By Carter Hammett
Special to the Toronto Sun
For those of you who may have been hibernating during these frigid weeks, February is Black History Month, a celebration that honours the contributions African Canadians have made to our rich cross-cultural heritage. Across Toronto, events including screenings, exhibits, readings and concerts are in full swing, organized by the tireless efforts of a devoted nucleus of volunteers. It's all part of the passion that gets channelled into an annual event, which has formally existed in Canada since 1978, says author Rosemary Sadlier.
This is one of many images in the best-seller The Kids' Book of Black Canadian History, written by Rosemary Sadlier, president of the Ontario Black History Society. Sadlier is one of a growing number of people working in Canada's burgeoning culture sector. (Illustration, Wang Qijun)
Sadlier, president of the Ontario Black History Society, and author of the best-seller, The Kids' Book of Black Canadian History, notes the lack of black history courses offered in post secondary institutions. "I know someone who wanted to pursue doctoral studies in black Canadian history, who was told there were insufficient resources here; they should conduct research in the United States," she says wryly. The need for festivals like Black History Month become obvious.
But this event is just one of many that contribute to an unprecedented explosion of growth in Canada's cultural sector, with employment opportunities growing at a rate more than double that of any other sector, and one which contributes more than $30 billion to the national economy.
People toiling away behind the scenes -- archivists, writers, researchers, curators,teachers -- are largely an invisible group of people who tend to be fairly well educated, earning between $20,000 annually for entry-level positions to $53,000 for management-level occupations.
Hate your job? It's a shame, because this sector also reports one of the highest levels of job satisfaction around. And now, many are jumping on the historical bandwagon. Historica, a non-profit organization that, among other things, organizes a national, annual "history camp" and community history fairs, has gained prominence in recent years, as has the rise of historical tourism.
Some of Canada's most recognized companies are starting to use history as a valuable marketing tool to promote their brands, says Deborah Morrison, president and chief executive officer of the Winnipeg-based Canada's National Historical Society (CNHS).
"These companies are just starting to see history as a business," she says, pointing to companies like The Bay, which has recently incorporated heritage galleries into some of its outlets, and Labatt's, which has tapped into its own rich history to create striking marketing campaigns for its beer products.
It's just part of a growth industry that is using the media as a tool to pique an aging population's growing interest in matters historical, propelled along in recent years by the emergence of media outlets like The History Channel and Frantic Films, which specializes in creating historical Canadian films.
In addition to publishing a history magazine, The Beaver, CNHS also organizes the Governor General's Awards for excellence in teaching history. A teacher twice-nominated is Robin Barker-James, who instructs at Glendale High School in Tillsonburg, Ont. Barker-James has been recognized for enriching students' history smarts by staging elaborate, media-friendly simulation games that recreate significant historical moments, to jaw-dropping effect. The simulations have attracted the attention of not only locals, but also television coverage from the likes of CBC and the news journal, W5.
Among the productions that have been staged is a "Roman Time Tunnel" with students in grades 7 and 8 playing the parts of legionnaires, gladiators, slaves and Druids. Another scenario recreates trench warfare in an overnight experience.
"Things involving a dramatic component are shared and retained better, because students are involved in their own learning," says Barker-James, noting the games, which started off as instructor-led exercises, have now become learner-centred activities with students taking active roles in scripting, costume design, acting and set construction.
"With the arrival of a new generation of Canadians and an aging population, history is now cool," says Deborah Morrison, president of Canada's National Historical Society, pointing to companies such as Labatt's and the Bay that have recognized the related business opportunities.
"It's so much more than history," Barker-James enthuses. "Putting the students in a simulated battle situation teaches them team work and leadership skills," he says. "Being a soldier is ultimately about co-operating in a team-based challenge."
"I think if you come in with a realistic viewpoint teaching history is one of the best careers around," says Barker-James. "You touch people's souls and you can't do that as a warehouse manager, which I used to be. You learn lots about the self."
Morrison notes that people's interest in history seems to move in cycles, with government funding mirroring the changes. Morrison, who once played an active role in creating the popular Heritage Moments series, suggests that now is a good time to consider a career in the historical field.
"In the last 40 years, there was a big downgrading of history; it was not a high priority for a whole generation of people. But with the arrival of a generation of new Canadians and an aging population, history is now cool; it's part of who they are. At this point, people are taking a strong interest again, and busy families see history as part of having a strong quality of life in their own neighbourhoods."
For more information check out the following websites: www.blackhistorysociety.ca
; Canada's National Historical Society: www.historysociety.ca
and Cultural Human Resources Council: www.culturalhrc.ca
(Toronto writer, trainer, and employment information officer Carter Hammett can be reached at [email@example.com
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