Last week Sesqui and the film Horizon were in Sault Ste. Marie. If you haven’t heard of Sesqui (short for Sesquisentinial) it is is a 360° cinematic experience marking Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. It’s traveling across Ontario using a giant canvas dome to show the film Horizon. The 20 minute film features landscapes from across Canada and includes artists from across Canada, the film is projected on the interior of the dome providing an immersive film experience.
The film has no words and was visually quite stunning. Given that this was billed as a part of the 150th commemoration events I (perhaps naively) expected there to be some historical content in the film. There was almost none. The film was much more focused on highlight the physical, geographical, and cultural diversity of the landscape of Canada. There were many segments of people singing, canoeing, skating, skateboarding, and engaged in other outdoor activities. This was paired with wildlife footage and landscape images.
IMAX technology originally premiered in 1967 when the National Film Board launched the In the Labyrinth film at Expo ’67. The Sesqui project connects back to that original leap in film technology by attempting to create a new kind of immersive film experience.
Sesqui has also created a learning hub which includes additional information on select topics including : Arts, Canadian Geography, education, English, Indigenous Studies, Language Arts, Physical Education, and Social Studies. For example, Horizon includes footage of a traditional Haida dance and the work of Haida carver Christian White. The supplemental video material connects these brief segments to large social and cultural traditions and provide historical context to the brief clips that were seen in the Horizon film. The educational material isn’t perfect but it is a good starting point to have larger conversations about the material that was included (and the material that wasn’t) in the film.
Multiple trailers and previews of the content can be found on Youtube and I’ve included one of the trailers below. They also mentioned at the screening that there is an associated app, Meridian VR and that eventually all of the video footage will be available to download via that app.
This is the second post summarizing my experience at the AAO 2014 conference. The first post, “AAO 2014: Context and Commemoration” can be seen here.
Archives and Remembering This session focused on two community museums/archives and their efforts to commemorate community histories.
The first pair of presenters were Laura Camilleri and Wayne Townsend from the Dufferin County Museum and Archives (DCMA). Their presentation, “Remembering the Wars…Digitally” focused on the DCMA efforts to commemorate Dufferin’s veterans. For the purposes of this project veteran was defined as anyone who had served in any conflict in any capacity. The project allowed for archival material to be linked to museum collections and placed online via the Duff Stuff portal. The portal is fee based. However DCMA members get access as part of their membership fee. Camilleri and Townsend highlighted some of the unexpected rewards of their project such as: building community partnerships, increased research requests, increased donations to the archive, and collaboration with local schools. Having grown up near the DCMA and volunteered there it was nice to see some of the positive ongoing work and community outreach occurring within the institution.
The second set of presenters in this session were Mary Gladwin and Patricia Phelps who focused on the Oxford Remembers project. This initiative aims to commemorate the men and women who participated in WWI both at home and overseas. Oxford County will hold 100 special events and programs from 2014-2018 to remember the 100th anniversary of the First World War. Gladwin and Phelps highlighted the project’s galvanizing force and the enthusiasm of libraries, archives, museums, and community based groups to host commemorative events. Everything from plays, pigeon shows, art displays, traveling exhibits, and film screenings will be held as part of the project. Overall the project aims to raise awareness about the rich history of Oxford and the roles Oxford citizens played in the war effort. This presentation was great inspiration for anyone interested in community engagement in collaboration. It highlighted the benefits of working with multiple partners and keeping costs low through shared events and promotion.
Faith-Based Commemoration and Archives This session focused on anniversary celebrations at two faith-based archives. The presentations both focused on case study examples of successful archival commemoration efforts.
Gillian Hearns presented on “Making the 150th and 175th Anniversaries of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto.” Hearns’ presentation recapped the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto involvement in the 1991 celebrations around the 150th diocese anniversary. At this point the Archives was relatively new but the 150th celebrations helped bring legitimacy to the archives and highlight the value of the archives. Hearn’s presentation also looked forward to the upcoming 175th anniversary that will be occurring in 2016. Building on previous commemoration and history work Hearns described the 175th as an educational opportunity. She saw the archive being tied to the larger diocese commemoration plan and focusing efforts on promoting the archive to internal stakeholders. Hearn’s talk emphasized the importance of learning from past commemoration efforts and the role that commemoration can have in promoting the use of archives.
Hearn’s presentation was followed by Kate Rosser-Davies and her work commemorating the “Jubilee Years at St. Michael’s Choir School.” The case study explored by Rosser-Davies focused on the 75th anniversary celebration of St. Michael’s Choir School and the commemorative publication of Seventy-Five Years of Service in Song. At the time of the 75th anniversary the archives at St. Michael’s was newly established and Rosser-Davies unexpectedly played a key role in the publication process of Service in Song. The publication was community driven and school alumni were actively involved in the books authorship. Rosser-Davies highlighted the challenges of managing a community based publication including editorial burnout, inconsistent voicing, factual issues, and managing so many contributors. Despite these challenges the book’s community based nature did allow for stakeholders to learn about the value of archival collections and the importance of preserving the school history. Rosser-Davies indicated the donations to the school archives increased following the book project. Service in Song is a great example of school archives being used for commemorative purposes and the challenges of managing a community based publication.
