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May 28th, 2013 • Posted in On Politics

Canadian Museum of History should be part of Library and Archives Canada

Source: Wiki

Sir Arthur G. Doughty c. 1912–13. Dominion Archivist 1904-1935. Perhaps Canada’s greatest.

Here’s an excerpt from a speech in the House by  MP Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC, on bill C 49, the act to establish a new Museum of History.

But before that: the more I think about it, the more annoying it is to me that Library and Archives seems largely to have been left out of the equation here. This is the institution responsible for preserving Canadian history and making it accessible to Canadians; the one that has done so since 1872, in a way that, prior to 2004, was widely admired around the world.

This Museum of History project seems to me little more than a big display case – an exhibition space – for a version of history curated, if not by the Conservative government, then by a select group of historians chosen by them, with some cursory input from ‘ordinary’ Canadians, designed to tell us what our history means; space that should by rights be Library and Archives Canada’s, curated, at arms-length, by non-partisan librarians, archivists, devotees, experts, enthusiasts, not politicians.

Here’s Nantel:

“We reject this government’s troubling, detrimental and dubious desire to intervene and to meddle once again. We reject the government’s tampering with history. That is exactly what hundreds of thousands of Canadians have told us in recent weeks. Having seen the carnage at Parks Canada, Library and Archives Canada and now the Canadian Museum of Civilization, thousands of citizens have signed and are continuing to sign an on-line petition stating that they are fed up with the interference in and rewriting of history.

We are calling on the government to restore funding and stop interfering in federal organizations responsible for preserving and protecting our history. That was their responsibility long before the Conservatives took an interest in the matter.

This evening, we are asking the Conservatives to show that they care about history. They should prove that they are passionate about the past by not interfering with the work of historians and various experts who contribute to our understanding of history. Above all, they must stop gutting the public institutions that promote and preserve our history.

I would like to conclude by moving the following motion:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: “the House decline to give second reading to Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Museums Act in order to establish the Canadian Museum of History and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, because it:

(a) represents the government’s interference in Canadian history and its attacks on research and the federal institutions that preserve and promote history such as Library and Archives Canada and Parks Canada…”

March 24th, 2013 • Posted in On Politics

Who Cares about what’s happening at Library and Archives Canada?

I’ve written on this topic. Here’s another take on the situation:

“It’s not such a big deal that Library and Archives Canada has had it’s budget cut by 20% – every government department is getting hammered. We’ve got  a deficit to get rid of here. We’ve all got to tighten our belts.  And besides, who cares about LAC? Nobody goes to the damned place anyway, save perhaps for a few academics, and old fogies tracing their family histories.

All they’ve got in there anyway is a bunch of dusty old documents that nobody gives a shit about. It’s a good thing they’re focusing on digitization. This way more of us can have a look at what they do have in there that’s of some interest (which isn’t much), and we can do this  – access Canadian history – from the comfort of our living rooms;  far better than having to travel all the way to Ottawa to see these things. And besides, on that topic, Ottawa has way too much as it is -  they should spread some of those museums out across the country a bit.

Speaking of which, I should say that this new History Museum is a great idea – it’ll make our past interesting again – more exciting – more understandable to all Canadians.

And as for the new Code of Conduct for Library and Archives Canada employees – what’s wrong with them having to agree not to crap on their employer? If they don’t like the direction the organization is taking, they can quit – there are plenty of smart young librarians who’d be more than happy to take their place.”

November 13th, 2012 • Posted in On Politics

Priorities: War or remembering how terrible it is

After racing over to my local Chapters Bookstore to pick up a copy of Linda Spalding’s The Purchasewinner of the 2012 GG Award for Best English Fiction (announced this morning) – I happened to glance across the street to see

a considerable amount of construction

taking place on ground surrounding Canada’s Security Intelligence Service agency.

Hard not to take this image,

and set it up against this favourite:

of Library and Archives Canada.

It’s a question of priorities. And while I’m all for  surveillance capabilities adequate to the country’s need to deter and eliminate enemy/terrorist activities within our jurisdiction, and weaponry sufficient to defend ourselves – surely, a small fraction of this evident, significant expenditure could have been peeled off beforehand and put toward something equally as important: funding sufficient enough to allow Library and Archives Canada to fulfill its mandated responsibilities?

