Blog Posts

As part of the impetus behind this conference to research and think through the work of CanLit (and related) institutions today, some of our research assistants and graduate students are writing short articles for our website on issues of interest to them, the conference, and the local area.

“Diversifying the Archive: The LAC’s Multicultural Mandate”

By Patricia Magazoni-Gonçalves (University of Ottawa)

In 2004, the National Archives and the National Library merged to create Library and Archives Canada (LAC), a federal institution of knowledge dedicated to acquiring, organizing, preserving and making Canada’s documentary heritage accessible to all Canadians. Combining material from the former two institutions, the LAC currently provides access to various publications about Canada, including written material such as books, periodicals, newspapers, government documents, and manuscript collections of individuals and institutions of national relevance; visual artifacts such as photographs, prints, drawings, portraits, and maps; and collections of broadcast and published audio, video and film. As a national heritage institution, the LAC plays an important role in maintaining Canada’s documentary history for present and future generations as well as collaborating with other professionals and organizations that work in the acquisition and dissemination of archival material across Canada. Serving as the “continuing memory” of the government and a “source of enduring knowledge accessible to all,” the LAC also controls long-term custody and access to state records that, assembled over the past 140 years, help record “the cultural, social and economic advancement of Canada as a free and democratic society” (“Creating a New Kind of Knowledge Institution: Directions for Library and Archives Canada” 2).

Since its foundation, the LAC has tried to increase racial and ethnic representation in the archives. For example, to help document the history of multicultural communities, and act as a champion for multiculturalism, the LAC created the Multicultural Initiatives office. To facilitate a better understanding of the needs of cultural groups and help develop more diverse programs within the LAC, between 2004 and 2006 the Multicultural Initiatives office led a series of community consultations with members of select ethnic and racial communities as well as librarians and archival services providers working with multiethnic collections. In an effort to include different regions of Canada and consider the perspectives of newcomers and well-established immigrants alike, these consultations consisted of email, telephone and in-person interviews with members of the South Asian and Chinese communities in Vancouver, the Somali and Italian communities in Ottawa, and the Haitian and Black Anglophone communities in Montreal. Concluding that people of colour and ethnic groups have little interest in using or contributing to national archives in Canada, or at least not to the extent that the LAC would desire, this project called for the implementation of long-term strategies and resources to assist communities in selecting and preserving material that is “reflective of them” and a testament of “their contributions to Canada” (“Community Consultations: Report of Activities and Outcomes” 5).

Although the LAC refuses a “one-size fits all” program and recognizes that different communities have distinct needs and priorities, the Community Consultations Report adopts an institutionalized view of difference that tries to assimilate ethnic and racial groups into a diverse yet cohesive body. Analyzing the limitations of the LAC’s multicultural initiative, Karina Vernon argues that the Community Consultations project overlooks internal diversity to portray ethnic and racialized communities as “manageable difference” to be “slotted neatly into a mosaic type of multicultural model” (195). By focusing on key archival material that reflects these communities’ contributions to Canada and the pluralization of Canadian identity, moreover, the Community Consultations program reduces the histories and experiences of foreign communities in Canada. For example, in her analysis of archival material related to Japanese immigrants, Laura Madokoro concludes that while the LAC keeps relevant documentation of the 1914 voyage of the Komagata Maru and its failed attempt to enter Canada as well as records of the Japanese internment and movement of redress, “there is more to the history of [immigrant] communities in Canada than their relationships with the federal government’s exclusionary legislation” (156). Thus, Madokoro calls for a rethinking of acquisition and preservation practices that, rather than asking communities to contribute to “one national narrative into which various groups can try to integrate,” moves beyond the “token of multiculturalism” to acknowledge the existence of complex and multiple narratives (156).

