling of over half of the exhibit space at the museum in Gatineau and new investments in a pan-Canadian museums network that would ensure our national historical artifacts and collections are showcased across the country.

This is not the first time the Museum has undergone a renaming or a refocus. Former Canadian Museum of Civilization CEO Victor Rabinovitch provides us with a timeline of key points in the evolution of both the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum.

Nor is this the first time a federal government has tried to create a national institution devoted to Canadian history. In 2003, the Chretien government announced a $50 million plan to convert the Canadian Conference Centre in Ottawa into the Canadian History Centre only to have Paul Martin cancel the project several months later. Then, as now, reaction among historians and the general public was skeptical, with many expressing concerns about the potential for political interference in the shaping of exhibits.

One of the most promising parts of today’s announcement is the mandate for the Museum to work with a pan-Canadian network of history museums to develop exhibits that see collections shared with Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast. I wrote about the virtues of a truly national strategy to promote history in the Aug/Sept 2003 issue of The Beaver.

A 2008 study commissioned by Canada’s History Society about people’s interests and preferences in Canadian history revealed that most Canadians hold a very local view of history, preferring stories about their own province and region. And so, while I tend to agree that a broader knowledge of all kinds of history including world history is generally good, there is merit in making a concerted effort to connect all Canadians to our national narrative as a first priority.

One of the most challenging questions is what national story we are telling? It’s that very question that foundered plans almost a decade ago, and is likely to be the biggest concern the Museum faces as it goes about creating its blueprints for the new permanent exhibitions and establishing its partnerships. There are few comparable national museums to guide them.

The National Museum of American History originally opened in 1964 as the sixth Smithsonian Building on the Mall in Washington D.C. Its mission is the collection, care, and study of objects that reflect the American Experience. The building has 300,000 square feet of public exhibit and programming space over three floors and a collection of more than 3 million wide-ranging artifacts. In addition to items you might expect to see like a piece of Plymouth Rock and Ben Franklin’s printing press, the Museum’s primary focus is to represent everyday American life through other unique collections such as the first video games, the national quilt collection, and Judy Garland’s ruby shoes from the original Wizard of Oz.

In 2007 then Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly wrote in support of a proposal by his educational Minister Lord Baker to create a new British History Museum. In The Telegraph article, he argued "We will focus not just on how a museum could relate the narrative of British history, but how it could celebrate the great British values on which our culture, politics and society have been shaped." The proposal was harshly criticized by academic historians many of whom felt the enterprise was destined to either wallow in British boosterism or conversely become so mired in political correctness that it might be more aptly named the Museum of Misery and Boredom.

Indeed what is striking about these other national history museums is this: in their efforts to avoid being seen to be politicized, most have tended to focus heavily on social history, popular culture and lifestyle. This type of history is valuable and understandably very engaging for a broad popular audience, but is a very different project from “showcasing the seminal events, personalities, and objects that have shaped the Canadian experience.” That endeavor will be a much more challenging enterprise, but one well worth undertaking.

Why a Canadian Museum might succeed is based on three things. The Canadian Museum of History, under its old nomenclature, has an international reputation for its innovation and creativity in presentation and programming so it is well equipped to lead such a challenge. Working with several other institutions with other perspectives, on an ongoing basis will provide its own check and balance, ensuring a richer, broader representation of our past. Finally, they have these other examples to guide them.

Along the way there will no doubt be many voices saying it can’t be done, it shouldn’t be done, the wrong things are being done, or the wrong people are doing them. Still, the potential for the new Museum to help create a national framework for our history is compelling. And the time is right. This could be most important national project undertaken for Canada’s 150th Anniversary in 2017.

Posted: 16/10/2012 1:05:55 PM by Deborah Morrison | with 0 comments

Adventure and history await those who cross Canada by car.

This past summer my daughter and I drove the Trans-Canada Highway along Lake Superior while travelling from Winnipeg to Ottawa. It brought back memories of my childhood, when our family would annually pack up the station wagon with two large dogs, four kids, and a boat in tow and make this same trek. In the early 1970s the route was well-travelled with families like ours, and for good reason — this 2,200-kilometre stretch offers what could be the most encompassing tour of Canadian history.

Although I tried to avoid the invariable eye rolls of my thirteen-year-old by minimizing any overt talk of history during our travels, it was impossible to overlook the incredible feats of the voyageurs who paddled and portaged throughout this rugged and breathtaking terrain during the fur trade. In addition to the many roadside historic markers, there are sights along the highway that remind you of this region’s rich past, such as Fort William Historical Park in Thunder Bay. The “world’s largest fur trade post” impressed both the most reluctant teenager and the keenest history buff with an impressive array of interpretive programs that recreate life in the North West Company fort circa 1815.