November 9th, 2012 • Posted in On Politics

Patriotism, stupidity, greed and Remembrance Day

I usually feel conflicted on Remembrance Day – which I suppose is natural, given that it’s about war.

On the one hand it’s hard not to empathize with those who have lost loved ones. On the other, given that war is so often about greed and stupidity (the greed of arms manufacturers, the stupidity of leaders tasked with diplomacy) not principle, it’s hard not to get angry. Yes, the Second World War had to be fought – otherwise the hell of Hitler would have imprisoned us all – but so many wars are not necessary. So many are needless, inconsequential and futile -  with only the rich military industrial complex benefitting.

Lives are too often lost in the name of patriotism and freedom when they don’t have to be.

Here’s Wilfred Owen:


On Seeing a Piece of our Heavy Artillery Brought into Action

Be slowly lifted up, thou long black arm,
Great Gun towering towards Heaven, about to curse;
Sway steep against them, and for years rehearse
Huge imprecations like a blasting charm!
Reach at that Arrogance which needs thy harm,
And beat it down before its sins grow worse.
Spend our resentment, cannon,-yea, disburse
Our gold in shapes of flame, our breaths in storm.
Yet, for men’s sakes whom thy vast malison
Must wither innocent of enmity,
Be not withdrawn, dark arm, the spoilure done,
Safe to the bosom of our prosperity.
But when thy spell be cast complete and whole,
May God curse thee, and cut thee from our soul!


For information about touring the Western Front, click here.

October 16th, 2012 • Posted in On Politics

Where is Library and Archives Canada with this New Museum of Canadian History?

This is good news. Minister James Moore

and the ‘Harper’ government are to be congratulated. First, for doing away with the Museum of Civilization – one that has always struck me as having too much building and not enough significant stuff to fill it with, save perhaps for a rather odd multicultural hodge-podge of Himalayan masks, royal baubles, wooden birds, beads, pots, pans, viking Helmuts (or helmets, take your pick), mummies, knick-knacks, quirky memorabilia (and, okay, the dead sea scrolls); and second, for changing its name and re-focusing its buckshot mandate. This is all good: acknowledgment, in a real way, of the importance of history.

At the press conference this morning, the first, inevitable question had to do with propaganda. Will this new entity simply serve as another arm with which the government can wave its agenda?

My sense is: not necessarily…that’s what the Canadian War Museum is for. Sure, Tory-friendly events, or Prime Ministers, might get spotlighted at the expense of others for a few years, but this will surely change when the next stripe gets into power. No. The fact that there is now an institution dedicated to the telling and ‘bringing to life’ of history is a very good thing.

The more serious question however – one that gets to the essence of history itself -  is, how what passes as history gets into the museum, who determines it, and what role will Library and Archives Canada play in all of this.

If you’ve been following this blog you’ll know that history, here, means: that which is proven, and traceable to source documents – material that has been written and/or recorded (officially and otherwise), and acquired and/or preserved for posterity.

No source documents were on display this morning at the press conference. A hockey sweater, yes; a guitar, a watch, a painting

a cigar box,

a van even,

but no source documents – no intellectual history. Sure, Maurice Richard and Rush will sell much better than a dusty old Constitution or book; yes, packaging history to make it popular is essential – but let it be  based on the serious research of original sources. Will the new museum provide display space for what’s really important, or will it just be filled with baubles and trinkets, albeit historical Canadian ones this time round? We’ll just have to




October 15th, 2012 • Posted in On Politics

The Impact of limiting access to Canadian Culture and History

Here’s Lisa Fitzgibbons, Executive Director of the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC), explaining why funding of Library and Archives Canada should not be cut.

