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British Columbia history that informs readers while entertaining them.

Where did Canadian history go wrong?

You remember how it was in school: names, dates, events, all of them of long ago and far away and of no real interest. Which is precisely what’s wrong with the way we teach Canadian history in school, if you ask me. (They don’t, of course.)

If children don’t engage with Canadian history, is it their fault? Or is it ours because we present it so poorly that Canadian history becomes, in fact, boring and dull?

Several times I’ve been asked by teachers who think outside the prescribed curriculum to speak to their students.

Now I’ve been speaking to adult audiences almost since I first became published. It comes with the job. But, speak to kids?

For years, I resisted. I well remember how I hated my own schools days, how I rebelled against the regimentation, the learning by rote, the boring subjects, the teachers who came across not just as burned-out but, in some rare cases, almost angry with their lot in life and our place in it.

Which isn’t to say that I didn’t have some good, even great, teachers along the way. Teachers who brought out the best in me (such as it was) and encouraged me to pursue my writing. Bless them!

But back to Canadian history and schooling in the present. Canadian history is vibrant, a living organism. It’s happening as you read this. And Canadian history is the equal (at the very least) of any in the world!

But we Canadians have all but lost touch with our roots
Okay, that’s easy for me to say. I do, after all, have a closer link to the past and I’m not referring to my age. Both sets of my grandparents emigrated to Canada just prior to the First World War in which both my grandfathers served and in which both were disabled with lifetime injuries. (Great Uncle Jim was killed.)

Then came my parents’ generation and the Great (so-called) Depression, the one that makes our 2008-9 economic blip a road bump by comparison.

Then another world war and my father, a career navy man, off to do his duty in the North Atlantic, my uncles to the army and navy.

I, in effect, am a direct product of two world wars and world depression. I know what it’s like to have a father away in the navy and to grow up in a household of thrift. Not economic hardship by any means, but we kids did learn firsthand that money doesn’t grow on trees.

Mind you, things were built better in those days, if not to last at least to be repaired. When did you last pay to have something fixed? (I mean, besides your plumbing or your roof.) Today, if you want an extended warranty you have to pay extra for it. As opposed to when you not only expected it to perform, you demanded that it perform. Or back it went to the dealer, usually with few questions asked and with full replacement or refund.

But I’m wandering (an occupational hazard)
I started to say that my war/post-war generation grew up immersed with our parents’ stories, of how they came to be where they where and why they were there.

Compare this to the almost total disconnect of later generations, particularly the present where many families don’t even take their meals together. Where did we go wrong? How do we fix it? Can it be fixed? Does it even matter?

You’re damn right it matters

If we go on raising children without giving them a solid grounding in Canadian history–in a form that they’ll accept and embrace–we’re doomed as a national and cultural entity. We really will become the 51st state, not by being overwhelmed but by osmosis from sheer apathy.

Is this what globalism is about, a gradual and passive surrender of all the principles, hard work and sacrifices of previous generations of Canadians who gave their all to build lives for themselves and their families in this Land of Plenty and Opportunity? And in so doing, built all the foundations of a nation and society that we latecomers have had handed to us on a platter?

Many Canadians–too many Canadians–give me the impression that they don’t just take it for granted but that it’s owed to them. Where did this obscene sense of entitlement come from? Certainly not from my grandparents’ or parents’ generations. They gave to this country, they didn’t just suck up the benefits as their due.

Okay, I’m preaching
But that’s the whole point of this blogging exercise, isn’t it? To inform you by (for the most part) entertaining you. It certainly works for my twice-weekly column, Cowichan Chronicles in the Cowichan Valley Citizen. Now in its 19th year, the Chronicles are the most-read and best-remembered features in the Citizen, as proven by the stats.

I say this to make my point–that this approach would work in the classroom if Canadian history were presented in a more palatable form.

After all, it’s drama–the human drama–the most exciting and fascinating ever told. If you don’t believe me, just check out today’s news.

Hardly had I written this than this news item appeared in the Times-Colonist:
Under the headline ‘Canada’s archives fall short,’ it reported that future generations may not be able to access Canada’s recorded heritage, including photos, maps and priceless documents.

Why? Because, according to the auditor-general, Library and Archives Canada isn’t collecting all the materials that it should from federal government agencies. In fact, there’s already a backlog of 98,000 boxes of documents, a quarter of them military files, some dating back to 1890.

There’s more but you get the drift. Apparently modern-day students aren’t the only ones bored by history, so are our ‘stewards’–the very people in Ottawa we rely on to preserve our Canadian history and heritage!

Compare this to a great letter to the T-C back in September

John Hickson, Cobble Hill, wrote of a voyage he and his wife had taken to Friendly Cove on the Island’s west coast aboard the MV Uchuck. Friendly Cove is one of the most historic spots in all of B.C. but I’ll save that for another post.

The Hicksons also visited the lieutenant-governor’s residence in Victoria. Sites such as these, he penned, “are the things that the media should be pushing–our heritage–that make people’s hearts swell with pride… Many people would give their eyeteeth to live in such areas [as] Vancouver Island…”

As for the modern curse of entitlement, he concluded, such attitudes “ruin our respect for the beauty and history of the land in which we live”.