The Multicultural Resources and Services webpage has been inactive since 2009, most likely as a result of increasing budget cuts. Yet, the LAC’s discourse of democratization and inclusiveness, shaped first by the Cold War and later by the Multiculturalism Act, has now taken a neoliberal turn in this institution’s attempt to conceive knowledge as a democratic and civic right. For example, in the past years, the LAC has adopted a modernizing strategy to move the collection online and develop resources and technology that offer quick, easy and affordable access to clients “anywhere, anytime” (“Digital Strategy 2015 and Beyond: Library and Archives Canada” 2). However, critics have questioned the LAC’s digitization rhetoric, arguing that these digital promises are selective and reflect government priorities as opposed to the needs of Canadians. For Mary Kandiuk, the LAC’s modernization tactic serves as a “smokescreen” for increasing and unprecedented budget cuts that, since the election of a majority Conservative government in 2011, has replaced “labour-intensive and in-person approaches” and eliminated programs dedicated to local and community-based archival material such as the National Archival Development Program (170). According to James Turk, the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), the union that led the Save Library and Archives Canada campaign in 2011, the LAC’s attempt to make heritage documents available online is unrealistic and “disingenuous,” as by 2012 only two per cent of the Library’s estimated 1-billion documents had been digitized (quoted in Bruno 1). Ironically, the move toward digitization also undermines the LAC’s commitment to making knowledge available to all Canadians, as this decision excludes users and communities that do not have access to digital information and technology resources, including indigenous and the ethnic groups that the LAC tried to include as part of its multicultural mandate. Under a neoliberal discourse of democratization of knowledge and access to information, the LAC’s modernizing strategy responds to political and economic goals that ultimately undermine its original commitment to serve as a national institution of knowledge accessible to all.

In its efforts to increase representation in the archives, the LAC has selected ethnic histories and experiences that fit Canada’s narrative of a multicultural and inclusive nation. Because the archival marginalization of ethnic and racial groups belies the fantasy of multiculturalism and “state-legislated multicultural policies,” the LAC tries to “institutionalize and represent difference” so that “the racialized silences” are filled and the national archive, like the nation, “gains a ‘multicultural’ identity” (Vernon 197). Yet, this brief analysis of the LAC’s multicultural mandate and digitization strategy has more to offer than a negative (and somewhat commonplace) critique of official multiculturalism. As the Community Consultations project implies, instead of denying the legitimacy of archival practices and refusing to record their histories, racialized and ethnic groups have chosen to act outside state structures in ways that allow them to actively shape their own archives and write their own narratives at a local level. For Vernon, this deliberate absence from official archives and narratives requires that we “read [these] ‘gaps,’ ‘silences,’ and ‘void regions’” not in terms of “disenfranchisement, exclusion, or victimage,” but rather as signs of self-empowerment and “active resistance against the fantasy of the total Multicultural Archive” (203). More importantly, this refusal to contribute to institutional memory invites a rethinking of the nature and purposes of the national archive in ways that allow us to start moving toward a “re-fusing” of collective memory and history.


Works Cited

Bruno, Jessica. “Library and Archives Canada Laments Deterioration of Heritage Record Keeping.” The Hill Times, 18 June 2012, issue 1142, p. 1.

Kandiuk, Mary. “The Rhetoric of Digitization and the Politicization of Canadian Heritage.” Library Trends, vol. 65, no. 2, 2016, pp. 165-179.

Library and Archives Canada. “Creating a New Kind of Knowledge Institution: Directions for Library and Archives Canada.” June 2004. Web 9 April 2019.

—. “Community Consultations: Report on Activities and Outcomes.” August 2006. Web 9 April 2019.

Madokoro, Laura. “From Settler Colonialism to the Age of Migration: Archives and the Renewal of Democracy in Canada.” Archivaria: The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists, vol. 78, 2014, pp. 153-160.

Vernon, Karina. “Invisibility Exhibit: The Limits of Library and Archives Canada’s ‘Multicultural Mandate.’” Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace: Explorations in Canadian Women’s Archives, edited by Linda M. Morra and Jessica Schagerl. Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2012.


