Category Archives: Quebec

Updates! Public History Things! Thoughts on Blogging!

Hello, dear readers!

First, an update on my Goose Village web documentary project:

I am still working on the editing, plugging away on it for at least two hours a day, every day.   The hardest part, by far, is coming up with introductory voice-overs that don’t seem pompous.  (I must keep in mind the motto: What Would Werner Herzog Do?)  But the end is in sight!  And I think it will turn out well.

I have been selected to present at the upcoming National Council on Public History‘s annual meeting this spring in Monterey, California!  I will be talking about the project as part of a panel on the historical interpretation of regional landscapes as it relates to environmental sustainability.  My presentation is tentatively entitled: “The Lost Landscape: Non-Linear Storytelling and Urban Micro-History in Montreal.”

In the meantime I’ve begun my first semester as a doctoral student at Brown University, pursuing a mix of scholarly research and publicly-engaged projects through the American Studies department and its Public Humanities program. I am not sure what to expect when my PhD program ends.  Traditional, history-related jobs that pay a living wage are becoming quite scarce.  But for now, at least, I can enjoy five years of job security in an atmosphere of creativity and resource abundance.  My goal is to make good use of this time and do as much as possible while it lasts.

Also: I have migrated my primary web presence to a new web site.  You’ll note that it’s a work portfolio, not a blog.  The fact of the matter is that I’m still figuring out how blogging relates to everything else that I do.    Wunderplatz became most popular when I was working in Alaska, as friends, family, a few public history folk, and various random people from the internet followed my adventures in fair Tenakee.  Then it was on to Montreal.  Throughout that time the blog represented an odd hybrid form of professional discourse and travel journal.  Now that I am back to routine life in the Lower 48, what is the blog’s raison d’etre?  Perhaps I should maintain two blogs: a personal one for friends and a separate one for “professional” public history matters (though, truth be told, these two spheres of my existence blur together quite a bit).  And perhaps while I’m at it I should choose a new blog name that is easier to spell and pronounce?

Until I resolve these matters, I will continue blogging here at Wunderplatz as the mood strikes.

As always, thank you for reading!

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Farewell Montreal! Reflections on My Fulbright Year

Wilensky's Light Lunch

Wilensky’s Light Lunch: my favorite Montreal hole-in-the-wall.

Hello dear readers!

Since my last blog entry, I have eaten my final plate of poutine and careened in a rental truck through sheets of rain back across the border to the United States.  Sadly my Fulbright experience is drawing to a close — but new adventures await us in our homeland.  My husband and I are now ensconced in our second new city of the year, Providence, Rhode Island, where I will begin a PhD in American Studies at Brown University this fall!  (And for those who know of it, yes, I will be participating in the Public Humanities program — it was one of the main attractions of Brown for me!)

Looking back on my time in Montreal, I’m pleased with how things unfolded.  I gathered a vast trove of material on Goose Village and the history of the land.  Hours and hours of oral histories.  A huge stack of archival documents.  Hundreds of photos.  And my job this summer is to finish editing all of this into an interactive web documentary.  Editing is my favorite stage of filmmaking, so I’m glad to be at this point.

Along the way I did encounter a few challenges, which I’ll mention here in the interest of helping anyone else who is starting out in digital storytelling or conducting a public history project in a foreign country.   Continue reading

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Sugaring-Off: Quebec’s Most Delicious Springtime Tradition

[Note: Apologies for neglecting my blog!  I wrote the below post in April but somehow forgot to actually finish and post it.  So here you go: a bit of time travel back to early spring, when the sap ran and snow covered the ground.  More updates on my Fulbright project to follow!]

It’s maple syrup harvest season in Quebec — the time of year to visit sugar shacks!

Here’s a song by Quebecois singer La Bolduc to listen to while you read this post.  (Not about sugar shacks, but somehow it captures the mood.)

I first learned of the sugar shack (cabane à sucre) tradition from The Tin Flute, a 1945 novel by Gabrielle Roy.  The Lacasse family, ground down by poverty in Great Depression-era Montreal, decides to visit relatives in the countryside while “the sap is running.”  On hearing that phrase, the mother, Rose-Anna, goes into a rural childhood reverie:  Continue reading

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On Finding Stick Figures Drawn in My Historical Sources

Mysterious Stick Figures on the Black Rock

I’ve been turning up quite a bit of material relevant to my project on Archive.org and Google Books — including no shortage of 19th century writings on the Victoria Bridge and ship fever in Montreal.

This image is from page 65 of Hunter’s Handbook of the Victoria Bridge (1860) as found on Google Books via the University of Michigan. A previous reader — perhaps “Frederick Watson,” whose name is written on the cover in black ink — added figures of tiny people rappelling and sliding down the Black Rock monument.

What were Frederick’s motives? Perhaps he found the book to be boring — was it assigned for a college course? Was he making some sort of political statement about immigrants and the Irish Potato Famine? (Note the words “desecration” and “ship fever” are crossed out.) Or did he simply wish to practice his stick figures? They do look like they’re having fun.

Strange how digital sources can seem so inert until you come across an irreverent doodle from long ago. You’re reminded that this book is a physical object that exists somewhere, one that has traveled across time and space and has passed through many hands.

