Approaches to local history

Some years ago I became interested in gathering information about the local history of Long Branch, the neighbourhood in southern Etobicoke in the City of Toronto where I live.

The Draft version that I have put together is the story about the history of Long Branch that I have assembled to date.

I have prepared this text primarily as a way to organize my thinking about the history of this great community.

The text has been developed from material that I’ve been working with starting in October 2010, when I learned that a local school, close to where I live, was about to be sold.

Approaches to local history

As with any topic, local history can be approached from many angles, and in many ways.

In writing my overview of local history, I draw upon my five years of experience (1975-1980) as a freelance writer, before I embarked upon a career as a public school teacher.

As a freelance writer, years ago, I learned that sometimes a writer has a choice, regarding how to go about the task of writing an article for a newspaper, magazine, or in this case for a website.

I worked as a freelance writer in the days before the Internet appeared on the scene, when writers might often find themselves in a reference room at a public library, looking up information.

A choice that a person could make, in those days, might be between spending endless hours at a library, or getting on the phone and finding people to interview.

What I learned, in those days, was that when you interview people who are experts in a given field, you typically get to write a more interesting article than when you spend all your time digging up facts in a library.

With the material that you gather in a library, the words just lie flat on the page. It’s hard for a reader to get excited about a dry recitation of facts.

On the other hand, if you use the words from interviews, from speaking with people with something of interest to share, the words come to life on the page.

That at any rate has been my experience.

In the future, it may make sense for me to learn to spend some time in archives. But in the meantime, learning things by talking with people – by phone, by email, through comments at blog posts, and through interviews – has to date been my preferred way of learning about the local history of the community where I live.

The other aspect of my approach to writing is that I’ve had reason, in the course of my life, to see the value of carefully citing the sources that I use, when preparing an article, and in ensuring that factual statements are based upon solid, corroborated evidence.

I often think about this fact when I come across a statement, in some account of Long Branch history, as I often do, that Colonel Smith’s house was torn down in 1952. As I note in my longread article, the evidence clearly points to 1955 as the year that the demolition of the colonel’s house occurred.


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