Not far from where I live is a UNESCO site at Grand Pré near the Bay of Fundy. The site represents the archaeological remains of an Acadian settlement, granted World Heritage Site status in 2012. British soldiers forced Acadians from their communities, burning their homes and crops. Acadians had lived on this land since Port-Royal was established by Champlain and some other guy in 1605. The Acadians built dikes to reclaim tidal land, which farmers today still benefit from. They worked with the Mi’kmaq Indigenous communities. They had little to do with France and their constant unrest with Britain. The Acadians swore to neutrality in any conflicts between France and Britain but in July of 1755 they were forcibly expelled. New England Planter settlers quickly moved in and took up the land. 10,000 Acadians were deported between 1755 and 1763 of which thousands died of disease, starvation, and drowning. The expulsion had no military basis, its inhumane act founded purely on greed.
1,154 World Heritage Sites have been designated around the world, of which twenty are in Canada. Italy has claim to the most with fifty-eight sites at last count. November 16th marks the 77th anniversary of the creation of United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, a special branch of the United Nations. The Organization has 195 members, with headquarters in Paris, France.
The creation of UNESCO in 1945 was a response to a world war marked by “racism and anti-Semitic violence”. We find ourselves very much needing this effort today, seventy-seven years after UNESCO’s birth. The website writes, “Since wars begin in the minds of men and women, it is in the minds of men and women that peace must be built”. They have spent more than three-quarters of a century in the service of peace.
World War II was still raging when the governments of allied European countries met at a Conference of Allied Ministers of Education. The conference was held to develop strategies to rebuild education systems once the war was over, with a backdrop of two world wars within less than thirty years. In 1945 London, forty-four countries came together to create a culture of peace, focussing on the “intellectual and moral solidarity of [humankind]”. The result – UNESCO was created. Peace and healthy economies cannot be left to governments to protect. “Peace must be founded upon dialogue and mutual understanding and every child needs and has the right of access to quality education” declared UNESCO.
The organization brings together the brightest creative minds from around the world to think outside the box, to foster change in how we all see the world, to dim the political lines that divide us. Specifically, UNESCO coordinated early warning systems for tsunamis, continues work against racism with its 1978 Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, set education standards including work in 1947 Haiti and 1949 Afghanistan, urging all countries to focus on providing free and compulsory education, the 1960 start to move the Great Temple of Abu Simbel to protect it from the change of Nile waters after the construction of the Aswan Dam, the “free flow of ideas by word and image”, to name just a few.
The organization’s actions have not been without struggle, with countries withdrawing in protest. South Africa under an apartheid government withdrew in 1956 claiming UNESCO’s interference but was reinstated by Nelson Mandela in 1994. UNESCO’s work for a culture of peace and non-violence for children throughout the world, in my mind, far outweighs the withdrawal of the United States’ financial support to UNESCO during Trump’s administration in 2017 with Israel following suit due to Palestine being allowed membership. It is never easy to set political differences aside and quiet the chest-pounding of nations who claim superiority.
Canada’s twenty sites are indeed treasures. To read a full description of them go to https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/united-nations-world-heritage-sites. These include the Northwest Territories’ Nahanni National Park with 4,700 square kms of undisturbed natural lands, and Wood Buffalo National Park which is one of the largest undisturbed remaining grass meadows in North America. Grass meadows are an essential carbon sink for our ailing climate. Newfoundland’s Viking settlement from the 11th century at L’Anse aux Meadows, Gros Morne National Park with the greatest example of plate tectonics, and Mistaken Point with some of the oldest known fossils on earth. Alberta’s dinosaur fossils dating back 70+ million years. Ontario’s Rideau Canal the best preserved slackwater (no excessive river current) canal in North America to name just a few.
The premise and vision under which UNESCO operates is founded on good intentions and we celebrate their seventy-seven years of striving to do better.