The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere
Ottawa city directory 1923
“Time is an enormous, long river, and I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it. My elders are the tributaries, and everything they thought and every struggle they went through and everything they gave their lives to, and every song they created, and every poem that they laid down flows down to me – and if I take the time to ask, and if I take the time to see, and if I take the time to reach out, I can build that bridge between my world and theirs. I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world”
― Utah Phillips, Bridges, The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere
On the one hand Utah Phillips is correct, the past is all around us and informs and influences us all of the time. We usually do not realize it, but it is and does all the same.
On the other hand it is easy to be unaware of and indifferent to that history, but to do so is to miss out on a lot of richness of one’s community. The 1923 “Ottawa of Yesterday” seems quaint now because of course 1923 is ancient history, whereas at the time they were moderns looking into the distant past of Ottawa’s history.
The truth is that “history” is just stuff that everybody knows, until you wake up one day and all of those who knew it are dead. Knowledge that was universal and commonplace is now arcane and eclectic. Moreover, and paradoxically, in the internet age of easy access to information, people tend to know less about their own neighbourhoods and communities than ever before.
Histories of Britannia
She said: What is history?
And he said: History is an angel
being blown backwards into the future
He said: History is a pile of debris
And the angel wants to go back and fix things
To repair the things that have been broken
But there is a storm blowing from Paradise
And the storm keeps blowing the angel
backwards into the future
And this storm, this storm
~ Laurie Anderson “The Dream Before”
Eva Taylor’s 1983 Ottawa’s Britannia is the essential work on the history of Britannia.
1880 Map of Carelton County. McGill Digital Library
1949, Jul 30: Storm with tornadoes rips through region causing much damage .
1950, May 1 Buses replace Streetcars