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Reclaiming spaces at Canada’s History Forum and the 2015 Governor General’s History Awards

Stacey Devlin

Humanity has an incurable habit of imposing meaning onto our surroundings. We transform every place we encounter into a landscape of the imagination, tinged by interpretation and experience, and populated by locations like “hometown,” “favourite fishing spot,” “sacred site,” and “mother country.” The tourism industry has long taken advantage of this to construct narratives which inspire travel, but place has also featured prominently in our interactions with the past.

Commemorations often focus on place – declaring not only that an event occurred, but that it occurred here. But who determines what places are important, why they are significant, or how they can be used? How can space be reclaimed for marginalized voices to share interpretations of what those spaces mean to them?

During this year’s Canada’s History Forum and the Governor General’s History Awards, held in Ottawa a little over a week ago, I had the opportunity to hear about some of Canada’s most exciting historical projects – and many of them use place as a vehicle for sharing those less-heard stories. From Parliament Hill to our dusty attics, people are turning to locations both familiar and rarely seen to share alternative perspectives of the past.