Heritage, Culture and Tourism

Prof Robert Shipley spoke today to an audience of about 50 people on why Canada is not a young country and that our heritage goes back thousands of years.  His talk in the Concert Hall at Victoria Hall was illuminating and full of interesting facts but was not as promoted.  It did not touch on tourism, culture or the economic benefits of Heritage.  Although intended to promote an interest in Heritage, the audience seemed to be mostly people already interested in history and/or heritage.  However, independent of the purpose, it was certainly of interest to many Canadians so below is a synopsis of his talk plus some comments on the connection between heritage and culture.


The Chair of the Heritage Advisory Committee (CHC) George Kamphorst said that up till now, the committee had been reactive but “today was a little different” – they wanted to raise the profile of Heritage in Cobourg and show the positive impact of heritage conservation.  He introduced Professor Robert Shipley as an expert on Heritage, Culture, Tourism and Economic Development.


Professor Robert Shipley
Professor Robert Shipley
  • Showing a slide of a meeting between a Frenchman just off the boat and a native whose ancestors had been here for thousands of years, Robert asked “Who is the true Canadian?”  He then said that we have been letting people tell us who we are and that Canada is a young country.  Not so.  It’s time to re-think. 
  • We are told we know little about the indigenous people and that history basically starts when the settlers arrived.  In fact we know a lot about them because of archeological work.  History does not start with the arrival of settlers – that’s Euro-centric.
  • As an example of our thinking, we identify with Franklin and his expedition to find the Northwest passage but we should not.  Prof Shipley said that Franklin was a fool. He would not listen to locals and was not interested in Canada but only in finding a passage to China.   Canada was “in the way”. 
  • Prof Shipley recommended a book by John Rolston Saul “A Fair Country”. Saul proposed that Canada is not a shadow of the U.S. or derived from Europe but is more based on Aboriginal philosophy – e.g. seeking balance and discussion. 
  • He then said that we should not appropriate the culture of others – they are not our ancestors although they welcome us.  He said that there are three founding people: French, English and indigenous.
  • Prof Shipley went to some trouble to illustrate that many European and Chinese buildings that we see as old, are in fact rebuilds.
  • Canada is in fact older than many countries with our start date of 1867.
  • He listed some other founding dates:
    • Germany – 1945
    • China – 1949
    • India – 1947
    • Ukraine – 1990
    • USA – 1865 (before that it was two countries)


Prof Shipley did agree that Canada 150 should be celebrated although we should include its caveats (faults!)

He said we should remember we are not a “young country” and be indignant if anyone says we are.  We have a proud heritage worth celebrating.


The talk was promoted as an exploration of “Cobourg’s culture, heritage, tourism and their respective economic benefits” with the implication that culture, heritage and tourism are connected and have economic benefits. While it is certainly true that culture and heritage can both promote tourism, it is not self-evident that culture and heritage are related.  But recently, whenever the future of Cobourg’s cultural asset of the Dressler House is mentioned, it is deferred for review in the planned Cultural Plan expected to be started in 2018. A similar deferral happens when talking about the Park Playhouse. 

But if you look at the Port Hope Cultural Plan (see link below), there is no mention of Heritage as such although the Capitol Theatre is part of their plan. Mostly their plan talks about promoting culture – and that’s it. It seems that in Cobourg, for whatever reason, culture and heritage are linked inextricably and further, are seen to be at least part of the reason why tourists would come here. When Robert Shipley was asked to speak to us, someone assumed he would talk about culture, tourism and economic benefit. Not so. A good (albeit controversial) seminar, but not on topic.


At the end of the talk, the audience was asked to complete a survey that asked if it was done well and what should “future workshops or lectures” be about. Although the Heritage Advisory Committee were pleased with the attendance, you have to wonder how many in the audience were newly sold on the need for Cobourg to promote its heritage



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Deborah OConnor
6 years ago

To even think a discussion of our local heritage would not include First Nations represents the narrow tunnel vision of some residents. It is clear that people have lived around here for thousands of years. Our Kingston Road that connects all the way from Kingston to Toronto began as a foot trail used by First Nations for centuries before we arrived.

Had our early settlers not had the benefit of the knowledge and assistance from the already well established Indian tribes they would most likely have died from starvation and the cold. They even helped us fight off the invading Americans in the War of 1812. The treatment they endured from the settlers later on was pure barbarism on our part, but that’s another story.

How could we tell Canada’s story, much less Cobourg’s, without including our First Nations? It would be nothing but revisionist history spreading the never ending lies of our superiority. It’s time we knew better and I congratulate the Heritage Advisory Commuttee for seeing that and attempting to set us straight. Let’s do more of that.

Bill Thompson
6 years ago


I would like to point out an error re a house in the East Heritage area of Cobourg in this map.
Victoria and Albert cottages (both wood frame) on Church Street were supposedly built/named in 1888 for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887.
The picture of 184 Church Street in this article is listed as Albert Cottage although the write up deals primarily with Albert and it’s removal to Queen Street while Victoria remained in place.
Albert’s replacement house on Church Street is brick construction and was built in 1905.

6 years ago

Although the talk was not as promoted, I thought that the talk was fascinating and provoked us to think in new ways about Canada and our heritage. There have been many opportunities to learn about specific heritage buildings in Cobourg and to discuss and learn about Cobourg’s heritage plans so to have an opportunity to take a broader view was refreshing.