BC Heritage Fairs Alumni

The Official Heritage Fairs Student Site

So You Want to Teach Heritage Fair? — February 6, 2019

So You Want to Teach Heritage Fair?

This month, our alumni are here with some advice for teachers who may want to teach heritage fair for the first time. 


So you’ve decided to teach Heritage Fair. You might be wondering, where do I start? How do I get my students interested? How can I support them? And most importantly, what valuable skills will Heritage Fair give my students? Well, our wonderful alumni have each put together their own tips, tricks, and need-to-knows when it comes to participating in this years’ BC Heritage fair!


Julia argues…

Heritage Fair allows students to develop crucial skills that will be needed later in life: researching, interviewing, presenting, and managing through stress. By introducing them to these skills through the historical topic of their choice, they are more likely to stay interested throughout the project and carry that knowledge onto other projects.

Julia’s helpful resources:

Heritage How-to: Presentations!

How to Get Ready and De-Stress


Vedanshi addresses teachers in her statement…

To teachers who have never had the opportunity to engage their students with our incredible Canadian heritage- now is the time! Heritage Fair is an opportunity to exercise plenty of skills that are fundamental to the new curriculum: critical thinking, communication, and reflection. Years after doing their project, the systematic method in which the students approach their research topic and collaborate with community sources and experts, truly allows the student to excel at advanced-level academic work.

Vendashi’s helpful resources:

Your students can learn to ace interviews

Teaching students to distinguish between primary and secondary sources


Lucas speaks on the opportunity…

Heritage Fairs gives students an opportunity to develop a passion for learning – and this passion is far more important than any knowledge they could learn. The components of the project, such as conducting research from accurate sources, interviewing members of the community, making a physical display, and preparing a speech are all skills that young leaders should learn.

Lucas’ helpful resources…

How to Pick Your Heritage Fair Topic

The Importance of Museums for Information


Leona speaks on her past experiences…

Heritage fair opens up new opportunities for students of all ages and skill levels. It helps students develop skills such as organization, independence, along with presentation skills. All much needed in their educational career. The most stressful part of Heritage Fair for many is choosing a topic. This initial decision can affect everything. But in all honesty, don’t stress over whether you’ve chosen the perfect topic, a good topic will come with opportunities for deep thinking. A good topic will keep you thinking and wondering, all the way throughout the researching process.

Leona’s resources…




Jaia speaks on the value of passion…

Heritage Fairs provides students with the opportunity to research a topic of Canadian history but also promotes these students to discover what they are passionate about. One of the most important things that Heritage Fairs teaches is that we should never take for granted what life gives us, as the challenges we face ultimately allow us to develop as individuals and as societies. What makes Heritage Fairs extraordinary is that the process is valuable, but with the finished product and end result comes a true appreciation for the discovery accomplished during the process itself.

Here are two of the resources that I recommend –

What are the keys to an outstanding project?

How do I get ready for Heritage Fair day?


Veronica’s experience with BCHF…

In my experience, Heritage Fair is the most fun when students are given the opportunity to be creative and unique. At least for me, Heritage Fair was my first-ever “big” project, which by itself makes the experience exciting. As such, the freedom to share an interest through creative means made the project especially memorable.

Veronica’s helpful resources:

Enthusiasm: The Key to an Outstanding Project

What do the Judges Like to See


Kevin suggests…

Make sure to teach and discuss topics such as critical thinking, primary sources, and checking a source’s validity.  Also, make sure students start working on their project right away, as while presentation day might seem far in the future, time flies and all of a sudden, present day’s tomorrow, and you’ve only a little work.  Releasing even a rough timeline is a huge help to keep students on track.

Kelvin’s helpful resources…

How do I get all of that work done?!

How do I get ready for Heritage Fair day?


Judy shares her tips for an amazing project…

Thoughtful and detailed research is arguably the most important part of the Heritage Fair. It is important to teach your students how to analyze primary and secondary resources; plan out several classes where you have students practice analyzing images, make sure a source is trustworthy, and cite resources. Don’t forget to discuss topics such as historical perspective, biases in primary sources and historical significance. Students with well-researched topics are guaranteed to have a successful Heritage Fair project.

How do I research my project topic?

What is an example of a primary source?



Hopefully, this has helped you decide whether or not you’d like to participate in BC Heritage Fairs. It provides as a great opportunity. Any teachers who are interested may visit our website http://bcheritagefairs.ca/about/


The Oka Crisis — February 4, 2019

The Oka Crisis

This month, Lucas is here to tell us about one piece of the history of Indigenous resistance to development – the Oka Crisis of 1989.


National headlines were made a few weeks ago when the RCMP, in dramatic fashion, dismantled a barricade and arrested several Indigenous protesters on Wet’suwet’en land in BC. They were protesting the planned construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which would span some 670 kilometres across Northern BC. After this video was posted on Facebook, many viewers were outraged at the police force’s response to the protests.

Although pipelines are a current issue, one does not have to reach far back in Canada’s past to find parallel incidents to the one we are facing now. One series of events, known as the Oka Crisis, escalated to the point of being a 78-day long standoff, with several casualties. In the small town of Oka, Quebec, municipal plans were made in 1989 to expand a golf course in an area that was claimed by the Mohawk people, and was historically a burial ground for the people. Despite several different parties, including the Quebec Minister of Native Affairs, speaking out against the town’s decision, construction still began as planned.

That was until a group of Mohawk warriors made a barricade in the summer of 1989, stopping any more progress from being made. Eventually, the provincial police force (SQ) was called in, and they used tear gas to try and dispel the warriors. Undeterred, the warriors stood their ground, and in the exchange of gunfire that followed, tragedy struck when SQ Corporal Marcel Lemay (of the provincial force) was shot in the face and killed. Due to the smoke created by the tear gas, it is still unknown who fired the first shot, or who killed Lemay.

Photo Credit

The quickly-escalating crisis continued to unfold as the SQ set up their own barricades as well. As the standoff continued into August, civic tensions (including that of non-Indigenous citizens who were angry at the SQ for not resolving the situation quickly) hit a boiling point, and the RCMP and the Royal 22e Regiment were brought in to end the crisis. After several rounds of negotiations, the protests ended on September 26, 1990. The federal government, for their part, purchased the section of undeveloped land and promised to stop construction on the golf course. More than 75 Mohawk people had been injured, and several armed forces members as well.

The Oka Crisis led to several important events in government/Indigenous relations, particularly the establishment of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. It has also been said that the event helped spark a heightened awareness among Indigenous peoples about their rights, and informed all Canadians that land disputes were still prevalent in the late-20th century.

As the recent pipeline protests return to their place in the news cycle and slowly become less prevalent for the time being, it is important to remember that our modern history, as recently as 1990, has contained conflicts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples that have nearly broke out into armed conflicts. The Oka Crisis showed all Canadians that these issues are still controversial and incendiary, and if not dealt with in a respectful and timely manner, all sides can stand to lose something in the resulting battle.




The Assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee — December 22, 2018

The Assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee

Editor’s note: As the year ends our Heritage Fair Alumni Council is just heating up, and our Regional Coordinators are hard at work helping teachers and students prepare for the 2019 regional fairs, culminating in our Provincial Fair. If you appreciate the work we’re doing and want to make a life-changing difference in a student’s journey to discovering a passion for history, please consider a one time or monthly donation. All donations go directly towards our volunteer society being able to put on the 2019 Provincial Fair, and donations over $20 are tax deductible. Thank you for your support. 