A Voice of English-Montreal: The First Twenty Years of Véhicule Press, 1973–1993

By Amy Hemond (McGill University)

The year 2018 marked the forty-fifth anniversary of Véhicule Press. Few Canadian publishing houses can boast as fascinating a history as this Montreal-based small press. It began in 1973 as an experimental commercial printing operation in the back room of a gallery, Véhicule Art Inc.—the second artist-run gallery in all of Canada and the first in Quebec—and has since become a respected publishing house and cultural icon in Montreal (“About Us”). Véhicule Press’s importance stems from its involvement with and focus on its local community. Since its founding, the small press’s mission has been to promote and publish books on subjects that are important to both Quebec and Canada, and its most critical achievements have been its books by and about the English-speaking community of Quebec that have been adapted for an international readership.

Over the last forty-five years, Véhicule Press has published more than four hundred different titles, many of which are the works of well-known figures of Canadian literature, from Earle Birney to Louis Dudek and David Solway, among many others. Violent Duality: A Study of Margaret Atwood by Sherrill Grace, published by Véhicule Press in 1980, was the first mid-career book-length analysis of the celebrated author. The first major critical work on Michael Ondaatje, an anthology called Spider Blues by Sam Solecki, was also published at Véhicule. Michael Harris, Linda Leith, Andrew Steinmetz, Carmine Starnino, Dimitri Nasrallah, and Brian Busby have worked under its wing as editors. Today, Véhicule Press operates out of the bottom floor offices of a Victorian limestone building in the Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood of Montreal, where its publishers and general managers, Simon Dardick and his wife Nancy Marrelli, also live. Under their direction and the efforts of various editors working from remote locations across the country, Véhicule Press publishes award-winning books of poetry, fiction, essays, and social history, several of which are French-English translations (“About Us”).

This fascinating small press is the subject of my M.A. thesis, submitted to McGill University in the spring of 2019. Titled A Voice of English-Montreal: The First Twenty Years of Véhicule Press, 1973–1993, the thesis seeks to address a gap in scholarship about the press as well as other vital cultural moments in Montreal publishing history. In 1993, Ken Norris wrote in the introduction to Vehicule Days: An Unorthodox History of Montreal’s Vehicule Poets that he hoped he would “see discrete studies of both Véhicule Art and Véhicule Press in the not-so-distant future” to complement his own exploration of the history of the group of poets who were some of Véhicule Press’s first authors (“Introduction” 8). At the time, he did not know that Diana Nemiroff had already written a history of Véhicule Art Inc. in her 1985 master’s thesis submitted to Concordia University. Yet, a history of Véhicule Press, the most prominent and enduring of the three, had never been completed—not then, nor in the almost three decades since Norris’s book was published. In recognition and celebration of Véhicule Press’s many achievements and contributions to Montreal society, my thesis, a history of the first twenty years of the small press, intends to redress this lack.

Luckily for me, Véhicule Press, like a few other book publishing houses (including the Macmillan Company of Canada, McClelland and Stewart Ltd., and Couch House Press) stores its archives at a Canadian university. The Véhicule Press fonds and the Véhicule Art (Montreal) Inc. fonds are both stored in Special Collections at Concordia University’s Loyola Campus in Montreal. By consulting the fonds, I was able to piece together the major events and changes that contributed to Véhicule Press’s evolution over its first two decades. As I dug deeper into the fonds, I came to realize that Véhicule Press, both historically and still today, is a cultural institution that has made a sustained effort to showcase the province’s diverse communities and rich history. Véhicule Press not only published the work of English-language writers in Quebec—a minority community lodged within a larger minority community—but also encouraged connection and mutual understanding among Montreal’s multilingual and multiethnic communities by issuing works in translation. What also became evident through my research were the many programs and organizations, such as the Canada Council, which supported Véhicule Press through the years and enabled it to make a difference to the English-language community of Montreal.