Further north, in Ontario communities like Marathon, White River, and Wawa, the story of the construction of the CPR and its impact unfolds. William Van Horne, the CPR’s president, might have chosen some of these sites because they had been traditional meeting places for Canada’s Aboriginal communities dating back as early as 500 BC. Perhaps because they had previously been northern posts for coureurs de bois operating out of Fort Kaministiquia. With the establishment of the railway, many of these communities became commercial centers for pulp and paper mills and mining operations. Visits to their local museums provide a closer look at this era of industrial development in the region and remind us of the difficult challenges communities face when operations wind down and move on. There are two excellent mining tours worth taking: the Amethyst Mine Panorama outside of Thunder Bay, which is self-guided and provides opportunities to dig up your own amethysts, and Science North’s Dynamic Earth in Sudbury, which transports you several stories underground for a guided tour of the history of mining from the early 1900s to the present day.

Other points of interest include the Terry Fox Memorial Park East of Thunder Bay, where Fox ended his Marathon of Hope in 1981, and the Winnie-the-Pooh Museum at White River, where Lieutenant Harry Colebourn first purchased the bear that inspired author A.A. Milne.

However, it was the community of Schreiber that offered me a history I didn’t know. The roadside sign boasted that it was the home of Canadian Olympic boxer Domenic Filane (who fought in the 1992 and 1996 Summer Games). Evidence of Filane family success, led by showman Cosimo Filane, is everywhere. It turns out that nearly half of the town is descended from the same Calabrian family that immigrated to Canada during the period of railway construction.

Schrieber, like many towns along the route, is also breathtakingly beautiful for its Lake Superior shoreline. Indeed, it is our natural history that was the real star of this journey. Closer to Sault Ste. Marie, the Trans-Canada took us through several provincial parks that offer both overnight camping and daytime rest stops. We chose Katherine’s Cove as the place to dip our toes in the great lake and marvelled at the landscape that perhaps A.J. Casson or Lawren Harris might have painted nearly one hundred years ago.

Unfortunately, fewer Canadians are travelling by car these days. They are missing out on unique experiences that give texture and context to our history. Through our regular Getaway column and the travel tours we offer, Canada’s History has always encouraged readers to take the roads less travelled. Beginning in 2013, we’re introducing Destinations, a new travel channel on our web-site, to advance the campaign. The site will aggregate and annotate information about thousands of Canada’s historic points of interest and allow users to create their own trip plans.

Over time, we hope it will become the best reference available for Canadian historical tourism and a useful tool to get more Canadians back on the road.

Posted: 01/10/2012 9:47:21 AM by TANJA HUTTER | with 0 comments



Deborah Morrison with Canada's History Magazine editor Mark Reid.

Canada’s History would like to congratulate our CEO and President Deborah Morrison on the receipt of her Diamond Jubilee medal. More than 60,000 Canadians are being recognized this year with the distinction for significant contributions and achievements.

Deborah has now directed Canada’s History for more than ten years over which time she has significantly improved and expanded upon the programs of the society. The society has grown the audience and reach of Canada’s History magazine, launched an award winning children’s magazine Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids, grown our awards programs into Canada’s History Awards, and launched CanadasHistory.ca, the premier destination for history information online.

Her dedication to history also includes serving as the founding director of operations for the Historica Foundation of Canada, as well as working with the CRB Foundation coordinating the launch of the Heritage Minutes and developing many of their educational and outreach programs including the Heritage Fairs program.

From all the staff — congratulations Deb!

