Katherine Gilks, Education Coordinator
For 2019, Heritage Saskatchewan and the Ministry of Parks, Culture, and Sport have partnered to host a one-day Heritage Forum this Thursday, February 21. It will explore the theme Heritage & Wellbeing: The Importance of Place. (Further details about the Heritage Forum and other Heritage Week events can be found here.)
The importance of place as it relates to heritage and wellbeing will be explored from many angles: Indigenous rights, Truth & Reconciliation, aging populations, affordable housing, healthcare, neighbourhood design, and community planning. Experts from a diverse range of fields will discuss the interplay of place and wellbeing and explore the contributions that heritage makes to the creation of healthy, sustainable communities.
The places where we live have a big impact on our health and wellbeing. This impact can be positive, negative, or a combination of both. From how our communities are planned and built, to how cultural traditions and social connections are supported and nurtured, quality of “place” is a key determinant in physical and mental health of individuals and in the health overall of communities.
We can easily see how a sense of place can impact individuals. Where we are from, where we live now, and where we want to be form core pieces of our identity (whether or not all three of those match). The community that we live in can make or break us. As social creatures, humans crave connectedness. In this way, our heritage connects us.
Unfortunately, a sense of place can also negatively affect individuals in that this “place” is assigned to them. It can be based on a hierarchy, such as in the expression “know your place”, or based on stereotypes (demographic, cultural, ethnic, gender, sexual, etc.). This can be stretched out to whole communities. Many communities are continuously fighting for their place in Saskatchewan and Canada – to be heard, recognised, and accepted. In this way, our heritage can often act as a barrier or detriment.
When we talk about our shared heritage, we may not have the same idea of what that means. “Heritage”, originally a synonym for “inheritance”, has come to mean many things. As an adjective, it often means “old-fashioned”, “vintage”, “retro”, or “nostalgic”. When applied to buildings, it usually means simply “old” or “old and worth keeping for some reason or another”. As a noun, heritage can refer to many things including history, culture, environment, language, ethnic ancestry, and combinations thereof.
Even if we are talking about the same thing, such as the history of our community, we often do not have the same perspective about our shared heritage. To go down to the level of the individual: two adults meet up again several years after they went their separate ways after high school graduation. One reminisces fondly of the good times they had together while the other smiles and nods, distinctly remembering that they were bullied constantly and could not wait to graduate and leave. Their school experience is their shared heritage, but they have distinct perspectives of it. As a larger community, our shared heritage is a series of individual perspectives. There are many layers of shared heritage at a provincial and national level.
I often get asked “what is considered heritage?” – especially in relating to Heritage Fairs topics. (In that case, it is “anything relating to Canada.”) When we are talking about our global heritage, the answer is “everything”.
What does this have to do with the importance of place? Everything about our lives relates to heritage. It is not just something cute, like an old home designed like a gingerbread house. It is not something just in the past that we need to “let go”. It is not just about where your ancestors lived and the fun aspects of their cultures. Heritage is where we have been, where we are, and where we want to go. It makes us who we are.