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Manitoba History: Commemorating Ethnocultural Communities in Manitoba

by Michael Payne
Edmonton, Alberta

Number 50, October 2005

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

On 11 December 2004 the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and Parks Canada convened a workshop in Winnipeg to discuss ideas and approaches to the commemoration of the history of Canada’s – and Manitoba’s - diverse population. [1] This workshop, which included participants from the academic and heritage communities, [2] represents one part of a larger set of initiatives undertaken across Canada to increase recognition of the role of ethnocultural communities in the history of Canada. [3]

Since its establishment in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has designated roughly 1800 persons, places and events across Canada as having national historical significance. The numbers of commemorations in each of these three categories are just under 900 places or structures, slightly under 600 persons, and over 350 events. Taken together these commemorations are broadly representative of the range of Canadian history, but they do under-represent the important contributions to Canadian history of three identifiable groups: women, Aboriginal peoples, and ethnocultural communities. As a result, Parks Canada and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada are committed “to do more to mark the achievements of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, women, and ethnocultural communities.” [4]

Women buy produce at Winnipeg’s Dufferin Avenue market, circa 1915.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, W. J. Sisler Collection 20. N11587.

The program of national designations relies heavily on the participation of the Canadian public in the nomination of potential national historic sites. At present, approximately 90% of all new designations considered by the HSMBC are the result of letters of nomination received from the public. In addition, roughly 80% of all national historic sites are owned or managed by individuals, community associations, not-for-profit groups, private interests, or municipal or provincial agencies rather than the government of Canada.

By publishing a summary of the workshop proceedings in Manitoba History, Parks Canada and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada hope to encourage members of the Manitoba Historical Society and others with an interest in the history of western Canada to think about what subjects should be commemorated as nationally significant. The involvement of representatives from provincial and municipal heritage agencies also underlines the fact that persons, places and events of historical significance can be commemorated by all three levels of government, and that all are interested in hearing ideas of what should be preserved and interpreted from the public.

The criteria the HSMBC applies to nominations for designation are that any potential new national historic site in Canada needs either to have had “a nationally significant and enduring impact” on Canadian history or it must clearly “illustrate” such an impact. Potential designations are assessed by the HSMBC on a case-by-case basis, but the board is governed by some well-established criteria.

In the case of persons, there is a requirement that the individual being considered for designation has been deceased for 25 years. This is a reasonably common criterion applied in other areas as well such as geographic naming. It is intended to ensure that decisions to commemorate individuals are made with the benefit of a certain historical perspective. The one exception to this rule is that Prime Ministers of Canada are generally, but not automatically, deemed nationally significant at the time of their death. As a result, many potentially interesting commemorations of people from ethnocultural communities will simply have to wait for a few more years before they can be considered. In the case of historically significant events, these should have occurred at least 40 years previously, or before 1965. Once again, this delay allows for a certain distance and perspective on the significance of events to develop.

Historic places can be designated for four main reasons: exceptional creative achievement; a cultural tradition, way of life or idea (a significant consideration in the area of folk architecture); association with a person of national historic importance, or association with an event of national historic importance. Structures or sites should have been completed by at least 1975, or at least those portions of the structure or site that speak to the significance of the site. In addition, for buildings designated because of their architecture or design, at least five years needs to have passed since the death of the person who designed or built the structure. This needs to be noted since some architects who designed significant buildings before 1975 are still active in the field.

Following this brief outline of the guidelines and procedures for national designation, Bruce Donaldson of the Historic Resources Branch, Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism offered a brief overview of provincial policies and activity in the area of historical commemoration. In total, more than 300 provincial and municipal sites have been designated under the Manitoba Heritage Resources Act. Manitoba has been active in trying to recognize the historical significance and contributions of Aboriginal peoples, women and ethnocultural communities. Much of this activity has been concentrated so far in the areas of commemoration of pre-Contact Aboriginal sites, Métis sites, the women’s suffrage movement and the struggle for women’s rights. Another priority area for the province has been economic history – particularly agricultural and industrial history. This has enabled the province to work with a number of ethnocultural communities with strong connections to specific industries: Franco-Manitobans and dairying, and the Icelandic, Polish and Ukrainian communities in the Interlake and their involvement with creameries and butter manufacturing. As a result, many ethnocultural commemorations have been made indirectly through the recognition of economic or other influences on the development of the province.

Giles Bugailiskis then introduced workshop participants to the activities of the City of Winnipeg in the areas of both commemoration and protection. The City of Winnipeg’s program really stems from a 1977 by-law on heritage buildings. This by-law is designed to protect heritage buildings from demolition and to control development and change to structures that have been determined to have heritage value. The intent of the bylaw is not really to commemorate or interpret Winnipeg’s history, but rather to preserve and protect heritage structures. As a result, there is no particular emphasis on ethnocultural communities or their history in the City of Winnipeg’s heritage programs. These communities are only recognized incidentally, when heritage structures associated with such communities are protected.

A number of structures with strong historic connections to ethnocultural communities have come up for possible protection under the City’s by-law. Giles Bugailiskis noted that strong community support is a crucial consideration in municipal preservation programs. Where there is such support for preserving a structure, as in the case of the Ukrainian Farm Labour Temple or several community churches, the City can and does work to protect these structures. The nature of heritage protection by the City, however, is limited to issues of development, use, and alteration. This means any discussion about heritage properties is usually more about building code concerns than interpretive value or cultural meaning to a community.

One significant area for the City in terms of heritage preservation is the national designation of the Exchange District. This designation has drawn the City into the process of determining what constitutes commemorative integrity for a large, dynamic urban area. Determining what the national designation intends to commemorate and then seeking to manage this urban area to preserve and protect those heritage characteristics is a challenge. One aspect of this challenge is simply establishing the boundaries of the Exchange District. This might seem like a simple issue, but there is no absolute agreement on the extent of this urban area, and the City has been reluctant to define such an area.

