Ottawa’s emphasis on Canadian history


The Harper government in Ottawa deserves to be given credit for its emphasis on Canada’s history. Some historians may claim the Prime Minister Steven Harper-led Conservatives cherry-pick specific events and people and put their own spin on what has happened in the nation’s past, but that shouldn’t detract too greatly from the fact that the government is doing its bit to promote Canadian history.
Sure, the government’s obsession with the War of 1812 didn’t exactly compel many Canadians to pick up a book about General Sir Isaac Brock or Tecumseh. Nor did conveniently ignoring last year’s anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a cornerstone of the 1982 Canadian Constitution, because Harper Conservatives abhor any acknowledgement of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s legacy — or any other Liberal prime minister’s accomplishments, for that matter — offend the sensibilities of Canadians. Such actions are merely shrugged off as part of political gamesmanship.
James Moore, the federal Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, announced a series of new measures in a press release to help promote Canadian history, including the first-ever Government of Canada History Awards.
“Canadians want to know more about our history,” said Moore, “and these new measures will make our history more accessible to all Canadians, particularly our youth. This is especially important as we approach Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, which provides an unprecedented opportunity to celebrate our history and the achievements that contributed to the unified, strong and free Canada we know today.”
The new measures include a Canada History Fund, the new awards to honour outstanding students and teachers showing an interest in Canada’s history, a partnership with Historica-Dominion Institute to create two new Heritage Minutes each year leading up to Canada’s 150th birthday,  access to funding for local organizations promoting Canadian history, and the designation of Canada History Week from July 1 to 7, beginning this year, so that Canadians become actively involved in celebration the nation’s past.
“History teaches us how we got to where we are as a country, along with a sense of where we are headed,” said Anthony Wilson-Smith, president of the Historica-Dominion Institute, a non-profit group that promote Canada’s history. “These new measures give Canadians important new tools to discuss and debate those lessons from our past.”
The Canada History Fund will receive $4.3 million per year in 2013-14, and then $6.5 million per year as of 2014-15. The fund will provide up to 225 secondary school students and up to 30 secondary school teachers from across Canada — all provinces and territories —with awards of $1,000 and $2,000, respectively. To ensure the independence of the process, the awards will be administered by Canada’s History Society, the group that publishes Canada’s History magazine, which was formerly known as The Beaver.
“They do not interfere with the provincial and territorial education systems,” according to the press release, “but rather promote an appreciation of Canadian history by rewarding excellence from teachers and students who choose to compete.”
The above statement is necessary to assure the provinces that the federal government is not infringing on the provincial responsibility of education as per the Canadian Constitution.
In total new funding for the various measures will be $12 million, which will be used by various groups to top up federal funding they now receive.
The fund will provide $400,000 to the Historica-Dominion Institute for the production of the new Heritage Minutes. The institute has been producing new one-minute segments for a number of years. A recent Heritage Minute is about Agnes Macphail, who in 1921 became the first woman to be elected as a Member of Parliament.
The Speakers Bureau of the Memory Project, another Historica-Dominion program, will also receive an additional $100,000 in order that more veterans and serving soldiers to relate their experiences in classrooms. The Memory Project now receives $100,000 in federal funding.
The Dictionary of Canadian Biography and the Canadian Encyclopedia will receive a funding increase from $2.25 million to $2.61 million to be used to increase canadian history content in these on-line publications.
Five existing programs for funding local organizations promoting Canadian history in their communities will also receive additional funding from Canadian Heritage.
“With so many significant anniversaries in the coming years, the historical community has a unique opportunity to change a whole generation of Canadians’ attitudes toward their past in much the same Expo 67 transformed our view of Canadian arts and culture,” said Deborah Morrison, president and CEO of Canada’s History Society. “The Canada History Fund will provide us with the resources we need to seize that opportunity — to create new content and actively engage young Canadians in the telling of our stories.”
“Canadian history is all around us,” said John G. McAvity, the executive director of the Canadian Museums Association. “However, it is rarely taught in schools; it is seen, not heard, and is forgotten by most Canadians. These new measures will greatly help bring our history alive. This includes not just formal or academic history, but more importantly, the stories of Canada, pleasant and unpleasant as they are, of everyday Canadians, whether it is found in our art, artifacts or documents.”
McAvity has pointed out one sad fact about the Canadian school system — most provinces “ignore” Canadian history at the high school level. In Manitoba, it is taught in just Grade 11, and is always under threat of being dropped as a compulsory course. A few years ago such a threat was issued, but a public outcry resulted in the Manitoba government maintaining its status on the high school curriculum.
Any increase in funding for history programs and promotions is welcome news, as such the federal government deserves kudos for its recent announcement. 
Meanwhile, the Real Estate News will continue to do it’s own bit to promote Manitoban and Canadian history through its weekly Heritage Highlights feature.
In 1905, philosopher George Santayana summed up the importance of history in a poignant phrase: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”