63rd Annual Convention of the Institut d'histoire de l'Amérique française
University of Ottawa, Convention Centre, Desmarais Building, 12th Floor 55 Laurier Avenue East
October 22, 2010
Ladies, gentlemen, distinguished colleagues,
I am honoured to join you this afternoon to pay tribute to Jean-Pierre Wallot, National Archivist with the National Archives of Canada from 1985 to 1997.
The impressive career of my predecessor within the National Archives, prior to the 2004 merger of the National Library of Canada and the National Archives of Canada, got off to a great start.
Following his appointment in the spring of 1985, he was given the task of reviewing the Public Archives Act of 1912, which led to the federal institution’s first name change. The institution that had been known as the Public Archives of Canada since 1872 was renamed the National Archives of Canada.
The transformation he would lead was not going to be simply window dressing. The National Archivist would also go on to redefine the institution’s mandate, starting with an in-depth review of its archival activities.
The Act assigned a number of institutional obligations to the National Archives. First, it set out the obligation to acquire and conserve records of national significance and to make them available to the public.
To achieve this, Mr. Wallot led the development of a new acquisitions policy, a highly complex initiative.
The review of the Act also called for a major reorganization. One of the objectives was to facilitate the management of records of federal institutions and of ministerial records. Then, the National Archives was called on to encourage archival activities and the Canadian archival community, a principle that continues to guide the institution’s approach to this day.
His many achievements include several projects and initiatives, such as the review of appraisal methods for government records, the development of an integrated acquisition program for electronic documents, and the development and application of standards for the description of archived records.
The National Archives also benefited from his negotiating talents. Mr. Wallot successfully led quite a number of negotiations with federal institutions. While some of them focused on introducing better records management practices, others involved acquiring the historical records of certain institutions, including the Supreme Court, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the CBC.
His achievements also included organizing the International Congress on Archives in September 1992. His predecessor, Wilfred I. Smith, had invited the Executive Committee of the International Council on Archives to consider Montreal’s bid to host the event.
As soon as Montreal was confirmed as the host city for the Congress, Mr. Wallot developed a co-operative approach with the provincial and territorial archival communities to garner support across Canada for the event. The Congress was a resounding success and helped expand the forum for dialogue on issues involving archives and their management.
Following this conference, Jean-Pierre Wallot became President of the International Council on Archives from 1992 to 1996. Throughout his four-year term, he worked tirelessly to promote awareness among various groups and audiences of the importance of archives.
He was a visionary, orchestrating the creation of a committee on the protection of audiovisual documents well before this became a major issue and this aspect of heritage was seen as forming an integral part of our collective memory.
His work found a major echo in 2005 when, almost two decades later, the UNESCO General Conference approved the proposal to establish a World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, celebrated annually on October 27.
Under his watch, Mr. Wallot worked to expand and improve the physical preservation capacity and quality of National Archives’ collection storage facilities. He launched a number of expansion projects, including renovation of the West Memorial Building, which at the time was to be used as the National Archives’ headquarters.
Among his achievements that are still highly visible today is the construction of the Preservation Centre in Gatineau. The history leading up to this major achievement is worth a short retelling.
Prior to his arrival at the Archives, the federal institution was running out of storage space. The National Archives had no other choice but to spread its holdings and collections across a number of warehouses in the National Capital Region, all in all, more than a dozen.
It is sometimes said that certain events serve as a catalyst for change. Between 1985 and 1987, a number of weather events caused considerable damage to warehouse facilities. This damage received media coverage, attracting the attention of the Standing Committee on Communications and Culture in the spring of 1987.
The National Archivist was summoned to appear before the Committee to report on the situation and the damage caused to the warehoused cultural heritage. In light of the investigation called for by Mr. Wallot, the Committee recommended that the government construct a new building.
Out of this recommendation from December 1987 would come the construction of the Preservation Centre ten years later, just a few days before Mr. Wallot retired on June 6, 1997. Some would dare say that he skilfully planned his departure.
It has been 13 years this June since this strong advocate of the archival community left the National Archives. In his message to staff announcing his retirement, he said that he had given to the National Archives the 12 best years of his career, which colleagues and employees alike acknowledged with gratitude.
I have taken the liberty of quoting the final lines of his message. They present a hockey analogy that marvellously illustrates the humility of the man who so capably led this institution: “Together, we have won many archival Stanley Cups. Now, you need a new coach to help you stay on top.”
Building on the foundation laid by this builder and the work accomplished by his successor, I can see just how extensive is his leadership’s legacy, over a decade since he left.
I am delighted to have been able to express my gratitude for my predecessor and grateful to you for providing me with the opportunity to do so, before our community.