Gordon Goldsborough then spoke briefly on behalf of the Manitoba Historical Society. He noted that the MHS had never consciously set about commemorating ethnocultural history or communities, but that unconsciously – or even inadvertently – this aspect of Manitoba’s history has figured prominently in actual activities. This may reflect the fact that in preserving and presenting the history of the province it is hard not to reflect such a significant aspect of the story. For example, public education programming and especially the very popular program of historical tours led by knowledgeable individuals such as John Lehr have often highlighted the experience of Manitoba’s ethnocultural communities. Unfortunately this sort of program, while effective in raising awareness of history, is also by its very nature ephemeral, and it is hard to use it to point to any concrete achievements of specific designations, plaques erected, or buildings preserved. Similarly, public advocacy work is an important part of a larger effort to preserve and present the history of ethnocultural communities. The Manitoba Historical Society has been active in this regard, but clear successes in terms of buildings saved and persons recognized may not always be obvious.

A group of immigrants, hopeful of a new life in Western Canada, arrive at the CPR station in Winnipeg, 23 February 1927.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Foote Collection 466, N2066.

The Manitoba Historical Society has probably made its most significant contributions to documenting ethnocultural history and interpreting that history to the public through its publications. A quick survey of articles published in the Transactions of the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba and more recently, Manitoba History indicates that authors published in these journals have always had a fairly inclusive sense of Manitoba’s history. Early articles on the history of Icelanders, Ukrainians, and other “ethnic” communities in Manitoba underline the point that the publications of the MHS have detailed ethnocultural history since well before anyone coined the term.

The final program of the MHS that has an impact on the commemoration of ethnocultural communities is the Society’s designation program. This program recognizes businesses that have been continuously operating in Manitoba for one hundred years or more, farms that have been owned and operated by a single family for a century or more, and finally organizations (non-profits) that have been in existence or a century or more. All of these programs include designations reflecting the multicultural character of Manitoba, although specific communities are not being commemorated as such. For example, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Gardenton has been recognized under this program. Ethnic associations such as the Belgian Club are also recognized under this program. What is interesting though is that designation of farms, businesses or organizations is not intended to focus on structures which are often replaced, restored, or altered, but on individuals and groups whose contributions to Manitoba’s history is ongoing.

Throughout these first presentations, a number of questions and issues were raised by workshop participants as part of the deliberations. It was noted, for example, that while Parks Canada and the HSMBC and the province of Manitoba all have developed thematic or masterplans to help guide identification and evaluation of potential historic sites, this approach is not universal. The City of Winnipeg has chosen not to undertake any similar study or document, in part because different jurisdictions view heritage policy very differently. National designation of historic sites is primarily commemorative, although the development of a commemorative integrity statement does suggest how a specific site should be managed. Provincial designation offers greater legal protection in that any historic site designated under the Heritage Resources Act is protected from unsympathetic redevelopment, from being moved or demolished or even being repaired in an inappropriate fashion by its owners. Provincial designation does have a commemorative aspect, but it is largely intended to preserve and protect historic resources. The province can also designate sites as municipal historic resources. This level of designation also has protective significance. The large exception to this rule is that the City of Winnipeg has its own designation program, a program which is almost exclusively focused on preservation rather than commemoration and which tries to manage historic resources through planning principles. Each program has its own strengths and weaknesses and its own policies, procedures and implications for designated sites.

Several speakers also noted that the heritage community in Manitoba is divided and rarely speaks with a single voice on matters related to the identification and management of historic resources. There are multiple levels of government and often multiple heritage organizations with sometimes conflicting goals. In addition, the movement has not been particularly effective in attracting new membership. Moreover, questions such as what constitutes heritage and heritage to whom remain unresolved. Some find celebrating families who have farmed the same property for a hundred years or more a meaningful heritage program, while others note this kind of emphasis on early and persistent settlers implies later settlers are somehow less “worthy,” and may even obscure the importance of change within rural communities while suggesting continuity is what matters. David Arnason also noted that ideas of what structures deserve preservation often reflect imported notions of “architectural” merit and superior design, rather than indigenous or folk building traditions. Finally, Jean Friesen noted that northern and remote rural areas are often overlooked and that the role of ethnocultural communities is not limited to urban areas and bloc settlement districts.

The Canadian Handicrafts Exhibition at the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Winnipeg store in February 1931 featured needlework, tapestries, and other crafts from several of Manitoba’s ethnic groups, among them the Hungarians shown here.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Crafts Guild of Manitoba Fonds, P6240/3, Scrapbook 1928-1934.

The next phase of the workshop involved five invited experts offering brief commentaries on what they saw as the major issues and opportunities for national designations in Manitoba that would improve public awareness of the role of ethnocultural communities in the history of Canada. These observations were based on short discussion papers prepared by the experts for the workshop. [5]

The first of the discussion papers was written by John Lehr, who began his remarks by questioning the value of commemorative plaques. Plaques certainly have a useful function as part of a larger commemorative heritage program, but they have significant drawbacks and should not be viewed as sufficient in and of themselves. By their very nature, they are thin on information and context, and are rarely written in a form that would make a casual visitor interested in the larger historical events, personalities, or trends the plaque is intended to recognize. Perhaps if they could be tied to supplementary sources of information such as websites or publications, their compressed and formulaic text might not seem so inadequate. Most plaques do not actually attract people to sites, and many are hard to find or seem quixotically located – as David Arnason would also note later. In short, a heritage program that relies almost exclusively on plaques to get a message of national significance across to casual visitors is unlikely to be very effective in convincing Canadians that ours is a rich, interesting and diverse history.

John Lehr also noted that designation programs have a problem establishing the relevance of the people, places and events they commemorate to their supposed audience. Anyone teaching Canadian history to students today is well aware of the fact that many such students do not see the traditional subjects of Canadian history as particularly relevant or meaningful. They just do not see Canadian history as being about them in any significant way. This is particularly true for students who either are immigrants themselves or are the first generation children of immigrants. To these students discussions of French- English relations under the Quebec Act or even the role of Aboriginal peoples in the fur trade can serve to reinforce the idea that they and their families are still excluded from what other Canadians see as nationally-significant history. The Filipino community in Winnipeg is good example of this. It is large, it has had a major impact on the city, but it is also largely a creation of immigration since the 1960s. National historic site criteria – especially the 40 year rule on events – essentially precludes any meaningful recognition of the history of this community for another decade or more. By this time, the damage done by convincing young Filipinos that Canadian heritage organizations have no real interest in their history may already be complete. Moreover, if a generation or two of members of an ethnocultural community come to the opinion that their history has no significance for the wider Canadian society, can a program of retroactive plaquing recapture their interest and sense of engagement with Canadian history?

