Thanks for the lesson

July 31, 2020   ·   0 Comments

I want to thank Brian Lockhart for his important Opinion column in defense of ‘Local History’ (Citizen, July 23/20), which speaks to the apparent devaluation of local heritage in our busy Canadian lives. His memories of a childhood exploring the deep roots of Ontario history in the Niagara region, often shepherded by well-informed adults, is shared by many of us of a certain age. He recounts the fascinating history of Dufferin County itself, nurtured and communicated by many community storytellers and our own Museum of Dufferin. Indeed, he praises the fine work done by our County Museum to promote Dufferin heritage; and as he reminds us, a child’s first appreciation for their place in history, comes from family lore and experience.

However, when it comes to finding fault as to why he thinks local history doesn’t hold prominence among 21st youth, Mr. Lockhart trots-out an old trope for blame – the teachers. He tells his readers that he has spoken to young people he knows, none of whom can remember learning any local history at school – at all. 

This should come as no surprise to anyone in Ontario. But if it does, might I offer-up a brief history lesson as explanation.  

• The Museum of Dufferin (MoD) has a fine local history program for young people and is unique among municipal museums in having in its employ, a certified teacher to deliver their engaging programs in Dufferin schools. Yet the cost of bussing students to the MoD and the recent restrictions placed on school field trips, often limits the effectiveness of these excellent programs.

• As many will recall, the MoD was host to the Digital Historian Project dedicated to local history, which ran an entire semester for students from all 3 Dufferin Secondary schools for four years. Sadly, this program fell victim to budgetary cuts in 2019, but it won several awards, both national and provincial during its brief existence.

• Much local history was taught in our Dufferin schools when a ‘Dufferin County Board of Education’ existed. Following amalgamation with Wellington County (to create the UGDSB in 1997), many of those unique projects disappeared. It may seem a small point, but losing a ‘local school district’ that had existed for almost a century, has an effect on local culture and traditions.

• In 2000, the Conservative government of Mike Harris dropped ‘local history’ as a discrete topic amidst their curricular revision process for all Ontario students. Thereafter, design and deployment of any local history projects for Ontario students could only be offered as a ‘locally-developed’ program unique to one or more schools in a jurisdiction. Often, programs such as the CDDHS Battlefields Program could only be run with consent of a Principal and Superintendent.

• As subjects like ‘science and math’ came to prominence in the early 2000’s (largely due to the intrusion of EQAO and the ‘culture of testing’) in our schools, subjects like history came to be seen as ‘less important’ – local history, even less-so. The implications of this are being played-out before our eyes in 2020.

• Given the diminution of Canadian history in our Ontario schools, fewer & fewer ‘history specialists’ were hired as teachers – a reality I witnessed first-hand long before my retirement.

Despite all of this, many Dufferin teachers do some fine local history projects with their students – it would be great for them to receive acclaim and coverage in The Citizen.

Mr. Lockhart is correct when he suggests that “(I)t’s important to keep local history alive”  – many of us have spent their careers trying to do so. However, Canadian citizens all have a stake in the preservation of our collective stories, and those same citizens must regularly contact their MPP and School Officials to make the case.  

Finally, I have three easy suggestions for Dufferin citizens who (like Mr. Lockhart) believe local history is important:

• Take your family on a tour of Dufferin County to learn the stories of the Townships, Concessions, churches, service clubs and communities

• Join the MoD and spend some time there volunteering, reading & learning

• Advocate to keep Dufferin Libraries open, our clubs well funded, our memorials preserved and our students learning Canadian history at school.

I might challenge Mr. Lockhart to wander down the hallway at The Citizen to inquire of The Editor, as to why the paper abandoned its long-standing coverage of local history itself. The Stories for the Archives (100/50/10 years ago) were great portals for learning about Local History. At one time, The Citizen published a column on Local History with each edition – that vanished long-ago. So we all play a role in nurturing our history….even Local Newspapers.

Neil Orford

Orangeville resident


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