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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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IF Canadians are to know "as much as possible about their country, its history and traditions",1 the proper preservation of our ancient monuments and historic sites is a matter of first importance. These recall in a vivid picturesque manner not only the great and heroic moments of the past, but the thoughts and doings of other days, so different from our own, and yet so much a part of all that we are. To English-speaking Canadians the word "ancient" may seem strange in a country so new. But they will recall the French sense of "former", and the rapidity with which in this new and changing country former things may cease to be. And all Canadians may read with interest the remark of the Saskatoon Archaeological Society, that the Stone Age, in Europe so remote, is in Saskatchewan only a few generations away, with traces of its story still written on the face of the prairie.

2. Federal responsibility for historic sites and monuments in Canada rests with the National Parks Service of the Department of Resources and Development. This apparently curious arrangement is justified by what is known as "consumer interest". Historic sites and parks are attractions both for visitors from abroad and for Canadians on holiday; and historic accident has often made it possible for the sites to be identified with and included in the parks. From a practical viewpoint the association has been valuable to both.

3. The National Parks Service receives information and advice on historical matters from the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, described in the official statement as "an honorary body of recognized historians, representing the various provinces of Canada".2 This body includes the Dominion Archivist and a representative of the Parks Service who is responsible for arranging the annual meeting, and for secretarial work. Members of the Board receive suggestions for the marking or


preservation of sites and monuments; they investigate them and report through the Board to the Parks Service. The physical care, or "house-keeping", as it has been termed, is the responsibility of the Parks Service.

4. Two practices are followed in dealing with historic sites and monuments. One is to identify a place or a building simply by a descriptive tablet. The tablet may be placed on an historic building, on a stone cairn of a type now familiar to most Canadians, or occasionally on a stone or boulder marking the site of the incident commemorated. The Parks Service reports that 388 of these tablets have been placed since 1923, divided amongst the provinces as follows:

Prince Edward Island 18
Nova Scotia 58
New Brunswick 46
Quebec 70
Ontario 119
Manitoba 20
Saskatchewan 8
Alberta 20
British Columbia 28
Yukon 1

5. A second important practice of the Board and the Parks Service is to restore and preserve buildings associated with particular events or periods of history. Some very ambitious projects have been successfully undertaken, either independently or with aid from other departments, from Provincial Governments and from interested organizations and individuals. The Fortress of Louisburg, Fort Anne at Annapolis Royal, Fort Wellington at Prescott, Ontario, Fort Lennox in Quebec are examples of works of restoration and preservation of places of military significance, most of them situated in national parks and housing more or less valuable museum collections illustrating their own history and that of the surrounding area. The most striking military restoration is that of Fort Henry at Kingston, carried out at the joint expense of the Federal and Provincial Governments and now leased to the Province. This was not, however, a project of the Parks Service. It should be mentioned that custody of many sites of military interest by the Department of National Defence may be a serious obstacle to their proper preservation; the Department is naturally concerned with structures because of their military value and not for their archaeological importance.

6. A most ambitious project was the complete reconstruction of the Port Royal Habitation of Champlain at Lower Granville in Nova Scotia. This work was initiated and carried through with the help of many interested friends and voluntary groups, including a number of Americans who contributed money and gave expert archaeological and historical advice. The proper site was discovered by careful excavation, and the


dimensions, materials, and location of buildings were determined by minute examination of records of all sorts. To some questions there was no final answer; ". . . the reconstruction . . . had to rely on inference and reasonable probability where precise information or direct evidence [was] lacking."3 This striking reproduction commemorates the oldest dwellings of European type in North America north of the Spanish Settlements, antedating those of Quebec by three years and those of the Pilgrim Fathers by fifteen years. In all, the National Parks Service reports twenty-two historic buildings or restorations under its control, distributed amongst the provinces as follows:

Prince Edward Island 1
Nova Scotia 5
New Brunswick 2
Quebec 6
Ontario 6
Manitoba 1
British Columbia 1


7. Although the work of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board was not formally referred to us for review until near the close of our hearings, representations on this matter from some dozen organizations showed much interest, and a somewhat critical attitude based perhaps partly on incomplete knowledge. We were urged to concern ourselves with the matter even if it were not within our Terms of Reference, on the ground that in reporting on archives we should not neglect "our archives in stone".4

8. Apart from the adequacy of the work of the Board, which will be discussed later, voluntary organizations had three direct criticisms. These came chiefly and most forcibly from the Province of Saskatchewan for reasons that may be revealed at least in part by the tables shown above. There is first an inquiry about the policy of the Board:

"We would like to raise the question of whether the marking is proceeding according to some definite plan. We are interested to know if National Historic Sites have been listed either according to a time sequence or as to historic significance, or as to geographic distribution and whether any such classification is being followed by the Board."5

9. This Society was not clearly informed on the constitution and operations of the Board, but an analysis of the work done shows that there is perhaps some reason for raising the question. Of 388 markings, Saskatchewan has eight, and the three Prairie Provinces together have forty-eight. Moreover, we have reports from local historians of repute


concerning some thirty historic and five prehistoric sites in Saskatchewan that should be commemorated. Of the former, many more than half are of national rather than provincial interest. There are certain obvious reasons for a mathematical disproportion between the provinces and there may be quite proper reasons for all that has been done. The request for a statement of policy, nevertheless, is not surprising.

10. Another cause of serious complaint, from Saskatchewan particularly, but also from Quebec, is the failure of the Board to get in touch with other interested groups, to explain its policy, to keep them informed of its activities, and generally to agree on a proper division of interests. The marking of an historic site may properly be the function of a Provincial Government, of a municipality, or of a private organization, rather than of the Federal Government. This fact is recognized by the Board in its refusal to mark churches, even those of undeniable historical significance. Yet, to prevent both needless duplication and needless neglect, it is said that there should be a clear statement of policy and a constant exchange of information and ideas. The personal link of the provincial member of the Board with his own region has not invariably been found adequate.

11. One disagreement between the Board and certain provincial interests illustrates the rather difficult problems which may have to be met. Should a tablet be placed on the former hide-out of American whisky runners, because it had a considerable reputation in its day? How long is required for history to make crime, if not respectable, at least notable? Is this a circumstance for the application of Renan's dictum that in the history of every great nation there is much to be forgotten as well as much to be remembered?

12. Finally, there is a complaint of inaccurate marking. A member of the Board explained that markers cannot and should not always be placed on the exact site of the incident commorated [sic]:

"We do not definitely put markers at the site . . . the exact site of Fort Gibraltar is now the Winnipeg garbage dump. We obviously couldn't put it there . . . 'Near this spot' is a very favourite phrase. . . . In British Columbia . . . a new highway being put through left the marker twenty feet down in a canyon, and so that has been moved."6

The explanation does not entirely satisfy the critics. They agree that markers must be reasonably accessible but feel that some have been misplaced through sheer negligence.

". . . cairns are being placed somewhere near the sites, yet with no indication on the cairn or near it, of the actual location of the site. In one example which may be cited . . . a cairn has been placed beside the river . . . the actual battle occurred at least one or one and a quarter miles away from the marker yet there is nothing to indicate that the cairn is not on the actual site."7


A similar lack of precision in marking was noted in other places. The suggestion was made that where there are sufficient reasons for not placing a cairn or marker on the actual site, the fact should be clearly stated on the tablet, with an accompanying plan, if possible, to show the relation of the marker to the site.

13. There have been a number of recommendations from various sources for a somewhat broader policy, involving greater effort and expenditure, and for immediate action on certain matters which are pressing. From the Prairies comes the suggestion that attention be paid to those prehistoric sites which, as mentioned above, remind the present inhabitants of their curious nearness in time to the Stone Age. We heard also of the site of a famous battle in 1866 between Blackfoot and Cree, as well as Indian camp-sites, and various kinds of stonework. Some sites, both prehistoric and historic, need protection as well as marking. For example, the battlefield of Batoche is duly marked with a cairn, but the remains of the zareba constructed by Middleton have only recently, and perhaps temporarily, escaped being ploughed over by the owner of the land.

14. This need for protection in various places has prompted a number of representations advocating a greater emphasis on preserving or restoring, and less on marking, than in the past. Restoration and preservation is, of course, very much more expensive; but this part of the work is of chief interest to most of the societies which have dealt with the matter. Without detracting from the value of the work done, they think that the main purpose of the tablet or the cairn is to direct attention to the battlefield, the treaty site, the fort or the house, and that if these are obliterated or destroyed, the marker, while informative, is not inspiring. The necessity of employing a uniform pattern of cairn and tablet over the entire country, and of placing them "near" rather than "on" the site is a further discouragement to those who wish to live for a moment in the past; and the illegibility and the uninteresting design of the plaques now used do nothing to stimulate the imagination. The beauty and the accuracy of the works of restoration and reconstruction already achieved have inspired an interest in more frequent preservation as opposed to mere marking of the sites.8

15. We have heard also a suggestion that even in the work of preservation the selection of sites and monuments has stressed one theme in history at the expense of others. The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada urges the preservation of old houses of architectural merit on the ground that they are just as historical and much cheaper to maintain than battlefields. The Government, it is thought, might acquire examples of this old architecture; if it is not possible to retain them in their present location, they might be transferred to one of the National Parks or to


some setting similar to their original location. An analysis of the records of the Board shows that, of the twenty-two monuments in its care, sixteen are purely military forts, and one other a fur-trading fort constructed on military lines. Granted that forts are more likely to survive than dwelling houses, and that parts of Canada at certain times have been far from peaceful, this still appears to be a curious emphasis in a country that boasts not infrequently of the longest undefended frontier in the world.

