My name is Nicholas Leckey (LeH-Key), 28 years young, and I’m a ‘historical cartophile’ at heart. Rambling follows…
As far back as I can remember, I have always held a strong passion for the fabrication and use of maps (mostly in historical contexts): the subtlety of design, choice of features/labeling, omissions, narrative, etc., but especially how we see (or rather, ‘present’) ourselves within a particular landscape (either past or present). My favourite childhood toy was a globe. Unashamedly, as a teenager, it was Age of Empires II. Now, Google Earth takes up even more of my time as an academic.
I was born & raised in Ottawa and, even early-on as a History undergrad at Carleton University, never thought much of my own city’s past. For lack of a better word, ‘sensationalism’ had wrestled my focus towards ancient Rome, Tokyo, London et al., and nothing seemed more plain or yawn-inducing than the study of my ‘irrelevant colonial backwater’. I mean, with no great battles, no wondrous palaces or grand temples, why bother?! I couldn’t have been more wrong… My grand-papa, a great mentor in my life & self-made historian, had always rambled about his family’s origins in the valley region, with great pride: the fields that were worked, the homes built, families made… I then
never gave much thought to my own personal history (‘historical localism?’) until I studied his research, and came to really grasp just how many lives (and effort!) had gone into making my own…
He had traced our (Sabourin) family back 13 generations, to 1610’s Poitou, France… and this, only the patrilineal side! What adventures they must have had; hard struggles, cheers & joy, alike. It truly humbled me, and made me regret past condemnations of what history ‘should be about’.
This led me to research my father’s family (Leckey), which was a whole three centuries shorter, and very nearly extinguished in Passchendaele on the morning of October 30th 1917… A hand grenade or mortar shell’s shrapnel tore through my great-grandfather Thomas’s leg, along with several of his most prized digits; he had been a farmhand and carpenter, no longer. Hopefully unconscious, he lay in the rutted and swampy hillside of Passchendaele for a whole day, with his injuries, before the ANZAC medical corps would find and recover him, alive. He would return to a pension, and later to start a family: mine. Knowing how close I came to ‘not existing’, and to the strength of my forefather, I passionately used the skills I had developed during my undergrad to plot out the course he had taken in life & in battle. I never met him, and his journal (if it exists) may be lost, but I found him in shipping registers, army documents, census statements, and I know almost exactly where he lay that cold October night. He was a lowly private with no medals to his name, lost in obscurity, despite his bravour. Do the people at 4-6 Zuidstraat, Zonnebeke, Belgium know that Thomas Leckey
, and not just ‘a noble Canadian’ lay in their backyard nearly 101 years ago? How many more might be like him, perhaps even still laying in those, or similar, fields…?
While maps historically have been used in a number of dishonest ways (notoriously, for war, imperialism & despotic intent), I believe they have as much potential to undo that same harm and to allow us the chance to re-imagine the space we are surrounded by today.
As a member of the fast-paced modern world, where permanence seems ever more fleeting, I now stop myself to look around:
- How many hundreds of thousands of lives existed in this space? What were they goals? -Their dreams? -Their struggles?
- How did they envision their space, and change it? How did this in turn influence the following generations?
- Who/what speaks for them now? -Their legacy?
When a person’s past (usually reflected in his/her achievements) is ‘all-but-absent’ (either by design or simple obscurity), maps can sometimes help fill a void in memory: a voice for the voiceless… where evidence may have “never existed” (the way ‘oral histories’ have traditionally been regarded in the west), maps could help reconstitute a missing past, and hopefully bridge a gap in (mis)understanding. After all, who decides what is worth preserving, or memorializing?
Still at an early concept, I would like to develop a public geographic-based database (mobile-friendly) for the Ottawa-Gatineau region, that could potentially serve in a number of ways:
- Identification of past habitations, buildings, potential archaeological sites, etc.
- Direct links to relevant articles, blogs & papers
- Potential for independent reporting, community review, discussion & eventual publications
- Potential for maintaining/recovering the archaeological integrity of a site
- Tourism potential
- Multi-disciplinary potential (humanities, industrial, environmental science, etc.)