Reimagining our storied past

Posted on Friday, May 12, 2017

A poster with information about a Restorying Canada event and the photos of Margaret Atwood and Leah Kostamo

Writer Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, which was recently adapted for television, will discuss the future of religion in Canada with environmental activist Leah Kostamo. Design: Roméo Godin

By Linda Scales

Tucked among the many 150th birthday celebrations being held in Ottawa this year and in the aftermath of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report is a unique conference that will re-examine Canada’s history through the lens of religion.

“We’re trying to do something a little bit different,” said conference co-organizer Emma Anderson, director of the Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies. “We asked: how can we mark this 150th in a way that’s not jingoistic and that really considers all the aspects of our history?”

The answer is a three-day gathering, Restorying Canada: Reconsidering Religion and Public Memory, being held at uOttawa from May 18 to 20. It’s organized by Anderson, Pamela Klassen of the University of Toronto and Hillary Kaell of Concordia University.

“It seemed like a good opportunity to do more than just celebrate — to bring together a lot of different kinds of people to really think about what our past means and what it is like to be Canadian in the 21st century,” Anderson said.

With this in mind, accomplished Canadians, including novelist Margaret Atwood and George Elliot Clarke, Canada’s parliamentary poet laureate, were also invited to take part. Atwood will participate in a panel discussion with environmental activist Leah Kostamo called The Future of Religion in Canada: Utopia or Dystopia? Clarke will join cellist Cris Derksen and visual artist Kent Monkman at the conference’s opening event, Decolonizing the Canon: An Evening of Poetry, Performance and Painting, a creative and critical re-imagining of Canada’s history and future.

Just as the speakers and participants were carefully chosen, the conference’s location at uOttawa was deliberate as well. “Our institution has been a leader in this kind of re-envisioning of Canadian religious history,” Anderson said.

She credits several uOttawa scholars for this leadership, including Professor Emeritus Cornelius Jaenen, one of the first people to reimagine the “encounter history” between First Nations and settlers and missionaries.

“Everybody has opinions, thoughts and feelings about what Canada is all about,” Anderson said. “Restorying Canada is for everybody because it is about everybody.”

Selected program

Thursday, May 18:

  • Indigenous History and Canadian Narratives
  • Canadian Atheists and Religious Nones
  • Decolonizing the Canon: An Evening of Poetry, Performance, and Painting – National Gallery of Canada (keynote event)

Friday, May 19:

  • Restorying Islam and Judaism in Canada
  • Museums, Religion & Public Memory
  • The Future of Religion in Canada: Utopia or Dystopia? – Tabaret Hall (keynote event)

Saturday, May 20:

  • Sacred Territories: Stories of land
  • Indigenous Ottawa Archaeology Tour

Members of the public are welcome to attend any of the daytime sessions free of charge. Tickets can be purchased online for the two keynote events.

Students and members of the University community wishing to volunteer at the conference should contact Emma Anderson at or 613-562-5891. Volunteers will receive free admission to the evening events.

A poster with information about a Restorying Canada event and the photos of George Elliot Clarke, Kent Monkman and Cris Derksen, who has a cello resting against her shoulder

Journalists from CBC-Radio’s Tapestry program will be at the Restorying Canada conference taping sessions and conducting interviews for a show later this year. Design: Roméo Godin

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