Federal Heritage Minister James Moore wants the teaching of Canadian history made mandatory in the country’s schools.
Speaking Friday to students at the independent school, Stratford Hall, on Vancouver’s Commercial Drive, Mr. Moore decried the fact that only four provinces require a Canadian history course before high-school graduation. “B.C. is not one of them,” he added, pointedly.
“Canada’s history is so rich and so brilliant, I would like to see all schools in Canada do [what you’re doing here],” said Mr. Moore, referring to the stress put on Canadian history at Stratford Hall.
In an interview afterward, the minister said he understands that education is a provincial responsibility, and there is little the federal government can do about the situation.
“But I’d like to see [Canadian history mandatory] across the country,” Mr. Moore said. “I think it’s really important. There’s a real need to know our national history better, so we can stay united and prosper as a country.”
He said Canadians seem to have lost their zeal for Canadian history, a development he attributed in part to it no longer being a compulsory subject in many school curricula.
“That’s one theory, that we’re on a downward spiral,” Mr. Moore said. “If you don’t teach history in school, then there aren’t going to be people going to university to learn history and then teach history, themselves. It becomes a shrinking pool of self-defeating reality.”
Asked whether he might take steps to cajole provincial education ministries to boost their emphasis on Canadian history, Mr. Moore replied: “Maybe I just did.”
Currently, only Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia require students to take Canadian history before graduating.
B.C. Education Minister Don McRae was not available for comment Friday.
A ministry spokesman said social studies is a requirement for graduation in B.C., with history one of the options students may choose to fulfill their social-studies commitment. Canadian history is also taught as part of social-studies courses in grades leading up to Grade 12, he said.
Mr. Moore’s remarks follow news that the federal Conservative government has earmarked $25-million to renovate and change the Canadian Museum of Civilization into a Museum of History, and the spending of close to $30-million to tell Canadians about the War of 1812 on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the war’s beginning.
Critics have accused the Conservatives of cutting cultural spending while boosting funds to put their own stamp on Canadian history by celebrating military exploits and high-profile political events.
But Mr. Moore said Canadian history is about far more than politicians and the War of 1812, referring to such controversial subjects as Louis Riel, the Chinese head tax, Japanese internment and first nations.
“These are really difficult questions this country has wrestled with and continues to wrestle with. It’s part of the Canadian story,” he said. “As we become more and more diverse, these elements of our shared society are things that can’t be forgotten.
“Canadian history is not dead. It’s alive and well. It’s just waiting to be told,” Mr. Moore said.
At the school, Mr. Moore presided over the showing of a new Heritage Minute, to begin airing later this month. The 60-second vignette tells of Richard Pierpont, a 68-year old former slave who formed an all-black unit to fight for the British in the War of 1812.