Growing ecomuseums on the Canadian prairies

Prospects for intangible cultural heritage

Authored by: Glenn C. Sutter

The Routledge Companion to Intangible Cultural Heritage

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138860551
eBook ISBN: 9781315716404
Adobe ISBN: 9781317506898


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Community-led projects that encourage sustainable forms of development can be an effective way to revive, safeguard, and raise the profile of intangible cultural heritage (ICH). In the 1970s, Europeans started to test this idea by setting up ecomuseums, which are place-based, community-led heritage organizations often referred to as ‘museums without walls’. A decade later, museums in Saskatchewan – one of Canada’s prairie provinces – came together to talk about the merits of the model, but ecomuseums did not catch on here. In this chapter, I speculate on why this might have been the case and describe a current multi-stakeholder project called the Saskatchewan Ecomuseums Initiative (SEI) that has renewed interest in the idea. Launched by the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in 2011 as part of a research and community engagement program on sustainability education, the SEI has been using a mix of top-down and bottom-up approaches to encourage discussion about the concept, with some success. Current demonstration sites include small ranching and recreational communities associated with provincial and national parks, a low-income urban neighborhood with a large First Nations population, and a boreal region that supports tourism and a thriving mushroom industry. As these and other communities start to apply the ecomuseum model to address highly situated issues, the results of their work are likely to help preserve and enhance many aspects of ICH.

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