Monthly Archives: November 2020

The National Hockey (Association) League: When public history misinterprets history

There is a plaque in Le Windsor, an office building in downtown Montreal that used to be the grand Windsor Hotel.

Unveiled in 2017 by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada in conjunction with the National Hockey League, the plaque commemorates the founding of the league during a meeting at the hotel 100 years earlier.

“Founded here in November 1917, the NHL holds a special place in Canadians’ hearts,” begins the English wording on the plaque. It goes on to define the NHL as “the world’s predominant hockey league, growing through radio and television broadcasts and captivating generations of fans with the speed and skill of the game.”

The National Hockey League’s historical plaque in the former Windsor Hotel in Montreal.

Every word on the historical plaque is true. For me, though, the plaque is noteworthy for what it does not say – for what has been deliberately left out of this prominent expression of public history.

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All I need is a name: How cemeteries can aid in public history research

Since I used last week’s blog post to illustrate on a very personal level why cemeteries have limitations as historical sources, I feel it is only fair to discuss here how cemeteries can also be invaluable research tools.

For some time now, I have had an idea for a public history project in my hometown. I have been curious about heritage and commemoration, specifically parks and buildings that are named after people. The best example in Owen Sound is the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre, which is named in honour of Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Harry Lumley. There is ample signage at the community centre that tells us who Harry Lumley was. But in many other instances in town, the name of the person who has been remembered is often all we know about that person. Little or nothing shows or tells us why the person was honoured.

Softball action at Duncan McLellan Park. Photo by the City of Owen Sound.
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Carved in stone: The limitation of cemeteries as public history sites

Our digital public history class recently had a guest speaker who discussed dark history tourism – things like ghost tours and torture museums. I had previously not thought much about dark history at all, because the macabre has never been of particular interest to me, so I was surprised to learn from our guest that cemeteries are dark history sites. It immediately made sense, though – if you’re in a cemetery, you’re literally surrounded by the remains of dead people. And a cemetery is a great place to search for and find local history.

Greenwood Cemetery in Owen Sound, ON. Photo by the City of Owen Sound.
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