Headwaters Inspired Profile: Neil Orford


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Historical inspiration was served up every night

When Neil Orford retired from teaching History at Centre Dufferin District High School in Shelburne after 31 years, it was not to the golf course or easy chair, but rather to the next phase of an already illustrious career.

Orford’s life-long passion for history started in early childhood. “I was raised in a family where history was the opening course of dinner every night,” said Orford. “Both of my parents were war vets. It was important to them that we all understood the grand scope of history and how it affects individuals. We talked about it every day.”

Drawn by passion to Headwaters

Although Orford started his teaching career in Toronto, he’s been a Headwaters “import” for over three decades. He chuckles at the thought.

“There’s such a rich heritage here that I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else,” said Orford. “It was once I got to Orangeville and the surrounding area, that my enthusiasm for teaching history was truly ignited.”

The excitement was contagious, and over the years, Orford was recognized with numerous awards. These include the 2015 Government of Canada History Award for Teaching, the prestigious 2013 Canadian Governor General’s Award for History Teaching and the 2012 Ontario Premier’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

It takes museum and archive to spark the historical imagination

It seemed like a natural fit that Orford would become closely involved with the Dufferin County Museum and Archives, where he went on to serve as Chair of the Public Board.

He integrated his teaching with the Museum and Archives and developed a course where students earned four credits worth of work in a single semester. They conducted deep archival research into the stories of Dufferin County, in particular the narratives of the County’s war veterans.

A group of his students went on to represent all Canadian youth at the 70th Anniversary of D-Day ceremony at the Juno Beach Centre in Normandy, France. Two of them were given the honour of reading the Act of Remembrance.

Said Orford, “I’m proud that many of my students went on to study history in university and made historical knowledge an important part of their lives. We need advocates for our history to continue to build our cultural heritage.”