Last week I attended the Archives Association of Ontario annual conference in Oshawa, Ontario. The next few posts are recaps of the conference and some of the sessions I attended.
Keynote The opening keynote speaker for AAO 2014 was Anthony Wilson-Smith of Historica Canada. Wilson-Smith’s talk focused on his personal experience with history through journalism and working with Historica Canada. The talk also centered on the importance of context and the role that archives have in preserving context in a increasingly digital age. Historica Canada is the largest organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Canadian history and citizenship in Canada. They are perhaps most well known for its Heritage Minutes. Wilson-Smith’s talk touched on the Heritage Minutes and discussed how they are meant to be introductions to historical topics and not complete histories. Despite not having a direct archival focus the keynote was engaging and broached a number of digital preservation issues being faced by archivists.
War And The Public Memory This session focused on war and civic memorials that have been used to facilitate commemoration. The first presenter, Alexander Comber, focused on “War Trophies of Canada: Paper Trail to Artifact.” Comber described his efforts to research the history and provenance of war trophies that were brought to Canada following WWI. Using Library and Archives Canada records combined with photographs, oral histories, and other written accounts Comber aimed to identify the current location of surviving war trophies and document the history of war trophies across Canada. Much of his research has been compiled in a Google doc and can be seen here. Comber’s project highlighted the potential and short comings of using archival material to document public monuments.
The second half of this session featured a presentation by Amanda Hill. Her work “Beyond The Cenotaph” focused on her work with the Deseronto Archives and ongoing commemoration efforts around WWI. Hill’s presentation focused on her project to learn more about the 34 men listed on the 1923 cenotaph in memory of WWI soldiers. This project was later expanded to research all men who served from Deseronto including those who were from a nearby Royal Flying Training camp. Despite occasional research roadblocks and coming up against pay-walled resources Hill’s project has managed to illuminate the personal histories of many of the men from Deseronto. Some of Hill’s research can be found online here. Additionally, she has plans to share her research via live historical blogging during the WWI centenary and through other social media platforms. Overall this was a great example of a community inspired commemoration project that has potential to engage a range of community members.
My latest post, Community Engagement in Commemoration, can be seen over on the Active History site. The post discusses my recent involvement in Walking With Our Sisters project and the role communities can play in commemoration and memorial.
Yesterday artist and author Christi Belcourt, hosted by Shingwauk Kinomage Gaimig, gave a talk at Algoma University. Her talk focused on her art practice, traditional art, and the Walking With Our Sisters project.
Walking With Our Sisters is a commemorative art installation in memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the United States. The work is a floor installation make up of beaded moccasin vamps arranged in a pathway on red fabric. Each pair of vamps represents one missing or murdered Indigenous woman. Vamps were chosen as the focal point of this project as they are part of an unfinished pair of moccasins and represent the unfinished lives of women.
One of the most inspiring parts of Walking With Our Sisters is the community involvement and support. The project has been entirely crowd-sourced. In June 2012 a call was put out via social media asking people to create moccasin tops for the exhibit. By June 2013 over 1600 vamps had been received. Vamps were donated from people across Canada and the United States and from as far away as Scotland. A map of participants can be seen here. Photographs and descriptions of some of the donated vamps can be seen here.
The collective and is deeply rooted in community and volunteerism, with the organization of the touring being done by a collective. Christi Belcourt described Walking With Our Sisters as a memorial and rooted in ceremony. Her description of the far reaching impacts of the project and the community support was moving and inspirational. Walking With Our Sisters is scheduled to visit over 30 communities in the next five years. The full tour schedule can be seen here.
Part of the Project of Heart Commemorating the Children of Future Generations Initiative the Ontario based commemoration project “Children to Children” will open at the 180 Projects Gallery in Sault Ste Marie on December 7th at 7pm. Project of Heart is a hands on artistic and history project aiming to commemorate the children who died while at residential school, teach the general public about residential schools, and promote social action. Project of Heart has resulted in thousands of school children learning about residential schools, speaking with and learning from survivors of residential schools, and creating commemorative titles. These commemorative titles have become the basis for commemoration projects across the country. For example, in Vancouver a Tsleil-Waututh racing canoe was unveiled that was made from over 9000 Project of Heart tilesdecorated by students from over 250 schools in British Columbia.
The “Children to Children” opening will feature an installation piece created by Shingwauk Residential School Survivor and Elder Shirley Horn, inter-generational survivor Shelly Fletcher, artist Zenith-Lillie Eakett and Dayna Rainville. The installation will use thousands of titles create by students from across Ontario, in commemoration of the legacy of residential schools.
