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Giving SoHo's history new life

SoHo history gets new life

From left, MA in Public History students Avi Shaver, Emily Clink, and Keely Shaw, and professor, Michelle Hamilton.

Photo and Story by Rob Rombouts, October 28, 2021

Public History students are researching the diverse history of the SoHo neighbourhood and the Old Victoria Hospital grounds, in support of a mixed-income housing project led by Vision SoHo Alliance.

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Louisa Orford receives Mitacs Accelerate Award!

Louisa Orford Mitacs AwardCongratulations go out to MA Public History student Louisa Orford for being granted a Mitacs Accelerate Award to support her summer internship work with the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE). Louisa is completing an archival research and accessioning project for the CSCE National History Committee under the guidance of supervisors Michael Dove and Michelle Hamilton of Western’s History Department and Dr. F. Michael Bartlett, President of the CSCE National History Society.  

The research project will catalogue, and determine the significance of, the archival collection held by the National History Committee of the CSCE. Once evaluated, the archival documents will be used to expand research on the 76 national, international, and regional historic sites currently recognized by the CSCE, as well as to update and expand the list of notable Canadian civil engineers included in the Canadian Dictionary of Biographies. Louisa’s work will facilitate their permanent storage at the Library of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), where they will be accessible for those researching the history of engineering in Canada. The research will be conducted using the archival collection held by the National History Committee in London, Ontario and by the CSCE National Office in Montréal, Québec. The project will also research best practices for conducting oral history interviews using resources through Western’s Public History program. These best practices will facilitate future oral history interviews with senior Canadian civil engineers for dissemination to CSCE members and the general public.

As her primary partner supervisor on the project, Mike Bartlett is extremely happy: “We are delighted with the contributions Louisa is making during her summer internship with the National History Committee of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering. She is meticulously organizing and cataloguing material to be archived and is mining this material to prepare consistent descriptions of many of the Society’s 76 Civil Engineering Historic Sites. The proposed research will disseminate the history of the CSCE more effectively and identify new areas for projects within the CSCE, improve operations with respect to historic document preservation, and inform best document conservation/preservation practices for the CSCE more broadly.”

“This is an especially significant award for a student in our department,” says Dove, Public History Internship Coordinator, “for most Mitacs Accelerate Awards are granted for student-industry projects within business, science and medicine. The vast majority of history-related community partners fall within the not-for-profit sector and matching funds are therefore very challenging to secure. Louisa is the first MA student in our department to receive this award since 2012, so we are ecstatic!”     

As for Louisa, she is very thankful for the support and for the invaluable chance to merge theory and practice: “By completing this internship with the CSCE I am combining my passion for collecting and sharing stories with the knowledge of archival principals I have gained through my graduate education. It is a great opportunity to continue to hone my research skills, to practice writing for a public audience, and to explore an area of industrial history that I have not previously had the opportunity to. These skills will hopefully serve me well as I enter a career in historical research or archival practice.”

The Canadian Society for Civil Engineering was founded in 1887 (as the Canadian Society of Civil Engineers) “to develop and maintain high standards of civil engineering practice in Canada and to enhance the public image of the civil engineering profession.” The National History Committee was created in 1983 “to increase public and professional awareness of Civil Engineers and Civil Engineering as an integral part of Canadian history, heritage and society.” In 2002, the CSCE was awarded the Pierre Berton Award from Canada’s National History Society for “helping popularize Canadian History and bringing it to a wider audience.” The Committee’s website is: https://cscehistory.ca/