Thursday, May 24, 2012

Martyr Shrines

There are a few tributes in London to the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The plaque at left is in Labour Memorial Park, a small riverside green space at York and Thames streets. It accompanies a large work of art entitled "Good Hands" by David Bobier and Leslie Putnam.

The so-called Tolpuddle Martyrs were six farm labourers who lived in Tolpuddle, Dorsetshire in the 1830s. When the seven shillings a week they earned was not enough money to support themselves and their families, they went on strike. All were arrested, found guilty, and transported to Australia in March 1834. Public indignation was so great over this that they were pardoned two years later and returned to England in 1837. The event is still regarded as a turning point in labour laws in the UK.

Upon their return, five of the six men, along with their families, emigrated to Upper Canada and settled near London. George Loveless, wife Elizabeth and family pioneered on what is now Fanshawe Park Road. Siloam Cemetery on Fanshawe Park Road East contains headstones for George Loveless and fellow-martyr Thomas Standfield. In commemoration, there's a memorial plaque outside the Siloam Cemetery gate.

Another monument to these men is the Tolpuddle Housing Co-Op on Adelaide Street. And the London and District Labour Council annually presents its Tolpuddle Memorial Award to an activist who has contributed extensively to labour and social causes in the community. One suspects George and his friends would approve.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Heritage Myth # 4: Canada's history isn't old enough to be worth preserving.

Ever had anybody tell you: "Why would we need to save that building? It's not old." They might be referring to a 20th-century factory, a 1930s home with Art Deco styling, or a Supertest gas station. It's as though they think only the only interesting buildings are pioneer log cabins or Victorian mansions with gingerbread. Or worse, the only real historical buildings are European castles and ancient Near Eastern ruins. 

But an interesting point was made by Terry O'Reilly, keynote speaker at the 2011 Ontario Heritage Conference in Cobourg. 80% of heritage sites in England were built after 1800. Thus demonstrating that even across the pond in merrie olde England recent history is considered important and worth preserving.

Old buildings reflect our cultural identity regardless of whether they're 50, 500, or 5,000 years old. It doesn't need to be a moated manor house or an Egyptian pyramid to have value. Canada's heritage should and does have significance for Canadians.