Authorized Heritage

Place, Memory, and Historic Sites in Prairie Canada

Robert Coutts (Author)


Authorized Heritage analyses the history of commemoration at heritage sites across western Canada. Using extensive research from predominantly government records, it argues that heritage narratives are almost always based on national messages that commonly reflect colonial perceptions of the past. Yet many of the places that commemorate Indigenous, fur trade, and settler histories are contested spaces, places such as Batoche, Seven Oaks, and Upper Fort Garry being the most obvious. At these heritage sites, Indigenous views of history confront the conventions of settler colonial pasts and represent the fluid cultural perspectives that should define the shifting ground of heritage space.

Robert Coutts brings his many years of experience as a public historian to this detailed examination of heritage sites across the prairies. He shows how the process of commemoration often reflects social and cultural perspectives that privilege a conventional and conservative national narrative. He also examines how class, gender, and sexuality often remain apart from the heritage discourse. Most notably, Authorized Heritage examines how governments became the mediators of what is heritage and, just as significantly, what is not.


Authorized Heritage offers sharp and fresh insights to the field of Canadian and public history. It is a highly original mix of personal experience and academic research and analysis.”

Sarah Carter, Professor, Department of History and Classics, University of Alberta.

"In Authorized Heritage, Coutts uses his three decades of experience working with Parks Canada to examine the colonial history of commemoration at Canada’s heritage sites. Further, he explores how governments have controlled what is and is not considered heritage across history."

Zoë LeBrun, The Manitoban

“Coutts’s work is an invaluable source for both learning and teaching about the ways in which Canadian settler colonial mythology is written into our landscape and built heritage, as well as ways in which this mythology can also be challenged so that a more inclusive and realistic portrayal of Canadian history can emerge.”

Jessica M. DeWitt, Canadian Journal of History

Authorized Heritage is a vital addition to Canadian public history. It will be required reading for anyone concerned with the development of the Canadian state’s role in the commemorative history of Canada and in particular that of the eastern prairies. Equally important, Authorized Heritage offers a retrospective, balanced, and thoughtful account of the work of Parks Canada from someone who has spent decades in the trenches.”

Tom Mitchell, Prairie History

“In Authorized Heritage, Coutts has authored a volume that will be of interest not only to history scholars and heritage practitioners in Canada but also to all those interested in grappling with internationally significant questions about how to more effectively and appropriately foster the persistence of the past in the present.”

Shannon Stunden Bower, H-Environment, H-Net Reviews

“Essential reading for anyone interested in the history and dynamics of the heritage movement in Canada.”

Phillip Buckner, British Review of Canadian Studies

“What makes this study stand out is its focus on a wide range of historic places located in the West and the fact that the author, also a former Parks Canada historian, covers a longer period of commemorative development including more recent government heritage policies. His is an insider’s view that has chosen to study the sites with which he was most familiar and offers a critical analysis of Parks Canada policies set in the context of what he views as an ‘increasing bureaucratization of heritage.’”

Nicole Neatby, University of Toronto Quarterly


Margaret McWilliams Book Award for Scholarly History, Manitoba Historical Society (2021)

About the Author

Robert Coutts worked as a historian with Parks Canada for over thirty years, researching historic sites throughout western and northern Canada. He is the co-author of the book Voices from Hudson Bay: Cree Stories from York Factory and is the editor of the journal Prairie History.

Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Landscapes of Memory in Prairie Canada
Ch. 2 Memory Hooks: Commemorating Indigenous Cultural Landscapes
Ch. 3 National Dreams: Commemorating the Fur Trade in Manitoba
Ch. 4 “We came. We toiled. God blessed”: Settler Colonialism and Constructing Authenticity
Ch. 5 Contested Space: Heritage and Indigenous Places of Resistance
Ch. 6 Heritage Place: The Function of Modernity, Gender, and Sexuality
Ch. 7 Conclusion: History, Memory and the Heritage Discourse