The Government of Ontario is developing a provincial Culture Strategy. The AAO provided an initial response to a proposed strategy in 2015, and followed up during the second half of the consultation process in May 2016 with an additional submission. Many members of the archival community also took the initiative and submitted their recommendations individually to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.
Below is the AAO's response from May 11, 2016 and submitted by Past President Marissa Paron.
Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport:
The Archives Association of Ontario (AAO) commends the Government of Ontario for planning the province’s first Culture Strategy and welcomes the opportunity to provide feedback on the draft.
As an Ontario Provincial Heritage Organization representing more than 300 members, the AAO serves as a network of archives and archivists across the province. Through its collective efforts, this network preserves the history and culture of Ontario and its citizens through the application of specialized knowledge, skills and resources critical to the effective management and long-term preservation of documentary heritage. The importance of the work of archivists was outlined in our submission to and involvement in the Culture Strategy consultation process in 2015.
The draft Culture Strategy makes no direct reference to archival institutions and the work of archivists. Due to this unfortunate omission, the Strategy does not currently recognize the vital contribution of archives and archivists in supporting its core elements. The Ontario Culture Strategy must acknowledge archives and archivists as full status partners in the development, promotion, and preservation of Ontario culture, and the role of archives as distinct from that of public libraries, museums, and other memory institutions. This document will describe the unique roles that archives assume in several specific core elements of the draft Cultural Strategy and how archival institutions are integral to the functioning of a rich cultural landscape.
Our feedback on the draft Culture Strategy reflects our view that the work of archivists and archives is vital to supporting and enhancing a number of elements outlined in the Strategy. Namely that:
Archives connect people and communities to culture in Ontario and provide the foundation upon which culture is created and recorded;
Archivists and archival researchers directly contribute to tourism in Ontario and promote a strong knowledge economy;
Ontario’s archivists are key stakeholders in the field of digital culture;
Archivists have been active in leading digital collaboration initiatives that directly facilitate interaction with and dissemination of culture; and
Archives play a unique role with First Nations communities and the process of reconciliation.
Archives connect people and communities to culture in Ontario and provide the foundation upon which culture is created and recorded
Archives work to identify, preserve, and provide access to irreplaceable records that permanently conserve the culture of a society. These records underpin cultural activities, including:
Providing access to primary sources expressing the stories that inspire the arts, including craft, dance, literary arts, media arts, music, opera, theatre and visual arts;
Offering research resources that fuel cultural industries, including film and television production, interactive digital media, the music industry and book and magazine publishing;
Enabling the recognition and designation of built heritage and cultural heritage landscapes and providing context for archeological sites and museum artifacts through documentary evidence of cultural heritage.
Archivists and archival researchers directly contribute to tourism in Ontario and promote a strong knowledge economy
Archives exist in all of Ontario’s regions, communities and populations and directly contribute to tourism by promoting a strong knowledge economy. They actively create partnerships with other heritage institutions and community stakeholders to highlight personal and community histories and cultural attractions. Archives are vital to heritage preservation and support many cultural exports that showcase our province to the world. Archives also increasingly provide direct access to Ontario’s rich cultural heritage through websites, databases, online exhibitions, and projects that mark events and figures significant to the history of Ontario and Ontarians.
Archives are active in growing Ontario’s knowledge economy by providing access to the knowledge, information, and memory that roots us personally, communally, and provincially. Every day, archival records are consulted by a vast array of users: academics, genealogists, historians, professional researchers, writers, artists, government institutions, and other culture creators. In addition to knowledge building, archives play an important role in skill building, as many archives in Ontario provide work experience opportunities for young and emerging professionals in the cultural sector.
