"Living History" in Canada: Representing Victorian Culture in the Multicultural Present
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In this study, I investigate the institutional relationship between heritage, living history, and memory in Canadian living history museums, specifically, historic homes that represent Victorian material culture in the contemporary multicultural context. I consider how historic homes in Canada have been preserved, restored, and constructed as evidentiary – as artefacts for use as civic instruments in the practice and performance of history. My study connects the artefact to the performance of history at three living history museums which, like so many heritage sites in Canada, taken together deploy “founding nations” mythologies: Dundurn Castle in Hamilton and William Lyon Mackenzie House in Toronto, Ontario, and the Sir George-Étienne Cartier National Historic Site of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. To make this connection, I examine the “Victorian Christmas” program offered annually at each site; the Christmas programs are examples of “living history” in action – period rooms are decorated to represent a historical seasonal celebration, interpreters discuss traditions and activities associated with the occasion, and visitors sing carols and eat festive treats. I explore the implications of institutional interpretations of the past that privilege bi-national mythologies, despite the fact that each site I have chosen is located in the midst of a large urban centre’s ethnically diverse (multicultural) population – and, in the case of the Cartier Houses in Montreal, a constituency informed by contemporary souverainiste issues.