Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Legends Project

The Legends Project began in 2002 as a small CBC initiative in Iqaluit, Nunavut to record, archive, and create radio dramas of the oral traditions of Inuit and First Nation communities in Canada. Eventually these oral stories and dramatizations were played on CBC Radio in both English and their original Indigenous language.

Currently, the project has eleven segments, each of which highlights the unique culture and language of a distinct community. In addition to being broadcast nationally the Legends Project allows for a high quality recording of endangered languages and traditions to be preserved. Each segment is a unique mixture of English and indigenous language and song, and provides a unique look into traditional practices of a community.

The most recent segment of the Project focuses on the traditions of the Ahtahkakoop, a Plains Cree nation in Sandy Lake, Saskatchewan. This segment highlights the linguistic, cultural, and social struggles of members of the Ahtahkakoop. It also retells a number of the community's traditional stories about creation, family, respect, and survival.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Museum of Online Museums

I recently came across the Museum of Online Museums (MoOM) site. The site is one of the initiatives undertaken by Coudal Partners, a company focused on design, web publishing, advertising, and commerce. Sadly the site isn't useful as a searchable database of museum exhibits and it is a bit awkward to navigate. However, it does provide an interesting look at a seemingly random collection of online "museum" exhibits. Note: Museum has been placed in quotes as the site uses the term museum very loosely and includes links to exhibits from personal collections.

The main feature of MoOM is an aggregate list site of museums with online exhibits and virtual exhibits. The Museum Campus portion of the site highlights some of the more well known museums (eg. Smithsonian, MoMA, and the Virtual Museum of Canada) which have an online presence. This list in an interesting mixture of institutions and it's not entirely clear what criteria an institution must meet to be placed on the list.

The site also includes a section devoted to interesting small collections and galleries. The majority of these exhibits are hosted on personal websites and are not affiliated with a heritage organization. For the most part this Galleries, Exhibits, and Shows portion of the site focuses on personal collections not on museums. Some of the more interesting collections currently in this section include: the Library of Dust, The Tiny Pineapple Nurse Book Collection, the Matchbook Registry, and the advertising gallery Found in Mom's Basement.

Although I didn't find the Museums of Online Museums site horribly useful from a heritage professional or educational standpoint, the site did provide an interesting look at what people outside of the heritage field consider to be museums or collections.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Heritage Preservation and Adaptive Reuse: Evergreen Brick Works

A recent Dwell feature focused on the Evergreen Brick Works development in Toronto. This 12 acre site is located at the former Don Valley Brick Works yard, which operated for over 100 years and during its prime produced more than 43 million bricks a year.

When Don Valley Brick Works closed in the 1980s the site fell into disrepair and the heritage buildings were left in a dilapidated state. In the 1990s Evergreen became responsible for the stewardship of the site and in 2002 the development of site’s current form began. Development of the site has focused on adaptive reuse, environmental sustainability and rehabilitation of the buildings.

A large portion of the original structures at the brick works yard have been preserved. For example, the Kilns portion of Evergreen was formally used to fire bricks has been maintained. The area still includes the original kilns and drying tunnels. Evergreen plans to use this space for art installations. The use of space in multiple ways seems like a great way to combine heritage with the interests of a variety of people. Additionally, Evergreen has taken an active role in heritage preservation, by collaborating with the City of Toronto Heritage Preservation Services and the Ontario Heritage Trust.

In addition to the preservation of buildings, this initiative has strove to develop the land on the site in a sustainable way. The site includes a plant demonstration space, a farmers market, and a park. It’s great to both the buildings and the landscape that surrounds them being thought of. A map of the entire site can be seen here.