Ontario’s archivists are key stakeholders in the field of digital culture
Ontario’s archives have an important role to play in building capacity and infrastructure for digital culture by developing and maintaining programs to preserve our digital culture for future generations. As more cultural products are created, disseminated, and viewed digitally, archives are working to ensure that the artwork, films, photographs, music, writing, and other cultural products made by Ontarians today are preserved and accessible for tomorrow. Archivists have the unique skills, knowledge, and expertise to preserve born-digital materials and projects to collaboratively expand these services are now being developed. AAO’s Archeion project for digital descriptions and the Ontario Council of University Libraries’ Scholars Portal for digital preservation are two examples of archivists working together with cultural producers to bring digital materials online. Most recently, the AAO hosted an Edit-a-Thon to establish Wikipedia pages for underrepresented people, events and subjects reflected in Ontario’s archival collections. These endeavours directly relate to Goal 1 of the Culture Strategy; by providing online access to information about Ontario’s cultural heritage they are allowing people and communities to connect, share and celebrate our diverse heritage.
Archivists have been active in leading digital collaboration initiatives that directly facilitate interaction with and dissemination of culture
The Ontario Culture Strategy’s emphasis on creating an environment that promotes collaboration and innovation between sectors and levels of government is promising. Ontario archives have used digital projects to connect Ontarians, our heritage, and our cultural institutions. Online community spaces and inter-institutional partnerships have proven successful in disseminating cultural property and fostering a heightened sense of connectivity. Digital projects such as Archeion, the Archives of Ontario’s digitization loan program, and software including Archivematica and Access to Memory allow Ontario archives and archivists to not only display their collections, but also to foster a sense of sharing, learning, and teaching among members of Ontario’s archival community. Archives are the genesis of Ontario’s cultural output, and should be explicitly recognized in the Strategy for adaptation to the dynamic digital environment and vital contributions to preserving existing digitized and born-digital materials. Archives need support in order to continue to be proactive in the future custodianship of our provincial heritage.
Archives play a unique role with First Nations communities and the process of reconciliation
While the current draft of the Ontario Culture Strategy does an admirable job of integrating the cultural contexts and values of Indigenous communities, archives should be better represented in the preservation and expression of Indigenous culture and communities. The guiding principles of the Strategy stress that Ontario is “committed to reconciliation by strengthening and transforming its relationship with Indigenous communities and by implementing changes that reflect their own priorities.” This language echoes the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Final Report, which recognize the unique role of archives in reconciliation. Even though the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls for the implementation of archival mechanisms ensuring the accessibility of aboriginal records are at the federal level, this is a key opportunity for Ontario to take a leading role in reconciliation by enhancing support for archival collections within the province.
The Strategy includes calls for greater support for First Nation’s public libraries, museums, and heritage organizations, and points to archaeological artifacts as vital to the preservation of indigenous cultural knowledge for current and future generations. As the TRC’s Final Report and Calls to Action make clear, archives play no less a role than museums or libraries in cultural continuance and vitality. Culture is supported and strengthened through preservation and memory, especially with respect to those artifacts that have both historical and legal value. In this sense, local archives, often housed within community and heritage centers, form vital cultural hubs for First Nations people. It is our belief that the Ontario Culture Strategy should include support for the role of archives in strengthening Ontario’s relationship with Indigenous communities and achieving reconciliation through, for example, “an ongoing dialogue to address shared culture priorities, such as access to archival records pertaining to First Nations and the preservation of Indigenous cultural heritage and language." These recommendations align with those of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report and affirm the inalienable rights of Aboriginal people to have access to those records created by and pertaining to their history, rights, and culture.
In closing, the AAO wishes to thank the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport for the opportunity to provide feedback on the draft Culture Strategy.
We look forward to the finalized version.
President Archives Association of Ontario
 The Environmental Scan of the Culture Sector contains some references to archives (primarily in Sections 6 and 7), but they are lumped together with other cultural institutions such as museums and historic sites and not given their own treatment.
 Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Core Elements of Culture Strategy – draft for Public Comment, April 2016. “GOAL 3: Promote Cultural Engagement and Inclusion: Strategies and Actions.”