The disengagement of younger people and members of relatively recent – i.e. post World War II – immigrant communities is reinforced by designation criteria and programs that emphasize the historical value of early and persistent over relatively recent and changing phenomena. Firsts are not viewed any longer as nationally-significant per se, but it remains true that a nineteenth century missionary in Red River is probably an easier sell as a nationally-significant person than a post-World War II minister in an inner city Winnipeg immigrant parish. John Lehr suggested then that heritage agencies might be better served trying to find examples of the typical rather than emphasizing commemoration of the origins of a community or organization, or the founding members of a group or movement.

He also noted that it is usually preferable to commemorate the general rather than the specific. In other words singling out individuals or even groups within communities for recognition can be divisive rather than empowering, as in the case of designating one homestead to represent all Ukrainian settlers or one ethnic hall to stand symbolically for literally thousands of similar institutions. This problem is made even more compelling when one considers the diversity and fragmentation that exists even within ethnocultural communities that the rest Canada treats as meaningful entities. The census category of Ukrainian-Canadian obscures huge differences of culture, faith, politics, even area of origin. Commemorating one Ukrainian Orthodox church does not stand for commemoration of all Ukrainian churches or communities, nor will Ukrainians across Canada see designations of selected sites and individuals in Manitoba as necessarily speaking to their particular experiences.

John Lehr also pointed out that understanding the experience of ethnocultural communities in Canada is not just a matter of studying the key personalities, institutions and events in the story of those communities. The history of these communities also involves their relationship with and interactions with other groups and Canadian society more broadly. In order to understand and effectively commemorate ethnic settlement in western Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is also important to recognize and offer some appraisal of the activities of colonizing agencies ranging from the federal government itself to large corporations such as the CPR and smaller, local players such as colonization companies and entrepreneurs. Individuals such as Clifford Sifton and William McCreary played a major role in the story of Ukrainian, German and Scandinavian settlement - as did the Dominion Land Survey with its particular approach to sub-dividing land for settlement. Ignoring the place of these people and institutions in the story risks losing sight of the fact that ethnocultural communities are not simply discrete entities in and of themselves.

The children watch expectantly as Ukrainian immigrant Joe Wacha and his wife work to seal the timber walls of their home, located four miles north of Vita, Manitoba, circa 1905.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, W. J. Sisler Collection 118, N9631.

For example, the Manitoba Schools Question is usually treated as a debate over French language rights and is seen as a key event in the evolution of French-English relations in Canada. It was this of course, but it also had a significant impact of religious-based education and education in languages other than English and French. It led, for example, to the creation of a Ruthenian Training School for teachers and other similar institutions that played crucial roles in the evolution of the Ukrainian-Canadian and other ethnocultural communities. Commemoration of the establishment of Ruthenian Normal Schools is an obvious way to recognize the history of Ukrainian- Canadians, but so too could be recognizing the Manitoba Schools Question. Rural electrification, construction of railways and other such events all have an ethnocultural dimension as well as their more obvious significance.

Finally, John Lehr argued that, as a geographer, he would like to see designation programs become less pointoriented. Most designations are tied to specific buildings or consist of a single plaque about a person or event located on one spot. Instead, such programs need to become more aware of and responsive to the historical value and interpretive potential of area designations. These can be both urban and rural, but their real virtue is that they can capture the dynamic nature of development and use over time. Area designations have the potential to capture the idea that history is layered. For example, in bloc settlement areas, historical interest is not simply focused on the surviving vestiges of the first settlement wave but is also found in how buildings were abandoned, altered, moved, torn down and rebuilt as people adapted to changing social and economic conditions. In other areas, multiple ethnocultural communities co-existed, and John Lehr particularly noted a study by Manitoba Historic Resources on the Crow Wing Trail region that captures the dynamic nature of the story of inter-group use of and interaction with the land in a distinct geographic region.

John Lehr concluded his remarks by suggesting two possible designations that capture the complex interactions between immigrants and colonizing officials. These events are the near riot of a trainload of immigrant homesteaders who discovered that they had been diverted to Fish Creek instead of their intended destination of either Dauphin or Edmonton, and the tragic deaths of a number of immigrants at Strathclair. Both stories illustrate that immigration and settlement were the products of a complex interaction of immigrant expectations, government policy, attitudes of officials in the field and sheer happenstance on occasion.

Following John Lehr’s remarks, there was some discussion of the issue of whether or not the age criteria established for national designations was a significant problem for making the designation program more inclusive, particularly for post World War II immigrant communities, but most of the discussion focused on the suggestion that the deaths at Strathclair be considered for designation by the HSMBC. Some participants thought this story was too narrowly local or regional to constitute a nationally significant event. Frances Swyripa noted that this site and event has been commemorated with monuments several times by the Ukrainian Canadian community, while Stella Hryniuk mentioned that this underlines a larger question or issue in the area of commemoration. The story of the events at Strathclair is generally considered extremely significant by the Ukrainian Canadian community – but it is almost totally unknown to other Canadians. Both Stella Hryniuk and Frances Swyripa suggested that the examples of what occurred at Fish Creek and Strathclair underline the point that public education or awareness of history is vital, but that designation programs may not always be the best way to raise this awareness. John Lehr and Jean Friesen both alluded to the point that heritage agencies, such as the HSMBC, while not specifically opposed to commemorating contentious individuals or events, do exhibit a certain reluctance to do so (and many communities are equally leery of venturing into painful or potentially difficult areas of history).

Icelandic pioneers enjoy a game of croquet, no date.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, New Iceland Collection 295, N11299.

The second speaker, David Arnason, began his presentation by noting that he would concentrate his discussion on the Icelandic community since it is the ethnocultural community he knows best. However, what might be said about the Icelandic community in Manitoba also applies in many respects to other communities as well.

