- Library and Archives Canada / Minister of Canadian Heritage
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has recently announced cuts to “Lest We Forget,” its award-winning First World War history program. For the past number of years, LAC, through its public Learning Centre, has offered workshops to Canadian students in which they engage in primary historical research with records from the First World War.
Now LAC plans to cut the workshops. Richard Provencher, a spokesperson for LAC, despite acknowledging that the program has “exploded basically, it’s gotten very popular,” has stated that cuts to “Lest We Forget” are part of a “modernization exercise” after which only a small sample of the wartime documents will be digitized and made available. At the end of this school year, the Archives staff who have run the workshops and done so much to inspire hundreds of students to become interested in the First World War and Canadian history will be re-assigned to other work.
We, the students and instructor in “Canada and the World,” a first-year Canadian History course at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, wish to add our voices to the growing public criticism of the decision to cut back the “Lest We Forget” program. Some of the students in our course have participated in “Lest We Forget,” while we all recognize the value of the personal encounters with Canada’s past provided by the program’s primary research workshops.
Recently, with the passing of Jack Babcock, Canada’s last First World War veteran, the Prime Minister’s Office stated, “Canada mourns the passing of an entire generation, a generation that defined our nation.” Peter MacKay, the Minister of Defence, issued a statement saying, “We vow to honour his memory in our actions and deeds.” At the same time, another arm of the government, Library and Archives Canada, is cutting back on a program designed precisely to promote the very thing the Prime Minister and Peter MacKay claim the government wants to do. We believe the federal government should move beyond issuing statements and, through deeds and actions, fully restore the “Lest We Forget” program. If you agree, we encourage you to sign our petition.
While we support LAC’s efforts to digitize records, we believe this is no substitute for the archival experience of guided, hands-on primary research, which has proven so popular in fostering the vital link between young people and Canadian history.
Recognizing that LAC operates with limited financial resources, we also call upon the federal government and, in particular, the Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore, to adequately fund LAC and the “Lest We Forget” program as part of its mandate to preserve the historical memory of the First World War and to promote Canadian history more generally.