Friday, August 13

Historical re-enactments are delicate balancing acts

Historical re-enactments in Canada are regularly a source of controversy, particularly when they involve key events in the country's journey that weigh heavily on identity and the interpretation of outcomes. Re-enactments of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham are a regular bone of contention in the Quebec media. They were cancelled last year for the 250th anniversary of the fall of Québec to the British.

The "non-siege" of Battleford is somehow another key moment in the history of the Northwest Territories where Parks Canada finds itself a stakeholder both as a steward of Canadian heritage and as a major tourism player. Rather fortuitously, the Bob Weber article published in the Globe and Mail and in other Canadian dailies today raises awareness about a tourism resource and a destination that is little known to Canadians in general. Fort Battleford is certainly worth visiting, regardless of one's take on how the re-enactment is marketed.

Organisers of Québec City's 400th anniversary celebrations in 2008 had figured out clever way to approach re-enactments. They actually produced two. On one day, the British would win one battle, on another day the French would win. It's all about balance and equity.

One of the reasons perhaps why Batoche was never been the site of a re-enactment could be that Riel's team ultimately lost the war. But the Métis did win battles as well.

A challenge remains in the need to refrain from engaging into acts of cultural appropriation, or the use of elements of heritage that belong to one entity, for the benefit of another which is not the legitimate owner of that heritage. And, the legitimate owner must be willing to engage in projects in which they own such resources in order for all parties to conduct their projects equitably.

That is a fundamental issue in the development aboriginal tourism products today. Wanuskewin Heritage Park in Saskatoon and other aboriginally-run interpretive centres are certainly leaders there. Our national parks system is navigating a challenging path and does an excellent job of it overall.

Fort Battleford remains an under-utilized resource that meeting planners should consider using more frequently. How about hosting conflict-resolution-themed meetings there, involving both aboriginal and non-aboriginal facilitators to explore opposing perspectives? This is just one idea.
International meetings and conventions industry players are easily lured to higher profile destinations than Saskatchewan. If tourism stakeholders in Saskatchewan wish to grow their market share of medium and long-haul travellers who come to Canada, they could do worse than to consider the distinctive resources at their disposal.

In the end, the "non-siege" and its media coverage is likely to bring increased awareness of Saskatchewan as a surprisingly rich and diversified tourism destination, and that's a good thing for all of us!