Ken McLaughlin knows far more than most of us about the history of Waterloo Region. True, he’s a history professor at the University of Waterloo, but the rest of us are just not plugged into our past.
That’s partly because we don’t have any landmarks here, he suggests: we weren’t part of the fur trade route that defined the early part of Canada’s history; there are no forts or remnants of major battles; and no monuments of note.
Having been a student at Dalhousie University, he knew that Haligonians were well aware that Halifax has a history and its place in major events such as the World Wars and the great explosion of 1917. Yet he knew very little of the community’s history when he arrived in this area as a history professor in 1970.
“We don’t emphasize our history,” he said, adding “this region has an amnesia about its past.”
Kicking off a new lecture series at the Waterloo Region Museum, he hopes to begin changing that. In fact, he hopes the new museum will be a catalyst for residents to gain an appreciation for our history.
His opening lecture on Oct. 3, one of eight in the series (he also closes the series Nov. 28), discusses the framework used to develop exhibits at the museum, which has collected some 43,000 artifacts related to our past. Entitled “Without the things of our past, how can we know it’s us?” this talk will try to place the museum and its exhibits in the historical framework created by the Region of Waterloo and its people.
The role of the museum, he said, is to gather artifacts and to develop a sense of our history, bringing together north and south, rural and urban. It’s a balancing act, drawing together the similarities between Cambridge – only relatively recently created by the amalgamation of Galt, Hespeler and Preston – and Kitchener, Waterloo and the four townships.
Through exhibits that draw on coming-of-age stories across four or five generations, for instance, we discover that we have much in common. Teenagers today face many of the same issues from generations past, he said. Similarly, the use of lifelines – personal stories to tell of the interconnectedness between residents over many generations – also serves to make history real.
“What we see about our history is that all the people of the region can find themselves in the story,” said McLaughlin.
That’s perhaps especially true of artifacts that represent living history, such as the first Corolla that came off the Toyota assembly line in Cambridge in 1973 and the early Blackberry devices from RIM.
The stories in his lecture set the stage for the full opening of the new Waterloo Region Museum in November.
“People can hear about this stuff … then they’ll understand why we did what we did,” he said of the museum.
Perhaps most importantly, he said, residents will gain a better sense of their history, success measured by the number of comments to the tune of ‘I didn’t know that about the region.’
The eight-part Region of Waterloo Museum Talks Series begins Oct. 3. All lectures are on Mondays at 1:30 p.m. in the museum’s Christie Theatre. Tickets are $8 each or $40 for the series, available by calling 519-748-1914. More information can be found online at www.waterlooregionmuseum.com.