Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Canada's Historic Action Plan

There's a new Heritage Minute out. I was kinda pleased to see it was a hockey story, about the Winnipeg Falcons.

I appreciated that, because recent additions to the Minutes, with the exception of the John A. Macdonald and George-Etienne Cartier commemorations, have all been on military themes. The Minutes often used to be quirky and surprising. They liked to go to odd corners of Canadian history and culture. They didn't seem too preachy. Lately I have been sorry to see them become so single-mindedly devoted to drum-beating patriotism -- now that they depend so much on government subsidy.  A nice hockey story seemed like a declaration of independence by the Minutes. Who were the Falcons?

Turns out the hockey minute is really another war minute. It's how the Falcons, the team that won Olympic gold in 1920, did it for the teammates who didn't come back from Flanders.  (Other teams in contention included the United States, France, and Belgium. No lost comrades there, I guess.)

There used to be an arm's length principle in public funding for art and culture: the funders of culture should not get to determine what gets produced. But that has been going by the boards. Funding is tough to come by, and where's the harm in a little compromise? But gradually all our independent historical and heritage agencies begin looking like government advertising.

The Dictionary of Canadian Biography now seems to be on a sound financial footing, thanks to federal support. And look, they have opened special units on what? Multiculturalism?  Immigration? First Nations? No, it's the First World War, the War of 1812, and wartime Prime Ministers. This isn't going to ruin the DCB, but one can guess where the choices were coming from.

Government sponsorship has long been important at Historica, custodians of the old Heritage Minutes and producers of the new ones. Another history NGO, Canada's National History Society, recently accepted $500,000 a year over three years from the government of Canada. It's to help with the kid's magazine Kayak, the society's History Awards, the annual History Forum, and the society's online portal. Sounds good?  (Note: I freelance regularly for the society's magazine Canada's History, which is not specifically targeted, but will no doubt benefit). Well, there it is: the society's online portal will ramp up its coverage of "our democracy, the First and Second World Wars, the flag, national symbols and Prime Ministers."

Is a theme emerging here?

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