Thanks to Rhiannon for this fascinating post on Canada’s first and only political assassination. We hope you have a wonderful holiday season. As always, if you have suggestions for topics you’d like to see covered here, leave them in the comments!

In 1868, one of our Fathers of Confederation met his end at the barrel of one politically adverse Canadian’s gun. This would be Canada’s first and only political assassination. How did it happen?

Thomas D’arcy Etienne Grace Hughes McGee, better known as Thomas D’arcy McGee, was born on April 13th 1825 in the Republic of Ireland. His father, employed by the Irish Coast Guard Service and his mother’s family were strongly tied to the Irish Revolution of 1798. McGee attended Catholic school like every other Irish child of that time. Although, unlike most children, he showed interest in works such as plans to dismantle the Irish-British union, and in the Dublin Penny Journal, a popular Irish paper at the time.

McGee came to North America by way of timbership at the age of seven. The trip from Wexford to Quebec would have taken an excruciatingly long time during the 1800s. Quebec was only a pitstop for McGee. He soon moved on to New England where he would be welcomed into his maternal aunt’s home in Providence. Eventually, he moved to Boston for work, where he would first speak out about his political beliefs. On Independence day of 1842, McGee addressed the Boston Friends of Ireland, a segment of his speech follows. “The sufferings which the people of that unhappy country have endured at the hands of a heartless, bigoted, despotic government, are well known to you… Her people are born slaves, and bred in slavery from the cradle; they know not what freedom is.”  His well constructed speech and manner of addressing controversial topics landed him a travelling agent’s position at the Boston Pilot, a newspaper at the time.

Over the course of his mid-life, McGee would never be afraid to share his opinions on current events. He continued to speak out for the good of Ireland and at one point stated “…Canada must be yielded by Great Britain to this Republic [USA].” He remained in journalism for a notably long time and eventually moved back to Ireland due to a job offer. During his time in his home country, McGee married, continued to support the repeal of the Ireland-Great Britain union, and participated in plans for the Irish Revolution. All this, only to move back to North America once faced with legal struggles.

Thomas D’arcy McGee, Late 1850s (Library Archives Canada)

Once he arrived in Montreal, McGee worked towards starting a newspaper in order to kickstart his political presence in Canada. He had an idea which he called “a new nationality,” in which he planned to promote economic development by encouraging the construction of a railway and immigration. Separately, he endorsed the development of Canada’s literature industry and Canadian sovereignty. He was elected to represent Montreal in the Legislative Assembly in 1857. At the time, McGee identified as a Reformer, the opposing side being Conservative.

All throughout his political career, McGee heavily supported the Irish. Keep in mind that they were a minority that was heavily discriminated against at the time. He also began to support education in Canada by pushing the relevant bills of his peers. Allegedly, he suggested that Canada’s education system should be based on that of Ireland. His support eventually lead to a school being named after him, Thomas D’arcy McGee Catholic School. He continued to support immigration and eventually shifted into the Conservative party. While his political career was extremely rocky and controversial, much like that of any politician, he continued to write. McGee wrote hundreds of poems, using the pseudonym “Amergin,” 309 of which were published after his death.

McGee’s outspokenness and opposition of Fenianism is what eventually lead to his death. On April 7th, 1868, outside of his Ottawa apartment complex, the Father of Confederation was fatally shot from behind. The culprit was located within the day.


Patrick James Whelan (Library Archives Canada)

Patrick James Whelan was an Irish tailor. Upon following a tip, the Ottawa police force found themselves in his hotel room. There, they found multiple pieces of evidence connecting Whelan to North American Irish organizations along with the murder weapon, one Smith & Wesson brand revolver. After he had been taken into custody, multiple individuals came forward as witnesses to Whelan’s crime, including a lumberjack that claimed he had seen Whelan pull the trigger. Although, this man evidently could not pick Whelan out of a line up, making the defence suggest that he lied about being a witness in order to receive the reward money. Many other individuals claimed to have overheard Whelan conspiring to assassinate McGee, or bragging about the crime after it had been committed.


In the end, Whelan was convicted and sentenced to capital punishment. It was believed that Whelan targeted McGee due to their differing opinions on Irish issues. For example, evidence suggest that Whelan supported Fenianism while McGee did not. Right up until his death, Whelan proclaimed his innocence. He claimed that he was at the scene but another man pulled the trigger,though he never stated who this man was. The evidence against him was strong albeit circumstantial. Additionally, there are reports that the trial was not run in a manner consistent with the procedure at the time. Was it Whelan, this mystery man, or someone entirely unheard of? We may never know.



Burns, Robin B. “Biography – McGEE, THOMAS D’ARCY – Volume IX (1861-1870) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography, 1976, www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcgee_thomas_d_arcy_9E.html.

“The Assasination of Thomas D’arcy McGee.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 2001, www.cbc.ca/history/EPCONTENTSE1EP9CH1PA2LE.html.

Wilson, David A. “The Assassination of Thomas D’Arcy McGee.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, The Canadian Encyclopedia, 18 Oct. 2013, www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-assassination-of-thomas-darcy-mcgee-feature.


The Great Fossil Debate! — November 19, 2018

The Great Fossil Debate!

Welcome to another Heritage Fair Alumni year! Can you believe it’s November already? We’re so excited to introduce you to this year’s group of alumni – stay tuned to our bios page in the next couple of weeks for that to go live. At our first meeting, we talked about an election happening in BC. No, it’s not the one you’re thinking of; this one is to select a fossil symbol for the province.

Take a look at the Alumni’s thoughts below, and then go to the BC Government Website to have your say. Don’t delay – the voting ends this Friday, November 23. Do you agree or disagree with our alumni’s thoughts? Let us know in the comments. – Rachel, BCHFS Alumni Coordinator


Introduction – by Veronica

B.C.’s provincial symbols highlight unique and important elements of our province. These include our flag and coat of arms as well as the Pacific Dogwood, our floral emblem; the Stellar Jay, our official bird; and the Western Cedar as our official tree. The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development is looking to add to that list by designating a Provincial Fossil. Fossils give us a rare glimpse of the biology and ecology from the past, thus, they provide significant educational and scientific value. Seven fossil candidates have been selected using the following criteria: the fossil should be easily recognized, unique to B.C. and its geography, and have a wide appeal. It should also be an effective educational tool and easily adapted to use in poster, logo, and display designs. The B.C. Provincial Alumni have chosen the fossil they think would be the best choice. Read on to learn more about these biological artifacts and why each would be an ideal choice! To take a look at the seven candidates and vote for your fossil of choice, visit the Government of B.C. website.


Jaia’s pitch: The Cretaceous Elasmosaur from Puntledge River, B.C.


One of B.C.’s late Cretaceous marine reptiles, the Elasmosaur, has the potential to be one of B.C.’s provincial fossils. Elasmosaurs were Plesiosaurs that lived across the world and were a species that survived until the end of the Cretaceous period, about 66 million years ago.

Pieces of these Elasmosaur specimens have been found at various places in B.C., but the first complete Elasmosaur found in Canada is on display at the Courtenay and District Museum, as well as the Palaeontology Centre on Vancouver Island.  

