Shifting the narrative - Ontario Heritage Trust

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Shifting the narrative

In Canada and throughout North America, an important conversation is happening about the historical value of statues, memorials and place names, about who we honour in society for their contributions and how. It has brought some critical thinking about our history and heritage, discussions that have stretched beyond professional forums to more public debate about who or what should be commemorated and how those decisions are made. There are strong opinions on all aspects of the discussion, and it’s a conversation that needs to be heard. The underlying question is about what we value and who we want to be.

This is part of a broader discourse about whose history is told, about gender, people of colour and the economically disenfranchised, and others whose stories have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the authorized discourse. It’s about what we conserve and how such choices are made; about decolonizing history; about building bridges of reconciliation and creating a sense of belonging. This should come as no surprise. Think for a moment about how we have gotten here. In terms of our public history, we’ve created a national identity expressed through historic sites and monuments focused on forts, institutions, historic sites and collections; defined by society’s most influential communities; and based on western European traditions of the monumental, the grand, rare and impressive. Widespread enthusiasm for the celebration of milestones measured from the date of Confederation has left us with a collection of sites and stories drawn more from western European expressions of value than from a Canadian-specific experience.

Over the past several years, the Trust has made a concerted effort to share stories of all of the people of Ontario – providing a forum to look back over more than 10,000 years at the people who have called this province home. The Trust continues to re-define the narrative – to ensure that the heritage we protect and the stories we tell are a respectful, accurate and authentic portrayal of the peoples who have lived on and contributed to this land known as Ontario.

We are working with communities across the province to share their own stories in their own voices, to celebrate the diversity of experiences, languages, customs and perspectives of different people and different places. This approach is embodied in the way the Trust forms policy, the way it listens and acts, and fundamentally how it respects others. As individuals, organizations and communities, we have the ability to choose what we pass along to those who follow.


Heritage Matters provides a forum where many writers have shared their unique stories, perspectives and areas of expertise:

Shifting the Narrative, Autumn 2018:

My Ontario, A Vision Over Time, February 2017

  • Page 8: The heart of North America, by Konrad Sioui
  • Page 9: The conscience of our province, by the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell
  • Page 14: The Black history of Ontario inspires and defines who I am, by Dr. Afua Cooper
  • Page 24: The Métis sash, by M. Margaret Froh
  • Page 28: Making history, by David Rayside
  • Page 29: Descendants de la Vallée du Saint-Laurent, by Joëlle Roy
  • Page 33: Reflections on my hometown, by Adrienne Shadd
  • Page 33: Walking with the water, from a Great Lakes Commons interview with Josephine Mandamin
  • Page 35: Celebrating the history of Toronto’s Jewish cemeteries, by Ellen Scheinberg

Play. Endure. Inspire. Ontario’s sport heritage, February 2015

  • Page 9: Aboriginal athletes: Competing for recognition, by Janice Forsyth
  • Page 12: Disability in sport, by David Legg and Ian Brittain

Understanding the French experience in Ontario, May 2012

Celebrating the International Year for People of African Descent, November 2011

Celebrating Ontario’s places of worship, September 2009

  • Page 8: Religious freedom in the promised land, by Steven Cook and Wilma Morrison
  • Page 10: Toronto’s synagogues: Keeping collective memories alive, by Jennifer Drinkwater
  • Page 16: The changing face of worship, by Laura Hatcher

Here are some Ontario provincial plaques that showcase the stories of different nations and communities, and add to our understanding:

•    Battle of Moraviantown, 1813 (Battle of the Thames)
•    Chief Francis Pegahmagabow, 1889-1952
•    Chloe Cooley and the 1793 Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada
•    Hugh Burnett and the National Unity Organization
•    Jean Lumb, C.M., 1919-2002
•    Jean-Baptiste Lainé Site
•    Jeanne Lajoie, 1899-1930
•    Sexual Diversity Activism at the University of Toronto
•    The Anishinaabeg at Lake of Bays
•    The Banwell Road Area Black Settlement
•    The Franco-Ontarian Flag