Aside from the archives, a number of important scholarship on book and publishing history informed my research, including but not limited to The Perilous Trade: Publishing Canada’s Writers by Roy MacSkimming, volume three of The History of the Book in Canada edited by Carole Gerson and Jacques Michon, Writing in the Time of Nationalism: From Two Solitudes to Blue Metropolis by Linda Leith, and Lasting Impressions: A Short History of English Publishing in Quebec by Bruce Whiteman. Each of these previous publications served to demonstrate how the history of Véhicule Press fits into a wider context, and how it succeeded in extending a tradition of literary publishing in Montreal that began in the mid-nineteenth century.

During its first twenty years, Véhicule Press underwent three distinct stages of development. The first stage runs from 1972 until 1976, when the press, incorporated as Coopérative d’Imprimerie Véhicule, came into being as a print shop informally housed inside the gallery Véhicule Art Inc. Its connection to the gallery gave Véhicule Press extensive roots in the local Montreal arts community and instilled in it an appreciation for cultural education, community accessibility, and inclusivity, which would later influence its ethos and management style as a publishing house. It was also during this time that the press sought Local Initiatives Program funding, which allowed it to publish its first experimental books and establish an imprint. It was a promising beginning for Véhicule Press

From 1976 until 1981, Véhicule Press entered a transitional stage, during which its surrounding environment underwent a series of sudden changes, which forced the press to re-evaluate both its identity and its place in society. During this period, Véhicule Press developed a distinctive publishing program dominated by poetry, especially works written by a group later known as the Vehicule Poets. The new program fueled the company’s growth, so that the expansion of the press, alongside its qualification for the Canada Council Block Grant Program, contrasted starkly with two other coinciding events: the failing of the gallery Véhicule Art Inc. and the migration of English speakers out of Quebec for political reasons. Despite these circumstances, Véhicule Press decided to keep moving forward and to continue promoting the English-Quebec community.

Following this period of relative instability and uncertainty, Véhicule Press finally found its ground, and, from 1981 to 1993, it redefined its goals, strengthened its ties to Montreal, and grew into the company that still exists today. These years marked the first under Simon Dardick and Nancy Marrelli’s sole leadership. As they took on greater responsibility as publishers and editors, they also secured further government funding which enabled them to launch new initiatives, genres, and series to better reflect the changing English-Quebec landscape. These included, among other developments, a new poetry imprint, Signal Editions, and works of nonfiction and translation. Meanwhile, it became increasingly evident that federal government policy was, and remains, indispensable to Canadian publishing, as even small reductions or increases in funding had drastic effects on Véhicule Press during these years.

The deeper I waded into the small press’s history, its archives, and the surrounding scholarship, the clearer it became that Véhicule Press exhibited loyalty, resilience, and adaptability throughout its first twenty years. Many obstacles stood in its path, including changing political landscapes, lack of adequate equipment and space, editorial differences, and financial setbacks and uncertainty. Despite these challenges, the press’s directors possessed the drive and creativity to keep publishing books that reflect on and record critical cultural milestones and movements in Quebec history. Their works serve as a bridge between the different cultures and languages in Montreal and represent the voice of the often overlooked English-speaking minority that inhabits the predominantly French-speaking province. That is why, in 2019, only one year after Véhicule Press’s forty-fifth anniversary, there is even more reason to celebrate this beacon of the English-Montreal community.

Works Cited

“About Us.” Véhicule Press, 1996-2018,

Grace, Sherrill. Violent Duality: A Study of Margaret Atwood. Montreal: Véhicule Press, 1980.

History of the Book in Canada, Vol 3: 1918–1980. Ed. Carole Gerson and Jacques Michon. Toronto; Buffalo; London: University of Toronto Press, 2007, pp. 34–44.

Leith, Linda. Writing in the Time of Nationalism: From Two Solitudes to Blue Metropolis. Winnipeg: Signature Editions, 2010.

MacSkimming, Roy. The Perilous Trade: Publishing Canada’s Writers. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2003.

Nemiroff, Diana. A History of Artist-Run Spaces in Canada, with Particular Reference to Véhicule, A Space and the Western Front. M.A. Thesis, Concordia University, 1985.

