Show­case: Mak­ing His­tory

Writ­ing plaques calls for ac­cu­rate re­search, the abil­ity to iden­tify and con­vey key de­tails suc­cinctly, and a pas­sion for his­tory

Our Canada - - News - by Robert Wil­liamson, Hamil­ton

Ever won­der who writes those plaques you read at his­tor­i­cal sites? Meet a for­mer teacher with a pas­sion for his­tory who does just that.

When I re­tired from teach­ing in 1993, it was easy to re­move the teacher from the class­room but not so the teacher from the man. I still had the de­sire to dis­sem­i­nate knowl­edge, so I vol­un­teered to join the Hamil­ton His­tor­i­cal Board and its plaquing sub­com­mit­tee. Thus I be­gan a per­sonal quest, draft­ing 16 plaques in the process like those il­lus­trated here, to present lo­cal his­tory in ways that im­proved un­der­stand­ing and cor­rected mis­in­for­ma­tion.

I had a spe­cial in­ter­est in plaque writ­ing be­cause it meant putting his­tory di­rectly into our neigh­bour­hoods. The en­deav­our called for ac­cu­rate re­search and pré­cis-writ­ing skills—pre­sent­ing ideas or in­for­ma­tion briefly, with­out over­look­ing any es­sen­tials. At the heart of ev­ery plaque, I tried to cre­ate a mem­o­rable “WOW” fac­tor, so that the reader was com­pelled to say, “Wow, I didn’t know that!”

Per­haps most mean­ing­ful to me, how­ever, was that I suc­cess­fully en­cour­aged our city’s cul­tural depart­ment to present plas­tic fac­sim­i­les of the com­mu­nity plaques we pro­duced to the neigh­bour­hood schools in­volved, giv­ing the chil­dren there a sense of own­er­ship of their own her­itage.

One of the great­est chal­lenges was cor­rect­ing pop­u­lar but some­times in­ac­cu­rate ac­counts of Cana­dian his­tory of­ten recorded in books, mag­a­zines and old plaques, or sim­ply em­bed­ded in lo­cal lore. As one Ro­man or­a­tor once said, “Men are quick to be­lieve that which they want to be­lieve.”

The three-year com­mem­o­ra­tion of the War of 1812 bi­cen­ten­nial pro­vided a golden op­por­tu­nity and a large stage to re­view and rec­tify mis­in­for­ma­tion that had ac­cu­mu­lated dur­ing the past 200 years. A defin­ing mo­ment in Cana­dian his­tory, and a war like no other, the War of 1812 pre­served

our Cana­dian iden­tity and re­jected a repub­li­can form of gov­ern­ment. It doesn’t get much more im­por­tant than that.

Dur­ing re­search, it soon be­came ev­i­dent that there was a com­plete lack of clar­ity about the War of 1812. Most Cana­di­ans had no ac­cu­rate per­cep­tion of what the key was to the suc­cess­ful de­fence of Canada. And so our plaquing fo­cus was aimed at two themes: the early Bri­tish suc­cess, which gave Cana­di­ans con­fi­dence, and the es­sen­tial con­trol of trans­porta­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion on the Great Lakes, so vi­tal to mil­i­tary suc­cess.

Our first op­por­tu­nity to write a mean­ing­ful plaque came with the pro­mo­tion of the “Brock Walk” pro­gram, trac­ing Maj.-gen. Sir Isaac Brock’s route to his spec­tac­u­lar vic­tory at Fort De­troit in Au­gust 1812. En route, he ral­lied reg­i­ments, mili­ti­a­men and Na­tives to the cause. At the Head-ofthe-lake, the fu­ture site of the city of Hamil­ton, 250 mili­ti­a­men (all United Em­pire Loy­al­ists) joined him, in­clud­ing sev­eral lead­ing per­son­al­i­ties of the re­gion. Our plaque com­mem­o­rat­ing Brock’s route was un­veiled by a Brock re-en­ac­tor at a 100seat Loy­al­ist din­ner. Fol­low­ing the Brock Walk theme, the plaque is ti­tled “Brock Stepped Here” and for a “wow” fac­tor claims that the sur­ren­der of the Michi­gan ter­ri­tory was the largest ter­ri­to­rial loss in U.S. his­tory.

The se­cond bi­cen­ten­nial plaque that I wrote was about the naval bat­tle known as the Burling­ton Races, a dar­ing mil­i­tary clash at the head of Lake On­tario for naval con­trol of the lake that would de­ter­mine the out­come of the war and the fu­ture of Canada. (Wow!) In­cred­i­bly, the in­for­ma­tion on an older provin­cial plaque was in­cor­rect, based on pure fancy.

On Septem­ber 28, 2013, an ac­cu­rate ver­sion of the bat­tle, en­ti­tled “From Fancy to Fact” was un­veiled with me wear­ing my 1812 naval uni­form. The event took place be­side a walk­ing-trail ob­ser­va­tion deck at the Lake­view Ban­quet Cen­tre, over­look­ing the Burling­ton shore­line. It was a beau­ti­ful day for an un­veil­ing, but few of­fi­cial guests ap­peared. How­ever, a wed­ding party and their 200 ban­quet guests joined us and be­came part of a joint cel­e­bra­tion. Hope­fully, fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of Cana­di­ans will have a bet­ter ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the sig­nif­i­cance of the war on the wa­ter, and many other his­tor­i­cal events.

The home of Prime Min­is­ter Lester B. Pear­son while he at­tended the Hamil­ton Col­le­giate In­sti­tute, (1910 to 1913). Page 28: Robert and his Burling­ton Races plaque; Hamil­ton Col­le­giate stu­dent coun­cil, 1913 (Pear­son, mid­dle row, third from left).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.