December #builtheritage chat

This month’s #builtheritage twitter chat focused on preservation and the holidays.  There was an abundance of good festive promotion ideas,  examples of seasonal events, and

First portion of the chat focused on the question, How can you use the holidays to promote your historic site? Some of the proposed activities included:

  • Displaying old holiday photos on site or on social media
  • Holding seasonally themed events -teas, crafts, tours, etc
  • Holiday snacks! 
  • Holiday theater stage at the heritage site, eg. the Christmas Carol
  • Combine with other local events your activities with other local holiday events
  • For example, the distillery district in Toronto christmas market, draws thousands 
  • Watson’s Mill in Ottawa hosted a Christmas Fair and Art Show this past wknd.
  • As a backdrop to other heritage events, or as a venue for private holiday functions
  • Family ornament decorating activities

Second question of the chat, what is the most successful holiday program you have been to/organized at an historic site? Favourites included:


Third segment of the chat dealt with, How can we encourage people to shop locally in historic main streets?

  • Combine moonlight madness with other activities such as skating, caroling, etc.
  • Hold a Christmas festival downtown, and encourage all shops to decorate windows 
  • The main streets are just perfect for decorating – light it up!
  • Provide more parking
  • Ask the community what they want

The chat concluded with a discussion of How do you make sure your holiday activities are as inclusive (and/or multicultural) as possible?

  •  Heritage groups, municipalities should encourage all constituencies to celebrate their holiday traditions.
  • Having personalized items that can be customizable for any holiday
  • The new inclusive is to do lots of niche activities
  • Let the historic places speak for themselves. The best places evolve and change with the times if we let them

There was also some discussion about what topics participants would like to see in the 2012 #builtheritage chats.  Some suggestions included focusing on main street design issues, preservation 2.0, or the integration of youth in heritage groups.

Heritage Gift Giving

Tree of books

It’s that time of year where many of us are scrambling to find the perfect gift for a loved one.  Recently, a number of blogs and organizations have been posting gift suggestions for the heritage lovers in your life. Some of my favourite posted so far, include:

  Additionally, any of the heritage aficionados I know would love:

  • A subscription to Canada’s History Magazine.  It’s a great read for people inside and outside academia interested in Canadian History.
  • An annual membership to a local museum, art gallery, or heritage site. 
  • For the archival minded: a copy of Closed Stacks, Open Shutters. 

 Photo credit: flickr (shawncalhoun)

Jill Lapore and the Politicization of Birth Control

Margaret Sanger

The latest issue of the New Yorker contained an interesting article by Harvard history Professor Jill Lepore on the history of politicization of birth control and abortion.  Unfortunately the original article, Birthright, is behind the New Yorker’s pay wall, however an NPR interview and the New Yorker Out Loud provide a decent summary’s over Lepore’s work.

Lepore’s work highlights the development of the birth control movement under Margaret Sanger and the later attachment of politics and religion to the issue.  It is interesting to note that initially many clergy, church organizations, and politicians were pro birth control and held starkly different positions than they do today.  Lepore’s article also expands on the fundamental shift the birth control movement took as it evolved from American Birth Control League to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  Lepore also aim to tie in present day politics and view points into her examination of the past. 

The article plays into the large context and values of the period and overall provides an interesting political history approach to a topic which has traditionally been explored under the guise of women’s history or the history of sexuality. 

What are examples of other political approaches to the history of birth control? 

Photo credit: buttonknee

Canada Reads Non-Fiction 2012

Yesterday, the shortlist for CBC’s Canada Reads 2012 was announced. This year the contest is focusing exclusively on works of non-fiction and the shortlist includes a couple of history based works. The list includes:

Paris 1919 deals with the peace talks that took place after WWI and takes a look a both the social and political upheaval that existed following the war.  I’m also intrigued by Louis Riel by Chester Brown.  The work focuses on the life of Riel, but does so in as a graphic novel.  The graphic novel medium has the potential to reach audiences that may not normally be interested in a traditional work of history.  I’m interested in how accurately Brown’s work depicts Riel and the era.

Do you know of any other non-fiction graphic novels based on historical events? 

Heritage Preservation and Adaptive Reuse: Evergreen Brick Works

A recent Dwell feature focused on the Evergreen Brick Works development in Toronto. This 12 acre site is located at the former Don Valley Brick Works yard, which operated for over 100 years and during its prime produced more than 43 million bricks a year.


When Don Valley Brick Works closed in the 1980s the site fell into disrepair and the heritage buildings were left in a dilapidated state. In the 1990s Evergreen became responsible for the stewardship of the site and in 2002 the development of site’s current form began. Development of the site has focused on adaptive reuse, environmental sustainability and rehabilitation of the buildings.

A large portion of the original structures at the brick works yard have been preserved. For example, the Kilns portion of Evergreen was formally used to fire bricks has been maintained. The area still includes the original kilns and drying tunnels. Evergreen plans to use this space for art installations. The use of space in multiple ways seems like a great way to combine heritage with the interests of a variety of people. Additionally, Evergreen has taken an active role in heritage preservation, by collaborating with the City of Toronto Heritage Preservation Services and the Ontario Heritage Trust.

In addition to the preservation of buildings, this initiative has strove to develop the land on the site in a sustainable way. The site includes a plant demonstration space, a farmers market, and a park. It’s great to both the buildings and the landscape that surrounds them being thought of. A map of the entire site can be seen here.

