What’s the Big Idea for Lost Ottawa 3?

What’s the Big Idea for Lost Ottawa 3?

Lost Ottawa Book 3 is out, or maybe I should say “up” on Amazon. Done! 

And when a book is finally done you have a moment to catch your breath and think about what it all means.

In the case of Lost Ottawa 3, what it first means is that we’ve chosen sixty stories from Lost Ottawa on Facebook to write up — and that is not as easy as it might seem!

How so? Well, my database currently says we’ve had more than 14,733 posts on the Facebook site since 2013. The database also says that more than 240,000 comments have been made on those posts.

There’s no way you can read all those posts and comments while preparing for a book. You need some way to narrow down the options and in the past we used math to narrow our choices, adding together the number of likes, shares, and comments on a post in order to identify the most popular posts for every week, month and year. Those are the stories that went into our first two books. 

This time we decided to loosen up! 

We still used numbers to narrow the field, but first we decided not to stick to any rules about weeks or months or years. Then we looked for stories that just seemed funny to us (as weird as our sense of humour might be!). 

Most of all we thought about those 14,733 posts and 240,000 comments, and there are a few features of those posts and comments that guided our choice of stories for Lost Ottawa 3.

One feature of the comments is that certain themes repeat themselves, meaning that they are important to people. So we wanted to get more of those stories in there. Themes like riding your first bicycle, swimming in the river, or delivering the newspapers.

Another feature of the comments is that the vast majority were made on posts ranging from roughly 1945 to our cutoff date of the year 2000. Which does makes sense. Most comments would naturally be from the era when members of the Lost Ottawa Community were alive.

Two hundred and forty thousand comments represents an unprecedented repository of peoples’ memories and experiences. People entrusted us with those memories. We have a responsibility for them. Thinking about that responsibility changed the way we think about what we are doing with Lost Ottawa.

In the beginning, for example, we thought the purpose of Lost Ottawa was to get people interested in their own history, to show them that history doesn’t have to be boring and that (at least when it comes to the built environment) history affects them every day. 

Now we realize that whatever our original purpose was, what we’ve actually been doing is documenting the ordinary life of our times. In particular we have been documenting aspects of life that are now “lost” in some way. Things that were important to us, but have either disappeared or are in danger of fading away as we do.

Those are the thoughts that guided our choice of stories for Lost Ottawa 3. We wanted stories that were popular and therefore important to people. We wanted stories that were funny (because 2020 is gloomy enough). And we wanted to document aspects of the ordinary life of our times that have disappeared, that no one will remember, or know how important they were to us, if we don’t set it down.

And that’s how we ended up with stories about the white kitchens of the 1950s, the knife-sharpening guy, those terrible gym bloomers the girls had to wear, taking “home economics” class, riding for Dickie Dee, walking the Carleton Tunnels, jumping off the cliffs at Hog’s Backs — and so many more stories about life in our in our times.

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