Heritage, Diversity, and Belonging
Halifax’s statue of Edward Cornwallis is now gone, removed by the city in the January 2018, yet the dust of its removal has not fully settled. Setting Cornwallis’ brutal policies towards the Mi’kmaq against arguments against rewriting history and repudiating the city’s “true” heritage, the public debate elides the facts of the statue itself. The bronze Cornwallis installed in 1931 (re)cast this previously ignored and slightly embarrassing 18th-century colonizer as a “founding hero,” asserting the “Britishness” of Halifax at a time of immigration and cultural change. A short walk from Cornwallis Square, the new Halifax Central Library generated similar public controversy. The old Memorial Library, built in 1951 as a war memorial in a military town, was overcrowded and decaying, but also well-beloved. Architects from Denmark were selected over a self-proclaimed “local architect,” and furnished an aggressively modern building to a city that prides itself on its premodern character. Yet thousands lined up on opening day in December 2014, marvelling at the inclusivity of the spaces, and the city’s love affair with the library has continued unabated. Unlike the Cornwallis message of exclusion, the Library sets aside Halifax’s “tartan tradition” in favour of an abstract expression open to adoption by people of many cultures and values.
Heritage studies teach us that heritage is not a static and pre-existing body of stuff and events; rather it results from conscious choices and actions by later generations – processes of cultural selection. In our present age of populism, notions of enduring “true” heritage are increasingly used to advance a return to older values of power and exclusion in the face of an increasingly diverse and interconnected demography – the same goal as the original Cornwallis statue. In the face of those who would use heritage as a tool of oppression, there is an urgent role for heritage study to provide the fuller historic record and the critical analysis needed to enable progressive cultural selection of the kind expressed in the Halifax Central Library. This year’s SEAC-SSAC conference is open as always to the broadest range of studies of the built environment in Canada, including buildings, landscapes, and infrastructure. Sessions may be historical or contemporary in scope. We also, however, offer this challenge to all sessions and all presentations to consider: what is excluded from your discourses? What is included? What effects might such cultural selections have on the creation of a future Canadian built heritage of diversity and belonging?
Our conference will feature an opening reception Tuesday evening, paper sessions Wednesday through Friday, tours, and a concluding banquet Friday evening. Several events are planned in cooperation with the “Spring Forum” of the Nova Scotia Association of Architects, including a public keynote lecture on Wednesday evening, and parallel paper sessions and panel discussions on Thursday.