Canada: True North Strong and Heritageless.

Librarians and archivists circa 2075, picking through of what is left of Canada's bleak information landscape.

Librarians and archivists circa 2075, picking through what is left of Canada’s bleak information landscape.

Ugh, I weep for my country. Read this article from the Toronto Star:

Historical letters not wanted at Library and Archives Canada, critics say

And then read this useful response/call to arms from a smart archivist, Anna St. Onge, who I used to work with at York:

‘Saving’ Library Archives Canada: advocacy, speaking out, calling foul

And if you have some time, you can review this utterly depressing, albeit meticulous  list from the Ex Libris Association, documenting the service decline at Library & Archives Canada since 2004:


I have no idea what to do with these sorts of issues – ones that feel  too great for me to ever hope to change. I’v always struggled to feel passionately about issues at the federal level, not because I can’t see their applicability and importance (I can), but because navigating these issues, understanding how political decisions are made, crafting a smart-sounding letter, or knowing which groups are best to reach out to… seems impossible. And this from a political science grad (who once did research at the National Archives in Ottawa)!

I sit in great envy of colleagues who are able to articulate these problems – and potential solutions – so eloquently. I suffer from one of the great illnesses of my generation: political apathy brought on be a deep-seated disillusionment with politicians. But there is a systematic dismantling of information and heritage in my country and it’s spurring me to act (in a  small but earnest way). I feel like it’s finally reaching a tipping point, and the constant overture in my mind – let’s worry about this during the next election – isn’t going to cut it anymore. Issues such as: 

Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield will not discuss the Experimental Lakes Area. When The Globe asked for an interview this week, his department replied: “We are respectfully declining your request.”

  •  Besides the dramatic cuts to Library and Archives Canada outlined in the Star article above, the latest controversy from our esteemed Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Daniel Caron – or is it our Honourable Minister of Heritage, James Moore? Or the PMO? I have no idea – surrounds an appalling Code of Conduct being forced upon LAC staff. And here is a clip of my MP, the aforementioned Andrew Cash rightly mocking the government for their fear of librarians. And looking quite dapper in the process. Also featured: James Moore throwing Daniel Caron under the bus. Not that I mind, but it just makes understanding this issue more opaque. Like everything the government does.
  • UPDATE: John Dupuis pointed me to another issue I’d missed: More major cuts to scientific research, this time by way of the cancellation of PEARL (Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Lab). Now obviously I do not know my spectrometers from my sphygmomanometers. But I’m pretty confident that in a country as dependant on natural resources, as vast and natural, and as filled with people who like thinking and learning about stuff as Canada is, that all these various cuts to scientific research are going to have sever and lasting effects on our ability to understand the world around us.
  • UPDATE: I am late to post this one, but a colleague passed along an article entitled “Peter Kent orders doomed advisory panel to turn over website files“, which outlines how Peter Kent (Environment Minister) told the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy that they were forbidden from transferring their government-funded research to a new website hosted by the University of Ottawa, as Ottawa brings their funding to an end. That is to say, the government is forbidding them from migrating their documents to a new website to ensure they remain accessible to the public after their organisation is brought to a close. Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen. 

Those are just the issues I can think of… I’m certain I’m missing things (Access to Information? Copyright?). Please feel free to bring them to my attention in the comments!!!!!

When I picture the Canada my (future) kids will inherit, I imagine a country with a really bleak record on national heritage. One where said kids may want to learn more about their Great-Nana’s service in Halifax and Great-Papa’s service overseas during the war, and can’t access those records. Given the genetic make-up of these made-up childrens’ father, I’m sure one of them will be a computer genius and want to create some cool hack site using government data on heath statistics and… not be able to find it. Or find that it isn’t available in a useful format. I imagine that the slow chipping away of research resources will have finally taken its toll on our world-class reputation for scholarship and scientific inquiry. Where groups who’ve been dealt an national injustice (think: Chinese head tax, Japanese internment, all manner of Aboriginal issues) don’t have the material proof to make their case against the government.

So my small but earnest action is to take Anna’s advice and craft a letter to my MP (A righteous chap named Andrew Cash who comprises the Official Opposition and does not support the above agenda) and to the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. I’m hoping to write something smart and informed-sounding, which I know will take awhile to pull together. Sounding smart doesn’t come easy to me on these issues, but I’ll share whatever prose of genius I come up with to the blog.

In the meantime, I’ll draw inspiration from some of the super-smart-sounding people and organisations in my profession. Anna, ever the archivist, provides a handy list of archive-y resources on her blog:

 Ahem, might I suggest for further reading: The advocacy work of the Association of Canadian Archivists , the ongoing work (despite a loss of funding) of the Canadian Council of Archives, the blogs of Canadian rabble-rousers BibliocracyAnglo-Celtic Connections, your local provincial or territorial archival association, and some archivists that talk about what we do in an accessible, well-worded manner such as ArchivesNext, the Deseronto Archives, the What the fonds? blog at the University of Manitoba Queen’s University’s Cabinet of Canadian Curiosities and many others (I can’t remember them all, perhaps I should make a list for purposes such as this).

To which I would add:

Any other good ones I should take a look at?


2 responses to “Canada: True North Strong and Heritageless.

  1. Great post, Meg! A suggestion sourced from a blog you link to — perhaps this will help frame your letter to Minister Moore?