Capital History Kiosks employs a unique visible strategy to bring Ottawa’s history to life by wrapping stories around traffic control boxes. Each bi-lingual installation features a striking archival image or original painting with explanatory text panels and a QR code taking visitors to CapitalHistory.ca to learn more. More than 35,000 people pass by the boxes each day making this one of the most dynamic ways residents and visitors learn about little known and untold histories. Focusing on communities, businesses and the people who made Ottawa what it is today, the kiosks and website tell stories about employees and employers, about customers and passers-by, about buildings and neighbourhoods.
Led by History Professor David Dean, Capital History Kiosks is a project of the Carleton Centre for Public History. The first phase saw 17 installations for Ottawa2017 created in collaboration with the Workers’ History Museum and installed across the city. In 2019 another 12 installations were created in partnership with the National Capital Commission to celebrate its 150th anniversary and 2020 saw another dozen celebrate businesses and life in the market through a partnership with the Byward Market BIA. The City of Ottawa has been a major partner and the kiosks are designed and installed by local firm Chapter One Studio led by André Mersereau.
Stories for Capital History Kiosks are identified, researched, and curated by Carleton University graduate and undergraduate students as part of their coursework. An immensely successful example of Carleton’s commitment to fostering community-engaged, hands-on, experiential learning for students, this collaborative project teaches real-world skills and leads to highly visible results. As one student said, “it’s amazing to see my essay come to life on the streets of Ottawa for all to see.” An innovative public history project, Capital History Kiosks has featured on CBC Ottawa Morning and in the award-winning blog Apt613.ca.
What stories are important to you? What histories deserve to be told? Has it ever struck you that we see so little about Ottawa’s past when we walk through our streets and yet we suspect there is so much to be discovered?
Capital History Kiosks began because we wanted to uncover and share some of Ottawa’s little known and untold local stories for our nation’s 150th celebrations and this continues to be the force that drives us. In 2017 we brought to light the struggle of women teachers for pay equity (told on a kiosk in Hintonburg), the small schoolhouse that was the heart and soul of a neighbourhood (Barrhaven), the first co-operative bank serving Ottawa’s francophone community (New Edinburgh/Vanier), a soccer team (Little Italy) and the once-dominant sport of lacrosse (Lansdowne). Then, and since, we have share stories of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, about how the diverse community in Little Italy fought to save their bath-house, and how social rights activists fought to convert the deserted Lansdowne barracks into housing for returned soldiers. The local lives of people such as Dr. Valade (the doctor who examined Louis Riel), Victoria Cross winner Filip Konowal, and Sister Elizabeth Bruyère who led the fight against influenza in the 19th century. And soon we will learn more about the Jewish owned businesses that shaped the Byward Market.
Project lead Professor Dean and his colleagues are driven by a conviction that the best histories are made by working with others. Capital History Kiosks gives students the opportunity to engage in hands-on, collaborative, real world learning experiences. Taking history out of the classroom and onto the streets, curating exciting ways to tell history through wrapping stories around traffic control boxes with the opportunity to discover so much more online, has already helped dozens of students realize that the journey is as important as the destination. Changing the world one story at a time.
Replacement, Revitalization, and Renewal – these are the three goals of this fundraising campaign.
Replacement. Traffic control boxes are vulnerable creatures. They wear out, they get damaged, and they become obsolete when the city of Ottawa redevelops our streets. To date six of the installations have had to be replaced, and often this involves some redesigning because the replacement traffic control box may not be the same size and shape as the original. Some of our funds will be allocated to the cost of ensuring the stories that have been told continue to feature on our streets.
Revitalization. Histories never get old and they never stay the same. Each Capital History Kiosks tells a unique, little known or untold story of Ottawa’s past. They are seen and they are heard and they bring back memories for those who see them who often contact us to share their insights, knowledge, and experiences. Sometimes we record them, sometimes we photograph the objects they share. Funding will be dedicated to revitalizing and enhancing the stories we have already told, keeping them up-to-date and fresh with new knowledge, new understandings.
Renewal. There are so many stories to tell. Students have collaborated with artists and designers, local heritage activists and historians, museums and archives, businesses, and BIAs, community centres and retirement homes, with many community organizations and individuals. We have partnered with the local award-winning Workers’ History Museum, with the National Capital Commission, and with the Byward Market BiA. We want to grow, to tell new stories, to give even more students the experience of hands on learning with real, tangible, visible results. Funding will go to creating new stories and new installations building on existing partnerships and developing new ones.
Capital History Kiosks are seen by over 35,000 residents and visitors to Ottawa each day. If only a few stop to look, and decided to explore our website, there is no doubt that the project has transformed our city’s landscape. By the time of this campaign there will be over forty installations, beautifying our streets and making history come alive.
The students behind these installations have worked together to uncover the stories, often by going into communities and talking with residents, BiA’s, community associations, folks in retirement homes, businesses and others. They have worked with local heritage and history specialists, archivists and librarians, artists and photographers, designers, with people working for local, regional, and national heritage organizations and with city of Ottawa employees. They have learned to present their work publicly, to pitch their stories for funding, and had the joy of seeing their work appear in the most visible and accessible way possible.
For Professor Dean it has been the most rewarding teaching of his career, seeing how his students have risen to the challenge, shown their energy and creativity, their passion and their enthusiasm, revealing talents, skills, and knowledge that would remain hidden in the traditional classroom. For the community partners, it has been inspirational.
But don’t take his word for it.
Take a look at CBC Ottawa’s report at the opening launch in 2017
Watch the installation process by Chapter One Studio.