In the Right Place with QAHN
Published on January 20, 2023
In the Right Place is a blog series of the COM-Unity project featuring conversations with our partner organizations. In each conversation, we try to get a sense for how belonging takes shape in their specific communities, and how the places we inhabit shape us-- and how we, in turn, shape them.
Part 6: Preserving the Whole Story
with Heather Darch, coordinator of The Belonging Project with the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network (QAHN)
COM-Unity: If you’ve read our blog before, you know we like to start these interviews with some geography! I know QAHN is a provincial network, but can you give a picture of what the place is like where the headquarters are?
Heather Darch: QAHN’s head office is located in Sherbrooke, at the Lennoxville end of it. It’s at the top of College Avenue and just up the street from the university [Bishop’s] and so it's a nice environment to be in. You see a lot of young people walking around and it’s a bilingual community for sure. Since the beginning – we've celebrated over 20 years now – we have been in the Eastern Townships. It's a good place for QAHN to work out of, but we're very aware that it's an organization that's spread across the province, and so we try to do our annual meetings in different locations and make sure [our] publication [Quebec Heritage News] is reaching all the corners of Quebec.
And the office itself is quite interesting: it's a building that's filled with other community groups that service the English community. It's a new office; they moved there a few years ago, from another office – and all the same people went, everybody had relocated to a new building. So there is a strong sense of community within the building itself!
C-U: Wait, so all these community orgs enjoyed being in the same building together so much that when it was time for one of them to move, they all moved together?
HD: Same, same group, same office, just everybody found a new building! The one they were in was leaking and moldy. So, when they found a new site, everybody just picked up and moved to the new site.
C-U: That’s a testament to the value of community! And it strikes me that it seems like a mini version of what you’re doing at the provincial level, which is building a network between English-speaking organizations. Can you talk a little more about the organizations that make up the network?
HD: It's an interesting network of groups because there's such a variety – from different cultural traditions and different neighbourhoods from different regions. Some of them have been long-time Anglophones living in Quebec, and others have moved here by design, you know, looking for work, or economic reasons. A lot of our groups represent communities that are fading away too – maybe Anglophones established them, but they've moved away, or the youth have left to study and didn't come back. There's this sense of losing their past. So, a lot of the groups formed in order to hang on to that – to tell the stories of who established the place, or who made connections with the First Nations that were here. Some of the groups go way back in their history, especially along the Gaspé Coast. So, hanging on to history in order to tell the story, you know, there's that sense of trying to hang on to something that's fading away.
C-U: So, people are feeling a sense of urgency to make sure these regional English-speaking histories are not being lost. What are some of the consequences if that history does get lost?
HD: For me, because I have come from the museum field, I'm always quite concerned about the material culture – and that includes outside sites and buildings. And, we see the closing of a lot of our churches, for example, because the English-speaking community is disappearing, and society is becoming more secular. But churches are buildings that families built, and they're closing, and I find it sad that the stories are fading away: who was there? who was baptized there, and married there? Their graves are disintegrating, and people drive by them, and they don't care. But within each cemetery, there are wonderful stories of who existed, and I think if you lose those stories, you lose the sense of belonging in a community or region, and you stop caring, you know, it's like, you don't have that sense of “this is where I'm from”.
For a historian, I think all that's very important. I look at it from the material cultural sense that we're losing a lot of these places, the sense of place, and even the names that we use to call things are changing. And of course, that's what First Nations people will say, well, it was called something else before you got here too. But we're trying to reflect now more than ever on that history as well, and try to remember what was before so that we understand who we are today, and we can get along with one another and respect each other's cultures.
C-U: So, on the larger scale, preserving heritage and history is about maintaining a rich plurality of narratives of Quebec history. But for individuals, it’s much more about that sense of belonging to a certain place. So, let’s talk about that sense of belonging, which is also the theme of your COM-Unity project (The Belonging Project) in which you distribute micro-grants to these English-speaking heritage groups around Quebec. What are some of the projects being funded?
HD: So, this year was great. We have some groups that never applied to QAHN before, and some new memberships of community groups we didn't know existed out there! One was the Whiteley Museum, and they're located in Bonne-Espérance. They're creating a documentary short film about the lifestyle of the Coasters of the Saint-Paul River and looking at cod fishing and how that's changed over time. This is a little pocket of English-speaking people along the coast, and so that's very cool, we think.
And then there's something called the Rang Collective: Arts for Solidarity. They're creating a virtual exhibit called “Postcards from Home: The Legacies of Partition in Quebec”, and this is about the partition in India that happened, it was a very political upheaval and so a lot of people from South Asia moved here to establish a new life. It's looking at how the families established themselves – this is recent history – a lot of them were doctors or professionals and they ended up having to open restaurants and survive. Now they’re bringing up a new generation of Quebecers who speak English and [Hindi] or [Urdu].
Then we have [a project on] the Shaarey Zedek [synagogue in Montreal] and the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives. The synagogue has a big collection of photographs and archival documents that they're going to share with the Alex Dworkin Archives, and they're going to create a walking tour in the community around the synagogue and share the information with McGill University and Concordia [University]. So, there's an expansion of knowledge about the community that lived around this part in Côtes-des-Neiges and NDG [Notre-Dame-de-Grâce].
C-U: To end this conversation, I wanted to ask: even though the idea of heritage is associated with the past, it is also very concerned with the future. What do you think QAHN is hoping to be able to do for the future of English-speaking Quebec?
HD: We're always thinking about the future because we see our groups getting older, and we wonder where youth renewal will come from. We’re always thinking, “how do we include youth in what we do?” And I think that is through the telling of stories, so that the kids can see that history can be a lot of fun. Like, “I want to learn more about that!”
Quebec is this quilt, you know, it's made up of so many different cultural groups. And if you don't tell the whole story, then you're missing out on the richness of it; that fabric the quilt gets, the threads are too thin, it's hard to connect them if you're just only telling a little bit of the story.
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