Posted: 20/09/2012 3:30:45 PM by Joel Ralph | with 0 comments
One of the great things about coming to the Canadian Historical Association’s annual conference is that you just never know what you’re going to learn here.  Over the next three days the CHA is presenting 48 different sessions with just under 150 different historians and post-graduate students presenting their current research projects.  While today at least, Mark Reid tended to concentrate on sessions dealing with content topics we’re featuring in upcoming issues of the magazine; I cast my net differently looking at sessions that focus on innovative ways of making history content more widely accessible.  My decisions led me to sessions on the role of the CBC in its early years; a strategy game about the Quebec Conference; and a new online archives documenting the history of Portuguese Canadians in Toronto.  
Gail Edwards of Douglas College in BC presented her paper on a 1940’s educational project undertaken by the CBC to produce a series of radio broadcasts called Young Canada Listens. Fueled by strong advocacy from the historical community which was increasingly concerned about the growing fragmentation and regionalism in the teaching of Canada’s history, the corporation nonetheless needed to get the support of the provincial Ministries of Education in order to advance the project. Through a series of strategic maneuvers they managed to win the support they needed and get a season on air for 1944-45.  The episodes covered a variety of topics, from Fur trade exploration to the Group of Seven.  CBC also invested in the creation of teaching resources that would help educators to integrate the productions into their regular classroom plans.  Today’s CBC is facing considerable challenges, (and considerable criticism) in the area of historical programming.  However, the tradition of creating supplemental educational resources for the relevant programming it does produce continues on today, for example last year’s popular Sir John A Macdonald television movie is available as an educational resource package.  The only difference is that unlike in the 1940’s today’s CBC doesn’t make the resources available for free.
Peter Carver is a constitutional law professor at the University of Alberta.  Looking for a way to enliven the course material for his students, he approached “the only faculty member more childish than [him]”, Canadian legal history professor James Muir, with the idea of creating a game about the Quebec Conference and confederation negotiations. The collaboration has lead to a full credit course of 5 role-playing games that also include the BNA and Manitoba Schools Question; about pre-confederation; the repatriation of the constitution in 1980, the charter of rights, and advancing an amendment to today’s constitution. I observed about an hour of a dozen or so of Canada’s talented post-graduate students of history working through the rules of the game and debating whether or not the construction of the national railway should be included as a condition of confederation. The course outline makes it clear that students are expected to come prepared, having fully researched all of the stakeholder positions at the conference.  In this case, PEI made a surprise deal with Nova Scotia and the Reformers of Upper Canada that the railway would be built from Rivière du Loup to Truro, but not a penny of taxpayer’s money was to be used in its construction.  Although the Pacific Scandal might have been averted with this group at the table, but I remain skeptical about whether or not the railway would ever have been built.
My last session of the day was a presentation on a new website launched six months ago, providing an archives to Toronto’s Portugese community.  The initiative is the inspiration of three PhD candidates at York University who were all researching different aspects of Portugese immigration to Canada.  Susana Miranda and Raphael Costa explained that in the course of their own research projects, they came across significant, privately-held archival collections and a whole new project that would focus on securing those collections for wider public and research access was born.  At a time when so much of the history community is concerned about the future of archival records given the cuts in funding to Library and Archives Canada, it’s no wonder that a lot of people were interested in how a smaller, community archives project like this one functioned and whether or not it was a model that could be replicated.  It would appear other communities are already talking to the team.  A notice was posted on the website that a collaboration to support a Greek Canadian History Project is already in the works. 
Posted: 28/05/2012 8:11:04 PM by DEBORAH MORRISON | with 0 comments

As Canadians, most of us are proud of what we’ve achieved on the world stage and we like to see ourselves as global leaders. But when it comes down to it, we don’t really put much stock in cultivating ourselves as world citizens. On a planet that’s increasingly interdependent in trade and business as well as in addressing human development and environmental concerns, Canada has been surprisingly inwardly focused.

For instance, we define ourselves narrowly when it comes to nationhood, we undervalue our expatriates, and we largely neglect world history in our education system. If Canada is to continue enjoying a strong reputation as an international leader in the twenty-first century, we need to rethink what we are doing.

We celebrate exemplary citizens such as John Humphrey — who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — Nobel Prize-winning Prime Minister Lester Pearson, UN diplomat Stephen Lewis, international war crimes prosecutor Louise Arbour, and children’s rights activist Craig Keilburger. They are among many Canadians whose planetary leadership has affected human rights, justice, peace and security, health, and social conditions.

But for the most part, the two-and-a-half to three million Canadians who work abroad in international development and other fields get short shrift. They are viewed at best as exotic “para-citizens,” and at worst as financial liabilities — especially when they need help getting out of the troubled regions in which they work.

The government of Canada’s foreign aid budget is about five billion dollars annually. In addition to that, individual citizens make private contributions and Canadian institutions are involved in partnerships with major world players that have in recent years tripled that investment. For instance, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program involves the University of Manitoba in one of the largest HIV/AIDS prevention research projects. And a partnership between Vancouver-based philanthropist Frank Giustra and the William J. Clinton Foundation carries out sustainable development projects in Latin America.

We tend not to view these initiatives as particularly Canadian, however. What’s more, we know little about and seem to have little interest in these countries where we have so much invested.

In a recent article about Canadian expatriates published in the Literary Review of Canada, international relations expert Jennifer Welsh contends that we focus too much on how other diasporas shape Canada, rather than how Canada’s diaspora is shaping the world. When we think about our connection to the world, we think about immigration; there’s been little inclination to learn about the countries from where we are drawing so many new citizens. It’s an interesting observation that we tend to think it isn’t really about Canada unless it happens within our borders.

This tendency shows in our approach to teaching history in schools. World history is not very prevalent; what is generally taught is European history as it has influenced Canada’s development. The Middle East and Asia are usually relegated to a brief exploration of “ancient civilizations” in grade school. Africa and South America, key areas where Canada has had sustained international involvement, might be project topics in an optional world issues course in senior high.

