Hidden histories: The lost stories project

Canada 150
Terry Horne, photo credit: Sandra Bonner-Pederson
Artist Terry Horne at works on a piece representing the kidnapped Stó:lō boys from the Fraser River gold rush.

Stories are passed down from generation to generation in almost every community, and many interesting, impactful and meaningful events from the past never make it to the pages of history textbooks. The Lost Stories Project from Concordia University, a Signature project of Canada 150, is shining a light on “forgotten” events from the past by bringing them into the public eye with research, documentary and public art.

The Lost Stories Project has unearthed little-known stories from communities across Canada, and with the help of local historians, documentary filmmakers and artists, the stories have been made into public works of art. You can see the transformation of each story from forgotten history to artwork in free video documentary episodes available to stream on The Lost Stories website. Concordia University historian and Lost Stories Director Ronald Rudin tells us more.

What was the inspiration behind the Lost Stories Project?

I've had an interest for a long time in how stories about the past are told in public space, and how the past gets told to the larger public. My students and colleagues, we look at monuments and other kinds of public art and we don't usually have an opportunity to understand what goes into telling those stories, or what the other options might have been. We only see the thing that was finished. I wasn't interested in something that would beat people over the head and say "this is what you need to understand," but that might be a little playful, and would allow a larger audience (one beyond the university) to see what goes into taking a story and turning it into a physical object.

Julien Cadieux and artist Marika Drolet-Ferguson, Sheldrake Island, photo credit: Mathieu Boucher
Filmmaker Julien Cadieux and artist Marika Drolet-Ferguson walking on the ice for 500 metres to Sheldrake Island.
There will be five stories available to stream on the site, what set those stories apart from others submitted?

What they each had in common is that they have strong community support. The project was imagined as one that would be developed with the communities connected to the stories. In the case of the New Brunswick Sheldrake Island story about leprosy, there was a group there that has been trying to find the means to tell that story for years. Similarly, the Southway Inn story in Ottawa, about the Inuit who made a home for themselves at the South Way Inn, was a fairly well-known story to a particular community, but not more widely known. I didn't know, for example, that the largest concentration of Inuit population in Canada outside of the North is in Ottawa. The story in Regina is one that's supported by the local Chinese community, the story in British Columbia is to a large extent being managed, run and created by the Stó:lō First Nation in the Fraser Valley.

Do you see the projects as giving voice to individuals in communities that have been overlooked or not included in traditional mainstream history?

Absolutely, the whole notion of stories being "lost,"—if the story was completely lost, we wouldn't be able to find it. The stories that are known, but they're known to communities that have been marginalized in one way or another, haven't been able to find their voice, or are off the radar. The New Brunswick story is an Acadian story. My own research is on Acadian History and in French Canada, Quebec's history dominates the field, Acadians are often off the radar. For all the interest in Indigenous issues, those stories are still not very well known.  In the Chinese Canadian story, I don't think many people would be aware that it was illegal for a Chinese Canadian businessman to hire a white woman.

These are stories that people don’t know, they're not meant to be all sad stories, some of these stories, like the Chinese Canadian one, it’s a story about courage. It's not just the difficulties Yee Clun encountered, but his courage to actually fight the law. I think we see a lot of different emotions in these stories. 

Xiao Han, Regina. photo credit: Kristin Enns-Kavanagh
Artist Xiao Han visiting the Art Park in regina to plan for the installation of the artwork.
Why were you interested in having Lost Stories as a part of Canada 150?

Historical research is often separated from art and documentary film production, so the opportunity that Canada 150 gave was that that barrier wasn't there, it was an opportunity to do storytelling in a different kinds of media and I think the multimedia aspects of the project are part of what makes it distinctive. I'm happy to be able to have these stories better known in connection with the larger events for 2017.

What are you hoping viewers take away from Lost Stories?

I'm really thrilled to be able to make these stories better known, and I'm happy for the communities that have had a chance to engage with their past, and reflect on these stories, and I think it’s a positive for Canadians more generally to learn more about their past.

The inauguration of the Lost Stories public artworks are taking place throughout the summer, on Sheldrake Island, NB (July 19th), Regina, SK (August 7th) Fraser Valley, BC (August 19th) and the Southway Inn Ottawa (September 7th), check the Lost Stories website and follow them on social media for updates.

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