Shuttering Archives: A UNESCO Recognized Collection to Close its Doors to the Public

This post originally appeared on in June 2016.

Le Séminaire du Québec

Last month I spent two weeks working in one of my favourite archives: Le Centre de référence de l’Amérique francophone. This archive – run by Quebec’s Museum of Civilization – is one of the oldest in the country, not only holding the records of the Quebec Seminary (which begin in 1623), but also many important documents related to New France and the early relationship between the diverse peoples of northeastern North America, the French Empire and the Catholic church. The archive holds unique Indigenous language documents and is critical for anyone interested in understanding Canada’s early history. With the Centre located in the seminary buildings themselves, the archive remains more or less in situ since the French regime (bearing in mind that the complex has expanded considerably over the intervening centuries). It is these qualities that led to the collection’s 2007 registration in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Program; a recognition closely linked to Quebec City’s own place on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Letters patents of the king for the establishment of the Séminaire de Québec, 1663

It came as a shock then that upon my arrival at the Centre in early May I learned from the reference archivist that this might be my final visit to this important archival collection. On 23 June this archive is scheduled to close for an indefinite amount of time as the Museum of Civilization struggles to meet its budgetary needs. Continue reading “Shuttering Archives: A UNESCO Recognized Collection to Close its Doors to the Public”

What does Canadian history look like? Active History at the 2016 CHA

This post was originally written with Daniel Ross and posted on in May 2016.

Keywords from the 2016 CHA Program
Keywords from the 2016 CHA Program

This weekend, historians from across the country will gather in Calgary for the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association (CHA). It’s one of the few opportunities for Canadian historians and historians of Canada to connect in person, share their most recent research, and discuss larger issues facing the profession. Many attendees also take advantage of the chance to learn firsthand about the history of an unfamiliar city or region and its communities. 

Since 2013, we’ve been using a couple of metrics – mainly word counts and chronological markers in paper and panel titles – to provide an overview of what attendees are working on and talking about. There’s nothing particularly rigorous about our methods, but previous posts (201320142015) have provided a starting point for discussions about what Canadian history looks like today, and how that profile has changed over time. 

As always, this year’s line-up speaks to the breadth and creativity of historical work being done in Canada.  Continue reading “What does Canadian history look like? Active History at the 2016 CHA”

Recognizing THEN/HiER

This post originally appeared on in March 2016.

I first encountered the History Education Network (THEN/HiER) in late 2009, when Jennifer Bonnell, the graduate student coordinator at the time, approached Active History about the potential for coordinating a workshop series in Toronto focused on teaching history. Over the intervening months we worked together towards the first in a series of events that brought together teachers, curators, professors and civil servants known as Approaching the Past. This was the beginning of a six-year partnership between Active History and THEN/HiER. At the end of the month, THEN/HiER’s mandate will draw to a close. I want to use this post to draw attention to our collaboration, some of its key moments, and the influence that Anne Marie Goodfellow, Jennifer Bonnell, Penney Clark and many others have had on and the Active History project more generally.

Logos Continue reading “Recognizing THEN/HiER”

History Wars: Terms of debate

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Last month, Terry Glavin wrote a syndicated op-ed piece that appeared in The Ottawa Citizen and Vancouver’s The Province, delivering a strongly worded dismissal of the historical profession in Canada. Historians and others have responded elsewhere to his indictment of the profession (see herehere and here). Today, I want to respond to the broader ideas that inform his argument.

Glavin’s essay mostly parrots a series of arguments that have been lobbed at historians since the profession began to change its focus in the 1970s and 1980s. These ideas are quite resilient. Despite their regular application (mostly in the media), his accusations are neither fair nor reflective of current historical practice and broader professional interpretations of Canada’s past. More importantly, their use is a distraction from the key issues at stake. Continue reading “History Wars: Terms of debate”

2013: It’s time to commemorate the 1763 Royal Proclamation

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Royal ProcNDP Leader Thomas Mulcair made a good suggestion last week.  After the Prime Minister publicly outlined the marching orders for his ministers – which did not address recent tensions with First Nations but did emphasize the allocation of funds and resources towards a handful of historical celebrations – Mulcair took him to task. Picking up perhaps on the contradiction of funding historical celebrations while systematically gutting Library and Archives Canada and Parks Canada (two key institutions that preserve Canada’s documentary and material heritage), Mulcair gilled the Prime Minister on his political use of the past. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, however, Mulcair suggests that perhaps the Prime Minister expand his commemorative agenda. Why not celebrate the 250th anniversary of the 1763 Royal Proclamation this year?

I agree with Mulcair. The Harper government should embrace the Royal Proclamation. Not only is it a foundational – one might even say constitutional – document in Canada’s legal history, it also provides the Prime Minister with an opportunity to demonstrate his apparent concern for First Nations’ priorities.  The Royal Proclamation has all the trappings of a Harperesque vision of the past. It draws together the military, monarchy and a firm spirit of law and order.

