Friday, June 04, 2010

Man, I feel like an historian

Spent some time in two of my favourite Canadian rooms.  One was the third floor archives reading room of Library and Archives Canada, a big gracefully proportioned space with a view of the Ottawa River that can't help but make you think Creightonian thoughts.  I wrote a thesis and most of my first book in that room, so I have good feelings about it. It's rather more complicated today. Document requests that used to take twenty minutes now take days, and you can't work all night anymore, not that I tried. But it's still a candystore of sources... wish I spent more time here.

Also went over to the House of Commons to watch a bit of Question Period, always pretty terrific. Oddly enough, in the archives I was reading an anonymous journalist who came to Ottawa in October 1864 to look at the new parliament buildings rising in the midst of the scrawny lumber town and was terrifically impressed.
The parliament buildings ... rise so grandly on the bold headland overlooking the junction of the Rideau [the Rideau canal actually] and Ottawa; … These splendid structures will stand a prophecy and an invitation to a Union of the Canadas and these unfinished halls may yet resound to eloquent voices from Newfoundland and from Vancouver’s Island.
They still look pretty terrific when you walk up under the Peace Tower to sit in the Commons chamber galleries. We did hear a Newfoundlander, and someone from Vancouver Island too. Though I'm not sure either actually rose to eloquence today, the principle holds.

Update, June 7: Jordan Kerr writes:
I must agree with you on the lofty thoughts about the third floor of the archives building. I just finished my first 'serious' archival work there for a 3rd year history class. I'm sure that seems trivial in comparison to your thesis and book research...but hey we all have to start somwhere. Overall it was a wonderful experience but I can't help but feeling quite amateur when people are researching around me that have YEARS of experience and knowledge under their belt. I must give credit to the wonderful consutation and reference staff, they're always very helpful and quite patient with people, like myself, who really don't know what they're doing yet! Also, the security staff are always ready for a chat as you're both stuck there well into the night. The wait time for documents can be frustrating, but it works if you time it right with your schedule. I consider LAC, without sounding too idealistic, almost sacred, and yes, it quickly drums up feelings of academic and nationalist idealism. I'm sure more than one budding and experienced historian alike share the same thoughts. It's strange, I've been in Ottawa for 3 years and have yet to sit in on Question Period, though I've watched it probably hundreds of times on that most cherished yet 'tries too hard station'...CPAC. It's been said that the more Canadians learn about their history the less patriotic they get. I find that the each time I walk up towards the peace tower a little bit of its grandeur seems to fade away.
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