Palaeontologist Mike Trask and his daughter were looking for fossils along the Puntledge River, when they found this Elasmosaur specimen in 1988. Although they expected to find only clam fossils in these rocks, they instead discovered fragments of vertebrae sticking out of the rock alongside the river. Over many weekends, a number of teeth and bone fragments were discovered, which eventually made up an entire jaw and skull. Captivated by this new discovery, hundreds of volunteers turned up to help with the excavation. It is this that built the interest of many Canadians in the science of palaeontology and created B.C.’s first palaeontology society in Courtney, Vancouver Island. Without this discovery, palaeontology would not have been as profound in the history of B.C. and for this reason, the Elasmosaur would be a strong choice for B.C.’s provincial fossil.


Keilin’s Pitch: Ichthyosaur


For 220 million years, this immense aquatic reptile was embedded in the limestone of northeastern British Columbia. Excavated by the ambitious palaeontologist, Dr. Elizabeth Nicholls, these prehistoric Ichthyosaur remains were determined to be the largest of their kind at a length of nearly 75 feet. Resembling a dolphin or a shark, this fast-moving, highly specialized animal dominated the marine environment by ambushing its prey while effectively avoiding its predators. These survival abilities allowed the Ichthyosaur to escape extinction for over 100 million years and had it not been for Nicholls, this particular specimen could have been hidden for many more. Although the sheer sophistication of the Ichthyosaur makes it an ideal contender for the Provincial Fossil, Nicholls represents British Columbia’s curiosity and passion as well. In the male-dominated field of palaeontology, Elizabeth Nicholls demonstrated her genius and dedication as the curator of marine reptiles at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and by undertaking excavations such as that of British Columbia’s Ichthyosaur. Regrettably, she passed away in 2004 from breast cancer, but her work has greatly influenced today’s palaeontologists. In consideration of Dr. Nicholls’s excavation of the Ichthyosaur, it will absolutely reflect B.C. as the Provincial Fossil. Not only will it highlight a significant discovery in our province, but it will also honour the legacy of a respected female palaeontologist.


Judy & Vedanshi: First thoughts on the Salmon


Salmon have a long and rich history in British Columbia, starting from their presence in lower B.C. after the Ice Age, approximately 2.6 million years ago. This fish is an extremely important aspect of the culture of Coastal First Nations groups in B.C.. For thousands of years, salmon were not only their main source of food but also a symbol of gift-bearing relatives who were treated with great respect. They are often a part of totem poles as well, which symbolize peace, harmony, and family. Nowadays, salmon has become the main focus of fisheries, which has improved the economy and made it one of the primary exports of B.C. In 2015, it was reported by GSGislason and Associates Ltd, that B.C. was responsible for more than 80%, around 5000 out of 6000, of all new jobs provided by salmon fisheries in Canada. From the Chinook to the Sockeye, salmon has become a well-known and important aspect of B.C.’s society. However, after further consideration and because the salmon has already been selected as the provincial fish emblem, it would be better to recognize another fossil to represent British Columbia.


Abrielle, Kevin, and Rhiannon Pitch the Alumni’s Final Choice: Lace Crab


The Marrella splendens (Lace Crab) is the ideal fossil to represent British Columbia. Brought up through time from the deep ocean canyon around 508 million years ago, its fossils are now embedded in the Burgess Shale located on the peaks of the Rocky Mountains in eastern B.C.. The formation of the Burgess Shale mirrors the diverse landscape of B.C., which starts at the west coast and ends in the high, rugged Rocky Mountains. First formed in mudslides in a deep ocean canyon, the fossils were pushed up on top of other rocks that forms B.C.’s famous mountains. In other words, the same tectonic forces that created B.C. lead to the discovery of the Lace Crab. The Marrella splendens was one of the first fossils ever found by Charles Doolittle Walcott and lead to his discovery of the Burgess Shale. It is one of the most prominent fossils found in this formation. The Burgess Shale is not only significant to British Columbia, but it is also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it has advanced the world’s scientific knowledge into the evolution of animal life and formed “part of the national heritage of mankind.” The name Marrella splendens reminds us of the beauty and delicateness that has survived through time echoing British Columbia’s motto: Splendor Sine Occasu which means Beauty without Diminishment.

The lace crab is an animal that is unique to B.C. In fact, it has only been found in the Burgess shale which is an important fossil-finding area in our province. The lace crab was critical for palaeontological research, as it proved that fossils from the Burgess Shale were more diverse than previously expected.

B.C.’s provincial fossil should represent the essence of our province. It must be unique, game-changing, and intriguing. The lace crab is all of these. Found in 1910 by Wolcott, Marrella fossils were found extraordinarily well preserved. Over the years, 25,000 specimens have been discovered, all of which were found in the Burgess Shale. While every other fossil candidate has been found predominantly in other nations, the lace crab has only ever been found in British Columbia. This makes the fossil extremely unique, just like our province. The lace crab itself is interesting. They range from two centimetres to as small as twenty-five millimetres; yet, 62 moving segments fit into their tiny body. The animal had a head-guard made of two boney spikes, legs, feathery gills, antennae, a stomach inside its head, and two paddle-like limbs to allow for swimming. The lace crab would likely have been very colourful during its lifetime. Such an amazing creature is a perfect fit for such an amazing province.


Leona & Lucas’ Rebuttal: We Still Recommend Salmon

Although the other options in the Provincial Fossil contest are intriguing choices, there are no species that have as large of an impact on British Columbians as the salmon. As the Pacific Salmon Foundation states, “The well-being of the salmon population is a direct reflection of how we are doing as a society and as stewards of the environment.”

Salmon are extremely relevant to both our history and economy, which will make it easier for British Columbians to identify with the fossil. Pacific Salmon have had a heavy impact on B.C. for years. They stood the test of time, as they were a major food source of various Indigenous groups for thousands of years. Salmon also held an important cultural role for the Indigenous peoples since they hold a rich history of legends and stories. In 2013, the Pacific Salmon was adopted as the official fish emblem. As reconciliation is a priority for the B.C. government and citizens alike, recognizing the importance of salmon is a natural step to helping bring communities together.

Economically, salmon provide us jobs like farming and marketing. It also supports tons of economies and communities. Pacific Salmon fuel a $3 billion dollar industry! Additionally, 137 marine species depend on the marine-rich nutrients that salmon supply. Recreational fishing is enjoyed by people around the province, and viewing of wild salmon is an integral part of B.C.’s tourism industry as well. Finally, we believe that it’s important for us to honour and remember the salmon because our society has helped to destroy their ecosystems.

In addition to polluting the ocean with microplastics and suffocating the salmon, fewer and fewer salmon are now being found on our coasts. The salmon are the biggest biological foundation of the river system, telling us whether our rivers are healthy or not. Therefore, in the interest of protecting salmon, making it the Provincial Fossil will help to increase awareness about the steps we need to take to protect our ecosystems.

The salmon not only provides enough ecological and geological value to be considered as B.C.’s Provincial Fossil but is also relevant in a vast number of issues that British Columbians now face. Declaring it as such will only prove to help all British Columbians – and all British Columbian salmon!