That said, there are some distinctive features of Icelandic settlement that should be noted. New Iceland is incredibly well documented. It may one of the bestdocumented ethnic settlements in Canada, if not North America. In part, this stems from the high degree of literacy among Icelandic immigrants to Canada and their strong interest in the history of their community. A tradition of recording and writing about the history of this community can be traced back to its inception and as early as 1915 (essentially within a generation of initial settlement) a full history of the community had been produced. This book details the names of settlers, where they came from in Iceland, where they settled, the names they gave to their farms, and a host of other details. This process of documenting the community and producing detailed local histories has continued – many by a local teacher named Nelson Gerrard. Similarly, the Icelandic community established a library of Icelandic materials at the University Of Manitoba in 1930 and in 1951 a Department of Icelandic Studies was created at the university. This is a community with a strong sense of its own history and a belief in the significance of that history.

David Arnason then moved on to talk about a process that he terms “the mechanics of canon formation.” In the case of ethnocultural communities much of their documentation is in languages other than English, books and articles about the communities are not translated, book stores and libraries do not collect these works, and research on the communities may be undertaken in other countries. As a result, such communities remain “invisible” to mainstream Canadian society because they do not fit into the main structures of the Canadian historical canon. The case of Stephan G. Stephansson is instructive. Despite his reputation as perhaps the most important poet writing in Icelandic in the last century and a half and the belief of many that he is one of the major literary figures anywhere in the 20th century, he is virtually unknown in Canada. To be fair, he has been designated as a person of national historic significance and his home is operated as a provincial historic site by the Province of Alberta. This official recognition has not made him a well-known historical figure in Canada, however. Clearly the reason for this is that he wrote in Icelandic, his poetry is not readily available in English, and his translators have not necessarily done his work justice. As a result, his work is not taught in schools. His poems do not appear in anthologies of Canadian verse. He is outside the Canadian literary canon, and virtually no one knows in Canada that such a major literary figure lived in Markerville, Alberta.

In this case then, designation has done little or nothing to raise awareness of Stephansson or the history of Icelandic Canadians in general. However, designation does serve as form of “authentication” of people, places and events as “nationally significant” and thus central to Canadian history. This is not an innocent act devoid of consequence, and it is tied to a larger process of cultural “forgetting and remembering.” Just as literary figures are constantly going out of favour while others are being rediscovered, so too with history persons who once seemed crucially important on the national stage grow less and less central, while others adopt more central roles. New generations reconstruct history – and often incorporate themselves and their concerns into the story – by finding new persons, events and places to define as significant while losing interest in the persons, events and places previous generations saw as crucial. To some extent then, the phenomenon referred to by John Lehr of students saying Canadian history, as taught, is not my history is a manifestation of this process of “forgetting and remembering.” It might also be seen as a normal, and perhaps healthy, manifestation of cultural change and evolution.

The steamboat “International” and barge “Harty” arrive at Fort Garry with 380 Mennonite colonists, the first such group to arrive in Manitoba, 1874.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Transportation-Boat-“International” 1. N13944.

David Arnason went on to question whether Icelandic Canadian history is under-represented historically. He noted the large museum and archival collections of Icelandic Canadian material, the many books and articles on the history of this community, and even the range of documentary films that explore the history of Icelandic Canadians. He concluded that the better way to represent the situation is that Icelandic Canadian history is underrepresented in the system of national historic sites recognized by the Government of Canada. This makes the problem more of a program issue than a general heritage concern perhaps, and may suggest that solutions need to be found within the operations of Parks Canada and the HSMBC.

David Arnason concluded his remarks by suggesting that the story of the settlement of New Iceland and the landing at Gimli has become a kind of mythic or semiimagined history that helps give Icelandic Canadians a sense of shared community and purpose. It also incidentally encourages them to give generously to support Icelandic Studies at the University of Manitoba and to work to preserve the language in Canada. This sense of history requires some sort of imaginative connection between story and place, and that means a plaque with a few lines of text alone cannot effectively serve to commemorate a story or make that story resonate with visitors. It is also important that plaque locations link story to place in ways that the New Iceland historical marker does not. The community sees the site at the White Rock as the key site in this story, not the current plaque location.

Most of the discussion that followed centred on the subject of plaque locations and the location of the New Iceland plaque in particular. There was consensus that choosing a good plaque location is as important as composing the text that goes on the plaque. There was also some discussion of the idea that perhaps we ask too much of plaques. As David Arnason suggested, we may need to think about all of the ways that communities can be recognized in the form of museums, archival collections, oral histories and so on when trying to determine how best to acknowledge the historical significance of ethnocultural communities.

The third presenter, Stella Hryniuk, began by noting that the Ukrainian Canadian community is very diverse and that there is no one shared history or identity among members of this community. This also true for many other ethnocultural communities, which makes the question of how to recognize and commemorate those communities more complex than heritage agencies would like to admit.

For many Ukrainian Canadians there is still a widelyheld belief that heritage agencies devalue the significance of persons, places or events of importance to their history and that somehow Ukrainian Canadian history is “not good enough.” This view, although not universal and perhaps held most persistently by older people, is based on a “continuous memory of exclusion” of Ukrainian Canadians by Anglo-Canadian institutions and groups. Nor is this sense of exclusion is unique to the Ukrainian Canadian community. Most ethnocultural communities in Canada have had similar experiences. As a result, slights or feelings of past injustice will not be easy to put aside, and there is no point in heritage agencies just assuming people should “get over it.” There are methods such as targeted workshops and consultations that can help resolve old grievances by working directly with urban and rural ethnocultural communities to build trust and undermine that sense of exclusion. Another subject to consider would be looking at the composition of boards, such as the HSMBC, and provincial heritage councils, to try to ensure that they are as diverse and inclusive as possible. In some cases, it may be valuable to create larger advisory groups to bring new ideas and new community sensibilities into the discussion of what constitutes national significance.

Interestingly, as Ukrainian groups have slowly become assertive about their place in Canadian society, the persons, places or events put forward for commemoration have tended to reflect the first settlement wave, rather than the two subsequent waves of Ukrainian settlement in Canada. This does not reflect the fact that historical significance is limited to the earliest Ukrainian pioneers, but may reflect deeply held views in the community that firsts do matter and persistence gives credibility to claims of historical significance. Now that Oleskow, Genik, and several churches and homestead sites have been given national designation, the real issue may be how to find good new designation possibilities to reflect the stories of later waves of Ukrainian immigration. Once again, this issue is not unique to the Ukrainian Canadian community. Most ethnocultural communities see their pioneer members and cultural institutions as having the best chance of appearing important to non-community members.

