The hole in Canadian history – by Dieter K. Buse (Toronto Star – August 11, 2013)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Northeastern Ontario has just two National Historic interpretative centres.

Congratulations to Parks Canada for having obtained another World Heritage Site designation. Canada’s 17th such site acknowledges the importance of Red Bay, the 17th century Basque whaling station in Labrador. Perhaps the publicity will inspire more people to experience such sites and to learn more about our diverse heritage. The sites recognize special geographic, geological, biological but especially cultural and historic places. Hence in Canada they include Gros Morne, the Klondike, the Rocky Mountain parks and the core of Quebec City.

However, this achievement needs to be seen in a larger context, and some bones picked with Parks Canada. If one looks at the location of Canada’s sites — easily done on the Parks Canada website map — one finds that many are located in remote and isolated areas. Perhaps that merely reflects the nature of our vast, lightly settled country.

Yet, it does pose the question why no significant place has been identified between the Rideau Canal system near Ottawa and Dinosaur Park in Saskatchewan? Do not some important, special landscapes, such as those made iconic by the Group of Seven, exist between those points? Have no important historical events occurred in such a large area?

Such questions lead from World Heritage Sites to our National Historic Sites which are also managed by Parks Canada. A board representing all the provinces sets policy and guidelines for the Canadian system. Over a thousand events, places and people have been identified as worthy of note and most are recognized by a plaque. In fact, 167 are recognized as special in that they are blessed with an interpretative centre staffed by guides and curators. The spatial distribution of those sites can again easily be seen by Parks Canada’s interactive website.

An imbalance is evident even more than with the World Heritage Sites because a huge region, namely all of northeastern Ontario has only two interpretative centres, one at Fort St. Joseph on St. Joseph Island, the other at the locks and canal at Sault Ste. Marie, the world’s first electrically powered locks. Given that the Yukon and Newfoundland/Labrador each have at least six such interpretative centres, is it not odd that no centre exists for the whole region between Ottawa and Fort St. Joseph and north to Hudson’s Bay?

One could ask if this situation is due to Ontario’s representatives on the board. As far as can be ascertained, none has come from north of Peterborough. Or is it because southern Ontario historians have largely left many important historical issues aside when advocating heritage sites? Surely, it is not due to a lack of significant historical places.

Two can illustrate the point. The Trout Lake-French River portage at Lavase just east of North Bay was utilized by at least the following explorers: Brulé, Champlain, Radisson and Grosseilliers, de La Vérendrye, MacKenzie and Thompson. They mapped and in many ways made Canada a land stretching along an east-west axis. Roman Catholic missionaries such as Brébeuf too travelled this route.

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