Conclusion – by Julia

The new provincial fossil, like the other provincial symbols, will emphasize our uniqueness and represent our province, making this decision an important one. Each of the seven fossils has different stories and reasons as to why they are provincially valuable. The first fossil is the Elasmosaur from Puntledge River, which inspired the first B.C. palaeontology society in Courtenay. Then the Ichthyosaur, reflecting the curiosity and passion of devoted palaeontologists, followed by the salmon; an integral part of British Columbia’s history and economy. Finally, the lace crab, our recommendation, which is unique to B.C.. Other fossils in the running include the Ammonite, Trilobite, and the one-celled animal. The provincial fossil should be recognizable, reflect the geography of B.C., and have the potential to be used educationally and on poster designs. Voting takes place on the Government of B.C. website and closes November 23. Each of the fossils ties into British Columbia in different ways, but only one will be awarded the title, so be sure to go cast your vote.



Discovering Friedl Dicker-Brandeis — October 3, 2018

Discovering Friedl Dicker-Brandeis

In our last post of the year, Abrielle is here to tell us about discovering artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Thank you for reading all of our posts this year, and we hope you’ll join us again here next year. 


Sometimes it is the seemingly trivial discoveries that lead to more significant and meaningful encounters. During my visit to the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, I had set out to view famous paintings such as The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. There among the hundreds of art pieces, the sight of a familiar diagram piqued my interest. A depiction of the Pythagorean theorem was painted in white, contrasting the darker earthy tones of the painting in which a brightly coloured man riding a horse was reaching down to a more shadowed man.

This particular piece would have been one I would have normally admired briefly and moved on to some other visually compelling art in the room. However, since I had studied this in math, I felt some connection to the artist and some curiosity. Hastily, I took a picture. Although it was not the most famous and world-renowned painting I had seen throughout Europe, it was that painting that left me intrigued. If it were not for the chance encounter with the black and white lined triangle, I would not have further researched and discovered the history of artist and teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and her students.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis 1898 Vienna-1944 Auschwitz (concentration camp). Don Quixote and Lenin, c 1940. Oil on canvas.


Friedl Dicker-Brandeis


Frederika “Friedl” Dicker was born on July 30, 1898 in Vienna, Austria. When Friedl Dicker was four, her mother, Karolina died and from then she was raised by her father, Simon Dicker. Friedl Dicker spent a lot of time in her father’s stationery shop as a young girl.

Her art education began at the Austrian Federal Education and Research Institute for Graphics in Vienna where she studied under Johannes Beckmann, a master photographer. In 1919 Friedl Dicker studied at the art school of Johannes Itten (Bauhaus master). Johannes Itten closed his school and moved to the Bauhaus Weimar as a master. Several of his students, including Friedl Dicker, followed him to Bauhaus Weimar.

Friedl Dicker found like-minded people at the Bauhaus. She and her friends earned money on the side by making book bindings in Otto Dorfner’s workshop. In 1921, Friedl Dicker’s favourite painter, Paul Klee, arrived at the Bauhaus. She attended his lectures on the nature of art and the childlike imagination. Her study with Klee made a deep impression on her as it opened up her mind to educational concepts and motifs of the mind of children.

In the 1920s, Friedl Dicker and her friend Franz Singer founded a workshop that produced textiles, jewellery, graphic designs and theatre sets. They won awards for their innovative inventions of easily stacked chairs, folding sofas, and adjustable lamps. In 1930 they were commissioned to furnish the Montessori kindergarten in Vienna.

In 1931 Friedl Dicker ran courses for kindergarten teachers. She drew on the teachings of Johannes Itten. She taught the teachers how to recognise children’s personalities and artistic abilities. Her focus was to encourage children to concentrate on the creative process and to express their individual experiences and emotions onto paper.

In 1934 during the right wing coups in Vienna, Friedl Dicker was arrested for Communist activities. She was imprisoned for a short time and once released, she fled to Prague, which at the time was considered more democratic. During this time, Austria was becoming more pro-Anschluss which finally led to the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938.

Friedl Dicker met her future husband, Pavel Brandeis in Prague and was married in 1936. In 1938 she became a Czech citizen. Her life in Prague was soon turned into turmoil when Hitler’s army invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938. Dicker’s friends tried to persuade her to emigrate, but she did not want to leave her husband who by this point was no longer able to obtain a visa. In summer of 1938 they moved to the small town of Hronov. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis left her entire archive of works on a farm in Hronov during the mass deportation of Jews. Unfortunately the farmer destroyed all but two of her paintings.

On December 16, 1942 Friedl and Pavel Dicker-Brandeis were transported to Theresienstadt concentration camp. They were instructed to bring only 50 kilos. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis used her weight allowance to pack a few items of clothing and used the majority of her quota to pack art supplies.

Theresienstadt camp was used for propaganda in which communists, Jews, and other prisoners were portrayed as living normal lives. The “model” camp covered up the appalling reality at Theresienstadt. Upon arrival children were ripped away from their parents and forced to live in crowded dormitories. Terezin was formerly built as a fort to protect Prague and was designed to house about 5,000 soldiers during peacetime. When the Nazis took over the fort and converted it to the Theresienstadt ghetto, they held upwards of 150,000 people including tens of thousands of children. Brothers and sisters were even separated from one another.

The brutal environment took a physical and emotional toll especially on the children. Many intellectuals and artists among the prisoners found ways to help the children at the concentration camp. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis began teaching art classes at one of the girl’s dormitories. She taught children about colour theory, drawing, and painting, encouraging them to express their creativity. She wanted them to draw and paint what was in their imagination rather than the reality they were living. Friedl Dicker-Brandeis inspired and helped the children experience some normalcy. Using her Bauhaus training, she created simple ornaments and dyed bedclothes to create tiny spaces for the children within the dirty, bleak, and crowded surroundings. The art lessons and tiny spaces provided the children with brief moments of escape.

In the autumn of 1944, five thousand men, including Friedl’s husband, Pavel Brandeis, were sent away by rail transport to a new camp. On October 8, 1944 Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was transported to Auschwitz. Before she left, Friedl packed two suitcases with 4386 artworks of the children and gave them to Raja Englanderova, the chief tutor of the Girls’ Home L410.  Friedl was killed the day after she arrived at Auschwitz. Of the 660 children authors of the artworks, 550 children were killed in Auschwitz.

After the war, Willy Groag, the director of the Girls’ home brought the suitcases to the Jewish Community in Prague. Today, the art of the children are in the Jewish Museum in Prague’s collection. The art has been exhibited all over the world since 1945 and many books have been published featuring the children’s art.

Art of the Children at Theresienstadt

Underwater Fantasy:  Ruth Gutmannová (1930–1944), Undated (1943–44), Watercolour on paper, 22 x 30 cm, Signed on the verso: Gutmann Ruth, L 410, Heim 28, 13 Jahre. Jewish Museum in Prague’s collection since 1945.


Cream: Helena Mändlová (1930–44), Undated (1943), Paper collage of old printed forms, 20.5 x 27 cm, Signed on the verso UL: Helene Mändl N72, Jahrgang 1930, XV. Stunde / and LR: Helenka Mändl 28 B. Provenance: created during the drawing classes in the Terezín Ghetto organized between 1943 and 1944 by the painter and teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898–1944); in the Jewish Museum in Prague’s collection since 1945.