If I owned the book, I might respond with some scrawls of my own.  But alas, with PDF files, the hidden and anonymous community of readers bound over years by marginalia cannot flow forward.

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April 6, 2013 · 11:30 pm

From Outline to Mind-Map: History and Non-Linear Storytelling

Workers erected the Black Rock monument in 1859. Image from the McCord Museum (Creative Commons).

Establishment of the Black Rock monument in 1859. Image from the McCord Museum (Creative Commons).

History tends to be interpreted in the form of a story with a beginning, middle, and end.  And so as I started to plan out my Goose Village documentary project, I created an outline laying out the area’s history in chronological order.

The shortcomings of this approach were immediately apparent.  Take, for instance, the Black Rock monument.  The rock relates to many periods of history and themes covered by my project, including the typhus quarantine sheds for immigrants in the 1840′s, the building of the Victoria Bridge in the 1850′s, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians’ annual marches in the present day.  Bones from the mass grave of immigrants have been continually unearthed and reburied near the rock, “a voice arising from the old clay,” as an Irish ambassador referred to them in 1942.  So the Black Rock does not belong to one moment in time, easily wedged into an outline under a single heading, but to a 150+ year period of history and memory.  Continue reading

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Goose Village Documentary: Filmmaking Begins

A still from footage shot today: the Farine Five Roses sign overlooks Goose Village.

A still from today’s footage: the Farine Five Roses flour mill sign overlooking Goose Village.

Today I tested the camera equipment I’ll be using for my Goose Village documentary.  Now that my fingertips have thawed, I can blog about my high-def adventures!

I studied filmmaking in college, but back then I only worked in standard definition on miniDV tapes.  Now I have access to an HD camera through the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling here in Montreal.  Having no experience with the fancy 1080i HD format, I wanted to make sure it would work with my video editing program.

With a tripod and camera bag heaved over my shoulder, I walked down Bridge Street to the parking lot and rubble yard where Goose Village once stood.  I gathered footage from around the area, including some of the World War II memorial, which is practically all that is left of the neighborhood, plus some of the Black Rock.  I shot until my fingers went numb from the cold, then I came back and whipped up a clip.  Continue reading

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The Vanishing of an Urban Village: Research in Progress

A 1907 map showing Goose Village.  The neighborhood was to the east of the train tracks, between Mill Street and the St. Lawrence River. (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)

A 1907 map showing Goose Village. The neighborhood was to the east of the train tracks, between Mill Street and the St. Lawrence River. (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)

When I arrived in Montreal, my main challenge was to decide on a site to study for my Fulbright project.  I was looking for a place that had been somehow abandoned but that remained alive in peoples’ memory.  A many-layered place, perhaps one that had experienced radical physical and social changes from pre-colonial times to the present.

In my wanderings, I visited a local history museum, the Centre d’Histoire de Montréal.  There I encountered the Quartiers Disparus exhibition on Montreal neighborhoods lost to urban renewal projects between 1950 and 1975.  These included the Red Light, Faubourg à m’Lasse, and Goose Village.  The exhibition featured interviews with former residents as well as urban planners, weaving together different perspectives on the communities to explore what happened to them and why.  Continue reading

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Asbestos, Quebec: Digital Public History Exemplar

Asbestos Quebec, Jeffrey Mine

Aerial view of the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec. Photo by Susana Ferreira Machado. Used under Creative Commons license.

Today I would like to share an example of a creative Quebec history project that has really inspired me: Asbestos, PQ: A Graphic Novel.  It draws together history, art, and sounds to illustrate the relationship between the town of Asbestos, Quebec and its chrystotile asbestos mine, which is the world’s largest.

I first heard about Asbestos in a class on the history of Quebec that I audited this past semester.  We read a chapter from Jessica Van Horssen’s dissertation on the dynamics of asbestos mining in the town and its environmental impact at local and global levels.  Then we looked at the graphic novel version that she created in collaboration with her friend, artist Radha-Prema McAllister.  Though the two works are very different in terms of the level of detail they offer, the complexity and importance of the story comes through in both.  Continue reading

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Sounds of the Wellington Tunnel

I’m here in Montreal studying ruins, including their histories and the often-unsanctioned things that happen inside them.  And since I took a radio production workshop that tasked me with recording ambient sounds from somewhere out in the world, I decided to head down to the old, abandoned Wellington Tunnel with my audio recorder.  Continue reading

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Jean-Talon Market: A Wonderful Place in Montreal

Peppers at the Jean Talon Market. Photo by Tim Giebel. Used under Creative Commons license.

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada, the zenith of the harvest season here.  And so it seems appropriate to write about my favorite place in Montreal thus far: the Jean Talon Market.

Jean Talon is the largest open-air market in North America, and it happens to be two blocks from my apartment.

I go almost every day, and the scene is always one of novelty.  Each stall displays its own wonderland of food, most of it produced by farmers in the Quebec countryside.  Eggplants and colorful peppers gleam in the sun.  Infinite wheels of soft cheese sit behind glass at the fromagerie.  There are hearty cuts of meat.  Barrels of apples.  Garlic hanging in bunches.  Steamy spiced sausages and savory lunch crepes.  Continue reading

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