"The past is never dead. It's not even past," the great American author William Faulkner once wrote.
It's a great line to describe how history is not something that belongs in a dusty textbook. Whether it's the personal history of our families or the broader social and cultural history around us, we live in a moment made up of a succession of previous events. We have no way of understanding our present without the context of the past.
We don't celebrate our history as much as we should because we don't have much history, as Canadians in general and as residents of Prince George and northern B.C. in particular.
When Prince George-Peace River MP Bob Zimmer mentioned the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 during his remarks to the crowd at the Canada Day festivities Sunday in Fort George Park, there was no reaction. Why would there be to a war that happened two centuries ago on the other side of the continent?
It wasn't until he mentioned the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union that he even got a smattering of applause.
Our respect for our national history is embarrassing and disgraceful.
Too many Canadians can't name Canada's first prime minister (open your wallet and look at the $10 bill) yet they know who George Washington is.
Who are those guys on the $5 bill, the $20 bill, the $50 bill and $100 bill?
Important prime ministers who left incredible legacies but whose names are anonymous next to Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
It doesn't get much better at the local level, but the Prince George Public Library, working with the
Prince George Heritage Commission, is trying to do something about that.
As a compliment to the great signs on downtown sidewalks identifying important historical buildings and landmarks in Prince George, the annual downtown walking tour started Wednesday. It runs three days a week - Mondays at 11 a.m., Wednesdays and Fridays at 1 p.m., starting from the Bob Harkins branch of the library.
The tour offers a wonderful one-hour glimpse into Prince George's interesting, sometimes bizarre, history. For both locals and visitors, it's an excellent way to get in a walk downtown and pick up some knowledge at the same time. If it's raining (sorry, WHEN it's raining), the tours still happen at the library, except using online materials and video.
But the best part of the tour is the summer student hired as a heritage project assistant by the library to conduct the tour.
This year, that student is Diandra Norburn, a bachelor of health sciences grad from UNBC.
"I didn't know a whole lot about Prince George's history when I first started," she said in a story about the walking tour in Wednesday's Citizen. "There were lots of things that surprised me."
If enthusiasm for history starts with one person, then Norburn's summer employment is money well spent. Wherever Norburn ends up in her career, she will be an ambassador for Prince George, thanks to her knowledge of Prince George and its rich history.
History - and libraries - can change people's lives.
Two years ago, Becca Madsen was the library's heritage project assistant and tour guide for the downtown walking tour. The Kelly Road graduate was finishing her nursing degree at UNBC at the time. After she was done her degree, Madsen headed off to Toronto last fall -- to start work on a master's degree in library and information science. Obviously, her summer at the library and as a historical tour guide had an impact.
Finally, history is alive in the news business. You are holding a historical document in your hands at this moment. As journalists, we know the newspaper makes an excellent lining for bird cages but we also know it changes lives, today and in the future. The students of Prince George history 50 and 100 years from now will look to the Citizen as part of their research.
A sobering, gratifying and slightly alarming thought.
-- Managing editor Neil Godbout