Learning from the Swollen Rivers of the Past

This post originally appeared on ActiveHistory.ca

I may be cursed. Everywhere I move flooding seems to follow. Last fall, my family and I moved to White River Junction, Vermont. On an apartment hunt, my father and I arrived in the Green Mountain State immediately following Hurricane Irene. Pulling into Rutland we were told that there were no roads open that crossed the state east to west. Every road had been washed out. Indeed, the devastation Irene caused was still a lead news story in the area when we left at the beginning of August, a year later. We arrived in Nova Scotia to some dry weather, but here too we’ve seen one of the wettest September’s on record. One of these weather systems, associated with Tropical Storm Leslie, broke through a number of dykes around Truro, bringing significant flooding to Nova Scotia’s “Hub Town.”

There are a lot of differences between these two “weather events,” not the least of which was their scale and damage. What links them together, though, is that in both cases similar flooding had taken place in the past. Although these events are tragedies, much of the damage was predictable, though not always avoidable. Continue reading “Learning from the Swollen Rivers of the Past”

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 Preservation in Comparative Perspective

This post was originally published on ActiveHistory.ca

Last week, two media items caught my attention.  The first story was the discovery of remains from an 18th-century ship found during construction at the World Trade Centre in New York City.  The second was a short debate on CBC’s Metro Morning between Toronto City Councillors Mike Feldman and Adam Vaughan on heritage designation of historic homes. Continue reading “Historical Preservation in Comparative Perspective”