Ontario has a society dedicated to educating residents about the history of ethnic minorities in that province. Eight other provinces have similar groups, focused on heritage conservation. But Alberta doesn’t, undermining its efforts to celebrate the province’s cultural and religious diversity.

That society is known as the Multicultural History Society of Ontario. Its purpose is to “record and preserve the stories on the ethnic and immigrant experience in Ontario,” says Dora Nipp, MHSO’s CEO.

Nipp describes the society as “a one-stop-shop” for “ethnic and immigration studies” in the province, where primary information, such as ethnic newspapers, are available to the public. The majority of these materials aren’t typically found in the archives of Canada, making MHSO a host for untold history and heritage stories of minority communities.

Today, as a result of these efforts, around 160 ethno-racial communities are represented. With MHSO’s archives consisting of documents and photographs that are submitted from individuals in these minority communities, their stories become more personal.

Nipp says, “Relying on just government documents or newspaper sources, which are all secondary sources, you don’t get a very clear picture of how people live their lives.”

Although the society receives most of its materials and funding from private volunteer donor groups, the majority of the special heritage projects are funded by the provincial government.

In contrast, Alberta is the only province that does not have a heritage society. Linda Collier, the current president of the Historical Society of Alberta, acknowledges, “The definitions of ‘heritage’ and ‘history’ have been muddled for years.”

However, the main contrast between heritage and history is that history is generally facts, stories and timelines, while heritage remains to focus more on cultural traditions.

“Our society is dedicated to the historical aspects. Having said that, we also look at historical aspects of any of our multicultural groups, so we do cross over. It’s unique. Ontario, BC, all of them have a provincial heritage council or whatever the title would be, and it’s interesting that Alberta never went that route,” said Collier.

The society’s primary focus is their quarterly magazine, with its five chapters mostly concerned with organizing speaker series, bus tours, historic festivals and heritage fairs.

These programs are how the society tries to shed light on immigrant and refugee stories. But it’s not the same as having a society dedicated to the mission of cultural heritage.

Collier was formerly part of a team that was tried to change that. “Several years ago, maybe eight or 10, we tried to form a heritage council in Alberta, but it never panned out. It’s difficult to get all corners of Alberta accounted for in a group like that.”

Built by Senator James Lougheed and his wife Lady Isabella in 1891, the sandstone mansion is 4000 square feet and set in Calgary’s downtown amidst the modern skyscrapers. Photo by Casey Richardson.

A member from each of the five societies funded by the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation, including Collier, went to the foundation and pitched their idea to form a sixth organization dedicated to heritage preservation. They met with the AHRF chair at the time and the deputy minister of culture and tourism, but heard back within days that the answer was no.

Despite this absence, the AHRF website states their main objective is to “serve as the Government of Alberta’s primary window for heritage preservation funding.”

The AHRF did not respond to the five requests for comment and the Alberta Culture and Tourism minister did not respond to the two requests as well.

Although there isn’t a heritage society in Alberta, there are multiple cultural societies who represent the minorities in Calgary.

When asked if a heritage society would be beneficial in Alberta, the vice president of the Iranian Cultural Society, Ali Javadzadeh said, “I would actually get a chance to know more about my neighbours,” and that it would be a great opportunity for “everybody to enjoy the benefits.”

Unlike some cultural societies, the ICS is not funded by the government, which leaves them to raise their own funds through memberships and tickets. This isn’t always enough as the society is left without a permanent meeting space.

“I want to say that our most important problem is that we don’t have any space. We need to rent a place and have, sometimes workshops or something, for every event,” he said, adding that government funding would allow his group to “get people together more often.”

The Irish Cultural Society of Calgary is a group fortunate enough to have support from the city of Calgary and the province. “We also get a lot of our funding from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission. From a funding aspect we get strong support,” said David Price, the current president of the ICSC.

Despite the society’s funding, Price would still like to see an improvement in a representation of Canada’s history and heritage, celebrating all groups and using the celebration of Canada 150 as a time to accomplish this.

“Everybody’s story needs to be told,” says Collier.

kallen@cjournal.ca

crichardson@cjournal.ca

Editor: Sean Holman | sholman@mtroyal.ca