16. That many historic houses, including those of architectural interest, are rapidly disappearing for lack of care, has been emphasized by several organizations and in information sent to us from a number of sources.9 In Quebec we heard of the Sillery House, the oldest in Canada, sold to a private person, fortunately to one who is giving it all proper care, but at considerable expense. Another example familiar to all is the famous Château de Ramezay, built in 1707 by the Governor of Montreal and for many years the seat of government for the district. The building and a valuable museum collection are being preserved, but with difficulty, by the Antiquarian and Numismatic Society of Montreal. There are still in Quebec some houses, although not many, dating from before 1763, especially upon the Côte de Beaupré and on the Island of Orleans; but these are being rapidly reduced by fire and decay.

17. Although Quebec alone possesses a considerable number of houses dating back to the eighteenth century, there are many fine old buildings in Ontario and the Maritime Provinces. Moreover, age being relative, we found in the most recently settled parts of the country a keen interest in the preservation of the early buildings. Some of the most interesting are wooden structures constantly threatened by decay, by fire, or by careless destruction. "Our political men", said a witness, "do not seem to have the historical sense." Fire has recently destroyed the Decew house to which Laura Secord took her famous message. This house was of architectural as well as historical interest. The meeting place of the first legislature of New Brunswick at Fredericton is about to be or has already been pulled down; and another fine old house, built in 1820 and in good condition, is, we are told, marked for destruction. In Manitoba, Lower Fort Garry, the greatest monument to the fur trade in Western Canada is well preserved, but in private hands.10 The Ross House, the first building in Western Canada to be used as a post office, has been restored by the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba and now stands in excellent condition, in the heart of the city of Winnipeg; the Society, however, has no funds for its maintenance. Manitoba is naturally less rich in historic buildings than the older provinces, but several others of interest were mentioned to us. At Emerson, for example, is a very old Customs House, a fine example of early Red River architecture,


which is being sought by Americans who wish to reconstruct it across the border.

18. A particular problem is presented by churches and ecclesiastical buildings. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board, for obvious reasons, as we have said, takes no responsibility for them. In certain areas, however, where old buildings are rare, they may be the sole representatives of the era of their construction. The old St. Andrew's Church and parsonage, both stone buildings, still stand unmarked on the Red River near Winnipeg; in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, the original log church of the Barr colonists is used as a garage.

19. An area rich in historic sites as old and even older than any in the rest of Canada is Newfoundland. We heard of nearly sixty sites of general historic interest awaiting the attention of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board. We were told of the traditional landing place of John Cabot (June 24, 1497), of Carbonear, where the early Channel Island settlers produced the "charbon" for heating their homes, of old graves of Basque fishermen, and of the site of Lord Baltimore's Castle inhabited by David Kirke and others. We were taken back not to the eighteenth century but to the seventeenth and (for a brief moment) to the fifteenth. Canada's newest province proudly and rightly claims her place beside the oldest.

20. One important problem was brought to our attention by the Quebec Historical Society. This society expressed its alarm not only at the destruction but at the sale abroad of the monuments and symbols of the past. The possible fate of the Customs House in Manitoba is an illustration of what may happen. A similar problem was discussed by museum curators and others. It was suggested that in Canada we should follow the example of Great Britain and France and save national treasures from export or destruction by scheduling them as of national interest. We assume that the persons who make this suggestion wish the scheduling to be accompanied by proper care, and that we are not to show our respect for our historic possessions by refusing these to people who value them, and then leaving them to destruction and decay.

21. It may be said, in conclusion, that the preservation and marking of Canada's historic sites and monuments excites a lively, if limited, interest. The existence of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board is noted with gratitude, and its work is appreciated. There is, however, apart from minor criticisms, an urgent demand that more work be done, especially in preservation and reconstruction, that there be conducted a much more minute and methodical investigation of what still remains and is worthy of preservation; and that closer and more systematic co-operation be established between the various authorities concerned with this important national task.

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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