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Lost Ottawa offers a new take on Ottawa history

By Andrew Monro on October 2, 2017

Andrew Monro is Apt613’s correspondent at Impact Hub Ottawa, writing about the many innovators that call Hub home. Hub is a co-working space at 123 Slater Street for projects with a positive local and global impact.

“People have many reasons to associate with things in their city, with landmarks and features that are part of their history. The history they want to find is the history about themselves.”

David McGee always has a new story to tell about Ottawa every time you meet him. You can find him most days at Impact Hub Ottawa, where he is an active member of the co-working community, and also curates Lost Ottawa, the Facebook community he helped build. David says he started the Facebook site to find out if people in Ottawa are interested in their own history. The answer, it turns out, is very much yes – since its creation in 2013, Lost Ottawa has gained 42,000 members; it is Ottawa’s largest online historical community, with more followers than several of the National Capital Region’s museums combined.

David has always had an intense interest in history, community, and the relationship between the two: “I learned some time ago that there isn’t necessarily a community for everything, so you could build it, but people might not come.” For David and others, it was disappointing that despite becoming home to several universities and academic institutions, not that much history of Ottawa had been written over the past 25 years. “I kept coming home and bemoaning the lack of Ottawa history, until one evening my wife got fed up with me and said ‘well, why don’t you do something about it?’” The rest, they say, is history (cue groans).

The latest result of David’s interest in Ottawa’s history is a new book, also called Lost Ottawa. Effectively an anthology of the most popular posts from the Facebook group since 2013, it captures the unwritten history of many of Ottawa’s neighbourhoods, buildings, monuments, and historical events in the last 100 years – but using comments and memories shared by members of the Lost Ottawa community, rather than traditional historical sources. The result is a book that’s almost like a conversation by the people themselves about the places and experiences that were most important to them.

David thinks that one of the reasons for the lack of written history in recent years is the  the collapse of the traditional business model for local history, which had been based on the publication of books. That industry has been squeezed by the rise of the internet, but the internet, including platforms like Facebook, make a new kind of history possible, giving people what they want in the way they want it.  However, it wouldn’t be possible David says, without the the efforts of people at places like Library and Archives Canada, the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the Bytown Museum and the City of Ottawa Archives who have gone to the pains of digitizing historical photographs and other content that can be used in new and creative ways online. Above all, he is grateful to the members of the community who have been so willing to share their knowledge and experience.

Lost Ottawa the book is published by Ottawa Press and Publishing, and is available for purchase now directly from the publisher, and is available in select stores (coming soon to Amazon!). You can tune into Apt613’s podcast with David McGee here.