Conceptualizing Pierre Nora’s Lieux de Memoire in Ajax

Stretching from Harwood Avenue North to South once was the nucleus of Defence Industries Limited, an Allied munitions factory that was demolished after the Second World War. Today, the Town of Ajax is hoping to designate the area as a National Historic Site. As the site itself, a true remnant of its past disappeared, the fear of modernity—perhaps the development the  sprawling suburbs—propels memory keepers to create, in Pierre Nora’s words, a lieu de memoire. However, some may argue that Ajax’s traditional past still lives in its true form, that material over memory keeps the town’s history alive. In fact, many wartime houses where the DIL workers lived, stand today, and the anchor of the infamous HMS Ajax stands outside of the Royal Canadian Legion. However, the stories of these places or events continue to be passed down, and they possess many individual or collective memories. Therefore, it can be argued too that the intangible aspects can create lieux de memoire.

In 2007-2008, a national telephone survey was conducted across Canada, consisting of over 3400 respondents. Through questions about how Canadians engage in activities related to the past, surveyors discovered many patterns of memory. Most Canadians placed their trust in museums as sites of memory, while others relied more on activities related to their local or family’s history. This suggests that there is perhaps a sense of responsibility among Canadians to remember the past out of fear of a collective amnesia.  As moments in history become more distant, the public relies on lieux de memoire—such as museums or monuments—to prevent this memory loss.

Pierre Nora’s phrase is highly popular within the field of public history, yet it can incite an incredulous amount of debate. Nora equates the lieux de memoire with the fear of losing grip of our traditional past amidst a society in trajectory towards modernity. This also means a rupture of the folk and rural history and modern memory. However, this complex term is easier understood when contextualized in Canada, and specifically Ajax.


Below are some photos that, in my example, exemplify a lieu de memoire.

Veterans’ Point Gardens – Harwood Avenue south on the waterfront (photo from from
The bell from the HMS Ajax rests in the Town’s Council Chambers (photo from



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