Flowers:  Ruth Ščerbak (1934-1944), Undated (1943-1944), Watercolor on paper, 15,7 x 21,6 cm, Signed UR: Ruth Ščerbak. Provenance: Created during the drawing classes in the Terezín Ghetto organized between 1943 and 1944 by the painter and teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898–1944); in the Jewish Museum in Prague’s collection since 1945.


Lowering the Voting Age — August 29, 2018

Lowering the Voting Age

A little while ago, Lucas told us about the History of the Vote in BC, and the proposed changes. Today Sasha is here with another proposed change – dropping the voting age to 16. What do you think? Let us know in the comments!


In the 2013 British Columbian provincial election, only 57.1% of eligible voters cast their ballots, 13.9% down from the 70% voter turnout in 1983. What is causing the political apathy that B.C. is witnessing? In order to vote in a British Columbian election, one must be a Canadian citizen, have resided in the province for at least 6 months and be at least 18 years of age on voting day; but it hasn’t always been this way. Historically, women, Indigenous people and those from other ethnic groups have had to fight for their right to vote. The voting age in B.C. was even dropped from 19 to 18 in 1992. Continuing this trend by lowering the voting age to 16 years old will help combat the declining voter turnout that B.C. is seeing and will strengthen the democracy in the province. Most importantly, lowering the voting age will empower youth to be more involved in politics and allow them to become comfortable with this important responsibility.


The voter turnout by age demographic for the 2013 BC provincial election (source: Elections BC and BC Stats)

Permitting 16 year olds to vote in British Columbia will increase the voter turnout. Countries like Austria and Scotland that have already lowered their voting ages have experienced considerable success in this aspect. In the Scottish referendum in 2014, 71% of voters aged 16-17 cast their ballots, which was the highest voter turnout among any age demographic. Elections in Austria have found that within the 16 to 20 age group, 16 year olds had the highest voter turnout. It also appears that there is a “trickle up effect in the whole family when youth are involved in politics,” according to Andrew Weaver, the leader of the BC Green Party, who is pushing for this change to be made. He continues by arguing that the whole family’s voting turnout is positively impacted by the conversations that lowering the voting age will foster. On top of all this, habits formed at a younger age are more likely to become lifelong, so the younger people start voting, the more probable it is that they become lifelong voters. Data for Elections Canada shows that voting consistently for the first few elections results in an 85% chance of creating habitual voters. Allowing teens to vote provincially will encourage them to become lifelong participants in politics, thereby increasing the voter turnout.

Creating a culture of engagement by allowing youth as young as 16 years old to vote will help ensure that democracy is truly being upheld. At 16, teens are expected to become functioning members of society and are able to work, pay taxes, drive, get married, and may be sentenced for crimes as adults under the law. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the part-time and full-time employment rate of those aged 16 to 17 in the U.S. in the past year has ranged from 80.2 to 84.7%, showing that youth do in fact actively participate in society. All of these activities are directly affected by the work of politicians and as Green Party leader Andrew Weaver stated, “the notion of taxation without representation is not one that is founded within our democracy.” Another fundamental pillar of democracy is having everyone’s voice heard, and voting is one of the most effective ways of expressing your values. The final important component of democracy is civil society, or the educated public, and lowering the voting age will encourage youth to become educated through both experience and the buzz created around politics. Currently, 17% of B.C.’s consistent non-voters cited lack of knowledge as the main cause for their apathy, but lowering the voting age will create conversation within peer groups and families and motivate citizens to get educated. It is critical to our democratic process that everyone feels that they have the tools to participate. Lowering the voting age will combat the disenfranchisement of youth and ensure that all voices are heard in dialogue, upholding our standard of democracy.

Finally, allowing 16 year olds to vote provincially in B.C. will empower teens and enable them to become accustomed to this aspect of adult life. Voting gives teens, an age group that is looking to assert itself, a voice, which is hugely important for their development. Efforts to involve youth politically like the Student Vote program have proven themselves to be widely successful, with over 170000 elementary and high school students in the province participating, reinforcing the fact that age doesn’t necessarily indicate political maturity. Enfranchising youth in the political world proves time and time again to be as important as it is beneficial to young people, and as ex B.C. Minister of Finance Mike de Jong said:

Instead of simply decrying the fact that fewer and fewer people are participating, we have to create a culture of engagement, and the only way to do that is to say to a student at a formative time in their lives, you are full members of society, and instead of leaving here and never voting or never voting until you’re 40 or 50, here’s your chance to make a difference. (qtd. in the Globe and Mail)

Keeping youth enfranchised so that they can become acclimated to the adult habit of voting is essential. Sixteen year olds are as capable of making well thought out, or cold cognitive decisions as their older counterparts. There is no reason that youth shouldn’t be able to familiarise themselves with the important responsibility of voting at the younger age of 16 as it will contribute to the enfranchisement and development of teens as well as their habitualization to this important aspect of adult life.

Sixteen year olds should be allowed to cast their ballots in British Columbian provincial elections. Doing so will give teens a voice and allow them to become familiarized with this adult responsibility, help guarantee that democracy is truly taking place by ensuring taxation with representation and will increase the overall voter turnout. With such crucial components of society on the line, enfranchising youth as young as 16 years old by letting them vote is a crucial step in B.C’s development that the provincial government must take.


Works Cited

“Age-Based Legal Rights.” Legal Rights for Youth, Justice Education Society, 2016, www.legalrightsforyouth.ca/age-based-legal-rights.


“Andrew Weaver Introduces Bill to Lower the Voting Age in B.C.” Greens of British Columbia, Green Party of B.C., 20 Feb. 2017, http://www.bcgreens.ca/andrew_weaver_introduces_bill_to_lower_the_voting_age_in_b_c.


Bailey, Ian, and Justine Hunter. “Mike De Jong Wants to Drop Voting Age to 16.” The Globe and Mail, The Globe and Mail, 16 Dec. 2010, www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/mike-de-jong-wants-to-drop-voting-age-to-16/article1320093/.


Birch, Sarah, et al. “Votes at 16: What the UK Can Learn from Austria, Norway and the Crown Dependencies.” Democratic Audit UK, 5 Oct. 2013, http://www.democraticaudit.com/2013/09/28/votes-at-16-what-the-uk-can-learn-from-austria-norway-and-the-crown-dependencies/.


Bureau of Labour Statistics. “A-10. Unemployment Rates by Age, Sex, and Marital Status, Seasonally Adjusted.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S.Department of Labor, 2017, http://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cpseea10.htm.


Burgar, Joanna, and Martin Monkman. Who Heads to the Polls?: Exploring the Demographics of Voters in British Columbia. March 2010. BCStats, 2010,


“Electoral History of B.C.” Elections BC, Elections BC, 2017,


“Fast Facts- Youth Voting in B.C.”


Jospeh, Chanté, and Andrew Mycock. “Argument: Should 16-Year-Olds Get the Vote?” New Internationalist, New Internationalist, 1 Sept. 2013, newint.org/sections/argument/2013/09/01/vote-argument/.


Malatest, R.A., and Associates. “National Youth Survey Report.” Elections Canada, Elections Canada, 20 Sept. 2011, www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=rec%2Fpart%2Fnysr&document=p3&lang=e#a50.


Mangione, Kendra. “Lower Voting Age to 16 in B.C., Green Party Argues.” CTV News, CTV News, 12 May 2016, bc.ctvnews.ca/lower-voting-age-to-16-in-b-c-green-party-argues-1.2899791.


