Building the Rideau Canal and the Making of the Ottawa Working Class

Historical walking tours as adult education

Starting this week, I will be offering my historical walking tours as part of a six week ‘Learning in Retirement’ course at Carleton University with the title: “Walking Through Ottawa’s History: ‘Forgotten Stories’ from a Radical Tour Guide”.

Teaching retirees is a new venture for me, and I’m greatly encouraged by the initial response to this course. (Apparently, the enrollment limit was reached within 24 hours of posting the course. There is now a wait list for the course.) Since I am unknown to those who registered for the course, it is safe to assume they enrolled because of their enthusiasm for the topic and the approach.

One thing I’ve learned since starting my historical walking tours in 2014 is that people 50 years old or older are often more interested in history than they were in their youth. There is something about having a longer past and perhaps a growing sense of a limited future that encourages people to take stock of things.

Labeling the course as one being taught by a ‘radical’ was clearly no deterrent to enrolment. When enough Americans are identifying themselves as ‘socialists’ to make Bernie Sanders a serious candidate for the presidency in the United States, that should come as no surprise.

Another thing about the course which may explain its apparent appeal is that it is about local history – history that is often directly intertwined with the personal lives of Ottawa-Gatineau area residents. I’m expecting to hear lots of personal stories about local history from participants in the course.

This course has a classroom component, but it gets participants outdoors and moving through Ottawa’s landscape. Learning is more effective, more engaging and fun when it involves activity – not just mental activity but physical activity as well. Using the city as our ‘classroom’ is a bonus.

In a future blog, I’ll comment further on the reception the course gets and whether it contributes to a discernible increase in levels of activism. Historically, revolutions have always been made by the young. But there is no reason retirees cannot politicize and get involved in current political battles, around the environment, Indigenous rights, opposition to racism, inequality and many other issues.