John Lutz: Works on solving old crimes to interest students in history





A high-society Montreal matron and her son are found dead in the bedroom of the woman's mansion. Two gunshots were heard. Three bullets are recovered. The year is 1901.

Outdoorsman and iconic Canadian painter Tom Thomson goes out for a paddle in Ontario's fabled Algonquin Park and disappears. His body is found floating in Canoe Lake days later. Murder or misadventure? The year is 1917.

A Canadian diplomat, removed from a post in Japan and made ambassador to Egypt, jumps from a rooftop. He'd been the target of persistent allegations of communist sympathies and ties to the Soviets. The year is 1957.

These three unsolved mysteries have been deemed interesting enough to be selected as the final three "cold cases" being added to a popular interactive Canadian history website.

"History is too important to be boring," says Dr. John Lutz, a historian and co-director of the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History project, based at the University of Victoria.

It's hard getting most students interested in history, especially Canadian history, he said.

"We realized that the problem was often the way we do it, by trying to cram dates and names into their heads. But that's not really history, it's just the context."

"Doing history is actually about solving puzzles and solving mysteries."

Ten years ago, he and another British Columbia historian, Ruth Sandwell, came up with the idea of putting intriguing mysteries on the web.

"We thought by putting the evidence up there for the students to solve themselves, we could hook them on history. I think we've been successful."


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