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Ronald Rudin, a professor at Concordia’s Department of History, has launched an initiative comprised of art and film to educate the country on lesser known, or forgotten, influential Canadians.

Concordia University

Most Canadians know the stories of John A. Macdonald, Laura Secord and Terry Fox. But Ronald Rudin, a professor at Concordia's Department of History, doesn't want to hear those histories. Instead, he has launched Lost Stories, an initiative to educate the country on the lives of influential Canadians who are lesser known or have been forgotten over the years. It's all part, Rudin says, of figuring out "how the past gets told in public."

With the help of a $235,000 grant from the federal government, Rudin, co-director of the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia, and a team of artists and filmmakers are creating artwork and documentaries to share these obscured tales.

The artwork will aim to transform the stories of unknown influential Canadians into physical objects, and the documentaries, while also telling those histories, will follow each artist as they are "puzzling over what to do with the story" and how to turn it into an appropriate piece of artwork. To mark the 150th anniversary of Canada, the artwork will be released in the summer of 2017, with the documentaries following soon after.

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The project's pilot episode has already been released online. It tells the story of Thomas Widd, a 19th-century deaf man who founded the Mackay School for the Deaf. However, Widd's influence has faded with time as the school was named after Joseph MacKay, who put up the necessary money. Widd was initially brought to Rudin's attention by Janet McConnell, a former teacher at the school, at which her parents also met.

Now, Rudin plans to follow this pilot up with the histories of four other important-yet-unknown Canadians.

He is actively searching for stories from across the country and is relying on submissions from the public, via e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. Only a few weeks after the official launch of the project, Rudin says they've had 35 or 40 submissions, but he hopes for many more. He plans to have the final four individuals selected by Labour Day.

"Having people from a community who feel strongly about a story being told is very helpful," Rudin says. "We're hoping that people feel passionate about their stories and want to help us tell them."

Although he has no plans beyond the four next videos, Rudin is optimistic that the initiative will have a future. "I'm hoping that if we do it well that it'll put us in the position to do more in the future," he says.

Rudin also plans on developing education resources for teachers based off of this initiative. He believes teachers could "give students lost stories and ask them to think about how they would develop some simple piece of art." According to Rudin, this is especially relevant since history now has "a de-emphasis on memorizing the facts and an emphasis on how we think about the past." Rudin believes these resources may even end up being the "lasting legacy of the project."

He adds, "I hope the project has kind of a larger educational mission, without sounding too self-important."

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