After these general observations, Stella Hryniuk moved on to offer several specific proposals for possible new designations. One of these sparked considerable discussion because of the issues it could raise. As Stella Hryniuk noted, the idea of designating Bishop Budka, the first Ukrainian Catholic bishop of Canada, has much to commend it. Budka’s national significance is relatively easy to argue since his duties extended across Canada from 1912 to 1927, and he really laid the institutional basis for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada. He has also been beatified by the Catholic Church. The issue raised by Budka is that he remains a controversial figure in some circles because of his suggestion prior to World War I that immigrants to Canada who remained reservists in the Austro-Hungarian army should honour that commitment. Although he later recanted this position when Canada entered the war in opposition to Austro-Hungary, his previous statements were used to help justify Canada’s later internment policies. Veterans’ organizations tried to have him charged with treason and deported. The question is can the HSMBC undertake the designation of someone such as Bishop Budka because of his clear national significance within a specific ethnocultural community, knowing that many people outside this community could oppose such a designation?

Much of the discussion following Stella Hryniuk’s presentation revolved around other highly controversial designations or potential designations - internment camps and forced wartime labour by conscientious objectors – as well as Bishop Budka. No consensus was reached other than that history is likely to remain contested terrain, but most agreed that the potential for controversy should not preclude consideration of persons, places or events for national designation.

The fourth presenter, Allan Levine, focused his remarks on the history of the Jewish community in Manitoba. Like the Icelandic community, Jews in Manitoba have had a strong sense of their group history and have produced a number of individual historians and organizations, such as the Jewish Heritage Centre, that have put enormous effort into documenting that history. Like other communities as well, these organizations and individuals have struggled for support and, despite accomplishing a great deal with limited resources, it is also fair to say that much more could be done. Among other things, much of the academic work has been undertaken as part of understanding the Jewish experience in a larger Canadian context, rather than study of the specific story of local communities. In Manitoba, this would primarily be study of the community in Winnipeg, although a few rural Jewish communities did exist across western Canada.

A. A. Heaps, the first Jewish Member of Parliament from Winnipeg, no date.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Jewish Historical Society Collection 575.

The first major question for Allan Levine was, given the local context of most leadership of community groups and the local or at best regional impact of most community organizations or events affecting groups, how can the “national” part of national historic significance be determined. There are some exceptions to this rule. Stephen Juba, for example, did have a much larger “national” presence in Canada, because he used his role as mayor of Winnipeg to become involved in political life beyond the boundaries of Winnipeg. However, most events, persons and structures associated with ethnocultural groups, however, have no such wider influence or meaning. They are intensely significant to groups, but at a local or regional level – in part because this is how most groups operate. In effect you have potential sites which are deeply meaningful to small, clearly defined constituencies that are largely unknown or even viewed quite differently by the larger Canadian society. In terms of having a significant impact both within and without the immediate Jewish community in Manitoba, you may only be looking at a handful of figures such as Izzie Asper and perhaps Rabbi Kahanovitch.

Even the notion of a single Jewish community in Winnipeg, let alone Manitoba or western Canada, is problematic. As with many other ethnic groups, there was no single “ethnocultural community” among the first waves of Jewish settlers. These people were divided - not united - by faith, politics, economics, culture, and all the other sociocultural factors now used to construct ethnocultural identity retroactively. To take one clearly significant event at the national level, the Winnipeg General Strike, Jews figured prominently on both sides of this dispute. There was no one Jewish response to this event.

Given these problems, Allan Levine suggested that it might be more valuable to concentrate on possible designations, such as the North End of Winnipeg, that transcend recognition of individual people or groups and reflect the broader story of ethnic immigration, settlement and adjustment to Canadian society. The North End is not a Jewish or Ukrainian or German Canadian story, but something much more inclusive and dynamic. It clearly had a national impact, if for no other reason than all the former residents who left it and moved on – but not before shrouding their experience there in a certain mystique. More importantly though, the North End clearly had an impact on the whole idea of Canada as a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society.

In conclusion, Allan Levine suggested that the goal of using national designation programs to commemorate communities that were highly local and regional may be problematic. In reality, most of the strongest candidates for designation or public commemoration really fit more comfortably into municipal and provincial programs, and that is not a bad thing. Perhaps the crucial issue for heritage agencies is not how many sites we have designated under each theme in a masterplan, but how many sites are protected and interpreted by all heritage groups at every level of government.

Manitoba Lieutenant-Governor Errick Willis unveils a plaque commemorating the bicentenary (1759-1959) of Jewish settlement in Canada, 1961.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Jewish Historical Society Collection 38-1.

Discussion following Allan Levine’s presentation focused on several issues. Henry Trachtenburg argued strongly for consideration of the North End, as did many other workshop participants. He too returned to the question of raised by John Lehr, Stella Hryniuk and Allan Levine – albeit in different ways – of how to recognize newer immigrant groups and their histories as well as the experience of subsequent waves of settlement within established ethnocultural communities. The Filipino community in Winnipeg seems particularly important in this regard given its size – over 50,000 people – and its influence on city. This community has grown up over the past 35 years, but this relatively recent arrival means few sites with a Filipino connection are eligible for designation under heritage legislation. Finally, Henry Trachtenberg argued that A. A. Heaps, who has been designated provincially, might be worth considering for national designation - not just for his role as a labour and political activist but for his early and passionate advocacy of a national system of unemployment (now employment) insurance for workers.

The final presentation was offered by Gerry Friesen, who opened his remarks with a brief outline of how academic historians have been treating the subject of cultural identity, identity formation and other such subjects in recent works. He suggested there are two main trends here. One is the “post-structural, post-modern” school of historical analysis and the other the “popular – what people understand about history” approach. The former approach is more or less world-wide, while the latter is tied to a renewed interest in “public” history and is largely centred in the United States at present. It is coming to Canada, however.

