Katherine Gilks, Projects Coordinator
Last week, Heritage Saskatchewan (in collaboration with the Heritage Conservation Branch of the Ministory of Parks, Culture, and Sport) hosted our Heritage Forum titled, Our Places - Our Stories That Matter. It was a wonderful day at the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon where we had a host of presentations about our heritage, places of importance, and the stories that bring them together.
The common thread throughout the day was story and how these stories make up our heritage and give places meaning. These stories bring layers of perspective, particularly about places of significance.
I will start with the last session on ethically collecting oral histories, conducted by Tom Van Dewark of Know History. In discussing oral history, he used the example of a family's summer trip to demonstrate how people's perspectives of the same event will vary. Children might remember having fun with their cousins and exploring somewhere new (or alternatively remember being tired and bored), while the parents might remember worrying about money or having a rough patch in their marriage. Different family members might remember it as a great trip or the "trip from Hell". Layered upon these memories are our newer experiences and hindsight. Later in adulthood, the children might recall how their parents acted and realise that the reason their parents steered them away from getting ice cream was because they could not afford to buy everyone a treat and still pay for enough gas to get to Grandma's house. These new perspectives enhance the old ones.
This example of layered and varying perspectives tied back to earlier presentations: Dr. Ernie Walker's keynote address about Wanuskewin Heritage Park; Deeter Schurig's presentation on the cSpace King Edward Arts & Culture Hub in Calgary; presentations from David Siebert and Robert Pajot of the National Trust for Canada on places of faith; Dr. Vanessa Mathews's presentation on the growing craft beer industry in Saskatchewan and its relationship to heritage buildings and localism; and a panel on heritage tourism moderated by Kwame Neba (of Tourism Saskatchewan) and featuring Stephanie Clovechok of Tourism Saskatoon, Mayor Ryan Reiss of Vibank, and Bevra Fee of Spiritwood.
In discussions about places that matter, we can find ourselves losing perspective -- ignoring or forgetting some stories in favour of others. Every individual will have a slightly different story about a place. Our favourite places have specific meanings to us. Places of faith in particular resonated with many Forum attendees. A church in a small town with only an annual service, for example, will have many stories: those from citizens who still live in the town and drive past the church regularly; those from elderly citizens/former citizens who recall the days when the church used to be full; those from former citizens who moved away and recall childhood church events; those from younger relatives who only know the church as a family pilgrimage site; etc. There are those who want to use the church for other purposes, those who cannot bear to part with it, those who are main concerned with the cemetery, and more.
These different stories also apply equally to other types of buildings. CSpace King Edward, formerly King Edward School, was opened in the 2010s in a formerly decommissioned school that had been built in 1912. Of special importance was the early history of the school, including the fact that its first principal (William "Bible Bill" Aberhart) put on one of the first school plays in the city and later went on to be a famous and controversial Alberta premier. However, the school was only closed as a school in 2000, meaning 40,000 students attended over nearly ninety years. Thus, while the new facility paid tribute to the 1910s, it also included later stories such as preserving the 1960s gym floor as an art installation.
Another common thread throughout the presentations was having a place to come together to tell and share our stories. Wanuskewin Heritage Park was created to conserve and celebration Indigenous culture, archaeology of the Plains, and local prairie landscapes (including flora and fauna). It is now a gathering place to tell these stories, whether through oral storytelling from elders, activities with interpreters, or living experiences of the natural landscape -- now including bison!
These places are continuously evolving as communities change. What used to be a school is now a hub for artists and non-profits; churches and convents become community centres, while other churches become mosques; car dealerships become microbreweries; pharmacies become coffee shops...etc. These are all part of a place's many ongoing stories.