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  • Introduction:Critical Heritage Studies in Canada / Études critiques du patrimoine au Canada
  • Susan L.T. Ashley (bio) and Andrea Terry (bio)
    Translated by Josée Lapace

Canadian studies has long been a field that considers how and why the past is valued. This theme issue of the Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue d'études canadiennes examines multiple ways that the past has been valued as heritage, understood here as a process that marks places, spaces, people, events, practices, histories, objects, or ideas as important inheritance from the past. We offer a critical examination of this process, questioning how and why valuations of the past are culturally produced, signified, and reproduced as heritage. The research and commentary presented in this issue are part of the growing field of critical heritage studies that looks not only at "authorized" heritage narratives produced through mainstream cultural mediations (Smith 2006) but also at how and why the past is valued by those excluded or marginalized by such knowledge-making.

The articles assembled here engage critically with the process of heritage-making in the Canadian context. Many draw on the debates of the June 2016 Association of Critical Heritage Studies (ACHS) conference in Montreal, where almost 800 international participants focused on the question, "What does heritage change?" Organized by the Canada Research Chair on Urban Heritage at the Université du Québec à Montréal in collaboration with Concordia University's Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, this thematic query offered multiple entry points into the manifestations, discourses, epistemologies, policies, and stakes of heritage, seeking to understand more fully how the past in Canada is valued through dynamic and sometimes conflicting processes, debates, and performances.

This journal issue features new and essential contributions to these critical heritage studies. Critical heritage scholars and practitioners advocate theoretically and politically informed analyses of processes in society that produce and consume heritage, often from a bottom-up perspective (Ashton and Kean 2008; Harrison 2013). While the study of cultural heritage has long included critical perspectives (e.g., Lowenthal 1996; Mackey 1999; Strong-Boag et al. 1999; Bannerji 2000; Gordon 2001; Létourneau 2000), heritage presented through institutional practices is still administered within a predefined political framework, mostly from a top-down [End Page 1] perspective, and lacks insight into the public's interest in and uses of heritage. Critical heritage theorists argue that scholars, practitioners, and policy-makers must "critically engage with the proposition that heritage studies needs to be rebuilt from the ground up" by questioning power relations and inviting "the active participation of people and communities who to date have been marginalised in the creation and management of 'heritage'" (Smith 2012, 534). Critical engagement requires an opening up to a wider and innovative range of intellectual theory, techniques of study, and political interventions. Such a requirement has been pointedly underscored in the wake of the federal government's Canada 150 campaign that marked the 150th anniversary of Confederation (2017), following the conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's activities (2010–15), which cast "an undeniable light on mechanisms and effects of Canada's colonial formation that reverberate ... in the present" (Decter and Taunton 2016). Individuals and collectives challenged the Canada 150 campaign in various ways, such as initiating L'autre 150e in Quebec and Canada 150+ in Vancouver, and employing Twitter as a platform using the handle @resistance150.

In bringing together a range of perspectives regarding the constitution and uses of heritage in Canada through the lens of critical heritage studies, these articles collectively signal the fact that heritage is a cultural phenomenon; both tangible resources and intangible sensibilities or practices inform people's relationships with and valuations of the past. In Canada, the official portrait of heritage offered in the public sphere tends to present Canada as a settler nation with a bilingual framework, coloured by celebratory multicultural diversity. But Indigenous communities' activisms and global-scale movements of people, ideas, and technologies (Appadurai 1996; Tuhiwai Smith 1999; Palmater 2011) challenge authorized systems and discourses of power that constitute established group/community/national identities and the nature of Canadian heritage. Authors in this special issue explore the limitations and possibilities manifest in how heritage has been framed...


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