Plante, Thomas. “Health Habits Develop Early and Are Hard to Change.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 29 May 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/do-the-right-thing/201205/health-habits-develop-early-and-are-hard-change.


“The Results.” Student Vote British Columbia Election 2017, Student Vote, May 2017, studentvote.ca/bc2017/the-results/.


“Scottish Independence: Poll Reveals Who Voted, How and Why.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 20 Sept. 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/20/scottish-independence-lord-ashcroft-poll.

Statistics BC “B.C. Voter Participation: 1983 to 2013.” http://www.elections.bc.ca/docs/stats/bc-voter-participation-1983-2013.pdf.


Steinberg, Laurence. “Let Science Decide the Voting Age.” New Scientist, New Scientist, 8 Oct. 2014, http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22429900-200-let-science-decide-the-voting-age/.


“Unemployment Rates by Age, Sex, and Marital Status, Seasonally Adjusted.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S.Department of Labor, 2017, http://www.bls.gov/web/empsit/cpseea10.htm.

Are We All Capable Of Rationalizing Genocide? How Do We Make It Stop? — August 27, 2018

Are We All Capable Of Rationalizing Genocide? How Do We Make It Stop?

Today we have a post from Gita about the horrors humanity inflicts on each other. Let us know what you think in the comments: how do we become better people? 


My inquiry question is tied to the largest series of death camps in history, where six million Jewish people were killed as part of an ethnic cleansing. However, I recognize that genocides do not only occur on foreign land. It can be argued that the First Nations people of Canada have faced similar persecution, and ultimately a cultural genocide much like that of the Holocaust. Half a century later here is what has me hung up: how could an individual come to rationalize, let alone endorse, the atrocities that were being committed in front of them? Is humanity capable of repeating history because matters of self-righteousness, like superiority, arrogance and egotism, are innate? Are we doomed?

In attempting to make sense of this dilemma, I proposed a timeline; I thought about what has happened in the past, where we stand presently, and where I see us heading in the future – and we will get to that.

So first, let’s take it back to the Holocaust. I read Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men, which traces the members of a single German unit, Reserve Police Battalion 101, throughout their military duty, as they are instructed to kill innocent Jewish men, women, and children face-to-face in Poland. Browning documents their transition from men, originally ironically deemed unworthy of conscription, to efficient killers.

“Having explained what awaited his men, Trapp then made an extraordinary offer: if any of the men among them did not feel up to the task that lay before him, he could step out” (Page 2).

Browning questions how ‘ordinary men’ could commit such extraordinary crimes, because these men were not desk murderers who could take refuge in distance, routine and bureaucratic understatements that veiled the reality of mass murder. These men saw their victims face to face. No one participating in the events described in Browning’s historical account could have had the slightest doubt about what he was involved in.

No longer can there remain the misconception that the men of the Police Battalion faced a lack of choice altogether regarding the situations they faced. So why was the number of men who declared themselves unwilling to participate so small in the beginning?

“Nazism was cruel because Nazis were cruel; and the Nazis were cruel because cruel people tended to become Nazis” (Page 166).

But it’s not that simple.

I came to understand that, when placed in a coherent group setting, most people adhere to the commands given, even if they find the actions morally reprehensible. Additionally, individuals will more than likely follow orders and commit actions they would never do of their own volition when they perceive the orders as having originated from an authority.

“‘Who would have dared,’ one policeman declared empathetically, ‘to lose face before the assembled troops… I must answer that no one wants to be thought coward’” (Page 64-65).

Everywhere society conditions people to respect and defer to authority. Indeed, society could scarcely function otherwise. Within virtually every social collective, the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behaviour and sets moral norms. Those who did not shoot risked isolations, rejection and ostracism – a very uncomfortable prospect within the framework of a tight-knit unit stationed abroad, amongst a hostile population, so that the individual had presumably nowhere else to turn for support and social contact.

Another policeman, more aware of what truly required courage, said quite simply “I was cowardly” (p. 71).

The Holocaust was not caused by a unique form of German prejudice, or anti-Semitism; it was brought about by human flaws present in bureaucratic  society. Uncover the mindset of a group of mass murderers – and one reveals ordinary men.

So great, I thought; we’re all doomed. And yet, I was again caught up by one tiny detail.

In reading a compilation of short stories and Canadian essay compositions, I again found that, as children, we are naïve and easily influenced by the cultural teachings that surround us. We are taught right from wrong in accordance with the moral constructs of our society. Yet, for all the influence society may hold over us, this does not prevent individuals from acting against our moral constructs. We identify this at all levels of society, from the innocence of a child refusing to share, to the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.

Often, today, society prefers to assign blame for the atrocities that have torn a hole in humanity’s reputation. Perhaps it lies with society, or perhaps with the individual. Simply stated, a matter of nature or nurture.

As children, we are taught right from wrong in accordance with the moral constructs of our society. But again, for all the influence society may hold over us, it still fails in preventing individuals from expressing their inner darkness and contradicting society’s morals. What I have come to realize is that, in narrowing our field of focus to solely determine if genocide is the result of nature or nurture, the matter itself becomes irrelevant, almost obsolete. We are evading the inherent truth that, regardless of whether each of us has been born innately evil, or act this way as a result of learned behaviour, darkness resonates within each of us. However the decision to unleash it has always rested solely in our hands. There is undeniably the factor of choice.

Unfortunately for us, humanity doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to decision-making. Once again, say goodbye, because we are completely and utterly doomed – ok, well, there might be something here, but don’t get your hopes up yet, because it is a timely process.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”  – Albert Einstein

Today, Raymond Mason is 64 years old, but he can still feel the sting of the strap landing across his hands and back, and the hollow empty pit of hunger in his stomach, aching. He can still remember silently weeping in tune with others’ at only the darkest hours of night. If Einstein was correct, then this is the education that Raymond Mason received. It is time for us all to be re-educated.

Reading Drew Hayden Taylor’s play Education is Our Right, I found that our subconscious biases are what allow us to become familiar with stereotypes as we are taught what to expect and from whom to expect it. Where media is our educator, racism has often been found embedded in these stereotypes, which continue to taint our perspectives regardless of age.

When it comes to First Nations in Canada, for too long the term education was shrouded with the implications of assimilation. So how were Canadians supposed to react to the given circumstances?  But no longer can we live in ignorance or accept education in its previous forms. No longer must we simply condemn “the aim of education to destroy[ing] the Indian” (Davian 1879). We must now seek to provide support to communities, and recognize what passed.

In writing that “Educated Indians cause trouble” (page 120) in Education is Our Right, Drew Hayden Taylor implied that any individual with an opinion and means of expression, regardless of their skin colour, has the means to instigate change.


Education is what has the power to reverse bad decisions in the making. It can shed light, amplify voice, and bring about new socially accepted standards.

Recognize that education is about learning from each other. Learn, and learn to adapt, because education is not my right, or your right, or their right. As appropriately stated by Drew Hayden Taylor: Education is Our Right.

In the past it was ordinary individuals who stood by genocide, a story with far too few heroes and all too many perpetrators and victims. So yes, as it is clear, we are all quite capable of rationalizing genocide ourselves.

But, there has always been a choice.

So, if there is any hope in swaying humanity from repeating history, it lies with collectively re-approaching and re-defining our education.

I guess we might be fine after all.

