Academic journal article Manitoba History

Commemorating Ethnocultural Communities in Manitoba

Academic journal article Manitoba History

Commemorating Ethnocultural Communities in Manitoba

Article excerpt

On December 11, 2004 the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and Parks Canada convened a workshop in Winnipeg to discuss ideas and approaches to the commemoration of the history of Canada's--and Manitoba's--diverse population. (1) This workshop, which included participants from the academic and heritage communities, (2) represents one part of a larger set of initiatives undertaken across Canada to increase recognition of the role of ethnocultural communities in the history of Canada. (3)

Since its establishment in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has designated roughly 1800 persons, places and events across Canada as having national historical significance. The numbers of commemorations in each of these three categories are just under 900 places or structures, slightly under 600 persons, and over 350 events. Taken together these commemorations are broadly representative of the range of Canadian history, but they do under-represent the important contributions to Canadian history of three identifiable groups: women, Aboriginal peoples, and ethnocultural communities. As a result, Parks Canada and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada are committed "to do more to mark the achievements of Canada's Aboriginal peoples, women, and ethnocultural communities." (4)

The program of national designations relies heavily on the participation of the Canadian public in the nomination of potential national historic sites. At present, approximately 90% of all new designations considered by the HSMBC are the result of letters of nomination received from the public. In addition, roughly 80% of all national historic sites are owned or managed by individuals, community associations, not-for-profit groups, private interests, or municipal or provincial agencies rather than the government of Canada.

By publishing a summary of the workshop proceedings in Manitoba History, Parks Canada and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada hope to encourage members of the Manitoba Historical Society and others with an interest in the history of western Canada to think about what subjects should be commemorated as nationally significant. The involvement of representatives from provincial and municipal heritage agencies also underlines the fact that persons, places and events of historical significance can be commemorated by all three levels of government, and that all are interested in hearing ideas of what should be preserved and interpreted from the public.

The criteria the HSMBC applies to nominations for designation are that any potential new national historic site in Canada needs either to have had "a nationally significant and enduring impact" on Canadian history or it must clearly "illustrate" such an impact. Potential designations are assessed by the HSMBC on a case-by-case basis, but the board is governed by some well-established criteria.

In the case of persons, there is a requirement that the individual being considered for designation has been deceased for 25 years. This is a reasonably common criterion applied in other areas as well such as geographic naming. It is intended to ensure that decisions to commemorate individuals are made with the benefit of a certain historical perspective. The one exception to this rule is that Prime Ministers of Canada are generally, but not automatically, deemed nationally significant at the time of their death. As a result, many potentially interesting commemorations of people from ethnocultural communities will simply have to wait for a few more years before they can be considered. In the case of historically significant events, these should have occurred at least 40 years previously, or before 1965. Once again, this delay allows for a certain distance and perspective on the significance of events to develop.

Historic places can be designated for four main reasons: exceptional creative achievement; a cultural tradition, way of life or idea (a significant consideration in the area of folk architecture); association with a person of national historic importance, or association with an event of national historic importance. …

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