Norris, Ken. “Introduction.” Vehicule Days: An Unorthodox History of Montreal’s Vehicule Poets, ed. Ken Norris. Montreal: Nuage Editions, 1993, pp. 7–10.

Solecki, Sam. Spider Blues: Essays on Michael Ondaatje. Montreal: Véhicule Press, 1985.

Whiteman, Bruce. Lasting Impressions: A Short History of English Publishing in Quebec. Montreal: Véhicule Press, 1994

The State of/in Academia: The Role of the International Council for Canadian Studies

By Patricia Magazoni-Gonçalves (University of Ottawa)

The 2019 edition of the Canadian Literature Symposium invites scholars, authors and publishers to analyze the ways through which “public and private, mainstream and marginal” institutions have shaped the literary in Canada. While literary and academic debates about ethnicity, racial inequality, misogyny and colonialism give us a sense that CanLit is currently “in ruins,” this conference asks for a sustained and historically focused assessment of the major institutional bases of the field that might allow for the “re-fusing” of Canadian Literature as a discipline. By inviting a conversation about the institutional frameworks and constraints that have informed CanLit, therefore, “Institutional Work” will shed new light on the nature of literary production and reception in Canada. But what happens when the study of CanLit moves outside Canadian borders and is incorporated into the broader umbrella of “Canadian Studies”? What research avenues and incentives are available for foreign scholars working on Canadian Studies? What official versions of CanLit or, more generally, of the Canadian nation have informed foreign research about Canada?

This short article will examine the role of the International Council for Canadian Studies (ICCS) in promoting Canadian literature and culture abroad. Established in 1981, the ICCS, with the financial backing of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of the Government of Canada, is composed of 23 member associations and 5 associate members from thirty-nine countries (see more here). The idea of an international council committed to supporting research, education and publication related to Canada was first carried out after a conference on Canadian Studies that took place in Halifax and was organized by the Association of Canadian Studies (ACS) in conjunction with the Annual General Meeting of the Learned Societies. Particularly relevant in the consolidation of the ICCS was the publication in 1975 of To Know Ourselves, or the Symons Report, which provided detailed analyses and recommendations on how to promote Canadian Studies abroad. Arguing that foreign academic research on Canadian affairs was “rarely coordinated in comprehensive programs” and often failed to recognize Canada as a distinct nation, considering it merely as part of a North American, Commonwealth or Francophone community, the report called for the creation and implementation of federal policies to improve Canada’s cultural relations with other countries (quoted in Brooks 11-12). As Serge Jaumain demonstrates in his survey of the ICCS, by inviting government intervention in cultural affairs, the Symons Report not only helped institutionalize Canadian Studies overseas, turning CanLit into one of its many disciplines, but also added cultural diplomacy to the “three pillars of Canada’s international policy (along with trade and defence)” (Jaumain 17). As a result, the Canadian state would play a more active role in defining and marketing Canadian culture and identity abroad.

Since its foundation, the ICCS has helped regulate, subsidize and publicize foreign research about Canada in different academic disciplines. For instance, in addition to funding international conferences, the ICCS manages the International Journal of Canadian Studies, published through the University of Toronto Press. To encourage emerging scholarship on Canadian Studies, the council also offers Graduate Student Scholarships for Master’s and PhD candidates to spend up to six weeks at a Canadian university conducting research related to their thesis or dissertation, as well as Postdoctoral Fellowships for Canadian or foreign academics who have recently completed a doctoral thesis to visit a Canadian or non-Canadian university under a teaching or research fellowship. In its commitment to facilitate exchanges among Canadianists and recognize outstanding research outside of Canada, the ICCS issues awards such as the Governor General’s International Award for Canadian Studies, which is designed for established scholars who have contributed to the development of Canadian Studies internationally; the Pierre Savard Awards, which recognizes works written by members of the international community whether in English, French or a different foreign language; and the Brian Long Best Doctoral Thesis in Canadian Studies. In sum, the ICCS has provided various avenues and incentives to promote scholarly activities on Canadian Studies, support the creation of an international community of Canadianists and disseminate research about Canada around the world.