Hear, hear, John Hickson!


  1. A topic near and dear, and sadly of huge concern, to us as well my friend. We work in the field with our camera to try and find a way to make our heritage interesting for people with the hopes that one day all this rich history will be appreciated. We find that these times seem to promote a sense of entitlement, as you allude to in your article, and with this comes a natural decline in the past that brought us all here. Just think, if those first adventuring souls in Europe all those hundreds of years ago decided it was too much work to bother going across an ocean of uncertainty, none of us would be here today. Wonderful post, TW.

    • In researching a book on the Cowichan Valley’s role in the First World War (we had the highest enlistment per capita in all of Canada) I’m reminded yet again of how we as a nation seem to have lost direction. Where’s the vision, the national drive for a future for Canada on the world stage? Instead, we have money-managers whose concern for the bottom line blinds them to the real issues, the real needs of those Canadians who really care what the future holds for their children and grandchildren.
      As you put it, none of us would be here today but for the sacrifices of our forebears. They wanted to make a better world for themselves and for their families. In so doing, they made a better place for us. To face the future as individuals and as a nation we need to know about our past. Not just know about it but understand it, respect it and gain from it spiritually. We have a debt and the way to pay it is to live up to the best of their ideals. I just don’t see this happening these days. So I go on, beating my drum. –TWP

  2. I enjoy this article enough to share it around; and yes, the reality is that our parents and grandparents and their/our families are our history, as you get into about your own roots. We are connected to the past; it is not an abstraction….it is a done deal. Finding out what happened and realizing all that did go on that the usual media and curricular content gets into takes interest, time… and access.

    I did want to ask, a bit rhetorically as it’s more of a comment, re your question here:

    Many Canadians–too many Canadians–give me the impression that they don’t just take it for granted but that it’s owed to them. Where did this obscene sense of entitlement come from? Certainly not from my grandparents’ or parents’ generations. They gave to this country, they didn’t just suck up the benefits as their due.

    Well, quite frankly….it was in our curriculum and in the marketing of politics and consumerism about how much better life is now vs how it was then….and also when it comes to organizations and individuals working to preserve heritage and nature having exactly the same “entitlement” rationale used as a put-down of a very necessary thing….contact with the past, which is us and we are it; lose track of that, we have lost civilization and entered barbarism….well, oh, we did that a long time ago, yes, huh?

    But also re your question, where do the banks and the companies engaged in taking resources for little royalty get their sense of entitlement from? They see far more of public funding – and public business with the government as consumer – than any unemployed person or arts organization ever will.

    Perhaps you meant something different about entitlement, as per how today’s generations don’t appreciate the past that gave them the freedoms – including the freedom to indulge their dreams – or they people who suffered through those times to learn the hard lessons of right-now history. Maybe you meant wanting government hand-outs…..and again, that’s exactly what gets said about history and heritage funding, as with anything else in the way of commerce.

    Sorry to be so political, and so long….but what’s happening to history right now I’m in the trenches….wistfully hoping for reinforcements….of authors and community members who actually know the history, and have the citation resources on-hand to make sure that BC history isn’t overwritten and its content dictated from afar; which is what’s largely going on more and more in recent years.

    I’m glad I found your blog, will come back looking for town history articles and more; and would be interested in information-sharing on the Bridge River-Lillooet Country, about which I should have written my own book by now long ago…but wondering if any of your titles cover it? My website doesn’t work right now, but it should be findable on webarchives; haven’t updated it in years, and know a lot more by now, but occupied elsehwere for a long time.

    • Hi, Skookum 1. My reply is certainly going to be shorter than your comment, I’m afraid!
      The sense of entitlement I refer to is that of many Canadians of the past 2-3 generations who seem to think that Canada as we know it is a gift of the gods.
      No! It’s the result of the hard work and sacrifices of previous generations who actually gave to this country.
      Just doing your own thing without regard for Canada as a whole or for Canada in the future is, in my mind, the equivalent of being a waste of oxygen.
      We, as Canadians, owe it to our forebears to give something of ourselves to our country; a country that, for all its faults, is one of the most fortunate on this planet. But only because previous Canadians worked and gave of themselves to make it so.
      We of today are inheritors. We’ve done none of the heavy lifting. So our citizenship has become a ‘free’ kitten–something we take as our right without any sense of having to give something back.
      Yeah, yeah, I’m preaching again, sorry. But I truly believe that those who have given so much to Canada in the past should be remembered and be honoured to the extent that that is possible.
      Simply put, don’t we all want to be recognized for our contributions? Let’s begin by acknowledging the sacrifices of those who actually built this country.
      School, obviously, is the starting point. Unfortunately, it’s also where we went off the rails. It’s still fixable but I’m becoming ever less hopeful of a change in course.
      So I go on, informing and, hopefully, entertaining my readers as well. Hopefully, too, I’m not just a voice in the wilderness…

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