History of the Institute


The Institute’s mandate, as granted by the Senate, is to stimulate and support research relating to Canada through teaching, research and a variety of other interdisciplinary activities. The Institute carries out its mandate by way of its undergraduate and graduate programs, by offering the infrastructure required for research and by organizing various activities including courses, conferences, workshops and seminars.

Canadian and Aboriginal Studies are varied interdisciplinary fields that examine important issues in Canada’s historical and contemporary development. Historically, the Institute focused on three main approaches to Canadian issues: Canada’s cultural and national diversity, the contribution of Indigenous Peoples and Canada’s international presence.

The Institute originally fulfilled its mandate through organizing activities such as lunch-hour conferences, symposiums and seminars. In addition, it boasts various publications on topics related to Canadian Studies. The Institute offered undergraduate programs in Canadian Studies and in Aboriginal Studies. The Institute designed an interdisciplinary collaborative PhD program in Canadian Studies that involved 15 departments and faculties. As part of this program, the Institute offers two PhD seminars, a bilingual one (CDN 6910) and one in French on the Canadian Francophonie (CDN 6520).

Although the study of Canada is stronger today than it has ever been, interest in the Canadian Studies programs has radically declined as most students can now study Canada through discipline-based departments. Thus, the major in Canadian Studies was closed in following a negative external evaluation in 2013 and admissions to the minor are now closed. The collaborative PhD program has increasingly been unable to attract a sufficient number of students to justify its continuation.

At the same time, the local, national and international perspectives of Indigenous Peoples, as grounded in their intellectual traditions, have become of increasing importance to University of Ottawa as a leading research and teaching institution. Today Indigenous scholars are pushing the boundaries of many disciplines. Questions such as how to critically engage the traditional knowledges and teachings of Indigenous Peoples within the university without further perpetuating colonialism are of central importance to many fields. Furthermore, the public and private sectors and many Indigenous community organizations themselves have a significant need for people who have expertise to work with Indigenous communities and to help make settler institutions more welcoming of Indigenous Peoples.

In this context, a new Institute can play a key role in assembling a group of Indigenous scholars who can lead the University in renewing its teaching and research, and in better meeting the needs of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students alike. Developing this Institute will be key focus of our work in the coming year.

History of the Institute

By: Émilie Pigeon, part-time professor and contractual support staff epigeon@uOttawa.ca

Early Years

The University of Ottawa offered an interdisciplinary undergraduate program in Canadian Studies beginning in 1982. In 1995, the University of Ottawa became the first post-secondary institution in the country to offer a collaborative and multidisciplinary doctoral program in Canadian Studies. Doctoral students and candidates specialized in the study of Canada in tandem with a variety of other academic disciplines (15 in total), ranging from Education, to History, to Religious Studies. Upon revising and affirming research priorities in 1998, the Senate and the Board of governors chose the study of Canada as one of its four major axes to grow and develop. This intellectual legacy bore life to the Institute of Canadian Studies. The Institute officially opened in the 1998–1999 academic year.i

The Institute became the natural host of the Charles R. Bronfman Lectures in Canadian studies, then at its fourth year of organization. During the Institute’s inaugural year, the fifth annual Bronfman lecture welcomed keynote speaker and historian Joy Parr. The CRB Foundation first funded the alternating French and English public lecture series in 1994.ii  The public lecture series continues to the present day.

The first director of the Institute, Chad Gaffield, noted that the late historian Pierre Savard was a key architect of the newly created space on campus for the study of Canada and all its constituting parts. Savard is remembered for being a “central figure” in the development of a new space in the University milieu. The Institute fostered the meeting of two traditions in a single space: intellectual enquiry and research production and dissemination.iii The passing of Pierre Savard, great friend of the Institute, was commemorated in the first issue of the Initiatives newsletter, a bilingual publication summarizing activities and research directions for the newly created space at the University of Ottawa.iv

From its inception, the Institute embraced the digital turn. It opened the Mitel Data Analysis Centre, with the help of the late professor Angela Mattiacci, who became the Institute’s first Data Analyst Technician. Big data analysis and its dissemination became key focuses of the Institute, as it prepared itself for the arrival of the twenty-first century. In 1998, our triennial newsletter shared excitement about redeveloping its website to house Internet resources for researchers working in Canadian Studies.v The Institute hosted the Canadian Century Research Infrastructure (CCRI) project, led by then-director Chad Gaffield. Uniting six universities under a common research goal, the CCRI was “a pan-Canadian, multidisciplinary and multi-institutional effort to develop a set of interrelated databases centered on data from the 1911, 1921, 1931, 1941 and 1951 Canadian censuses.”vi Today, although the Mitel Data Laboratory retired, the room became the meeting space for the undergraduate Indigenous Studies Student Association.

