By Linda Fitzgibbon
When I started my program at Concordia in January 2014, I thought that it would be easy to commute from Ottawa. On stormy winter days there was the added advantage of never even stepping outside into the cold. The hardest part of my commute was getting from my house to the express bus stop at the end of my driveway. One step from the bus to the Via Rail train station and I was able to take advantage of Montreal’s wonderful tunnel and Metro system. However, it was more time consuming and expensive than I had expected, so I began to investigate the possibilities of renting an apartment in Montreal.
When I mentioned to Stacey Zembrzycki that I was looking for somewhere to rent, she said, “why don’t you try the Point?” I replied “what’s the point?” However, I took Stacey’s advice and moved into an apartment in Pointe Saint Charles (PSC) on September 1st 2014 and marveled at the coincidence that the Public History class, that I had registered for months before, was going to be doing some research in the same area. A few days later, when our class met for the first time by the Lachine Canal, I had no idea that I was going to be part of a truly cooperative and positive group project. It seems like only yesterday since our class first walked through a strange neighbourhood that now I feel that I know so well.
It is also a coincidence that it was Stacey who suggested that I should check out PSC. New to Oral History, I had first met Stacey at a workshop that she, Anna Sheftel, and Henry Greenspan gave at the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling. The three of them discussed how they negotiated the issues faced by oral historians. My involvement in our class research project on PSC has given me a new appreciation for their book, Oral History Off The Record: Toward an Ethnography of Practice, edited by Anna Sheftel and Stacey Zembrzycki. In their introduction, Anna and Stacey note that the oral historians who have contributed to this volume by “examining the intersection between research processes and outcomes, and drawing attention to their fumbles, missed opportunities, and magical encounters . . . have created an ethnography of oral history practice” (3).
The course description noted that we were fortunate to have Dr. Karoline Truchon who would “provide ethnographic training and coordinate the ethnographic documentation of our process.” I now realize how crucial it was to include this ethnographic element in our project as we negotiated our own “fumbles . . . and magical encounters”(3). Karoline was involved with everyone at every step of the process. It was wonderful to see how she helped the “ethnographic team” and we all watched as this team kicked into gear and seemed to develop a life of its own.
Being involved with this audio-walk project has been an intense, but positive experience. Looking at the “zine” it is possible to see the progression of our class from the first meeting on that hot summer day by the canal to the actual inaugural audio walk on a crisp winter afternoon. I have never been part of a group where everyone involved contributed 100% and the energy and positive attitude kept everyone engaged and enthusiastic.
On the way to the Charlevoix metro following the audio walk and our last official class, a few of us had a discussion about what a ‘blog’ actually was. It was really interesting to note that we all felt really engaged and stimulated by the audio walk itself and were excited that both the booklet and the audio had turned out so well. We talked about the fact that a blog was a way to share their feelings about the class and the project with other people
It has been an amazing experience to have been part of a truly group project. The project managed to incorporate the many different skill sets and talents of each member of the class. It was wonderful to see how the project seemed to gather momentum and to draw out the best from each of us. As time progressed the individual personalities shone out in this amazing group of people. I have never felt like this at the end of a course. I think it is because I feel a sense of ownership of the final product. We worked for a collective goal and it was a positive experience.
I would like to acknowledge the silent and ongoing support of Karoline. She helped us to understand the importance of including an ethnographic element in our project. The best facilitators are the ones who make it look like things are evolving on their own and that there is no facilitation involved. In fact, this is evidence of an expert facilitator, silently guiding the process and giving the participants the space to develop and to grow their ideas.
Thanks to Steven as well for his not so silent, but also positive attitude and support throughout the process. I know that a lot of work went into designing the course, but it was incredible to see how each piece seemed to fit into the larger plan. There really was no such thing as a bad idea and we were all encouraged to continually contribute our ideas. Although, I notice that not a single person had any comment about my idea for the title to involve church bells, factory whistles, and the sound of condo construction!!! As Greg said when I mentioned this later “re..ally . . .!!!”
It has been a privilege to be involved and it is good to know that we can still continue to have input as the project continues to evolve.