Tuesday, June 6, 2023


I'm not sure what this blog post will turn into. You might want to fasten your seatbelts.

We start with the movie Unarchived. Michelle invited me to attend a showing of this at a meeting of a group she's involved with. It sounded interesting and turned out to be fascinating. 

The word "story" has many meanings, but I'm thinking about the meanings that writers and photographers are concerned about. "What is the story?" is a common question when starting to write something, or thinking about how to photograph a particular subject.

Just as photography has a concept called negative space, what doesn't get said, or is said in a negative context such as police reports, can be as illuminating as the words on the page. And there is much that hasn't been said in the story of Canada.

The story of Canada that I learned in grade school is of heroic white people, pretty much mostly British men, conquering a harsh landscape. Indians, as they were called then, were mostly a dangerous adversary to be overcome, though there was minor mention of them as allies in some war accounts. I didn't learn of the residential school system even as a concept, let alone the racist brutality it was in practice, until I was well into adulthood. Women didn't get mentioned until the famous five. Unless they were actually working on building the railroad, Chinese people were "The Yellow Peril." I didn't learn that some people were gay until high school during the mid 70's, when Toronto police were raiding the bathhouses. One teacher quietly expressed the opinion that anyone "found in" as the saying went, should be shot in the street because they were deviant and a menace to society.

The story is much more complex than that, though even today there are people that want to retain that simplistic view of Canada. Some people know the world is more complex than that, but choose not to think about it. Some politicians dog whistle that view as they troll for votes and support.

There used to be a saying that scientific progress happened one funeral at a time. That is, people that grew up in a world shaped by a particular viewpoint, can't move past it till the proponents of that viewpoint have passed away, and they have time to become accustomed to a newer viewpoint. 

Think about who is running our collective memory. The senior levels of library and archival systems are being run by people about my age, who grew up in a world shaped by that colonial history view. Some of them know the world has changed and have tried to change with the times, but they're pushing a big rock up a steep hill. It's easy to keep on telling the stories we've always been telling, with the methods that have always been used. Adding video, or computer databases isn't a change in direction, just a change in method.

One example in the film was an archivist showing some materials relating to a First Nations community to someone from that community. She recognized some of the people, and hadn't known there was video footage. Her point was that those materials should be returned to the community so the people there could not just access them, but add context to them. The archivist was only saying noncommittal "mmmm-mmm' noises, and those materials hadn't been released as of the film production date. There was even hesitancy about making a copy of a copy of the original.

One of the phrases in the movie is "nobody was doing the filing." People were out living their story as best they could, but nobody was writing it down. Women, gay and trans people, immigrants, First Nations people, all struggling to make their way in Canada. If their story was being told at all, it was being told from the perspective of that White British male colonial perspective. Thus the police reports of bathhouse raids, and  newspaper articles about crimes imputed to just about anyone that was "other". 

Change is happening, and that's to the good. But the materials are ephemeral. People's memories fade, and then they die and those stories are gone forever.

There was about 10 seconds of the film that I really want to watch again. A man wearing a cap and working clothes walking up to and posing with some people in front of some machinery. That man dressed exactly like my maternal grandfather, including an uncommon style of cap. There was only a fraction of a second showing his face, but I'd love to get another look. He was certainly alive then and I'm pretty sure he was living at least not too far away then, but it struck me that I don't actually know all that much about his life.

And that is true of all of us, collectively. There are many stories about us, and some of them have been ignored or buried, leaving us all a bit poorer.

After the film Michelle and I strolled back to her car, enjoying a warm summer evening. On a whim we stopped for a gelato and watched the world go by for a little while. It's a different world and fascinating to visit. We were easily the oldest people in the gelato place. Lots of the people wandering by were of an age to be  my children or younger. The kids running the gelato shop could be my grandchildren. The two nearest conversations to us were not English. I'm pretty sure one was Spanish, and the other sounded Eastern European. I don't get out much in the evening like that. After dinner I'm home and certainly when I was working I had no desire go go out again. Even now, once home in the afternoon after whatever, I'm not likely to go out again, and almost certainly not as far as downtown.

(photo by Michelle)

Of the Day
Driftwood (BC)

Driftwood (NZ)

And a Flower serendipity


Plus a serendipity kitty.

Yukon (Miles Canyon)

Film (new)

Film (old)

1 comment:

  1. I hope those diverse stories get told and recorded. I have just spent a month listening to a barrage of facts. Few of them are remembered, but there were also some stories and they do register. Nice photo Michelle. Cheers, Sean


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