Catherine Pfaff and Rita Gravina: 2016 Governor General’s History Awards

We’re very fortunate at this school to have our own Museum and Archives and this is really what’s allowed us to formulate the project that we have. It begins with the girls selecting a former pupil of the school who played an important role in World War One and they come into our space, the Museum and Archives, and there, they start trying to establish the essential facts of the girl’s life at the school. So, they get a good fix on what the girl’s experience was here at the school and then we broaden it out to other archives. Then comes the exciting part of them deciding how they’re going to turn this into a story. The project is called Herstory and so they need to find a narrative line and a way of conveying to the audience, authentically, the challenges and the triumphs of this particular woman’s experience and a way of showing her against the female experience of the time in Canada and overseas. The finished product is a short film. We hope that they could really look at the research and be able to look at a gendered perspective of war. It’s not typical of the traditional story. When we think about the First World War, we hear a lot about the soldiers’ experiences and this really is an opportunity for them to look at the unsung heroes. We have two former students who died during the First World War. One of them has been commemorated for a long time in the chapel with a plaque that was put up, but the other one has only recently had a plaque erected to her in the chapel and, on the day when that flag was unveiled, so to speak, in the senior school chapel with all grades 9-12 present, we used one of the student films about that particular nurse in order to provide the context to the rest of the students and and I think it’s far more meaningful for them to see this film and hear the voice of the student who was well-known in the school although she had graduated, and that’s a way in which we reach out even to our community at BSS, beyond the purview of the world history class. The research is challenging. It’s not easy. You need to go back and forth and you’re not going to find it in one spot. You need to be able to look at a variety of different resources to be able to piece that together, and I think also when they’re looking at the secondary sources, sometimes what they find affirms what they’ve been researching, but also sometimes, it might contradict it. So, what do they do with that? I think that is an important skill for them to be able to take with them and also along the ideas of the technology piece. They’re making these documents come alive that not everyone will be able to have access to, unless you’re doing this project. Then you’re going to go in and dig deep, and so this is an opportunity for them to bring this also to the wider community and to teach others about those experiences of women who served and to tell that story. History matters for everyone. It sets context. You can’t really understand the present without really knowing your past and it shapes our future. We don’t know where we’re going unless we know where we have come from. I think a student who is not exposed to Canadian history is adrift. So for me, it’s almost an obvious statement. Why would you not want to teach Canadian history and to learn Canadian history?

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