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Reviewed by:
  • Placing Memory and Remembering Place in Canada ed. by James Opp and John C. Walsh
  • Brian Osborne, Professor Emeritus
James Opp and John C. Walsh, eds. Placing Memory and Remembering Place in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2010. $85.00 hc; $32.95 sc.

While location is a geometrical term and space is an abstraction, place is a "meaning-full" experience. It is created by individuals informally as they absorb the memories of the past, the quotidian activities of their life in the present, and planned future lived-in worlds. And, while grounded physically, the essence of particular places is dynamic and mutable and the process of creating it is captured in the verb, "placing." Certainly, the post-Westphalian/French Revolution/Versailles nation-state took this to heart and embraced the construction of identities. The informality of Tonnies' gemeinschaft was replaced by artifice: the invention of ceremonials and pageants; the production of visual prompts of didactic buildings, statues, and plaques; and the dissemination of preferred meta-narratives and mythic pasts. Later, the commodification of heritage through the tourist-industry required that the forces of commerce branded popular regional differences. And both of these processes have been challenged by shifts in popular preferences, priorities, and practices in the post-Woodstock/street-culture/Facebook age. As the technical world of social media organizes the political world of the "occupy" movement and the social world of street parties and riots, performed ceremonials have been replaced by spontaneous protest and celebration. This is what James Opp's and John Walsh's volume presents for us here in several case studies of dynamic identity formation in Canada, but it also addresses the growing problem of the "palpable immediacy" of everywhere and nowhere in a globalised system of information flows.

The several contributions in the first section, "Commemorations: Marking Memories of Place," address the "official" creation of acts of remembrance. It opens with John Walsh's investigation of the phenomenon of the performance of public memory by Ottawa Valley communities and questions the motivation of the exercise. He concludes that while rendered in romantic tropes of the pioneering experience, they were not exercises in nostalgia for the benefit of the exiles but were signal demonstrations of community pride in what they had built. Motive is also central to Cecilia Morgan's analysis of "local acts of memory" in the contestation of hegemonic power relationships within the Six Nations and how the Six Nations asserted their [End Page 283] role as active participants in the Euro-Canadian narrative and polity rather than as mere colourful fill-in paintings and pageants and sculptures. And dynamism is to the fore as Frances Swyripa examines the reshaping of performed "rituals of civic identity" on Edmonton's major artery, Jasper Avenue. Orchestrated by civic leaders and activists, public participation in street theatre transformed this prosaic corridor into the "heart of the collective consciousness of city residents," albeit challenged by modern preferences and practices. Alan Gordon tells a story of "nuance, complexity, and even contradiction" in his discussion of the invention of Cape Breton's Highland Village. As such, it is a signal demonstration of how sometimes we are persuaded by the "non-sense" of place as the economic rationale of provincial tourist marketing appropriated a romanticised story of the Scottish diaspora. Continuing this critical vein, Russell Johnston and Michael Ripmeester effect an analysis of the public awareness of the meaning and import of public monuments in the historic Niagara region. In particular, they critique the role of official "memory entrepreneurs" that promoted particular mnemonic narratives, and demonstrate that the populist focus was on current issues and the lived socio-economic-cultural verities of the region rather than on the iconic regional meta-narrative.

The second section "Inscriptions: Recovering Places of Memory," focusses on the "vernacular" intervention in the memory-creation process. It opens with Steven High's examination of how workers reacted to the closing of the paper mill in Sturgeon Falls by constructing a "mill history binder" as an evidentiary surrogate of a disappearing mill and a "resistance" to authority. No mere "smokestack nostalgia," it is a "living memorial" and an act of spontaneous commemoration that...


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pp. 283-285
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