Canada’s 150th anniversary, the linguistic duality, and Library and Archives Canada

Speech delivered by Daniel J. Caron, Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada, during his appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages, Ottawa, Ontario

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Good day, Mr. Chairman and honorable members of the committee.

Let me begin by saying thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here this morning in my capacity as Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada.

Today, my observations will echo the remarks I made last December before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, which discussed our preparations for the 2017 celebrations. Your interest in Canada’s 150th anniversary will allow me to expand on my previous insights. Library and Archives Canada considers linguistic duality to be a fundamental dimension of our heritage. As one of the pillars of our collective memory, I would also like to elaborate on how we will present a rich and vibrant reflection of this linguistic duality to Canadians through the activities planned for the 150th anniversary.

I know that this anniversary will be a monumental "memory event" in the history of our country, and an extraordinary opportunity to share and showcase our treasures. This is a clear expectation and certainly the most visible aspect of our contribution. However, immediately underneath the raw material expression of LAC’s role, is perhaps the institution’s most important contribution. Indeed, not only will we make sure that Canadians have access to documents and artifacts all across the country, but we will also ensure that this material will accurately reflect what Canada is made of, its social fabric if you will.

To paraphrase General Murray’s exchange in 1764 with the Lords of Trade vis-à-vis the necessity of having a court system made of judges that would have the capacity to function in the colony, we will have to make sure that the documents, portraits, books and maps are a relevant reflection of our culture in all of its multiple dimensions and contributions. This goes much beyond presenting translated versions - this will be about getting a proper assemblage of authentic artifacts reflecting our linguistic duality.

So, before giving you some details on how we will contribute and how we are currently preparing ourselves for Canada 150, let me just say that one fundamental attribute of this contribution will be to always question ourselves on the “what”. What are we going to include for Canadians through those various activities to ensure a fair reflection of this linguistic duality that is a key element of our social fabric. Yes, there will be activities in both French and English, but each will include that special dimension. 

In terms of the focus of our participation, I believe that LAC’s fundamental contribution to 2017 should revolve around greater access for all Canadians to the body of their documentary heritage, no matter where they live or the official language they speak. Providing the greatest possible access to Canada’s documentary heritage will be our contribution to the national celebration.

The implications of this are twofold.

First, and as I already mentioned, it means making our treasures accessible to Canadians.

Second, and of paramount importance to me, is to continue to build an institution that will be able to collect, with its partners, the most relevant representation of our documentary heritage. And of course, an important part of this representativeness is that our linguistic duality be reflected.

Given the remarkable shift of communications into digital formats over the last ten years, we are working diligently to ensure that we take advantage of the opportunities that advances in digital technology present. Indeed, optimal access is one of the driving forces behind our modernization process. And as you may know, some of these new technologies have often been a boon for institutions such as LAC that serve very diverse clienteles, including those that speak different languages.

For LAC, this means exciting opportunities that will allow us to build a collection that even more faithfully represents the Canada of 2012, 2013… 2017 and beyond.

With the Web, we will be able to capture a greater part, a better representation of what Canadians are saying on different topics. And regardless of the format of our bilingual documentary heritage, whether analog or digital, published or unpublished, we are striving to make sure that LAC is up to the challenge of collecting our citizens’ contributions to the various Canadian discourses of national significance.

More concretely, LAC is currently working on several fronts that will lead the organization to 2017 – an important year for both our country and our institution.

One critical component for LAC is the creation of multiple partnerships with organizations throughout the country.

Today, just a few blocks away from here, we are hosting our third Pan-Canadian Documentary Heritage Forum, bringing together representatives from Canadian universities, archives, libraries, and museums, provincial and territorial associations in order to explore opportunities for collaborative initiatives that will help us to better serve Canadians.

LAC is exploring partnerships with members of heritage communities in order to allow us to participate meaningfully in the celebration. Among other things, this will help contribute to promoting the vitality and sustainability of official language minority communities throughout the country.

Looking ahead to 2017, LAC will be approaching its federal government partners about the possibility of taking the country’s most important foundational documents out of LAC’s vaults and giving Canadians a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see them in person. This is in the works.

Along these same lines, LAC is also looking forward to being a partner of the Canadian History Museum and intends to contribute valuable heritage content to this new national institution that will officially open in 2017. This will provide yet another venue to showcase treasures from our vaults to Canadians.

And, as we ramp up for 2017, another example of our collaborative work can be seen in our series of travelling exhibitions that bring Canada’s documentary heritage directly to Canadians.

As we have done with our three current travelling exhibitions that will visit numerous locales across the country over the next few years, our intent is to work collaboratively with even more communities from coast to coast so that we can develop an impressive mosaic of projects that will bring LAC’s treasures closer to Canadians where they live.

Capitalizing on our dynamic network of like-minded institutions, the goal is to launch several travelling exhibitions annually over the next four or five years, so that by 2017 the country is criss-crossed by a myriad of showcases that will portray Canada’s heritage, linguistic duality and diversity.

Another angle of our preparations that I already alluded to earlier is the optimal utilization of digital technology.

For example, targeting specific audiences, LAC is producing 24 Immigration Heritage Online Kits that enable users to find more information concerning ethno-cultural groups of interest.

As well, LAC is launching an online toolkit that gives access to the stories of numerous aboriginal individuals and communities across Canada.  

This path permits us to not only digitize and make accessible each day more documentary heritage via the Web, but also to treat digitally-born documentary production in real time.

Thinking back to Canada’s 100th anniversary in 1967 and the famous Centennial train, for 2017, LAC will be directing Canadians to what could be called a digital superhighway of documentary heritage that they can explore in the comfort of their homes.

To that end, as a first phase we have already created a Portrait Portal, but also reflecting Canadian linguistic duality through its content. This gives all Canadians digital access to LAC’s portrait collection, in particular a representative sample of our miniature portraits and some of our more avant garde photographs.

As we continue to digitize portions of our collections, we will attempt to bring forward tens of millions of images on line to commemorate the country’s 150th anniversary.

Our gift to Canadians will be to give them both greater access to their documentary heritage regardless of where they live or what language they speak, and an institution that can meet the challenges of the digital era. In doing so, LAC will ensure we are able to continue to capture the documentary heritage of this nation, in all its subtleties.
Thank you Mr. Chairman. I will now be happy to answer any questions at your convenience.
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