“It was a small revolution: you could see something infiltrate the room – pride – as this person from the University talked about their history, their story.”
I was speaking with Lisa Mibach, from Deschenes, Quebec, once an independent town, then part of the city of Aylmer, and now part of the larger city of Gatineau. We were talking about her and her group’s efforts to document the heritage of this part of the city. It’s an anglophone sector of the city. If you look on the google map satellite image, you can see one of the most significant pieces of built heritage in the entire city of Gatineau – the former Deschenes Electric Company. When you cross on the Champlain Bridge, you can see this impressive ruin to the west. This plant electrified the town of Deschenes and Aylmer, and provided the power for the Ottawa Electric Railway Company (back when Ottawa had working light rail).
Lisa’s been working hard to document this community’s history; the story she told me was about one of the ‘heritage days’ that they’ve put on. This was where they had someone come in and look at their materials that they’d collected, and re-present them to the community.
Sometimes, the public historian or archaeologist’s most important job is to listen to the community, and tell them what he’s heard. In that way, it somehow becomes more ‘real’, more ‘important’, more worthy of study and serious consideration in the eyes of that self-same community. The act of observation changes that which is observed.
I’m entranced by this small community’s history, and hope to explore there more this summer, ideally as part of HeritageCrowd.org.