Monday, 30 June 2008

Canadians are more interested in, and know more about, the past than ever

The Sunday Toronto Star has a noteworthy article Sir John A. Who? that starts out by quoting the dismal results from last November's Dominion Institute national survey of what Canadians feel most defines our country.

"Only half of Canadians can name the first Prime Minister," declares the homepage of the Dominion Institute, an organization that has administered a basic history test to 18- to 24-year-olds each Canada Day for more than a decade.

The Star article then contrasts that with results from a multi-university study quoting Margaret Conrad, a professor of history at the University of New Brunswick. Contrary to what doomsayers might think Conrad argues that Canadians are more interested in, and know more about, the past than ever – thanks in part to new communication technologies that give academia and the rest of the world "a possibility for convergence."

Far from being ill-informed or apathetic, the study says 95 per cent of us engage with the past in at least one way. Many of those ways are non-traditional but familiar to genealogists. We keep scrapbooks and preserve photos (83 per cent). We visit museums and historic sites (57 per cent) and watch historical films (81 per cent).

The article cites examples of people researching their family history, stories for which the name of the first prime minister is essentially irrelevant.

Conrad is quoted "People intersect with that national narrative in many different ways, and that's not something that we can control, nor do we want to control." Does that reflect the perspective of Canada's heritage nabobs?

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