Taking history to the streets

by David Dean


The kiosk at Bank and Holmwood focuses on the plight of homeless Second World War veterans who took over the empty barracks at Lansdowne for housing.

Have you noticed that some of the grey traffic control boxes on our street corners have been wrapped with vivid images telling little-known stories of our community’s history? Welcome to Capital History Kiosks, an Ottawa 2017 project of the Worker’s History Museum, Carleton University and local design firm Chapter One Studio. There are 17 kiosks across the city, from Sparks Street and the Byward Market in the north to Barrhaven in the south, from Beechwood Village to Hintonburg and Wellington Village.


The Capital History kiosk at Bank and Third highlights the history of the Avalon Theatre. Photos: Dave Weatherall

And there are three in the Glebe.

The kiosks showcase a unique image–an archival photograph or a painting–with a text panel briefly telling the story and a QR code (a type of barcode) that takes you to www.capitalhistory.ca, a website maintained by Carleton’s Centre for Public History where you can learn more.

A vivid and eye-catching painting at Bank and Third directs passersby to check out the site of the nearby Avalon Theatre. Emily Keyes, a Carleton masters student in public history and an intern with the centre, thanks to the financial support of Ottawa-based historical research firm Know History and a MITACS grant, uncovered many stories of businesses and work in Ottawa including the history of the Avalon. One story was about a labour strike by the theatre’s projectionists. Adam Mahoney is another Carleton public history student who built on her research and liaised with Ottawa artist Ross Rheaume to reimagine the event. The project digitized the original painting so it could be wrapped around the traffic control box at Bank and Third. The website features Keyes’s interviews with local people reminiscing about the theatre.

The other two installations in the Glebe are at Bank and Holmwood and Bank and Exhibition Way, both researched by public history MA students at Carleton.

Kelly Ferguson decided to tell the little-known story of Franklin “Frank” Hanratty and the Veteran’s Housing League. They seized control of the then-empty army barracks at Lansdowne in 1946 to provide accommodation for homeless veterans and their families. The installation features a beautiful painting of soldiers working on a vehicle in the Aberdeen Pavilion during the war, which has only recently been recovered by the Canadian War Museum. Ferguson wanted to tell this story because “it is easy to forget in discussing the victory of the war that many veterans faced hardship when returning to normal life.”

A striking team picture of lacrosse players and fans from the late 1800s adorns the box at the main entrance of Lansdowne itself. Searching for a sports story, researcher Lisa Bullock discovered the Ottawa Capitals who were the first winners of the Minto Cup, lacrosse’s equivalent to the Stanley Cup, in 1901. Thousands of fans walked down Bank Street to attend their games and several players, including Hugh Carson and Bernard “Barney” Quinn, became pillars of the Ottawa community. Bullock told CBC Ottawa News at the official launch of the project last May, “if we’re going to talk about 150th celebrations then we should talk about the national sport that gets overshadowed by [its] louder sibling of hockey.” The photograph, rarely seen by the public, came from Library and Archives Canada and clearly shows how popular the sport was with fans.

The students researched their stories as coursework for my graduate seminar on museums and public memory. As project lead for the museum, seeing my students engage in Ottawa’s history and then work collaboratively with many partners to communicate their discoveries in such a vivid and dynamic way was incredible. It was a pleasure to work with city staff and Ottawa 2017 to make this happen and we enjoyed the full support of Councillor Chernushenko and the Glebe BIA for the installations in the neighourhood.

Capital History kiosks’ story project was created in partnership with Ottawa 2017 and was funded by the Ottawa 2017’s Arts, Culture and Heritage Program, which was stewarded by AOE Arts Council, Ottawa Arts Council and Council of Heritage Organizations in Ottawa. The installations have a lifespan of several years and will be in place for some time to come. And, of course, more stories will be added to www.capitalhistory.ca in the future.

For more information and ideas for future stories please contact me at david_dean@carleton.ca.

David Dean is a Carleton history professor and leader of the Capital History Kiosks project.

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