Canadian Historians Face Off on CBC

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth unveiling the National War Memorial, 21 May 1939. Source: Library and Archives Canada, C-002179.

Last week, a number of historians and newspaper columnists spilled a lot of virtual ink in response to a decision of the federal parliament’s Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage to launch “a thorough and comprehensive review of significant aspects in Canadian history.” Critics and supporters of the government have been debating the merit, value, and intent of such an investigation. The editorial board of the the Globe and Mail concluded that “The Conservatives are not rewriting history; rather, they are interested in making sure Canadians understand that the rights and freedoms we enjoy are a precious inheritance that deserves celebration.” Ian McKay and Jamie Swift, while drawing attention to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent verbal attack on Alexandre Boulerice for denouncing the First World War as “butchery,” remain convinced that “A determined group of uber-patriots we call the New Warriors is struggling to rebrand Canada as a Warrior Nation.” And today, Tom Peace wrote in the National Post that “In its policies, the Harper government has pushed back against the social and cultural contributions to Canadian history.”

As I argued in my own contribution to this discussion, the primary focus of these new “history war” debates should be on the steady erosion of federal funding for independent historical research and preservation. Within the last five years, the federal government has substantially reduced funding to the main public institutions for historical research and preservation, including Parks Canada, Library and Archives Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The government has shifted funding away from such arms-length institutions and programs and focused its funding for historical research and commemoration on short-term programs that fall under direct cabinet control.

The debate over the policies of the Conservative government and its particular concern with Canadian history was aired on CBC’s “The 180” last Friday. The episode featured Ian McKay and Jack Granatstein. If you missed the broadcast, you can listen to the full episode here:

[audio:] “Does Canada’s History Need an Update?” The 180 [15:58]

The debate over the public representation of Canadian history and the role of the federal government in the financing of historical research, preservation, and commemoration will continue to dominate discussion online among the historical research community. Hopefully we will find the space to explore these matters at the upcoming annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association. For a thorough round-up of all of the recent online articles on this subject, check out the list Peter Anderson has been keeping at

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