As the 2018 Heritage Fairs season approaches, I am once again very excited to see what projects students have created.
“Heritage” and “history” are often used interchangeably. History – especially historical thinking – is the primary focus of the Heritage Fairs. However, the Heritage Fairs program not only serves as a learning tool to introduce Canadian history, but it also teaches students how to think about their own heritage – their own places in history and identities as Canadians.
There are many inspirational quotes circulating along the lines of “if you don’t know where you’re coming from, you don’t know where you’re going” or “when you know your history, you know yourself”. However, these quotes circulate because they have measures of truth to them. It is vital to learn about history and understand the heritage that we have received from that history. Knowing our history continues to shape our identity as Canadians in 2018.
We all have our “own” histories – those of ourselves and our families. As well, whether we have lived in them long or not, we are a part of communities with their own histories. Furthermore, we are a part of regional and national histories, all of which are slightly different. These stories are continually changing, both as time moves forward and as we re-evaluate what is meaningful about our pasts.
I am often asked what makes a good Heritage Fair topic. Our criteria is very broad: any topic that relates to Canadian heritage. From there, teachers can decide if they want to narrow down the criteria for their class or school. Some schools in the past have done local individuals; some classes have done explorers; some schools have taken a particular theme depending on the year, such as topics about Ukrainian-Canadians in 2016 or Canadian identity in 2017. Others have had the students research their ethnic background.
The vast majority let the students pick their topics, with some guidance. Canadian entertainers? Sure. Disasters? Absolutely. Science? Industry? Sports? Check, check, check. Culture, social justice, environmental conservation, military battles …the options are endless. Sometimes, the student is the connection to Canada, telling the story of the country they were born in or where their parents came from. Others are telling the story of their families who have lived here for millennia.
The important thing is that the students have a personal connection with their topic – even if that connection is only that they are passionate about it. That personal connection is what drives their research, makes them want to share their story, and makes them realise how they themselves are a part of Canada’s history.
The goal of the Heritage Fairs program is not to create future historians or museum curators (although there are undoubtedly those among the students), but to shape young citizens who have strong critical and historical thinking skills, and who have an understanding of the living heritage that surrounds them in their families, communities, and country.
Katherine Gilks, Education Coordinator, Heritage Saskatchewan
Katherine joined Heritage Saskatchewan in 2013 and is responsible for the Heritage Fairs program for the province of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about heritage, education, and sharing stories. A native of Regina, Katherine received her B.A. (History) from the University of Victoria and her M.L.I.S. from the University of Western Ontario. Among her various previous places of employment are the Greater Victoria Public Library and the Regina Plains Museum (now the Civic Museum of Regina).