I don’t think Mulcair went far enough in his indictment, however. It’s not just Stephen Harper (and his cabinet) ignoring the Proclamation. It’s all of us. Continue reading “2013: It’s time to commemorate the 1763 Royal Proclamation”

Ten Books to Contextualize #IdleNoMore

This post originally appeared on and generated a considerable number of additional suggestions.  The original post is worth a visit.

By Andrew Watson and Thomas Peace

After reading comment after uninformed comment, both online and in the media, decided to compile a short list of books written by historians that address the issues being discussed by the Idle No More movement.  Click on a link below to read a brief summary of the book.

Peggy Blair, Lament for a First Nation
Jarvis Browlie, A Fatherly Eye
Shelagh Grant, Arctic Justice
Cole Harris, Making Native Space
Douglas Harris, Fish, Law and Colonialism
J.R. Miller, Compact, Contract, Covenant
Jocelyn Thorpe, Temagami’s Tangled Wild
Treaty Seven Elders and Tribal Council, The True Spirit and Original Intent of Treaty 7
William C. Wicken, Mi’kmaq Treaties on Trial
Michael Witgen, An Infinity of Nations

In addition to these books, we would also like to direct your attention to the Canada in the Making‘s section on “Aboriginals: Treaties & Relations.”  This website provides an overview of the relationship between European empires, the Canadian state and First Nation peoples from the late-fifteenth century to the present. It includes links to online copies of many foundational – and constitutional – documents underpinning Canada’s relationship with First Nation peoples. Continue reading “Ten Books to Contextualize #IdleNoMore”

The History Wars: Where is the media?

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Last week the Globe and Mail published an editorial about the video game Assassins Creed III . According to the Globe’s editors, the video game distorts the history of the American War of Independence by suggesting that native people (the protagonist, Ratonhnhaké:ton, is Mohawk) fought alongside the rebelling colonies.  Both gamers and historians quickly and resoundingly condemnedthe Globe‘s opinion as factually flawed (see here, here, and my own letter to the editor, here, for a sample of the critiques). I don’t want to rehash these critiques here. Instead, I want to ask some more pointed questions about why the Globe decided to run this piece in the first place.

It’s not everyday that a national newspaper decides to pick on an individual business over the quality of its product. Continue reading “The History Wars: Where is the media?”

Learning from the Swollen Rivers of the Past

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I may be cursed. Everywhere I move flooding seems to follow. Last fall, my family and I moved to White River Junction, Vermont. On an apartment hunt, my father and I arrived in the Green Mountain State immediately following Hurricane Irene. Pulling into Rutland we were told that there were no roads open that crossed the state east to west. Every road had been washed out. Indeed, the devastation Irene caused was still a lead news story in the area when we left at the beginning of August, a year later. We arrived in Nova Scotia to some dry weather, but here too we’ve seen one of the wettest September’s on record. One of these weather systems, associated with Tropical Storm Leslie, broke through a number of dykes around Truro, bringing significant flooding to Nova Scotia’s “Hub Town.”

There are a lot of differences between these two “weather events,” not the least of which was their scale and damage. What links them together, though, is that in both cases similar flooding had taken place in the past. Although these events are tragedies, much of the damage was predictable, though not always avoidable. Continue reading “Learning from the Swollen Rivers of the Past”

Colonialism and the Words We Choose: Lessons from Museum and Academy

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About two months ago I was in a local museum with my family learning about the eighteenth century history of the community in which the museum was located. In many ways we had a typical country museum experience. We were met by costumed interpreters and told the stories of the building and the people who lived there. Then we learned about some of the broader historical context. For our guide, the story this museum told hinged on the European settlement of the “savage wilderness inhabited only by Indians.”

As a historian who studies Native communities during the eighteenth century in the places best-known today as Quebec, New England and Maritime Canada, I felt that I had been transported to a different era. Though wilderness remains pervasive, isn’t the noun savage an artifact from an earlier century? And don’t Native people have a history that predates their encounter with Europeans? Continue reading “Colonialism and the Words We Choose: Lessons from Museum and Academy”

In the beginning there was… Canada?!?

Canada Day, 1967

This post originally appeared on

This is my favourite time of the year to be in Quebec City. With the school year drawing to a close, a seemingly endless train of tour buses bear down on the city. Ontario’s youth are here to learn about Canada’s roots in the berceau of the nation. Our story starts here… or at least so the tale goes. Sitting at my hotel-room desk in Quebec – straddled between two days of national celebration – I can’t help but consider the stories we use to describe who we are and where we have been as a country. Continue reading “In the beginning there was… Canada?!?”