While the intellectual investment in the field of Canadian Studies continued to bear fruits, it became apparent early on that the “Canada” label is not equally representative of all the people residing within its borders. The late Shirley Thomson acknowledged that the program offerings in the year 2000 were not yet representative of all that Canada encompasses. In an outline of the three-year plan for the Institute, Thomson remarked that “we are not doing enough to deal with First Nations issues, even in the doctoral seminar. We should explore what might be attempted.”vii

In order to redress this lacuna, the Institute welcomed Georges Sioui in 2004. Sioui, a Huron-Wendat scholar from Wendake arrived on triple assignment between the Departments of Classics and Religious Studies, History, and as coordinator of the Aboriginal Studies program, then affiliated with the Institute of Canadian Studies. Sioui remarked that an objective of his tenure at the University was to “favour and recreate the spiritual link, which is a lifeline [for Indigenous Peoples].” In doing so, Sioui “help[ed] return to the world, and to Canada, an Indigenous worldview.”viii Sioui’s significant contributions transformed the establishment and in its approaches to centring Indigenous ways of knowing and being in the University setting. Sioui remains affiliated of the Institute as Emeritus professor.

In March 2010, Brenda Macdougall, a Metis scholar from Saskatchewan, became the inaugural Chair of Metis Studies at the University of Ottawa.ix Macdougall’s appointment hosted by Institute of Canadian Studies, provided a space where she built and developed the Metis Family and Community Research Lab. The Metis Lab is a high-tech, big-data centre that focuses its analytical lens Metis polities across North America and their past.x Building on the digital humanities legacies of the Mitel Data Centre, Macdougall’s ongoing work as Research Chair connects the Institute of Canadian Studies and the Metis Nation of Ontario. Both institutions collaborate to host and organize conferences pertaining to the Metis in Ontario, engaging a new generation of students and researchers with Indigenous partnerships and knowledge mobilization. In addition to her cross-appointment to the Institute, Dr. Macdougall presently serves the University of Ottawa as the Academic Delegate for Indigenous Engagement.


The Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies

Twelve years after Shirley Thomson noted that the Institute’s inclusion of Indigenous perspectives (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) were inadequate, the direction of the Institute began to formally change. In the spring 2012 issue of the Initiatives newsletter, director Yves Frenette announced the forthcoming inclusion of “Aboriginal Studies” alongside “Canadian Studies” at the Institute. In January 2013, the Institute officially adopted its new name and direction. The transition became official with the arrival of Nicole St-Onge as Acting Director in July of the same year.xi

In a message explaining the choice to unite Aboriginal and Canadian studies under one roof, Frenette explained: “Canadian Studies and Aboriginal Studies are by their nature interdisciplinary.” Furthermore, the two relatively small programs would henceforth officially share “human, administrative and material” resources.xii While this change may appear economic in nature, the ideological transformation of the Institute that accompanied the name change was significant: “[the Institute’s] mission will be to advance knowledge of Canada and of autochtony through teaching, research, and the dissemination of research from an interdisciplinary perspective, against the backdrop of globalization and in both of the country’s official languages.”xiii The Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies at the University of Ottawa remains a unique establishment in Canada today, which produces and engages with timely research, for and with Indigenous peoples, in French and English.

In 2013 the Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies (henceforth ICAS) outlined specific research fields that aligned themselves with its new appellation: “Aboriginal societies and cultures in Canada; Aboriginal self-determination and political logic in Canada.” Since that time, in order to grow its course offerings, the Institute benefits from the knowledge and skills of cross-appointed professors specializing in Indigenous issues including Dalie Giroux, Dan Rück, and Sonia Weche.xiv The Institute relies on the work and expertise of its cross-appointed faculty and part-time professors in order to offer continuous bilingual course offerings in Aboriginal Studies. The continued contributions of people with multiple appointments provide the Institute with the ability to offer new and timely lectures and seminars in French and English year after year.

In 2017, the Institute welcomed Tracy Coates in the role of long-term appointment professor for the Aboriginal Studies program. Coates’s law background and consulting expertise were essential in the organization of an institutional response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. The Indigenizing and Decolonizing the Academy Symposium in February 2017 produced a list of recommendations intended to awaken the university institution to the voices, needs and knowledges of Indigenous Peoples.xv The Indigenous Community Calls to Action at the University of Ottawa did not go unnoticed. Call to action number 10 requested that “the University explore ways to support language studies, particularly the Algonquin Language.”xvi Thanks to Dr. Darren O’Toole, cross-appointed from the Faculty of Common Law, the Institute was able to offer courses in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) for the first time in 2017-18. The Institute is happy to report that it will offer language classes in the Algonquin dialect of the Ottawa area starting in autumn 2018.