Canadian Healthcare – How it Came to Be — August 22, 2018

Canadian Healthcare – How it Came to Be

Have you ever thought about how lucky we are as Canadians to have good healthcare? Vedanshi did too, and is here to tell us about the history of this wonderful institution.


I found myself wondering from a hospital room one day about the current state of the medical system in Canada. Healthcare in our nation is accessible, and affordable for citizens. Did you know about the fascinating history behind how this system came to be what it is today? Don’t worry, I didn’t either, but I’ve done the research to save  you the time by satiating your curiosity right away.

The first provincial hospital insurance program was introduced in Saskatchewan in the year 1947, a first step towards the path to our medical system today. Ten years later in 1957, there was an initiative introduced to expand this system to a national scale, however, there was much opposition from businesses, insurance companies, and even doctors! Furthermore, the Canadian Medical Association made it clear in 1960 that they would not support any funded medical care structure. After a period of long and passionate campaigns in opposition to these new ideas, which include the likes of even protests and strikes, the minority government in Ottawa introduced a program where half of the medical costs would be covered in 1966.

This program introduced a new era of healthcare and professional standards in the medical field. For example, doctors now dropped an old habit of charging whatever lump sum amount they desired to their patients. This success was short-lived as doctors soon decided to charge surplus amounts to their patients so that they were able to boost their income. This is called “extra-billing.” However, not all hope was lost for Canadians. In 1984, the Trudeau government introduced the Canada Health Act. This act banned “extra-billing.”

The year 1997 saw some dramatic shifts in the healthcare field. It was this year that many Canadians were infected with the AIDS virus and Hepatitis C. This is one of the nation’s darkest chapters to date in the domain of health, safety, and well-being.  The same year as this so-called “tainted blood scandal,” Pharmacare made sure that patients no longer needed to pay to see their doctor at each and every visit. In addition, the National Forum on Health took the stance that public healthcare needed to expand to include home care as well.

Today, we have come a long way. Our current healthcare system allows for the costs of treatment and consultation for any health related condition or issue to be covered. However, mental health and home care are not included in the health plan. This is most certainly something that we can continue to work towards improving, as we are able to recognize the equal importance of mental health and well-being to physical health. Here’s to working together to continuing to evolve the health care system to provide even better treatment and services for healthier, and happier Canadians.

A History of Our National Anthem — August 20, 2018

A History of Our National Anthem

Today, Rehma is here with her first-ever blog post to tell us about the history of an important symbol: Canada’s national anthem. 


“O Canada” is our national anthem. Usually, in schools and Canadian events we sing this anthem to show our love for the country, but have you ever wondered about its history?


Calixa Lavallée

Born in 1842, in southern Quebec was a boy named name Calixa Lavallee. He was O Canada’s original composer. He got his first gig at age 9, he played the organ barefooted in a church. At fifteen he followed numerous musicians from Montreal to New Orleans. Calixa enlisted in the Union Army at the start of the American Civil War and served as a cornetist; he was wounded and discharged with a monthly pension of $8.

Calixa then worked as a composer. He travelled through Quebec, Boston, and France. Calixa composed the music to “O Canada” and Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier, a judge and poet wrote the lyrics. He died penniless in Boston in 1891.


Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier

Born on May 8th, 1839, to farmer and veteran Charles Routhier, and Angélique Lefleur, Sir Routhier was a lawyer, judge, Chief Justice, and poet. His childhood was not very known, except for a piece of written work he wrote at the end of his life. “All that is known about his [Sir Routhier’s] childhood is what he wrote near the end of his life in “Souvenirs d’enfance,” which was published in the Revue Canadienne (Montréal) in 1920.” Sadly he died on the 27th of June 1920.


Our 2018 anthem

If you may not know, recently Canada had a change to their national anthem. The phrase “True patriot love in all thy sons command” has been changed to “in all of us command.” This has happened because of the new bill. Towards this change, Prime minister Justin Trudeau has tweeted about it. His original tweet states:

“Mauril’s bill to make O Canada gender neutral passed third reading in the Senate tonight – another positive step towards gender equality. #inallofuscommand.” Along with this change, there has been a lot of disagreement. For example, Denise Batters who is a conservative Senator tweeted: “Shameful, anti-democratic behaviour by #Trudeau-appointed senators, including #SenCA Speaker, as they shut down legitimate debate in Chamber.”


The Maple Leaf Forever

“The Maple Leaf Forever” was written by Alexander Muir in 1867. His inspiration started when he noticed a large maple leaf tree in his garden. This patriotic song became well known and popular in Canada at that time. You may wonder why this song didn’t become the national anthem of Canada. That is because in that time the Francophone population of Canada thought that it was celebrating British military victory in its verses. the reason why I’m talking about “The Maple Leaf Forever” is because of our change in the 2018 anthem. As I talked about earlier they changed a verse for gender equality. Some citizens are wondering why don’t they use “The Maple Leaf Forever” as the new anthem. They say that the song is gender neutral and has a better beat to it. This idea has not reached the government nor the Prime Minister, so for now, our national anthem will still be “O Canada.”


A national anthem is very important for a nation, its culture, tradition, languages, ethnicity, people, festivals, region and so on. As Canadians, the anthem ties us together, whether it’s for peace or war. Our anthem is played at most events. The Canadian anthem works like an icebreaker because the audience can relate. I will end this blog post with my favourite lyric of Canada’s national anthem: “With glowing hearts we see thee rise/The true north strong and free.”

An Interview with a Professional: Stephanie Halmhofer, Bioarchaeologist — August 13, 2018

An Interview with a Professional: Stephanie Halmhofer, Bioarchaeologist

One thing we love to do here at the Alumni Council is to interview professionals in the fields relating to history. You may have seen Jolie’s interview a few months back with Podcaster Daniel Clark, and here we have another one! Alumni Lucas interviewed Stephanie Halmhofer, bioarchaeologist, and writer at Bones, Stones, and Books. She is currently running a survey on Canadians, archaeology, and social media use so please help her out by doing the survey and spreading it widely – you can hear her talk more about the project on the Archaeological Fantasies podcast, episode 96. 

It’s something we definitely don’t get to do enough of, so if you’re a professional and you’re interested in either being interviewed by a student for a blog post, or joining us on a call next year, please leave us a comment. We’d love to talk to you! 


Hey everyone! Around a month ago, the Alumni Council had the wonderful opportunity to attend a conference call with Stephanie Halmhofer, a bioarchaeologist (someone who studies human skeletal remains) who has done notable work digging and exploring around the country. However, since I was unable to attend the call, I decided to email Stephanie a few questions I had about her profession. Being a complete novice to the “field,” I found Stephanie’s replies super cool and exciting to read. I have attached them below. Enjoy, and a huge thanks to Stephanie for being such a great interview subject!


How do archaeologists get paid, and who are they paid by?

We get paid a through a variety of ways. We get paid for doing surveys, excavations, writing reports, and conducting lab work. Sometimes we also get paid for outreach efforts like going to schools/events to give presentations, interviews for TV programs, doing consulting work for TV programs (whether a documentary or a fictional film looking to get the archaeology right), etc. Who pays us also really varies. If you work for a university, it’s the university that pays you.