The post-structural, post-modern approach is based on the work of Homi Bhabha, Paul Gilroy and others and is largely concerned with issues of “otherness.” “race and hybridity,” “boundary and margin between people” and a range of other important, but largely theoretical matters. The insights from this work should not be ignored by public history or heritage programs, but the concerns of the historians working in this area are miles from popular, public perceptions of what matters in history and the needs of a commemoration program.

The second trend is an interest in “memory” – especially how people remember the past. One book by David Thelen and Roy Rosenzweig has created a flurry of interest among historians in the United States. The book is based on a national poll undertaken in the United States that asked questions such as where do you get your information about the past from, who do you trust as a source of information about history, do you find history interesting, and are you actively involved in any kind of historical activity? It turns out Americans are very involved in history, especially family and community history. They are quite fascinated by this history. But they are almost entirely unmoved and uninterested in the kind of history undertaken by academics or taught in schools. Instead, Americans find museums and historic sites the most credible of all sources of information about history. Public history agencies need to be aware of the very real public interest in what institutions such as museums and sites do and say, and to recognize that for many people exhibits and plaques are more believable – and interesting - than academic monographs. This means that what heritage agencies do in the area of commemorating ethnocultural history matters.

Ukrainian women gather cabbages at East Kildonan, 1916.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, W. J. Sisler Collection 190, N9603.

So what is the story heritage agencies should be telling about ethnocultural history in Canada? The history of migration and settlement in Canada generally and western Canada in particular in the 20th century is the story of one of the greatest movements of human beings in recorded history. It is a story of international scale. This story is also marked by three major waves of immigration. The first, which took place from roughly 1900 to the 1930s, is the immigration boom most historians, heritage agencies, and often community groups tend to focus upon. The second wave between 1945 and 1970 is often forgotten, in part because it reinforced a number of demographic patterns established in the first immigration wave. It was, for example, still largely European and attracted many members of groups that had already emigrated in some numbers prior to the 1930s. What needs to be noted, however, is that this second wave did not mirror earlier immigration patterns perfectly, and some groups present in the first immigration wave are not present in the second. The third wave of immigration dates from 1970 to the present. The key feature of this population movement is that is has been less European and more Asian, African and south and Central American than previous waves. This is the immigration wave that has made Canada’s visible minority population boom in both absolute and proportionate numbers. In addition to being increasingly global in terms of who is involved, this immigration tends to be regionally focused. In other words, specific cities and regions attract disproportionate numbers of new immigrants from specific areas. The people who go to Calgary or Vancouver are not the same as the people who settle in Winnipeg or Edmonton – hence Winnipeg’s large Filipino population and Vancouver’s large Chinese population.

When you look at these demographic trends, the key location for the first immigration wave is Winnipeg, which absorbed a huge proportion of new immigrants to Canada. In Winnipeg, the critical historic area is the North End, which should be considered for designation as a priority of the HSMBC.

In looking at this story of immigration and the experience of ethnocultural communities it is also important to recognize that it has two sides, integration and group cultural survival, and that these two aspects of community experience are largely antithetical. Integration means the decline of ethnic exclusivity and difference, while cultural survival generally means resisting integration. Most commemoration of ethnocultural communities centres on individuals and organizations that resisted integration, on structures that look “other” and speak to the retention of folk building traditions or cultural forms, and on events in which groups expressed a desire to remain distinct. For the sake of argument, Gerry Friesen noted that the historic resources that reflect group survival may also be seen expressions - not of cultural success - but of failure. Communities and individuals who resisted integration might, by some standards, be seen as losers rather than successful role models. They are people hanging on to what they had and not embracing immigration to Canada as an opportunity to change. The winners are generally the adapters and changers, not the cultural preservationists.

So to return to Homi Bhabha and ideas of hybridity and margins, what the HSMBC should be doing is trying to recognize and commemorate aspects of the history of ethnocultural communities that speak to integration and the creation of hybrid cultural forms. It should not be simply recognizing other aspects of the story that emphasis boundaries between groups and the retention of otherness. This is what makes the North End so suitable as a designation because it was integrative, and it did produce a new cultural form or model for Canada – the first great multicultural experiment.

The problem is how can you capture the scale of such a story on a plaque, and the answer is that you cannot. Plaques are not a sufficient means to tell this story. Perhaps a walking tour with multiple sites that indicates this is not a story about individual groups or events or structures would be better. Alternatively, the idea of boundaries can be used here by physically marking the boundaries of a designated North End so that visitors could easily understand when they were in the site and when they were not.

Gerry Friesen concluded by suggesting several other integrative designations, such as the Manitoba Citizenship Council and the Citizenship Ceremony itself, which is unique to Canada and was invented in Winnipeg.

Discussion of Gerry Friesen’s paper was lively and wide-ranging. A number of people suggested that the dichotomy raised in the paper between integration and success and cultural preservation and marginality was perhaps a bit stark, though obviously offered as a spur to the very discussion it engendered. Stella Hryniuk noted that commemorating the history of ethnocultural communities is by its very nature integrative, and so long as groups continue to feel excluded from Canada they will tend to remain focused on their former homes and their shared histories prior to immigration. John Lehr, Allan Levine and David Arnason all discussed the issue of whether it was possible to establish boundaries for the North End. In some respects, it is an imagined place, but there are various literal definitions of what is the North End and what is not the North End as well. From a practical perspective of commemoration, the idea that the “North End” has influenced all sorts of cultural phenomena may not preclude designating a specific part of Winnipeg as the core of this imagined place.

With the formal presentation aspect of the workshop completed participants were encouraged to offer their opinions on any of the issues raised in these presentations, to suggest additional potential designations, or introduce new comments, questions or concerns.

The subject of the adequacy of plaques to really interpret sophisticated historical ideas or to genuinely engage Canadians in some sort of public discourse about our history dominated much of the initial open discussion. Dawn Bronson of Parks Canada, for example, suggested that both Parks staff and members of the HSMBC were aware of the limitations of plaques, but that it is important to remember that posting individual plaque text is only part of the process. Plaque ceremonies and discussions with community groups before preparing plaque text both help foster on-going ties between Parks Canada and the HSMBC and ethnocultural communities. Moreover, as the system of national historic sites expands, it possible to see plaques as more than just single points but rather a network of sites that is more than just the sum of its parts. Certainly, websites and curriculum resources developed by Parks Canada supplement the bare-bones commemoration of a plaque.

