Curated Panel

Toward A Canadian Can(n)on: the Role of Living History in Recognizing, Resisting and Remaking a National Historical Narrative

Curated by Ashley Williamson

(from the original call for papers)


Kingston’s Fort Henry Guard, founded in 1938 by Ronald L. Way, is acknowledged as the first real attempt at historical animation at a national historic site in Canada. In the following decades as living history animation proliferated it became a principle method for imparting a national historical narrative to Canadians. However, the country’s colonial past makes agreeing on a canonical story to present at national historical sites fraught. Scholars are wary of how living history methods might codify history at the expense of ongoing inquiry (Moreau, Magelssen, Peacock). And it is certainly important to acknowledge issues that living history museums have with diversity and inclusivity. The sites are worth examining to understand how national historical narrative become established. If there is value in a canon it is that it makes it easier to see the gaps; the people, places and things that are missing. It also true that material included in the canon can also be valuable, interesting, and or noble it its own right. It is the tension between this recognition of value and obligation to resist ossification that makes the performance genre of living history animation so provocative. What, for example, would happen to our Canadian past if it is performed by historically inauthentic bodies? What do living history sites look like with multiple historical communities represented in the same place? Can living history methods be used to create a more inclusive canon?

The papers on this panel would discuss performances at heritage sites, living history museums, re-enactment groups, or heritage houses; whether living history methods were used; and how the work fits, adds or resists a place in a Canadian National Narrative.

Topics may include:

  • The role of military performances, historical, or contemporary
  • Performances of historical documents – ie Trial of Louis Riel
  • Historical Canadians, or regional characters, voyageurs, gold miners, soldiers, cowboys
  • Issues of casting or, telling marginalized stories with non-marginalized performers Vikings and other early settlers, do they fit into the canon?
  • Commemoration, anniversaries and other tricky celebrations