Canada is a pioneer in the field of documentary film making. As the DOC website tells us: “The world’s first documentary, Nanook of the North, was made in 1922 near Inukjuak, Quebec. The term “documentary” was coined a few years later by John Grierson, who launched the National Film Board of Canada in 1939…As Jazz is to America, so Documentary is to Canada”

Documentary films represent an important medium through which Canadians learn about themselves, their country and the world. Limiting access to the documentation of Canada’s past makes the telling of stories told by such films more difficult; more difficulty means fewer films. Fewer films means smaller picture; smaller vision; smaller country. For democracy to work, we need lots of voices heard. So, yes, a smaller, less accessible Library and Archives Canada, means a poorer, less democratic Canada.

June 19th, 2012 • Posted in On Politics

Library and Archives Canada, and majority Governments

Library and Archives Canada has a mandate to acquire and preserve the country’s documentary heritage, to make this heritage known to Canadians and other interested parties around the world, and to facilitate access to its collection of source materials. 

Myron Groover, an archivist at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre recently gave us Thirteen ways the Harper government’s planned cuts will swamp the mission of our heritage keepers. This article ably summarizes why these cuts are bad for Canada’s achival and document-user communities, but it doesn’t talk in simple terms about why they’re bad for the Canadian public. Few articles on these cuts do (although this one is very good).  So, why are they harmful to Canadians? Why in fact is history so important?

I plan to write about this at greater length in the coming months, but for now, one answer is that history – and its source documents – helps us to understand present trends, and to avoid past mistakes. It provides a giant source of data from which we can study and understand the human condition, and get a handle on how societies work and why they change. Knowledge of history also makes for good citizens. It gives us answers to how and why national institutions emerge, what values are important and worth fighting for, and how changes to these institutions and values can affect our lives.  Studying  and knowing about history, encourages responsible public behavior, creates informed voters, and enables us to compare and evaluate present leaders.

If, for example, more Canadians had known that minority governments have over the years in many cases  been the most productive in Canadian history (Pearson’s  minority introduced universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the Order of Canada and the Maple Leaf), perhaps fewer of them would have listened to the bullshit Stephen Harper came up with during the last election about the need for a majority government in order to get anything done. 

Perhaps, if more had known that majority government in Canada is in many ways the same as a dictatorship, and that it fosters disdain for the institution of Parliament specifically, and the public sector in general, Library and Archives Canada wouldn’t be in the soup it’s in today.

Perhaps…or maybe, despite all of what’s just here been said,  the reason LAC is not currently fulfilling its mandate is due simply to poor management.


April 10th, 2012 • Posted in On Politics

Canada’s National Librarian: “We’re not in the museum business…”

Here are a few lines from notes delivered by Daniel J. Caron, Librarian and Archivist, Library and Archives Canada  to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, December 6, 2012:

“Nowadays, the privileged place of consultation for Canadians to access their documentary heritage is less and less a physical place like a library or an archive. If there remains a place of consultation, these are found among other connected places and become more and more places of animation and interpretation. For more and more Canadians, it is on the web that they expect to find their documentary heritage.”

“I would also like to stress that we are moving further away from the concept of a traditional institution, one that would serve as a stand-alone monolithic entity solely responsible for providing Canadians with access to documentary heritage.”

Ms. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet (Hochelaga, NDP):

…you talked about the transition to the digital age… Mr. Caron. A good part of your presentation covered that topic. I studied archeology. I am an archeologist. I have to admit that I am very concerned about the material culture itself…Your acquisition budget has decreased considerably. In 2009, if I am not mistaken, your acquisition budget was $1 million. In 2011, it is $300,000 or $400,000. First, why is that? Second, do you not think, with all the events planned that will culminate in the 150th anniversary of Canada, the budget reduction may make it difficult to acquire important documents?

Mr. Daniel J. Caron:

    Our acquisition budgets are fairly stable. I should probably explain how our acquisition budgets work. Yes, there is cash involved. That’s probably what you are talking about. However, there is also a lot of material we pay for using tax receipts. That represents perhaps $5 million, $6 million or $7 million a year, I think. This method of payment is used for most of our acquisitions.