Much has been discussed about the risks and benefits of the ICCS’s partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. For Jaumain, the council’s close relationship with the Canadian government reflects a “confluence of interests” that is born from “a frank and ongoing dialogue” and respectful of the academic freedom of its members regardless of “any political consideration” (48). For Stephen Brooks, however, government intervention in cultural and academic programs such as those sponsored by the International Council represents a form of cultural diplomacy in which the promotion of national culture and values serves to further statist interests in other countries (3). Leading these discussions about the overlapping of culture and Canadian foreign policy in the 1990s, Donna Palmateer Pennee argues that the reification of national culture and identity in the context of globalization speaks to a broader effort to assert Canada’s participation in a global market economy. From Pennee’s perspective, culture becomes not only a matter of “strategic nationalism” in a “so-called borderless world” (196), but also an element of economic competitiveness according to which the improvement of trade opportunities is directly connected to the marketing of Canadian values overseas. For Pennee, the imbrication of culture, economics and international policy is most noticeable in the fact that Canadian Studies programs are geopolitically located “in relation to global capital’s search for new markets” (202).

Considering Brooks’s and Pennee’s ideas, thus, it is not surprising that ICCS’s administrative documents have adopted the rhetoric of state-centered narratives about Canadian identity to promote Canada as an inclusive, tolerant, progressive and diverse nation. Most often, the subsidizing of Canadian Studies abroad is associated with the idea that “upholding Canadian values” through foreign research will enhance “Canada’s reputation in the international stage” (2010-2011 Annual Report); that celebrating the “richness and diversity” of Canada’s heritage is key to “understanding the present and navigating the future” (2014 Annual Report); and that sharing Canadian principles through teaching and research will help build “a smarter, more caring world” (2015 Annual Report). Assuming that a homogenous Canadian identity is taught and read alike in different nations, these reports ignore how foreign scholarship on Canadian Studies could generate new routes of enquiry in the academic milieu and new orientations for cultural and foreign policy in Canada.

In 2012, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade terminated the Understanding Canada program, initially designed to sponsor foreign academics conducting research on Canadian Studies, and reduced the funds and geographical scope of international scholarships. Ever since, centres for Canadian Studies across the world have struggled to overcome the negative effects of this decision and regain financial stability. The fact that these incentives ended during a Conservative government that prioritized Canada’s military history over cultural diplomacy and academic research undermines Jaumain’s claims that the partnership between the ICCS and the government preserves the academic freedom of members regardless of “any political consideration.” Most importantly, this brief analysis of the International Council demonstrates that the overlapping of government policies and academia has turned culture into a set of political values to be exported and sold around the world. With regard to this conference’s theme, the assimilation of cultural affairs into an institutional rhetoric that promotes Canada’s commitment to tolerance, diversity and social justice obscures asymmetrical relations of power within Canada and the ongoing colonialism, systemic racism and sexism that recent debates about the “dumpster fire” of CanLit have brought to surface.

Works Cited

Brooks, Stephen. Promoting Canadian Studies Abroad: Soft Power and Cultural Diplomacy. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

Jaumain, Serge. The Canadianists: The ICCS, 25 Years in the Service of Canadian Studies. International Council for Canadian Studies/Conseil international d’études canadiennes, 2006.

International Council for Canadian Studies. 2010-2011 Annual Report, 2011. Web 13 March 2019.

International Council for Canadian Studies. 2014 Annual Report, 2014. Web 13 March 2019.

International Council for Canadian Studies. 2015 Annual Report, 2015. Web 13 March 2019.

Pennee, Donna Palmateer. “Culture as Security: Canadian Foreign Policy and International Relations from the Cold War to the Market Wars.” International Journal of Canadian Studies / Revue internationale d’études canadiennes, vol. 20, 1999, pp. 191-213.



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