You can apply for grants as well to help pay for your work supplies (like lab equipment, travel, etc.) and to help you pay the students or employees you hire. But important to note is that the grant does NOT pay you. If you don’t work for a university (I don’t work for a university), you can also apply for grants for the same purposes, but again we cannot use the grant money to pay ourselves. Like I mentioned, not all archaeologists work for universities.

Many of us work in what’s called Cultural (sometimes Heritage) Resource Management. This is the archaeological work that is done in conjunction with construction projects, city-planning projects (i.e. the city wants to build a new public park and include some of the heritage of the area in the planning), area studies, etc. Our pay comes from the people who hire us. Sometimes that’s an engineering firm, sometimes a construction company, sometimes it’s the local or provincial or federal government (I sometimes get hired by Parks Canada and their funding comes from the federal government). Sometimes it’s a home-owner. What a lot of home-owners don’t realize is that archaeological permitting is also part of their construction process (this is an on-going struggle archaeologists have, making this fact better understood). So just like you have to get the proper building permits in place to build a new balcony or addition to your house, you also have to have archaeological permits in place making sure that *if* there are archaeological resources on your property these resources are protected and managed properly. So just as a home-owner pays the construction companies, they would pay archaeologists.


What do you think the role of an archaeologist is in helping society improve (i.e. how archaeology helps society become more knowledgeable/well informed)?

I always say that archaeology is as much about the present and the future as it is about the past. Archaeology can offer some unique insights to help society better prepare itself for the future, especially with regards to matters involving the environment. Including climate change. We can look to the past and see how people managed their environments and how they dealt with climate change. We can see what worked and what didn’t work and use that information to help develop environmental sustainability policies today. For example, controlled burning is something that has been practiced for thousands of years. We can see archaeological evidence for controlled burning and the environmental results of it and how that benefited (or perhaps didn’t?) people in the past. Another cool example is the Clam Garden Network. First Nations peoples along the coast developed incredible clam gardens to help sustain an important food source, and today Parks Canada, Dana Lepofsky (at SFU), and several First Nations are working together to continue the use of clam gardens along the coast. Archaeologists are also rapidly becoming involved in climate change studies/policy-making as well.


How do you consider the moral ethics of archaeology/justify what you do? (ex. how do you make a difference between digging for historical purposes and “grave robbing”)?

This is an especially important question. The answer comes down to differences in the purposes/how/who/whats of the work. Grave-robbers/looters destroy sites and take objects for personal monetary gain. They don’t care about the site and its importance to descendant communities. They only care about how much money they can get for that mask or that projectile point. Archaeologists have an extraordinary amount of ethics they follow. Nothing is sold for money. Descendant communities are always involved in the work (some are more involved than others).

We also have very strict government guidelines, regulations, and requirements for conducting archaeological work – not everyone is legally allowed to be an archaeologist! We have to meet certain requirements before we’re given permission to conduct our work (like educational requirements, experience requirements). As a bioarchaeologist specifically, my work is considered highly culturally sensitive. So, EVERYTHING I do is done in collaboration with the descendant communities. I start off every conversation with “How can I help you, what would you like me to do.” My work is determined by what the descendant community decides. Grave-robbers/looters don’t do that.

Another form of ethical consideration is archaeologists standing up and speaking out against pseudoarchaeology. Pseudoarchaeology is when archaeology is used for alternative purposes and about 99% of the time it’s used to support very racist agendas. Myself and a small but growing number of colleagues spend a lot of time talking about when pseudoarchaeology is wrong/racist, and we use our voices to help support the communities being impacted by it.


Are there any accurate and non-fake news documentaries about archaeology (this question is partly inspired after I read your article about the racist TV show) that you would recommend to me?

There are many fantastic archaeology documentaries and shows out there. If you’re interested in seeing archaeology physically take place, there’s a show on APTN (all the episodes are available on the APTN website) called Wild Archaeology. Three First Nations hosts (including Dr. Rudy Reimer at SFU) travel around Canada visiting various archaeological sites. It’s very well produced and really informative. Right now all of season 1 is on the APTN website and they’re in the process of filming season 2 (the site I’ve worked on quite a bit in Sechelt is going to be featured in season 2). Another fantastic show is called Time Team. The British one is the original. I’m pretty sure you can find episodes on Youtube.

If you’re interested in learning about specific sites or specific topics, spend some time on Youtube looking for documentaries because there are a lot of good ones on there! Pseudoarchaeology (which is what I referred to in that blog post about the CBC documentary that you mentioned) is fairly easy to spot once you know what you’re looking for. This is a blog post I wrote about learning how to spot pseudoarchaeology. One word you’ll hear quite a bit in pseudoarch is “mainstream.” The “mainstream” archaeologists and historians are hiding the truth. The “mainstream” archaeologists and historians refuse to look at things this way. Etc. But often pseudoarch documentaries will claim that some sort of truth is being hidden or manipulated, so if you find yourself watching a show and they start talking about things like that you’ll know you need to watch it critically because it’s likely pseudoarchaeology! Avoid any documentary featuring Graham Hancock. He is a huge pseudoarchaeologist who presents himself very professionally (so many consider him an actual archaeologist).


How much time do you spend in the field digging compared to examining samples in a lab?

Lab versus field time varies with every project. But typically one week in the field = three weeks in the lab. This includes things like writing reports and cleaning/analyzing artifacts. If you have to do special additional testing on artifacts (i.e. carbon dating, XRF, etc.) that would add a lot of additional time. But if you didn’t uncover many artifacts on your site than you won’t have to spend much time in the lab. We typically have a “field season” which runs from mid-April to end of Oct/early Nov. That of course varies each year depending on temperatures and what the projects are (i.e. if a construction company is working in the winter and we need to be there then we work in the winter too). Our “lab season” will then pick up as soon as the field season is finished.

I’m in a bit of unique situation right now where I’m actually spending quite a bit of time in the lab instead of the field. We need to finish analyzing the artifacts from a large project we started last October. We spent 8 weeks excavating in Point Pelee National park and we have about 60,000 artifacts we need to go through. So, while my colleagues are all out in the field I’ve been spending time in the lab going through all of these artifacts because they need to be finished before the end of August (when I move back to BC) and before the next phase of our project starts, which would be another 6-8 weeks excavating. So far, I’ve spent about 3 months working with these artifacts and it’s probably going to take me at least another month to finish them.


What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever found on a dig?

Honestly, it’s all very cool. And to be even more honest, the artifacts themselves aren’t what’s important. An artifact on its own tells us almost nothing. What’s important is to look at the context surrounding the artifact. Where was it found? What position was it sitting in? What was it sitting near? Things like that. That being said, A few things stand out in mind. A few years ago, I found some glass beads in BC and it turns out they’re an extremely rare style! So rare, in fact, that this is the first time they have ever been found on an archaeological site in Canada. I ended up writing about them for my school work.

I also had the chance to work on a cool historic site in Kingston, ON, a couple of years ago. It was associated with Fort Frontenac (and almost right beside the fort). It had some fantastic stone foundation walls, stone sewer drains, and amazing historical artifacts going back to the mid-1700’s. And the project in Point Pelee that I mentioned above has also been super cool. It’s a huge site with parts of it being about 2000 years old! Beautiful pottery and projectile points, plus lots of post-holes that help us see where the longhouses would have stood.

Note: Below are some links to articles written by Stephanie that I would recommend to everyone as great reading!



You can also find Stephanie on Twitter: @Bones_Canada.