Friday, January 11, 2019

Historical Societes and Civic Society

Lambton House, not in January
Went down to Lambton House on the edge of the Humber River in west Toronto last night to hear the annual Howland Lecture of Heritage York. "York" is a former small city now amalgamated into the City of Toronto. Its local historical society, having played a key role in preserving Lambton House, a 1847 inn and only survivor of a mid-19th century milling complex where Dundas Road crosses the river, continues to be active in the community. The Howland lecture commemorates William P. Howland, miller, businessman, and politician, once the builder and owner of the inn.

The Lambton Lecture is usually on a historical topic, but last night's topic was "It’s Up to Us: Taking Action to Protect the Humber" and featured a Toronto city councillor, Gord Perks, and Heather Marshall of the environmental lobby TEA, Toronto Environmental Alliance. Their presentation was somewhat about issues in the Humber watershed, but mostly about how to advance progressive environmental policies in the face of a complacent city government and a hostile provincial government.

Cold raw night, uncommercial location, post-holiday lull with the Leafs on TSN and the usual cornucopia on Netflix. Still the place was packed, SRO. In fact, York Heritage has an active membership and most of its events are well attended. Last night's topic drew out a supplementary crowd of people with political and environmental bent, and suddenly they had a hit on their hands.

Who else does this kind of thing? It struck me once again how much local historical societies all over the country are prime elements in a thing often said to be collapsing, civic society. They have space, often in the buildings they have preserved. They have activist members with community and political links. They have a membership roster and promotional networks. Their historical programming is itself a contribution to community knowledge and cohesion. When they turn to civic and political issues, their instincts are for good planning, preservation of both natural and built environment, and civic accountability.

I'm not even a member of Heritage York -- I do pay dues to historical societies on either side of its turf -- and still I was kinda proud of what it achieved last night.
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