Prof Robert Shipley spoke today to an audience of about 50 people on why Canada is not a young country and that our heritage goes back thousands of years. His talk in the Concert Hall at Victoria Hall was illuminating and full of interesting facts but was not as promoted. It did not touch on tourism, culture or the economic benefits of Heritage. Although intended to promote an interest in Heritage, the audience seemed to be mostly people already interested in history and/or heritage. However, independent of the purpose, it was certainly of interest to many Canadians so below is a synopsis of his talk plus some comments on the connection between heritage and culture.
The Chair of the Heritage Advisory Committee (CHC) George Kamphorst said that up till now, the committee had been reactive but “today was a little different” – they wanted to raise the profile of Heritage in Cobourg and show the positive impact of heritage conservation. He introduced Professor Robert Shipley as an expert on Heritage, Culture, Tourism and Economic Development.
- Showing a slide of a meeting between a Frenchman just off the boat and a native whose ancestors had been here for thousands of years, Robert asked “Who is the true Canadian?” He then said that we have been letting people tell us who we are and that Canada is a young country. Not so. It’s time to re-think.
- We are told we know little about the indigenous people and that history basically starts when the settlers arrived. In fact we know a lot about them because of archeological work. History does not start with the arrival of settlers – that’s Euro-centric.
- As an example of our thinking, we identify with Franklin and his expedition to find the Northwest passage but we should not. Prof Shipley said that Franklin was a fool. He would not listen to locals and was not interested in Canada but only in finding a passage to China. Canada was “in the way”.
- Prof Shipley recommended a book by John Rolston Saul “A Fair Country”. Saul proposed that Canada is not a shadow of the U.S. or derived from Europe but is more based on Aboriginal philosophy – e.g. seeking balance and discussion.
- He then said that we should not appropriate the culture of others – they are not our ancestors although they welcome us. He said that there are three founding people: French, English and indigenous.
- Prof Shipley went to some trouble to illustrate that many European and Chinese buildings that we see as old, are in fact rebuilds.
- Canada is in fact older than many countries with our start date of 1867.
- He listed some other founding dates:
- Germany – 1945
- China – 1949
- India – 1947
- Ukraine – 1990
- USA – 1865 (before that it was two countries)
Prof Shipley did agree that Canada 150 should be celebrated although we should include its caveats (faults!)
He said we should remember we are not a “young country” and be indignant if anyone says we are. We have a proud heritage worth celebrating.
The talk was promoted as an exploration of “Cobourg’s culture, heritage, tourism and their respective economic benefits” with the implication that culture, heritage and tourism are connected and have economic benefits. While it is certainly true that culture and heritage can both promote tourism, it is not self-evident that culture and heritage are related. But recently, whenever the future of Cobourg’s cultural asset of the Dressler House is mentioned, it is deferred for review in the planned Cultural Plan expected to be started in 2018. A similar deferral happens when talking about the Park Playhouse.
But if you look at the Port Hope Cultural Plan (see link below), there is no mention of Heritage as such although the Capitol Theatre is part of their plan. Mostly their plan talks about promoting culture – and that’s it. It seems that in Cobourg, for whatever reason, culture and heritage are linked inextricably and further, are seen to be at least part of the reason why tourists would come here. When Robert Shipley was asked to speak to us, someone assumed he would talk about culture, tourism and economic benefit. Not so. A good (albeit controversial) seminar, but not on topic.
At the end of the talk, the audience was asked to complete a survey that asked if it was done well and what should “future workshops or lectures” be about. Although the Heritage Advisory Committee were pleased with the attendance, you have to wonder how many in the audience were newly sold on the need for Cobourg to promote its heritage
- Port Hope Cultural Plan – May 2012 (See also Port Hope’s Website page – Municipal Publications)
- Town of Cobourg Heritage Web Page