Sheri’s letter re: Heritage

About the case for heritage
My school-aged children, ages 10 and 6, love history. And I think they love it because we have been fortunate enough to make the subject a multi-sensory experience. An example is our plunge into the history and significance of the Seven Years’ War.
My husband and I chose to expose them to the story of the Seven Years’ War because we were planning to travel as a family as far as Québec City. One of the many famous landmarks in Québec City is the Plains of Abraham, which served as the scene for a pivotal battle during the war. So pivotal in fact, that it could be argued that it changed the face of what our country would become.

The long hours on the road went by in a blur as we read stories that shared the perspectives of the commoners, First Nations, soldiers and militia on both sides of the battle.

Then we arrived. As us adults sleepily made our way out of our tent, the children buzzed around us with excitement. We would finally be seeing the walls of the city we’d read so much about. We would be able to see the bas-ville (downtown) and the haute-ville (uptown), as the stories referred to them.

We decided to enter the city from the water, by taking the ferry from Lévis. This was just how the British would have seen the city, with its towering cliffs and intimidating walls. The climb from the dock to the haute-ville was exhausting. Could you imagine the British soldiers, carrying their equipment and wearing their heavy woolen uniforms, hiking up these hills? Under gun fire?

But the experience didn’t end there. We took in the walls up close, which we learned had in fact been rebuilt. There were several modifications made as well, to accommodate modern society (like bridges that needed to be wide enough for two-way vehicular traffic). But the walls had value and they were there for all to experience. My children walked along the walls. They stood outside the guardrooms at the gates and pretended to be the French soldier who was tricked by the British, who could then penetrate the walls without setting off the alarm. They touched the heavy wooden doors and felt the cool door hardware with their fingers. They imagined being the French trying to hold off the enemies behind the walls.

In short, the stories came alive. Much of what we read was given context that was tangible to them. While pictures were nice, they didn’t fully give my children the sense of the scale of the walls, cliffs or the city and an appreciation of the bravery and skill of the British. The experience went beyond seeing the pictures and hearing the words of the stories. They could now see the formidable size, touch the cool stone, and be in awe of the steep hills.

Even now, my children retain a lot of the key facts of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. They know the key characters. They know how embarrassingly short the battle was, and how significant the battle was in the Seven Years’ War. They know what French-Canadian society looked like in the 1750’s. They understand some of the partnerships forged between the French and First Nations people. They remember the challenges facing the British, French, and First Nations people as they tried to live in harmony after occupation.

We have had similar experiences at the Citadel in Halifax, Fort Walsh outside of Maple Creek, “Green Gables” at Prince Edward Island and Heritage Park in Calgary. Incidentally, my children have shown less captivation for a subject they showed interest in, but was followed by a trip to a museum – where heritage artifacts and buildings were replaced by displays.

And what is the point of my story? It is that buildings matter. They too tell a story. Connaught tells of a culture that insisted the boys use one entrance and the girls use another. It tells of a society that chose its designs carefully, so that no space was wasted and all spaces were functional. It has a story within the larger context of our City and how it has grown and developed over the past 100 years. I can use the history of the building as an anchor to teach about anything, from math (money math facts every child living in 1912 should know) to economics (inflation), science (building materials, architecture) to literature (stories from the turn of the century). And, of course, I can teach history.

I suspect that any teacher in the city would be able to put together a brilliant unit study using Connaught as the common thread through it all. And I suspect that their students would be more engaged and learn more if they were exposed to the physical presence of a century-old building, rather than simply a picture of it.

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1 Comment

  1. When Calgary’s Connaught School was renovated, they built the renovation into the curriculum. This included not only learning about history, but also about environmental stewardship.


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