Students consider the historical significance of place 

By Karen Herland

A flurry of student-organized conferences involving sociology, anthropology, ethnography, geography and the arts were held at Concordia throughout the month of March focusing on place as a key component of research and the making of meaning.

The fourteenth edition of History in the Making was no exception. As the conference’s call for submissions suggested: “The careful consideration of the ephemeral and dynamic meanings of places has drawn questions regarding place creation and attachment into the realm of historical study.”

Undergraduate students Bryan James Gordon and Morgan Bell chose to fuse their current experiences in Montreal with an historical investigation of the meaning of place by studying the community reaction to the proposed name change of Parc Avenue to Avenue Robert Bourassa launched by the city in 2006. Community attachment to the existing name raised a groundswell of protest that eventually squashed plans to rename the street after the former provincial premier.

Gordon, who was working in a depanneur in the neighbourhood at the time, was able to track the headlines in the newspapers in the shop, and client reaction to them. He became interested in, “what makes a place belong to a group of people,” and the inter-relationship between place and community-building.

In particular, the pair focused on the Greek community’s relationship to a neighbourhood as central to their identity. Interestingly, although other communities have migrated to the area (for instance, Irish and Jewish immigrants at different periods), the area is most marked by its relationship to the Greek community. Although members of the Greek community are now more likely to live in the suburbs, the connection remains strong.

This map, dating from the middle of the 19th century, is a tool to help determine how boundaries affect sense of community. Magnifying glass

This map, dating from the middle of the 19th century, is a tool to help determine how boundaries affect sense of community.

Jessica J. Mills is doing her graduate research on the construction of community in Point Saint Charles. In particular, she’s comparing sometimes competing narratives maintained by the local historical society, literary works and online communities.

Working with a number of informants, Mills is exploring these diverse narratives using oral history as the framework for her research. Many times, individuals’ stories do not line up with official histories.

“You’re often faced with conflicting information, and you balance it the best way you can,” she says.

Mills hopes her final project will include walking tours, as well as a research thesis. She’s aware that institutional requirements and community requirements don’t always line up. “Ultimately, I don’t feel I’ll be able to please everyone.”


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