Remarks by Thomas H.B. Symons
on the occasion of the presentation of
The Governor General's International Award for Canadian Studies
Ottawa: 27 May, 1998
Chairman, Privy Councillors, Distinguished Guests, Mesdames, Messieurs, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for your kind words of introduction and for your warm welcome.
I am, of course, greatly honoured to receive this Award, and I admire the tolerance of those responsible for such a decision.
May I thank the International Council for Canadian Studies and those who have conceived and established the Award, as well as those who have been responsible for all the work and planning that lie behind this evening's occasion?
My thoughts and thanks go, as well, more broadly, to the scholarly community of Canadianists -- students of Canada across this country and around the world. It is a large and growing family, of whom more than 100 or so are gathered in this room. You, in turn, represent some 7,000 teachers, scholars, and students around the globe who devote their thought, talents, and intellectual curiosity to things Canadian.
I am happy to have been, life long, an enthusiastic camp follower.
I know that many of you who are here tonight have come especially, or stayed on especially, in order to attend this occasion, and I am touched and greatly honoured that you would do so.
It is now nearly a quarter of a century since the Report of the Commission on Canadian Studies, To Know Ourselves, appeared, and there has, indeed, been an enormous development in the field of Canadian Studies, both within Canada and abroad in that time, as this gathering demonstrates. This remarkable development is the result of the commitment and the contributions, in many forms, of many dedicated people, a good number of whom are present. If I may, I would like to express the appreciation and admiration I feel for what you and they have accomplished.
In such a gathering of stars, it would be an indiscretion to name names, but perhaps you will allow me to note with particular pleasure the presence of the Founder of the International Council for Canadian Studies, Jim Page.
Despite the great progress made by Canadian Studies in the past quarter century, there is no room for complacency. The surface has still been barely scratched, both in substance and in methodology. It will always be time to take a fresh and critical look at what is being done and how it is being done.
When the Commission on Canadian Studies began its work in 1972, it found that it was necessary to deal with even the most basic questions assumed in its mandate, including the development of definitions. There was, for example, no agreed definition for Canadian Studies. Indeed, in so far as there was any definition for Canadian Studies it might best be described as a "definition in progress." The Commission proposed, as its definition for working purposes, "teaching or research in any field that, as one of its major purposes, promotes knowledge about Canada by dealing with some aspect of the country's culture, social conditions, physical setting, or place in the world." However, the Commission was also concerned, more broadly, with the adequacy of attention given to the Canadian content and to the Canadian context of teaching and research in all appropriate fields, whether or not the promotion of knowledge about Canada was one of the specific and major objectives. This definition, and its broader corollary, appear now to have found a general acceptance. But it is still a "definition in progress," and so may it always be.
Similarly, there was no agreed rationale for Canadian Studies, even amongst those engaged in such studies. For some, it was an exercise in patriotism or nationalism. For others, it was a means of fighting the Americanization of Canada. For still others, it was a way to promote Canadian unity and identity. The Commission did not accept any of these quasipolitical rationales for Canadian studies. It argued, instead, that the only appropriate rationale for teaching and research about Canada is the importance of knowledge for its own sake, and the unwisdom of neglecting any area of knowledge in the way in which knowledge about Canada had been neglected in so many fields. For Canadians, this rationale for Canadian Studies can be extended and amplified because of the further and particular importance of self-knowledge. A society, like an individual, needs to know itself, its history, its institutions, cultures, geography, science, and physical inheritance.
Such knowledge is valid in itself. It is part of the legitimate response to the challenge of knowing and understanding that confronts all mankind.
All three volumes of the Commission's report emphasized the importance of Canadian Studies outside of Canada. Such studies have a legitimate place in teaching and research in other countries simply as a part of the challenge of knowledge. Moreover, a better knowledge and understanding of Canada may often prove helpful to the countries in which the studies are conducted. But the pursuit of teaching and research about Canada in other countries is particularly important for Canada and Canadians, and for the whole enterprise of Canadian scholarship. Such academic work in other countries helps Canadians to know themselves, and to see and understand their place and problems and opportunities through the eyes of others and in a wider context.
This point was made by the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (the Massey-Lévesque Commission) in Canada, in 1951, in its chapter on "The Projection of Canada Abroad." You may recall the view it expressed, that "the promotion abroad of knowledge of Canada is not a luxury but an obligation, and a more generous policy in this field would have important results, both concrete and intangible."
It was this view of the importance of Canadian studies abroad, first argued by the Massey-Lévesque Commission, that was underlined and elaborated a quarter of a century later by the Commission on Canadian Studies. In fact, the point emerged as a major theme in To Know Ourselves, and it was further re-inforced by the strong statement made on this subject by the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee in the Applebaum-Hébert Report of 1982.
The Report of the Commission on Canadian Studies not only stressed the value of promoting a wider knowledge and understanding of Canada abroad. It placed a strong emphasis on the need to research, to study, and to teach more about Canada's roots, origins, and context, including, for example, studies about the exploration and opening up of the country, about immigration, and about the origins of our institutions and their subsequent and often continuing inter-action with institutions elsewhere. Other contextual studies are needed in such fields as diplomacy and defence, trade and economics, and education and culture. In all these fields, as in many others, there is tremendous scope, and need, for co-operative and comparative programmes of teaching and research that will associate Canadian scholars, and universities and other appropriate institutions, with those of other countries.
There should, of course, be nothing xenophobic or inward-looking about Canadian studies. On the contrary, to know ourselves we must know others. Every national community needs to look out, and to reach out. We owe that to ourselves, and we owe it to others. It is, thus, in my view a particularly happy fact that Canadian studies is developing as a international field of studies, and not just as a study confined to Canada or to Canadians.
There is always a temptation on an occasion such as this to try to point out some specific subjects in the field that merit attention. Let me succumb to this temptation and suggest two, one rather specific and the other rather general.
The first suggestion is that the built heritage of Canada in all its forms will reward scholarly attention. It is a key to the understanding of the Canadian character and experience that has as yet been turned by only a small handful in the academic community. Similarly, the country's heritage in historical and archaeological sites is much more extensive than has been generally recognized. Preliminary evidence suggests, for example, that in the polar regions alone there are over 2,000 archaeological and historical sites of some consequence. These and a great many other sites of historical interest throughout the country, including over 1000 already designated by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and a growing number designated as World Heritage sites by Unesco, constitute an important part of the Canadian heritage. But they are also part of the collective inheritance of mankind.
In making this suggestion, I am proposing more attention to the place of history, to the study of the inter-relationships of time and place, and of the inter-actions of locale, persons, and events.
My second suggestion is more general. It is to point to the desirability of an initiative to provide the framework for a multitude of projects and co-operative undertakings in which scholars interested in Canada around the globe might work together. We are all fami1iar with the large programmes and mega-projects that have long been a feature of international scientific collaboration. There is a need for comparable co-operative endeavours on a world scale in the humanities and social sciences, and some of these might very usefully be concerned with the cultural experience of this country.
There is, in fact, an opportunity for Canadianists, within Canada and abroad, to do much to promote a more active, productive, and congenial international community of scholars and scholarship.
Internationally, there is, of course, much more to be done to encourage and support teaching and research about Canada. But, in addition to this, there is increasing scope and need for co-operative and comparative programmes of teaching and research that will associate scholars and academic institutions from across Canada and around the world in critical examination of Canadian phenomenona and the Canadian experience. This is an area in which the International Council for Canadian Studies has, by its very nature, a key role to play.
In this, as in your other activities, I wish you well.
May I thank you, again, for the honour you have done me with this Award.