What is Heritage?

A question came up when I was on a city heritage commission and we were deciding what to call a type of commemorative plaques. Should we call the sites commemorated “Heritage Sites” or “Historical Sites”?

I thought that was a very interesting question and for many people it made little difference because I think to many the two words are synonymous. We came up with an answer that satisfied everyone and made our recommendation to City Council.

It was some time later that I pondered the question of what heritage was. It really didn’t have to do with heritage really, it had to do with the fact that things that are familiar now are very different from what they were in my childhood. That childhood doesn’t seem so far back to me. When I talk about life when I was a child to someone in their teens I am sharing my Canadian Heritage with them. I can talk about my recollections about historic events and about how things were done and how they have changed.

I realized that perhaps I should start writing some observations down of my youth even though I am not an elder society member like those we are interviewing for our museum’s oral history project, “Memorizing the Millennium”. In 40 or 50 years, my own recollections might be cloudy, but of value to those who are looking back from then.

I thought about the journals of the past that have meant so much in our understanding of what has happened. A lot of what we understand of some events come from personal journals as much as from public histories. It got me thinking that it is today’s journals that become tomorrows tomes of history. Or for that matter our heritage.

I find that history is more a telling of the events — the names, dates, and places — while heritage is more about the people and what the events meant to them and the day-to-day aspects of life. Heritage tends to be what is passed on to future generations. History is more the record itself… Perhaps it is a strange distinction.

The important question though, “What is heritage?”

I think that the tales and stories told to us by our grandparents and parents; the tales told by our neighbours, the stories we read; all we are taught by our teachers; and what we share with our children are all heritage. Our heritage is what we pass on, not just to those who come, but also to those who are around us because there are people who enter our culture from outside that learn of our heritage as well.

I think that children watching what we do and how we do it. Looking at these strange cell phones, that will eventually seem so archaic in the future, these funny smoking cars that use gasoline, wondering how we got along without… well we don’t know yet, do we? Anyway they will look back and tell their kids and grandkids. But… that means that what they are living is…

Well, “What is Heritage?”

You Are Heritage!