Learning about the Evergreen Brick Works came as somewhat as a surprise, despite having grown up with in an hour of Toronto I had no idea that this initiative was taking place. The site is a great example of built heritage being preserved and made sustainable through adaptive reuse.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Historypin vs. WhatWasThere

My most recent post can be seen over at It is the first post in Active History's new website review section. My review looks at place based history websites, and specifically the differences between Historypin and WhatWasThere.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Built Heritage Chat on Sustainability

Today was the second #builtheritage chat. This month's chat focused on sustainability. The majority of the chat focused on the links between sustainability in the heritage field and the environmental movement. A complete transcript is available here.

The first portion of the chat focused on the question What do the heritage #preservation and the environmental movements have in common? A number of interesting similarities we brought up and a emphasis was placed on the idea of the two movements working together. This portion of the chat also highlighted the importance of seeing heritage preservation as something beyond reusing buildings and as something with can be beneficial to the environment. The participant @wanderu made a great point that both movements focus on cultural landscapes. This point seems symbolic of the overarching commonalities of heritage and environmental movements.

The second question raised in the chat was How are the #heritage #preservation and #environmental movements different? This responses to this question highlighted many of the seeming contradictions between heritage preservation and environmentalism, such as: buildings been seen as obstacles in environmentalism, and private ownership in the heritage movement and the public nature of the environment. Chat moderator @jonaskayla pointed to the Banff Wheeler House as an example of the environment and heritage in conflict. Despite these seeming conflicts the general feel of the chat still emphasized the similarities of the two movements.

The third portion of the chat focused on the question What can we as heritage professionals and advocates learn from the environmental movement? The responses emphasized the need of the heritage field to learn about promotion, the use of statistics, marketing, and highlighting the benefits of heritage preservation. One of the most retweeted points in this section was from @perkinswill_PR and emphasized that it is necessary "Separate preservation from obstructionism! Preservation is about the FUTURE, not putting the past in a pickle jar." Preservation needs to be made relevant to present and future concerns.

The final segment of the chat focused on how the movements can work together to achieve sustainability. Some general themes which came out of this discussion included: the need to network outside of your own field, the benefits of finding common ground in policy and political advocacy initiatives, and the need for give and take on both sides.

Overall, this chat included a lot of great ideas, positive thoughts, and points to consider. It was interesting to see that the overwhelming majority of participants believed in the benefits of combining heritage and environmental preservation movements. The next #builtheritage chat will be on May 4th at 4pm and will focus on building a career and job hunting in the preservation field.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Ermatinger Old Stone House

I recently made a visit to the The Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. The site includes the original Ermatinger stone house and the Clergue Blockhouse. The Ermatinger house is locally known as the Old Stone House and was built between 1812-1814. The house is the oldest stone house north of Toronto. The first resident of the House was Charles Oakes Ermatinger (1776-1833), who was a prominent figure in Lake Superior trading.

The initiative to make preserve the Ermatinger house began in the last 1960s and currently operates as a house museum which reflects the domestic and professional life of Charles Oakes Ermatinger and other prominent residents the House between 1808 and 1870. The physical structure of the house has been remodeled to look like it did in the era of Ermatinger.

In 1996 the Clergue Blockhouse was to be demolished for the expansion of the St. Mary's Paper Mill. As a result of community and heritage efforts the building was moved to the Ermatinger House site in 1996. The lower portion of the Blockhouse was constructed in 1819 as was part of a powder magazine belonging to the Northwest Company. In 1894, Francis Hector Clergue bought the property surrounding the old powder magazine. Clergue converted powder magazine into a space suitable for his home and office. It is this stage of the Blockhouse that has been restored in the historic site.

I will admit that prior to my visit to the site I had little background knowledge of either buildings or residents of buildings. It was interesting to learn about the place of these buildings in local history. Additionally, the combination of the two buildings on the same site also allows for the emphasis of Sault Ste Marie as a trading hub and allows the site to provide educational programming on the fur trade and local industry. However, overall I think I was most interested in the local efforts undertaken to return both buildings to their former states. The site highlights the potential of local history sites and the ongoing efforts which are required to preserve heritage buildings.