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Date: April 02, 2004

National History Project Makes Crime Pay

What do the murder of 19 settlers in 19th-century B.C. and the unresolved death in 1920 of a
12-year-old Quebec school girl have in common? Both cases remain unsolved and both are now part of a national history teaching project giving all Canadians the opportunity to sift through evidence, play the role of sleuth and learn more about Canada’s rich history.

These whodunits are part of the “Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History” national Web Site which was launched today in Victoria (officially bilingual, the French-language site will be launched in Quebec later this month). UVic historian Dr. John Lutz, the project’s co-director, also issued an invitation to Canadians to nominate other unsolved mysteries for inclusion.

“Crime does pay off for history teachers,” says Lutz. “We want to encourage students from junior high to university—and anyone else interested in Canadian history—to get in touch with their inner sleuth and become involved in historical research. Eventually, we’d like to have up to 13 unsolved mysteries on this site.”

Lutz and University of Toronto historian Dr. Ruth Sandwell originated the award-winning Canada’s Unsolved Mysteries project with their first site, “Who Killed William Robinson?,” about an aboriginal man who may have been wrongly hanged on Saltspring Island, B.C. in 1868 for the murder of a black settler. The site was voted the best educational site in North America in 2002 by the North American Web Network.

It also prompted the Department of Canadian Heritage to give UVic $162,000 to expand the site to its current state with the addition of two new unsolved mysteries. Like its predecessor, the new sites include actual court testimony and newspaper reports about the events, archival photos and other historical documents. In using the sites, students develop the analytical skills used by historians to identify, select and evaluate evidence from the past to create new knowledge and maybe even ‘solve’ a mystery.

“Nobody Knows His Name: Klatssasin and the Chilcotin War” examines a crucial but nationally little-known war in 1864 between the Tsilqhot’in people and the colony of B.C. — 140 years ago this month. When 19 settlers were killed that year, it was the deadliest attack by aboriginal people on immigrants in Western Canada. Was it war, terrorism or murder? Was it revenge for the spread of smallpox? Survivors of the attack said the Tsilhqot’in chief, Klatssasin, was the ringleader, but who were the real killers?

The second Web site addition, “Aurore! The Mystery of the Martyred Child,” examines the case that became a cause celèbre in Quebec and is still well-known. Did Gagnon die of natural causes, as was reported at the time, or did she die at the hands of her father and stepmother? How could the torture of a child happen in a small community where everyone knew everyone else’s business?

“Instead of telling students ‘what happened,’ the students themselves are invited to become detective-historians,” says Lutz. “As they discover who did it and why, they learn about the great themes of our history and gain an intimate knowledge of how Canadians lived and died in the past.” Visit the web site at: www.canadian mysteries.ca.

Media contacts:
Dr. John Lutz (History) at (h) (250) 388-0871 or jlutz@uvic.ca
Patty Pitts (UVic Communications) at (250) 721-7656 or ppitts@uvic.ca

Images from “Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History” are available for download at http://communications.uvic.ca/releases/mr040402ph.html

UVic media releases and other resources for journalists are available on the World Wide Web at http://communications.uvic.ca/media

(image: fern)