John Lehr also returned to this idea of how to supplement or build on the limited interpretive possibilities of specific designations and single plaques. He suggested, for example, that a heritage district with national designation such as Neubergthal might serve as the centerpiece for a broader heritage program. Such a program might begin with the national designation but include additional interpretive materials – signage, museums or interpretive centres, walking or driving tours, and special events that together would give visitors a sense that Neubergthal is a really important and interesting place. The key is that plaques be part of a larger interpretive program, not the main vehicle for presenting the story. Nor should it be an exclusively Mennonite story, but it could be broadly inclusive of all residents and former residents of the area. In similar fashion, Stella Hryniuk made the case for considering Mountain Road/Hun’s Valley as a possible heritage district for many of the same qualities as John Lehr identified in Neubergthal. Frances Swyripa also suggested that designations of areas or districts seem to suit the intent of recognizing ethnocultural communities, but that these designations run into procedural or policy concerns with Parks Canada around securing owner/resident consent for designation, defining boundaries and so on. Perhaps what is needed then is a different type of designation, something less formal and more symbolic.

The Mennonite delegation arrives at Winnipeg’s Dominion Lands Office, July 1873.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg Buildings - Federal - Dominion Lands Office

David Arnason moved the discussion in a slightly different direction by noting that Parks Canada and the HSMBC are seeking to keep the value of national designation high by establishing selection criteria that keep the numbers of national historic sites relatively low. This is done by struggling to ensure that sites are deemed to be authentically national in significance, and rigorously researched and evaluated to make sure this authenticity is present. What happens though if we give up on the slightly absurd notion that anyone can really know what is nationally historically significant – certainly no group of academics would find this an easy task – and take the view that many more sites should be designated and plaqued? National designation has no protective power in law; it is, in fact, purely symbolic and commemorative. Perhaps the solution is to stop artificially restricting the numbers of sites and thus implying great value to the designation because of its rarity. Greg Thomas noted in the ensuing discussion that the HSMBC wrestles with the question of what constitutes national significance constantly in its evaluation of potential sites, and that this issue is getting increasingly complex as most of the obvious and uncontentious candidates for national designation are already recognized.

Gerry Friesen returned to subject of heritage districts and defining them in terms of boundaries by noting that boundaries – establishing edges to an area – are just one of three possible ways of marking a space. Areas can also be defined using gateways and trails. Boundaries give a sense of what is in an area and what is not. Gateways establish entrances and exits, and trails suggest a connected linear path through an area. All can work. All suggest slightly different ways to conceptualize a space. Some probably work better for a specific heritage area depending upon what heritage agencies want to say about that area. Other participants then noted that within such a defined area, it is possible to conceive of multiple plaques, interpretive nodes, the use of community mapping, internet sites and a whole range of communication strategies and media to get the larger message that this is an important place where interesting and complex happened out to the public.

Jean Friesen then reintroduced the subject of what constitutes “national” significance when it comes to ethnocultural communities. At least one of the presenters, Allan Levine, had suggested that national significance is limited to persons, places or events that transcend the boundaries of group meaning and have an impact on the wider Canadian society. This idea sparked some lively discussion. David Arnason, for example, noted that some groups that might be defined as ethnic in other contexts, such as British Canadians and perhaps French Canadians, are presumed to have some broad societal significance even when people, places or events have historical resonance only within that community. Gerry Friesen suggested that what is important is that Canada through ideas of multiculturalism has moved beyond ethnicity, so if you still matter just to your community you probably do not matter to Canadians generally.

“I Kiss My Shovel” - Teaching English to New Canadians, 1948.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, W. J. Sisler Collection 229, N7165.

Frances Swyripa took a slightly different tack. She suggested that it was high time the HSMBC levelled the designation playing field by accepting the significance of the history of ethnocultural communities of Canada as equal to the importance of Aboriginal, French and British Canadians histories. That means not holding persons, places or events that matter to such communities to a higher, or even just different, measure of national significance than other non-ethnic persons, places or events. To say that ethnocultural commemorations have somehow to transcend ethnic boundaries may be subtly leading us back into very traditional notions of Canadian history. It is quite possible for someone to have a key role nationally in the Jewish Canadian community but be largely unknown outside of that community, and the measure of the significance of that person may not be the degree to which people outside of his or her ethnic community recognize that person’s influence. In short, is it reasonable to see someone as nationally significant if he or she is nationally significant within a definable sector of Canadian society? Adopting this view could mean that both integrators and cultural preservationists may be nationally significant, if they had a broadly national or regional impact on their respective ethnocultural communities.

Picking up on this notion, Allan Levine noted that making integrationist values central to the story may obscure the fact that all not groups found it equally easy to manage this feat. Emphasizing this factor in ethnocultural history could have some unintended consequences, such as returning Canadians to a view of immigration that valued immigrants largely on their ability to integrate. John Lehr noted that Canada is a kind of “cultural archipelago” and in other aspects of history there is no sense that national significance equals a broad national impact. Phenomena of enormous consequence in the Maritimes or British Columbia may have limited impact in the Prairie Provinces, but this does not make them unsuitable as subjects for national designation. Nationally important does not have to mean present in all areas. Frances Swyripa also noted that this discussion had some parallels with ideas expressed in the Alberta workshop, although that group put the issue slightly differently. In Alberta, a number of speakers questioned the model outlined in Parks Canada documents that ethnocultural communities are defined by their position outside the Canadian mainstream – and often in opposition to that mainstream. Alberta workshop participants noted that in western Canada ethnicity and multiculturalism are mainstream in many ways, and have been for some time. By contrast, Gerry Friesen noted that in Manitoba integration has occurred with a consciousness of ethnicity that is “natural” – on the one hand, people identify themselves easily as members of ethnocultural groups yet see themselves as part of a larger identity as well.

The discussion then moved on to a consideration of how to capture the history and significance of the second and third waves of 20th century immigration to Canada that occurred after World War II. These more recent immigrants have had an enormous influence on the country but their stories are hard to capture both because age criteria for designation make their defining personalities, events and structures difficult to commemorate and because in many ways the histories of these people are still largely unwritten and uncollected.