“You need to understand that acquisitions are made through digital media more and more. That means that the budget you are talking about does not cover the efforts invested into developing a trusted digital repository. That repository is increasingly becoming the way we acquire our government documents, which account for 80% of our business. We are in charge of managing government documents. Most of our efforts go into that. We are developing a trusted digital repository that will also apply to legal deposit.”
“As for your concerns, I would like to say that we are currently developing a completely innovative method I call the “whole of society approach.” It is being developed with historians, anthropologists, archivists and librarians to try to have the best possible representation of documents produced in Canadian society.
It is completely different. We are used to archives and libraries that receive documents through editors and so on, but all that’s finished. That world is still somewhat existent, and we are still a part of it as well, but that is not the direction in which society is currently headed. Everything is being produced digitally, so we need to move forward and change our approaches if we want to be able to build our archives of the future.”
Ms. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet:

” I was referring more to old documents. So the acquisition of old documents could be negatively affected.”

Mr. Daniel J. Caron:
“No. There are indeed fewer old documents than before. Therefore, we are monitoring the situation and watching for any developments. I have been with Library and Archives Canada for eight years. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we lose. Documents are often sold by auction. I remember certain documents—such as Captain Skelly’s diary—we were unable to acquire because private sector bidders could offer more money for them.
We are talking about a market, and a tremendous number of documents are involved. So we monitor the situation and get involved in areas we think are important. We continue to do so in the same way as in the past.”
Mr. Paul Calandra (Oak Ridges—Markham, CPC):
“…there are a lot of little local museums that have tremendous archival information that in some instances probably isn’t being protected very well.”
Mr. Daniel J. Caron:
“Well, we’re not in the museum business…”

There are to my mind three important tasks facing Library and Archives Canada: to digitize important original documents so that the masses can access them online; to develop a strategy to capture representative documentation of  the  explosion of  digital creativity and activity currently taking place in Canada while at the same time ensuring that source materials continue to be acquired and preserved; and to display in context and make accessible these source materials so that Canadians can see, experience and learn from them in person. This last task is the most important, and gets no mention at all by Mr. Caron. In fact…

“We’re not in the museum business…”?

What a thoroughly misguided statement. A National Library isn’t supposed to spend all its time scanning things for Christ’s sake. It’s supposed to focus on pedagogy. On studying, understanding, curating and presenting material culture. Scanning is clerical work. Set up some technical agency, Scan Canada, or better yet – if this is what Mr. Harper wants – farm it out to the private sector, let them deal with this menial task, and leave librarians and archivists do what they were trained to do.


April 8th, 2012 • Posted in On Politics

Canada’s Dominion Archivist issues warning: Whither Canadian Civilization?

These words

“Of all national assets, archives are the most precious; they are the gift of one generation to another and the extent of our care of them marks the extent of our civilization.”

(It’s a good thing they’re written in stone, if they’d been digitized someone could well have erased them)

are found at the base of this statue tucked in behind Canada’s Library & Archives Canada building. They were written by Sir Arthur G. Doughty, Dominion Archivist, Canada, 1904-1935

April 1st, 2012 • Posted in On Politics

Harper Government capitulates, doubles National Library budget

Photo: Remy Steinegger

(Ottawa) As a result of a recent series of articles posted on the Literary Tourist website, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has agreed to reverse cuts at Library and Archive Canada announced in his government’s recent Budget, and increase  annual expenditures from $100 million to $200 million.

Specifically, this new money will go toward renting expansive new exhibition spaces in each of Canada’s ten most populous cities, to be filled year-round with displays from the LAC collections, featuring unique books, documents, prints and other related source materials highlighting events and periods in Canadian history. These, said Harper in a brief statement, will help explain to all Canadians the ways in which their predecessors dealt with challenges and triumphs, many of which still resonate with us today.

“I was wrong to diminish the role of this important institution,” said Harper.  “This is bigger than politics. If we are to grow as a nation, and nourish the lives of Canadians, we must celebrate and learn from past history, and from the works of those who used their imaginations to help envision a new, better more livable Canada.“

Harper also acknowledged that while his government’s efforts to achieve success in international sporting events may have resulted in welcome surges in national morale and pride, equal emphasis on the Arts , while not necessarily as politically expedient or immediate, can and will also contribute significantly to a healthier, happier Canada.

(April Fool’s, unfortunately).