June 28, 2022Print | PDF
As Canada Day 2022 approaches, Canadians continue to grapple with the complex history of their nation. Scholars at the Laurier Centre for the Study of Canada (LCSC) are bringing together students, local community organizations and international peers to help examine and understand the Canadian experience.
LCSC evolved from the former Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies, one of Canada’s largest military history research centres.
“We wanted to reshape the centre in a way that would allow us to continue doing important work in this field and begin engaging with a wider group of academics and community partners,” says Kevin Spooner, LCSC director.
In this Q&A, Spooner shares how the centre’s expanded, inclusive focus is enabling researchers to dig deeper into Canada’s past and present.
LCSC’s mission statement acknowledges the “expansive, evolving, and contested interpretations of Canada.” How did that influence your vision for the centre?
"When we created our mandate, we wanted to be clear that the point of the centre is not to be sort of 'rah! rah!' nationalistic. The point is for us to be thoughtful and critical and to try to understand what Canada means from many different perspectives. In my own teaching, my key message is that there is never one definition of Canada.
"It's important to me as an academic to recognize that as a white settler society, Canada has a past that needs to be understood in its colonial context. If we have any hope of achieving reconciliation, an important part of that is understanding Canada’s truths, and some of those truths are very troubling. We want to have a centre that makes room for folks who might have very critical perspectives on what Canada means and those who have more positive interpretations of the Canadian experience. We want to make sure that all feel welcome to work in our space."
The centre now encompasses four research clusters. Tell us about them.
"In addition to the War and Society cluster, which is still doing really neat and important research on Canadian military history, we are now doing work in the area of communities. We’re looking at ways the centre can foster collaboration with community partners and how we even imagine what communities are in a Canadian context. Publics and Social Justice is another cluster, which focuses on historical and contemporary inequities. And then, finally, Policy Connections for Canada, which looks at both domestic and foreign policy."
How has the centre’s membership evolved since shifting directions?
"The growth in faculty affiliations with the centre has been remarkable. When we were just doing military history, there were maybe four or five faculty members who were regularly engaged with the centre. Now we have 30 faculty members from three different faculties and 12 different academic departments. It's much more interdisciplinary."
How is LCSC incorporating Indigenous knowledge and perspectives into its research?
"Now that we are nearing the end of our renovations, our focus this year will be on programming. An important part of that for me, as director, is thinking about what reconciliation means. What can our research centre do to advance the goal of reconciliation? I would like the executive committee to spend time contemplating how the centre can, in very concrete ways, advance the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. I think there is work we can be doing with Indigenous communities that may need academic support."
“We want to have a research centre that makes room for folks who might have very critical perspectives on what Canada means and those who have more positive interpretations of the Canadian experience. We want to make sure that all feel welcome to work in our space.”
What are some examples of current research projects being led by LCSC members?
"Sara Matthews is leading a project related to a nuclear fallout bunker in Kitchener in the Freeport neighborhood. We’re working with folks from local archives, museums and heritage organizations to think about the meaning of civil defense and commemorating Cold War infrastructure. Sara has connected our Waterloo partners with people from the Diefenbunker Museum in Ottawa, and we are meeting for a workshop in August bringing together architects, artists, academics and community heritage experts.
"This is a model I see being effective as we move forward: the centre uses its academic leverage to build connections and secure funding for community projects in Waterloo, Kitchener, Brantford and Milton."
LCSC members are establishing international research collaborations. Why is that important?
"There is significant academic interest in Canada abroad. In my experience – particularly working with my colleagues at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where we are developing a memorandum of understanding for continued collaboration – it’s very insightful to look at a nation from beyond the nation. We can learn a lot from how others see us and perceive what’s happening in Canada.
"Lucy Luccisano and I secured funding from the U.S. State Department to bring American students to Laurier for an event about understanding Canada from Canadian and American perspectives. That will hopefully happen during the upcoming fall term. And Debora Van Nijnatten, who is part of the Policy Connections for Canada cluster, is working on a 'net-zero for North America' project which will engage academics throughout Canada and the U.S. about environmental policy in the North American context."
From your perspective as a Canadian historian, what do you think Canadians should reflect on this Canada Day?
"I'm hoping that, for many Canadians, Canada Day is evolving to function not just as a celebratory day, but as a time to be deeply thoughtful about the sometimes difficult and troubling aspects of our shared past, knowing that the implications of that past continue to the present. It’s a moment to take stock and for people to know Canada in all its complex and contested ways."
We see you are accessing our website on IE8. We recommend you view in Chrome, Safari, Firefox or IE9+ instead.×