Bringing history to life

While a lot of youth have their eyes on the future, Tom Morton wants to make sure the past isn’t strictly in the rear view mirror.

While a lot of youth have their eyes on the future, Tom Morton wants to make sure the past isn’t strictly in the rear view mirror.

As the provincial co-ordinator for the Heritage Fairs Program in B.C., Morton was in Prince Rupert last week to talk to teachers from across the district about how to connect students with the history of their community and their world.

“Through surveys we have found some students don’t know why they are studying history … my message is that through heritage and critical thinking we can make history come alive and have meaning to young people,” said the self-described history educator.

“I try to make history education purposeful, fun and exciting, and that is what heritage fairs are all about.”

While the North Coast is new to the concept of heritage fairs, with the first being hosted at North Pacific Cannery last year, Morton said it can sometimes be amazing what impact the gatherings can have.

“The students get to choose a topic of their own interest, though sometimes it will be on a theme like immigration or the economy, but picking their own subject matter helps motivate them … it means they see themselves in history and a lot of times there is that disconnect,” he said.

“I have seen everything from the history of professional wrestling to the history of dairy farming in B.C.”

While students can pick the subject matter, Morton said there is definitely a role for teachers to play in making sure they get the most out of the experience.

“Sometimes students can miss the big picture, so it is up to a skilled teacher to take that small-scale idea and put it in a global perspective,” he said, adding the advent of easy-access information also puts responsibility on the teacher.

“Often students take that easily accessible information or the first thing that pops up on a Google search for the project, but that isn’t always ideal. Just because something is easy to find doesn’t mean it is the best source.”

North Pacific Cannery will host its second regional Heritage Fair on April 30 and, while he may not be in attendance, Morton has a good idea what he would like to see in 2015 and in the years ahead.

“I would like to see growth not only in numbers but in critical thinking,” he said.

“Getting in touch with history can really help us understand the world today.”