Monday, June 15, 2009

Upper Canada Villiage: Historical Tourism or Commericalism?

Should heritage facilities and organizations be restricted to featuring historically correct events? Any reputable museum or similar institution should have a mandate which outlines which historical period the institution focuses on. However, during times of economic hardship can historical institutions be blamed for attempting to attract visitors by reaching outside of their mandate?

This past Saturday Upper Canada Village held a medieval festival, complete with knights and jousting. The justification for this event, that is clearly outside of the historical scope of the Village, is that the park needs to attract more visitors. Many have been critical of this and other moves by the park, suggesting that the park is becoming overly commercialized. On Saturday, members of the Lost Villages Historical Society and other concerned park patrons protested outside the medieval festival. The Lost Villages Society has also raised some concerns over the safety of artifacts inside the Village, as many of them are out of the view of staff and could easily be stolen. One of my concerns is that without the proper context and explanation of why a medieval festival is being held, some visitors may assume that this type of festival actually occurred in Upper Canada in the 1880s.

Who is in the right in this instance? Should the park be allowed to do whatever is necessary to attract visitors? Or does the park have a responsibility to stick to it's mandate? How much commercialism is too much? And when does a historical organization begin to lose it's credibility?

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