Causing a Ruckus: Complicity and Performance in Stories of Port Moody


This article is about the suicide of the chief of police of a small Canadian town, which - according to some - did not actually happen. While employed as a researcher and writer with a museum in Port Moody, British Columbia, the author heard this story as one of many told by the ‘old-timers’ who assisted with the writing of a history book. The controversy over the potential suicide provided the means by which this article reflects on issues of ethics, advocacy, and performance when doing public history. The main request of the old-timers was to ‘put the good stories in’ when writing the book. This expectation caused tension between the author and the museum, reflecting the divide between doing ‘history’ and ‘heritage’. This article draws on Anthropological theories of ‘complicity’ and performance in storytelling to make sense of the author’s role within the context of a museum working to record the stories of long-time residents. The stories of the old-timers were filtered through the lens of early 20th century ideas about gender, race, and class, and affected by a lingering frontier mentality. As such, they wished to see their town’s history told in a very specific way. The story of the police chief’s suicide betrayed this intent, allowing for an analysis of how these expectations can affect the way in which public history is done.

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