A speaker I heard recently spoke about FLOP as a concept which shapes our lives, identifies, and conceptions of history. The popularity of the FLOP acronym is debatable. But the concept behind the acronym is an interesting one and closely relates to constructions of the past. Fear of Losing Our Past (FLOP) can impact what is saved, how things are remembered, commemoration, and history generally.
On a personal history level, fear and an overwhelming desire to preserve family history and personally important historical moments can contribute to nostalgia and myth making. I’m inclined to say that fear of losing the past can result in people acting like pack-rats or hoarders. This hoarding might root from a fear that something important is going to be forgotten or that you can’t throw something out because it will result in the destruction of the past. Most archivists and heritage professionals will attest to the fact that it’s not practical to keep everything and not everything is worth keeping.
More importantly, the idea of FLOP brought to mind the idea of how historical narratives are created. Our conception of history isn’t perfect. Memory is fallible and often what we know of the past is limited by what has been saved and what sources are available. National histories, heroic battles, and heart warming local history moments are all written, constructed, and created by somebody. Good histories are balanced and look at the past from multiple vantage points. But, how history is presented can change and interpretations of the past are not enshrined in stone. Just look at how the discipline of social history has developed and many narratives have moved away from the once standard history of great white men.
Does the average museum visitor or average consumer of popular history realize the process that goes into presenting the past for consumption? I hope so, but I’m not so sure. Even if the museum exhibit or book is factual and well rounded, it is impossible to present every historical detail in any work. Historical narratives are made through selection and by selection’s very nature things are left out. No matter how accurate record keeping and oral history accounts are, our conceptions of the past are often imperfect and how we view the past is constantly evolving.
The Current on CBC has an interesting ongoing feature this year, which focuses on centenarians in Canada. The program 100@100 aims to speak to 100 Canadians over 100 years old in 2011. The program seems to have slowed down for the summer, but the Current has managed to speak with 29 centenarians so far. So unless the pace picks up greatly I’m not entirely sure the goal of recording 100 centenarians will be met.
I was initially drawn to this program as it allows people from all walks of life participate in oral history. The program also presents the memories and stories of the participants in a manner that is reminiscent of a Grandparent sharing experience. It also emphasizes the importance of recording personal and family histories before all memories are lost. Overall, its a great program if your interested in Canada’s oral history.
Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).
I have adjusted the prompt slightly to include moments where I have felt the most inspired and alive by events relating to history and heritage.
One of the most inspiring moments this year was during a digitization day held by the Huron Shores Museum. This museum is run purely by a dedicated group of volunteers. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the volunteers. The event allowed me to see the value of local history in small communities and the pride of this community’s history was tangible in the air that day. The Museum’s photos digitized that day and as part of the Community Digitzation Program can be seen here.
Another moment which sticks out from 2010 occurred a little over a month ago. I was invited to participate in the laying of wreathes and a smudge ceremony held in the Shingwauk cemetery. The laying of wreathes and smudging were done in memory of Shingwauk residential school students. It was a moving experience that provided me with a sense of commemoration and connection to the past.
Ages ago I wrote a post on Virtual Dark Tourism which examined the idea of virtual graveyards and the rise of on-line memorials. A Spark podcast recently brought the issue of ‘virtual mourning’ back to my mind. I recommend listening to the brief portion of the podcast which discusses virtual mourning and the impact which technology has had upon the way in which we express empathy.
The idea of technology changing the mourning experience, got me thinking about the way in which technology has impacted commemoration and historical memorials. It is now easier than ever to view historical monuments and memorials on-line. For example, you can take a virtual tour of the Juno Beach Center.This tour is fairly similar to most on-line virtual tours of museums and cultural centers, with the added layer of emphasis on remembering the contributions of Canadian soldiers during WWII. Is the on-line tour as striking as the physical memorial/center? Of course not. But, it does provide a glimpse into the ongoing commemoration of Juno Beach and allows people who will not have opportunity to visit Normandy a glimpse into the center.
How does an on-line presence fit into commemoration? Given the ability to enhance accessibility and to raise awareness through the use of digital mediums, historical commemoration projects can be greatly enhanced through the use of technology. The War of 1812 digitization and commemoration project is a great example of how commemoration can be enhanced through technology. Using the hosting, resource, and interface services provided by OurOntario a number of organizations from the Niagara region banded together to digitize their collection of artifacts relating to the War of 1812. The result of this endeavor can be searched here. This project increases access to a number of great museum collections and also increases awareness about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the War of 1812.
I don’t think online commemoration or virtual mourning can replace some aspects of the grieving and commemorative process. However, I do think that on-line memorials, collections, and virtual tourism can play a very important role in enhancing the commemorative experience.