The Heritage Fairs Society is very proud of the collection of “Historic Places Videos” featured in the Inspiration Gallery. Our core principles express the desire that young people see history around them in their homes and communities and recognize how local stories connect with national and international histories. Thanks to the support of Heritage BC and the Young Citizens program, the students featured on the website have been able to realize these goals.
The videos are examples of place-based learning, that is, using the local community and environment as important resources for learning. Many scholars see attachment to place as fundamental to human experience. One can argue that a growing sense of “placelessness” amongst Canadians is one reason for the degradation of both the natural and built environment. We no longer depend on local foods, energy sources, or people to live. Familiar buildings and landmarks are torn down and stories are lost.
Yet people identify with the place where they live or work. The creeks, canneries, railway yards, schools and homes featured in these videos have meaningful connections. Place-based learning has a great potential for engaging students, nurturing a sense of place, and providing opportunities for historical thinking.
This is even more the case when the Heritage Fair project is both place-based and family-based. Researchers for Canadians and Their Pasts used a massive telephone survey and other research methods to probe the general interest of Canadians in and understanding of the past. Although Canadians reported that they see a number of different pasts as important – including the past of our country – it is the past of their family that was most often rated “very important” (66%). Historic Places videos such as those on the Canadian steam engine, the Empress of China, Mount Pleasant and the Arthur Laing Bridge echo both place and ancestors.
History based on historic places can give students an opportunity to “do history”, a key element of the new inquiry-based social studies curriculum. From oral histories to streetscapes the “primary sources” to interpret are close at hand.
One of the challenges for students doing a research project on a historic site, especially those working independently without teacher guidance, is to recognize how the meaning of their site may have changed over time and may have different meanings for different groups. The process of colonization has changed the landscape drastically. Many local stories and meanings have been marginalized or lost all together.
Not all but some of these videos such as those on Granville Island and Port Essington do try to uncover this past. The video on the now vanished “Hogan’s Alley” asks us to remember the once vibrant neighbourhood in order to recognize the importance of Blacks in Canada’s history. “Endangered Past” and “My Heritage Home” go further and raise ethical questions about the destruction of heritage sites. “Canada’s Untold Story: Residential Schools” and “The Komagata Maru Story” also raise ethical questions about how we should respond to the past injustices reflected in historic places.
History educator Tim Stanley argues that the first challenge for history education is “to enable each one of us to explore his or her own past, to construct a narrative that explains how it is that we come to inhabit common spaces, and to allow others to see and engage with these narratives. A second challenge is to help people see how their personal histories intertwine with those of the multiple communities to which they are connected… A third task is to provide all of us with a sense of how these spaces we inhabit have been constructed by people who have gone before.”
As these videos show, Heritage Fairs students can rise to Tim Stanley’s challenges.
 Tim Stanley, “Racism, Grand Narratives, and Canadian History” in To the Past: History Education, Public Memory, and Citizenship in Canada, edited by Ruth Sandwell ( Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), 47.