Museum Closures, Heritage and Cultivating a Sense of Place in Toronto

This piece was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca.

“Places possess a marked capacity for triggering acts of self-reflection, inspiring thoughts about who one presently is, or memories of who one used to be, or musings on who one might become… When places are actively sensed, the physical landscape becomes wedded to the landscape of the mind, to the roving imagination, and where the latter may lead is anybody’s guess.” – Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 107.

Just as I read these words last week, the Toronto Star disclosed municipal plans to close three of the City of Toronto’s ten museums.  Montgomery’s InnGibson House and the Zion School House – museums outside of the downtown core and closely allied with the Etobicoke and North York Historical societies – are on the chopping block due to municipal cutbacks.  This decision builds on the recently announced closure of the Air and Space Museum at Downsview Park, one of a few other museums in the north end of the city.

In an age of austerity, as Sean Kheraj noted last week, all public institutions supporting culture and heritage are vulnerable. But these cuts do not just reflect cutbacks in the culture and heritage sectors. In a city already bereft of recognized historical sites outside of the downtown core, this municipal decision reinforces urban and suburban differences in how Toronto’s past is told. If places have the power to shape our self-perception and how we situate ourselves in the world, as Basso and others have suggested, how has the uneven distribution of historical places influenced the culture and politics of Canada’s largest city? Continue reading “Museum Closures, Heritage and Cultivating a Sense of Place in Toronto”

Historical Quests: An intergenerational tool for connecting school and community

This piece was originally posted on Teaching the Past.

Whether we have an informed view of the past or not, an understanding of history is an important part of how we situate and re-evaluate our position in local, regional, national and international contexts.  Because the past is so important to connecting and situating ourselves to others and the places where we live, it cannot be taught entirely from the classroom.  History, I believe, is best taught collectively and collaboratively, with lessons that anchor into a student’s everyday experience and understanding of the past.

This point was driven home last week when my family and I – looking to better understand our new home in the upper Connecticut Valley – participated in a historical walk in the nearby community of Hartford Vermont.  The walk was one of over 150 Valley Quests, a place-based educational program devoted to building community in the Upper Valley.  Like many historical walks, this quest was led by a local resident who provided details about the community’s history, geography and everyday life.  Unlike other historical walks that I have been on, however, the Valley Quest also integrates local schools and encourages regular public participation. Continue reading “Historical Quests: An intergenerational tool for connecting school and community”

Remembering Francis: Sharing life and sharing the past

This post was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca

On Friday night I sat down at my computer to write out a post for this morning and nothing came.  Last week was a busy week for me and it was filled with a number of surprises (some pleasant, some less so).  One of the major events of the week was the death of my friend Francis. Continue reading “Remembering Francis: Sharing life and sharing the past”