The Institute also houses the Vered Jewish Canadian Studies program, providing course offerings towards a minor in Jewish Canadian Studies, or as electives required for an undergraduate degree. The Vered Program in Jewish Canadian Studies offered by the Faculty of Arts benefits from the expertise of cross-appointed professors Seymour Mayne and Rebecca Margolis. The Vered Program in Jewish Canadian Studies covers a wide range of topics pertaining to the Jewish experience in Canada, ranging from history, to literature, to the study of the Yiddish language.xvii The Vered program will be relocating to the Department of Classics and Religious Studies.

Furthermore, the Institute currently offers the mineure ou certificat en études des francophonies, a multidisciplinary program intended for to perfect their knowledge of francophone communities throughout Canada and abroad. While the minor is a special mention on an undergraduate degree, the certificate is for people from all walks of life. Anyone who wishes to grow their knowledge base about francophone realities and identities, be they past, present, or future, is welcome in the certificate program



From its inception to the present, interdisciplinarity is a raison d’être of ICAS. As articulated in a 2010 document presenting future directions for the Institute, collaboration between academic disciplines remains at the core of most programs under the ICAS roof today. What more, research produced by affiliates of the ICAS has an international scope and relevance. Disseminating knowledge and mobilizing stakeholders remain among the objectives of ICAS and its partners.xviii Since the publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, the University milieu increasingly recognizes and acknowledges its responsibilities towards Indigenous Peoples, Communities and Nations. Such responsibilities, however, are not confined to the borders of the Canadian nation-state. As ICAS moves forward with its strategic planning for the years ahead, it aims to offer increasing representation and participation opportunities by and for Indigenous Peoples, Nations and Communities by fostering partnerships, collaboration, and long-lasting reciprocal relationships.



Chad Gaffield (1998–2003)

Marcel Olscamp (2003–2004)

Pierre Anctil (2004–2008)

David Staines (2008–2010)

Yves Frenette (2010–2013)

Nicole St-Onge (2013–2016)

Emma Anderson (2016–2017)

Timothy J. Stanley (2017 – 2019)

Brenda Macdougall (2019 - present)


« Rapport Annuel 1998-1999 », folder « Rapports annuels 1998-1999 », Fonds 287, box NB 18486.5 University of Ottawa Archives, 2.

ii « Rapport Annuel 1998-1999 », 10.

iii « Rapport Annuel 1998-1999 », 3.

iv Initiatives No. 1 – Fall 1999, folder « Initiatives, 1999 », Fonds 287, box NB 18486.4 University of Ottawa Archives, 4.

v Initiatives No. 1 - Fall 1999, 2.

vi “Welcome to the CCRI” Canadian Century Research Infrastructure, University of Ottawa http://www.ccri.uottawa.ca/CCRI/Home.html (accessed August 28, 2018).

vii “Three Year Plan – Réunion du bureau de direction, jeudi le 6 avril 2000 Item 11. Plan triennal.” Fonds 287, box 10486.23, Folder 1: ‘Réunions du bureau de direction, 1998-2001.’ University of Ottawa Archives.

viii Initiatives No. 21, Fall 2005. Institute of Canadian Studies, University of Ottawa, 5

ix “Dr. Brenda Macdougall Inaugurated as Chair of Métis Studies at UOttawa.” Métis Nation of Ontario Press Release, March 25, 2010. http://www.metisnation.org/news-media/news/chair-of-m%C3%A9tis-studies-at-uottawa/ (accessed August 17, 2018).

x “Mapping Bloodlines” by Dan Rubenstein in Research Perspectives – Perspectives de Recherche, Vol. 17 No. 1 Spring 2015, 14.

xiInitiatives No. 41, Spring 2013. Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies, University of Ottawa, 5.

xii Initiatives No. 41, Spring 2013, 5.

xiii Idem.

xiv Initiatives No. 44, Fall 2014. Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies, University of Ottawa, 3.

see also Initiatives No. 40, Fall 2012. Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies, University of Ottawa, 3.

xv Initiatives No.46, Spring 2017. Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies, University of Ottawa, 19.

xvi Ibid, 24.

xvii Initiatives No. 41, Spring 2013. Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies, University of Ottawa, 5.



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