Plaques, cairns and signs are popular vehicles used to promote and educate the visiting public about a community's heritage – via notable sites, themes, events and people.
This kind of approach—to provide a visible and durable object on which succinct historical information is presented—has been a common and trusted choice for more than 100 years. The United Kingdom's famous Blue Plaques, which traditionally commemorate a link between a location and a famous person or event, began to be developed in the late 19th century. An example of a Blue Plaque text is: "Charles Dickens. 1851-60. Novelist. Lived in Tavistock House near this site."
The basic plaque/cairn convention has evolved over the years in many countries to include more information, but many are still not more than a paragraph, about 150 words. And where it is deemed that the strict conventions of a plaque (word limits especially) are inadequate to the task, it has become common for larger signs to be used to contain flowing text and images.
There are a few key issues that Heritage Manitoba recommends groups and communities consider as they develop these important heritage communication tools:
- Does your community have an overall plan for local commemoration? It is useful especially for larger communities to have a general sense of the kinds of subjects worthy of commemoration, an approach to selections, and the costs of plaques
- What has already been commemorated? Are there gaps in the commemoration collection?
- Do you have the necessary solid information (facts, claims, context) to ensure that the information on your proposed plaque, cairn or sign is accurate, interesting and informative?
- Do you have local writing and editing skills to ensure that your plaque, cairn or sign is of high quality?
- For signs, do you have a good local graphic artist and graphic designer to ensure that textual and graphic information is presented effectively?
- Do you have the funding necessary for production?
- Do you have a larger heritage communication strategy in place, in which plaques, cairns and signs are a part?
- Do you have a maintenance and repair plan in place?
- Have you thought about other new communication tools, like QR codes and connected websites that can make a plaque or sign even more useful?
The guide Writing an Effective Plaque Inscription located under Resources and Guides explains how to develop excellent plaques, cairns and signs.