Understanding Canadian History Essay, Research Paper
Art history contributes to our understanding of Canada’s history. Urban
history, art history, and material history documented events as they unfurled.
Demographic concentration, architecture, economics, and cultural aspects are
well documented in the above disciplines of history.
Art itself is about people and their expressions of hope and meaning. Their
impressions and thoughts are transported to their respective canvases. For the
most part, these forms of history are less biassed and they tell the story as it
actually was. A tour of the National Gallery showed that art comes in many
forms: landscape paintings, portraiture, carvings, sculptures, metal work,
among others. Viewing the types of artwork and when they were produced, showed
an evolution of various artists’ styles as well as an evolution in the Canadian
people. The early “aristocratic” settlers in Canada were mostly interested in
Dutch and European art and not Canadian landscape paintings. It was perhaps
living in the dreary cold land which discouraged them to hang a rendering of it
on their walls. In addition, early Canada had no actual “Canadian” artists of
any popularity. A new country would take years to produce such artisans.
Portraiture captured the essence of the early peoples, whether European or
Aboriginal. Clothing, tools, jewellery and muskets attested to the Canadian
lifestyle in the early days. Landscape art detailed the growth of civilisation
around the country. Development in housing, business, industry, and architecture
could be seen by comparing two paintings of the same area, though painted fifty
years apart. Count the church steeples in the paintings to find an increase in
religious persuasions, thus identifying the influx and diversity of the settlers.
The first settlers to Canada left behind many artefacts which help piece
together the trials and tribulations of early settlement. These materials show
a progress or evolution of a nation. The various possessions found in a young
Canada showed a very diverse country. Early Canada lacked the resources or the
tradesmen to produce materials for everyday use, such as furniture, precious
metals, cutlery, dolls, and other personal items. That is why many of the items
found in Canada are of European origin. It wasn’t until years later that many
trades were developed to self-sustain early settlers. For example, early glass
objects were crude in form and function. With advances in technology, came
clearer glass objects that could be mass-produced. Significant advancements in
technology can be noted in most all other materials also.
One could also see development and history though architecture. Although we
walk down the streets of Ottawa going about daily business, most of us are
usually unaware of our historical surroundings. The older unassuming buildings
on Sparks Street reveal intricate carvings in stone. Where did these carvings
come from? Numerous architectural wonders in the city of Ottawa attest to the
hardships and fortitude of the early nation builders. These are, however, not
mere architectural achievements. These buildings tell a story about the people,
sickness, employment and economics of the time. In fact, the Royal Canadian Mint
was a cholera quarantine hospital for those wishing to journey further
up or down the Ottawa river before it became the place where currency is
produced. The Rideau Canal, with its series of locks, was not constructed to
allow passage of jet skis and pleasure craft. It was built between 1826 and
1832 to transport thousands of soldiers and war supplies, for the then-thought
invasion of the United States. This massive feat of construction cost an
exorbitant amount of money and required thousands of skilled men to finish it.
After the construction of the Rideau Canal project, these same men found
themselves building many of the stone buildings on Sparks Street and elsewhere.
Their talents can be seen leering down from the heights in the form of gargoyles.
Venture into some of these buildings to find plaques honouring the memories of
Ottawa’s founding fathers and their contributions to the country. Even the
city’s location also tells a story. Ottawa was built on the Ottawa river at a
time when the only practical method of transportation was by boat. Hundreds of
years ago, the principle construction materials were lumber and stone. The
stone was quarried on the shores of the Ottawa river and the lumber was cut and
floated down river for milling, all for ease of transportation and the lowest cost.
For a nation to have an identity, it must have a history. Urban, art, and
material histories all lend hands to understanding Canadian history by providing
a chronology of sorts. The records of our past don’t always have to be written
and documented. For the most part, history surrounds us in the form of urban,
art, and material histories and will continue to do so for the years to come.
Understanding Canadian History