Interpretive theme for 2019: Communication

In 2019, the Ontario Heritage Trust explored the theme of communication by examining how verbal and written language, the preservation of language, technological innovation, communications systems and cross-cultural exchange have all influenced Ontario’s cultural heritage.

Over time, our basic need to communicate with each other hasn’t changed, but the tools through which we share information and connect have changed dramatically and have influenced the way we communicate. Pioneering communication’s theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote in The Medium is the Message, “Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which [humans] communicate than by the content of the communication.” Communication on its most fundamental level is the sharing of stories and experiences, bridging gaps between peoples and cultures, time and place.

Communication encompasses the ways that Ontarians connect across our vast geography, travelling along paths such as waterways, roads, railways and now digital pathways. Ontario’s vibrant technology sector, which has allowed us to more easily connect over these great distances, has made major contributions to communications technology globally, and has deep historical roots. From Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone in 1876, to the launching of the Anik A1 domestic communications satellite in 1972, to smartphone innovations of the 21st century, Ontario has long been a communications leader.

By communicating with one another, we can exchange and appreciate different ideas and traditions across different cultures and world views, building and contributing to understandings of each other. Indigenous nations living in what is now Ontario, such as the Haudenosonee and Anishinaabe, communicated with each other to share, trade and build complex civilizations long before the arrival of Europeans. Today, cross-cultural communication supports Ontario’s remarkable diversity: whether it is recent Syrian refugees sharing traditional culture or farming techniques (which is happening at Toronto’s Ashbridge Estate) in the towns and cities they now call home, to distinctive ethnic neighbourhoods or communities, like Ottawa’s Chinatown, Windsor’s Little Italy and St. Jacobs Mennonite community, to name a few.

Over 3.5 million Ontarians are not native English or French speakers. Whether it is new Ontarians learning to speak one of our two official languages, or a community working to teach its members a culturally significant language, the work to preserve language and linguistic traditions is an important way for Ontarians to remain connected to their backgrounds.

2019 was also proclaimed the International Year of Indigenous Languages by the United Nations. The preservation of Indigenous languages is a major focus as nations seek to rebuild their cultural legacies after generations of loss. Today, 3.1 per cent more Indigenous people across Canada speak a traditional language than in 2006, meaning that young people and adults are learning to speak an Indigenous language for the first time. There are still major challenges to overcome, as many Indigenous languages are at risk of loss, but there are also many examples of linguistic resurgence.

Communication enables the formation of community bonds; it underpins artistic and cultural expression in diverse ways, enabling a connection with each other. This connection has been expressed in different ways, at different times, using diverse technologies and tools – from the letters and written works of Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Trail (that share their thoughts on colonial life in Upper Canada and connected them to their home in Britain), to Conrad Lavigne, founder of CFCL Radio in Timmins in 1951 (who used the possibilities of modern technology to create a sense of community among the widely dispersed francophone population of northeastern Ontario), and the expression and sharing of Indigenous oral traditions, diverse languages and petroglyphs (rock carvings), which connect our cultural history back thousands of years.

Communication connects us – over space and time. It allows people to share ideas, knowledge, tradition and creativity from the past. Communication forges community and builds understanding. This year, we hope that you will join the Trust in exploring Ontario’s history of communication.

Additional resources

A number of provincial plaques in our Plaque database interpret the communication theme in Ontario:

This theme has also been explored through past issues of Heritage Matters:

Intangible heritage, Autumn 2017

Understanding the French experience in Ontario, May 2012