It is tempting to argue that many of us barely know our own history, never mind other histories. But most Canadian historians would also concede that more history of all kinds would strengthen understanding of Canada’s place in the world. The need to develop a more global perspective, particularly amongst our youngest citizens, has never been more pressing.

Citizens of all countries are becoming more mobile and transitory. The trend is toward broadening a sense of nationhood to extend beyond geographic borders. Dual citizenship, expatriate services, and global professional networks work to that end. Many see greater international participation and experience not as “brain drain” but “brain gain.”

Complex world issues such as the environment, human rights, and food security create new communities of interest and require Canadians to participate and think more broadly about solutions for the planet. Already out in the world virtually, our young people are eager to be more active participants in a global citizenry. But they are falling behind their counterparts in other countries when it comes to world knowledge.

It comes to this: A solid grasp of history builds a strong foundation for understanding how best to make a difference in the world.

Posted: 16/02/2012 3:07:34 PM by TANJA HUTTER | with 0 comments

Deborah Morrison at the Governor General's History Awards dinner 2011Votre Excellence, distingués invités, récipiendaires primés, collègues et amis de l’histoire du Canada.

Au cours des quinze dernières années, nous avons eu le privilège de nous retrouver ici, à la résidence du gouverneur général, afin de récompenser les meilleurs professeurs d’histoire du pays, et nous sommes heureux de revivre cette expérience ce matin.

In recent years, with the support of Rideau Hall, we have invited students, filmmakers, historians and others engaged in the field of history to join in the celebration. We have had the desire for quite some time to bring formal recognition to the many other ways our history is taught, shared and discovered by Canadians.

C’est une vision que nous partageons avec plusieurs sociétés d’histoire du Canada, qui sont maintenant partenaires de nos célébrations d’aujourd’hui. The Canadian Historical Association, the Canadian Museums Association, the Begbie History Society and the Historica-Dominion Institute all join with me this morning Your Excellency to thank you for your support of the history community through the establishment of these new national honours, the Governor General’s History Awards.

First Nations dancer from Musical OdysseyAmidst all the good news announcements this week, I did however have one belligerent journalist ask what exactly was so “new” about these Governor General’s History Awards since clearly there have been many history prizes before this.

Although the power and potential of what we have started here this morning seems very clear to me, it was lost on him. But like most people in the history business, I’m a patient person. We know that time is on our side.

On dit que les meilleurs changements surviennent dans le calme, afin qu’ils paraissent les plus naturels possible.

Throughout our history we’ve seen that big visions, transformational changes, often begin— wisely — with small, sometimes unnoticed first steps.

Tout comme lorsque Sir John A. Macdonald et le gouvernement de coalition du Haut et du Bas Canada s’invitèrent à la conférence de mille-huit-cent-soixante quatre afin de discuter du projet d’Union maritime.

Or when Nellie McClung and the Manitoba suffragettes started to organize pink tea parties in the early 1900s.

Ou encore lorsque Lord Stanley décida de dynamiser les matchs de hockey au Canada en décernant une Coupe d’argent à la meilleure équipe.

Marc Chalifoux, Senior Manager-Community Relations, TDI believe these new awards will become another example.

Canadians have told us repeatedly they are interested in their history and they’re concerned that they should know more about it. Throughout this time, there have always been excellent classroom teachers, il y auraient toujours des excellent exemples des programmes d’histoire dans nos musées et notre communautés, as well as extraordinary academic research, books, films and media productions. What’s been missing is opportunity for wider collaboration. And as you consider the examples I just provided, vision and change are often sparked by the simple act of bringing people together.

Ces nouveaux prix permettent de regrouper tous ces talents et toutes ces expériences dans le cadre d’un grand événement annuel. We at Canada’s History have every expectation that great things will happen in history because of this new network these awards will naturally form.

We are grateful that this vision has received the strong endorsement of our key supporters; TD Bank Group, Enbridge, EF Educational Tours; as well as Manulife Financial and Yoseph Wosk who so generously contribute to the Macdonald Prize and History Alive awards. We welcome the presence of their representatives here this morning.

His Excellency the Right Honourable David JohnstonAnd of course Your Excellency, we are most grateful to you.

Votre engagement a non seulement donné aux passionnés d’histoire de nouvelles occasions de faire connaître leur travail, mais il a permis aux membres du public de mieux comprendre la pertinence et l’importance de cette œuvre collective, qui contribue à façonner notre culture et nos valeurs, et à tisser des liens plus serrés entre les peuples de cette nation.

Thank you. Merci. Megwetch.

Photos, top to bottom: Deborah Morrison, First Nations dancer from Odyssey Showcase, Marc Chalifoux of TD and His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston with the History Alive! winners from Centre des sciences de Montréal.

Posted: 16/12/2011 9:30:01 AM by DEBORAH MORRISON | with 0 comments
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