Learning about the Evergreen Brick Works came as somewhat as a surprise, despite having grown up with in an hour of Toronto I had no idea that this initiative was taking place. The site is a great example of built heritage being preserved and made sustainable through adaptive reuse.

Citing in Popular Publishing

Recently, while at a friend’s house I picked up a local history book that was sitting on their coffee table. The book focused on the history of Espanola Ontario that was written by a local history enthusiast. In the introduction of the book, the author stated that he had not made an effort to record any sources; however if readers were curious they could contact him and he might be able to point them to where his information came from. Instantly, the academic historian in me cringed and I began to lament the state of local history writing.

However, upon later reflection I began to think about the larger question of citations in popular publishing, local history works, and public history writing. Footnotes or endnotes are standard practice in academic writing. But, they are rarely used in more popular publishing. In my mind good public history writing should find a way to cite information without being intrusive.

Digitally published information can include hyperlinks as a means of providing supplemental and source information without the formality of a footnote. Print publishing is faced with a slightly more arduous task of integrating sources into the flow of writing. Despite the many intrusive methods of citing information, good writers can seamlessly note where material derived from within the context of their writing. I think it is crucial that academic historians who desire to be accessible to a popular audience consider how to maintain historical credibility while appealing to the reading sensibilities of the public at large.

Public history works which immediately come to mind as having successfully integrated source material and popular writing include: Beautiful Barrie: The and its people, No Place to Run: The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the First World War (includes a well organized section of endnotes), and the majority of the articles printed in Canada’s History Magazine.

What works do you consider successful balances of academic and popular history writing?

Main Street Sudbury, circa 1910

This week’s Northern Ontario historical image is of the Main Street of Sudbury, circa 1910. The image is from the Archives of Ontario and is part of the Photographs of the Audio-Visual Education Branch series.

The Archives of Ontario also holds a number of historical maps of the communities within the Sudbury district. Many of these communities were eventually amalgamated to form the City of Greater Sudbury in 2001. The majority of these maps can be found in the Parent plans series, which contains maps showing the status of crown land from circa 1785 to 1970.

Fort William Grain Elevator

This week’s Northern Ontario historical photograph highlights a part of Thunder Bay’s history. The photograph is of the CPR grain elevators in Fort William, circa 1920. Fort William, Port Arthur and outlying townships amalgamated in January 1970 to form Thunder Bay. Fort William was established as a trading community and was essential in the movement of grain and other goods across the North.

This photograph is from Library and Archives Canada and is part of the Topley Studio fonds, which includes a number of interesting photographs of Ontario (predominantly the Ottawa region) from 1868-1926.

Additional photographs of the Fort William grain elevator and a great collection of historical photographs of the Thunder Bay region and Northwestern Ontario can be found on The Gateway to Northwestern Ontario site.

Northern Ontario Historical Photo of the Week: Algoma Steel

The idea to do a weekly photo series was inspired by Andrew Smith’s recent Historical Photograph of the Day feature over and on his blog and Kayla Jonas’ blog series on photography of Hamilton buildings. In the upcoming weeks I plan to focus on historical Northern Ontario images and to highlight the variety of sources available for local history research in the North.

This week’s Northern Ontario historical photograph of the week is of the Pickle Line at Algoma Steel (now known as Esar Steel) in Sault Ste Marie. This photo is from the local history collection held by the Public Library in Sault Ste Marie. A number of photographs from the library’s local history collection have been digitized and posted online using OurOntario.

The Impact of UNESCO Designation in Djenné, Mali

A recent episode of The Current on CBC radio examined the impact of The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on communities that are designated World Heritage Sites. The Current looked specifically at the designation of Dejenne. The episode looks at the contrast between preservation concerns and the needs of the people who live in the mud huts of Djenné.

The city of Djenné has existed since around 200-250 B.C., two thousand of the original mud based houses still exist today. The ‘old town’ is an example of the development from pre-Islamic civilization to a trading center, Sudanese-style architecture, and the well known Great Mosque. The Great Mosque and the other designated heritage buildings are all built from sun baked mud bricks. The visual appearance is stunning. However mud based bricks have inherent problems, especially in a region which frequently suffers from flooding.

The most prominent theme of the Current segment was the disconnect between UNESCO and some of the government bodies which agree to UNESCO designation. UNESCO designates heritage sites but it is not directly involved with the general upkeep and preservation of heritage sites. However, UNESCO does provide governing and preservation guidelines and governments agree to these guidelines when they agree to designation.

I haven’t previously put a lot of thought into how UNESCO sites are maintained and the potential problems which can arise from designation. There seems to be a clash between the desire of UNESCO to preserve heritage and the rise of tourism which comes from UNESCO designation. A number of countries see UNESCO designation as an instant way to increase tourism and revenue. Since the Great Mosque in Djenné was designated, millions of dollars have went into it’s upkeep and the city has also greatly benefited from an influx of tourism dollars. However, an influx of people visiting a heritage site has the potential to cause damage to the site itself. Emissions from motor vehicles, human contact, and careless but well intentioned visitors increase the risk of deteriorating heritage value.

There needs to be a balance between preservation, tourism, and accommodating the people who live in a UNESCO site. There are so many factors and parties involved that pleasing everyone without compromise is somewhat unrealistic. Places being considered for UNESCO or other heritage designation need to look at the concerns of all of the people that will be impacted by designation and how heritage can be preserved while still maintaining an acceptable standard of living.