What is Heritage and Who is History?

What is Heritage and Who is History?

I want to introduce you to a good friend of mine, Mike Quackenbush. Mike is a local community leader who works full time as the National Relationships Manager for RBC Insurance. Outside of his 9-5, he does just about everything and is also a professional genealogist. Through his passion for history, heritage, and everything in between, he uses this lens to tell stories that need to be told. Each month Mike will be delving into a new topic related to heritage in Burlington. He starts today!

What do you think of when you hear the word heritage? Do you think of where we come from and our ancestors? Do you think about our community and perhaps the old homes that still stand?

What if I now asked you what you thought when you hear the word history? Do you think of the world wars? Do you think about a time long ago – Medieval or Roman days? Or do you think about the First Nations inhabitants of our land and the first European settlers here?

It is sometimes hard to separate what we deem as heritage versus history.

Merriam-Webster provides these definitions:

  • Heritage is something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor, such as traditions or legacies.
  • History is a branch of knowledge that records and explains past events.

Professional historian, Susan Marsden of PHASA illustrations that, “heritage is not history… it is not what happened in the past but what has survived from the past.” Marsden continues, ” …history is the past. This means everything which happened, even something which nobody knows about because no evidence for it seems to have survived.”1

In Burlington, there are three entities that advocate, preserve, and curate our heritage and history.

  • Heritage Burlington has a unique role that is set out in the Ontario Heritage Act to provide community input to City Council on properties recorded on the municipal heritage register. Through their committee structure they, “may advise City Council and city staff on any matter relating to property of historical, architectural, archaeological, recreational, aesthetic, natural or scenic interest.”2 The average person might have only come across this committee when they hear of a building on the register that has requested permission for demolition, if an owner wants their property listed/delisted from the register, or if they need to do renovations since renovations need to be in line with the heritage property guidelines.


  • The Burlington Historical Society was established in 1899 with a role to preserve the record of our past through collecting documents, artefacts, photographs, and other materials that help to explain what has happened in our community through the years. In the pre-COVID-19 world, they hosted regular monthly meetings at Central Library for the public and members to share stories of our past through an oral/visual presentation and the social sharing of information from member to member.


  • Museums of Burlington are comprised of both the Joseph Brant Museum and the Ireland House Museum. Their mission is, “to engage our audiences through the sharing of history & culture.”4 They host exhibits and provide conservation through their expansive curated collections, and education programming for both the public and school groups. Their Burlington Gallery exhibits the rich cultural history of where Burlington began to where we are today, including such rarities as a sword presented by King George III to Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea) in about 1785.5

These organizations continue to exist through the countless efforts from volunteers across the community. Without their advocacy and creating awareness of our heritage and history, fewer and fewer people would understand what their community was built upon. We all have a role to play in passing along our heritage to the next generation.

My simple call to action is to go and explore more information on these organizations. Follow, like, subscribe to emails and for the Burlington Historical Society and Museums of Burlington, if you can, consider becoming a member or make a financial contribution to help them continue their mission of carrying forward our heritage, so that our future generations can better understand our history.


Images – Mike Quackenbush, 3 Mar 2021

  1. Marsden, S. (2010, November 18). Is heritage history? History and the built environment. Professional Historians Australia (SA) Inc. http://www.sahistorians.org.au/175/bm.doc/is-heritage-history.doc
  2. Terms of Reference. (2006, June 26). Heritage Burlington Advisory Committee. https://www.burlington.ca/en/your-city/resources/Citizen_Committees_and_Boards/Heritage_Burlington/HB-Terms_of_reference-As_at_Sept_2013.pdf
  3. About Burlington Historical Society. (2021). Burlington Historical Society. http://burlingtonhistorical.ca/wp/wp-content/uploads/media/about/BHS_Constitution_2019.pdf
  4. About Us. (2021). Museums of Burlington. https://museumsofburlington.ca/about-us/
  5. The Burlington Gallery. (2021). Museums of Burlington. https://museumsofburlington.ca/exhibition/the-burlington-gallery/

One Reply to “What is Heritage and Who is History?”

  • Jackie Lodder

    By Jackie Lodder


    Looking forward to this

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