These immigrants entered a very different Canada from the Canada earlier immigrants had encountered. They found a very different ethos in Canada after 1945 that they would have prior to World War II, when Canada still saw itself as a more British and French Canadian society. This immigration also can be broken down into two waves: one from roughly 1945 to 1967 and a second after 1967. The characteristics of these two settlement waves have already been discussed earlier in this report, but several speakers raised a major issue regarding commemoration of these immigrants in western Canada. That is quite simply that after 1945 western Canada was no longer the main destination of most of these new Canadians as it had been between roughly 1900 and the early 1930s. While some new immigrants did settle in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon, their numbers were dwarfed by those who settled in Toronto, Vancouver, and even Montreal. It is during this period that Toronto went from being almost exclusively a British-Canadian city to one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. As a result, it is hard to argue for many designations of these immigration waves in western Canada outside of the lower mainland in British Columbia. One exception to this might be the story of Filipino immigration to Winnipeg, although how this might be tied to a suitable place, event or person seemed difficult to determine. Many of the earliest Filipino immigrants were women attracted by the prospect of work in Winnipeg’s garment manufacturing industry, but commemorating this aspect of immigration would ignore the thousands of other Filipinos who have made Winnipeg home without working in this industry.

Gerry Friesen suggested that an alternative to this approach of trying to identify specific groups and specific aspects of their experience in Canada might be to look at manifestations of an emerging multicultural consciousness. Perhaps the best, and probably first, example of the celebration of ethnic diversity is Winnipeg’s annual Folklorama festival. (Toronto did organize a once only multicultural festival in 1964 that influenced the form of the original Folklorama celebrations in Winnipeg.) This festival dates back to 1967 and is notable in that it brings together representatives of all three immigration waves. It also encourages thousands of Winnipeggers to explore other cultures in a congenial round of music and dance performances, folk art, and ethnic food and drink. As David Arnason noted, Folklorama may not exactly represent pure unalloyed folk culture, but is an important symbol of how Winnipeggers think of themselves and how they have embraced the idea of multiculturalism. It was also noted that since 1967 these ethnocultural celebrations have become a common phenomenon across Canada in major urban centres, apparently building on the model established in Winnipeg.

Stella Hryniuk suggested that acting now to work with more recent immigrant groups to recognize their history and contributions to Canadian life may help ensure that they do not ever develop the same memory of exclusion that earlier groups did. Whether their potential sites meet the 40 year rule or not, it is important not to wait until this arbitrary date is reached to start communication with these new ethnocultural communities. She also went to note that this communication or “bridge building” is not just a matter of talking to or consulting with these groups. It is also important, if heritage agencies are serious about reaching out to under-represented groups such as members of ethnocultural communities, that these agencies and heritage advisory boards start literally representing these communities in their membership and not simply in terms of what they commemorate.

Frances Swyripa also observed that Parks Canada’s and the HSMBC’s procedures for securing site nominations are needlessly complex and onerous. They discourage community participation in the commemoration process rather than encouraging it – and that is not a good thing. In addition to feeling that application or nomination procedures need to be improved, most participants felt that the operations of the HSMBC need to be more public. It would, for example, be helpful if Board members could find ways to report on Board activities in some fashion to heritage organizations and for the agenda papers they use to help make decisions on potential sites to be made more accessible somehow. If someone requests a paper it will be provided, but most Canadians have no idea what papers have been prepared and therefore what potential designations have been considered by the HSMBC. Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that few papers are ever circulated.

The workshop concluded with most participants reiterating their sense that it is important that greater public consultation and discussion about the potential designation of new historic sites would be valuable. To this end, it was felt that these workshop deliberations should not be buried in a report submitted only to Parks Canada and members of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, but shared with Manitobans and others interested in issues of commemoration and preservation of Canadian history through publication in Manitoba History.

Delegates to the founding convention of the United Conference of Icelandic Churches pose in front of the Jan Sigurdsson statue at the Manitoba Legislative Building, 26 June 1923. Photo by L. B. Foote.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Sigurdson Collection 2.

Notes

1. This report is not a verbatim transcript of the proceedings, but rather a summary of the main issues and points of discussion raised by workshop participants.

2. Workshop participants included Jean Friesen (University of Manitoba and Chair), Gerry Friesen (University of Manitoba), Stella Hryniuk (University of Manitoba), John Lehr (University of Winnipeg), Allan Levine (St. John’s - Ravenscourt School), David Arnason (University of Manitoba), Catherine Cournoyer (Parks Canada, Ottawa), Henry Trachtenberg (Historic Resources, Province of Manitoba), Bruce Donaldson (Historic Resources, Province of Manitoba), Dawn Bronson (Parks Canada, Manitoba Field Unit), Linda Seyers (Parks Canada, Manitoba Field Unit), Greg Thomas (Parks Canada, Western Canada Service Centre), Marty Magne (Parks Canada, Western Canada Service Centre), Frances Swyripa (University of Alberta), Giles Bugailiskis (Heritage Planning, City of Winnipeg) and Gordon Goldsborough (Manitoba Historical Society).

3. For the purposes of this initiative, ethnocultural communities have been defined as being composed of Canadians who are neither Aboriginal, nor members of what used to be termed Canada’s two “founding” nations – Canadians of British or French descent. It is recognized that this definition of ethnocultural communities presents difficulties. For example, people of Irish and Welsh descent are British (in the former case at least up to the creation of Eire in 1922) but they were not always members of the British - Canadian mainstream. The result is some awkward – and occasionally arbitrary – categorization of groups that sees the Irish as an ethnocultural community in some circumstances, but not Scots. Similarly, French-speaking immigrants to Canada could be Basque or Belgian, and those who came to Canada after the 18th century were not necessarily part of a “founding” people. Despite these issues of definition and historical classification, however, it remains clear that the historical contributions of ethnocultural communities, like those of women and Aboriginals, should be better acknowledged in Canada.

4. Minister of Canadian Heritage, The Honourable Sheila Copps, October 2000.

5. Copies of these discussion papers are available from the Parks Canada: Western Canada Service Centre.

Page revised: 22 April 2011

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