Open Letter: Save the University of Manitoba’s Master of Archival Studies Program

*A call to action was issued on the arcan Listserv the other day to comment on dramatic changes to the Master of Archival Studies program at the University of Manitoba. Below is the letter I wrote in response. If you would like to make your own comments, click here to see the Call to Action.*

Dear University of Winnipeg and Manitoba History Departments,

When I was investigating graduate programs in archival studies, the University of Manitoba’s Master of Archival Studies program was described to me as the “gold standard” for such education.  I fear that proposed changes to the program will threaten its ability to produce competent archives professionals in the future and will damage the prestige of its program whose quality is comparable to those of the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia.

Specialized archival educators are essential in teaching the complex principles of archival science.  The expertise of the historian is fundamentally distinct from that of the archivist.  While historians are experts in utilizing the archives, the archivist is expert at organizing and operating the archives.  It is an insult to the archival profession to assume that a historian can jump right in and teach courses in a field in which they have no background, no publications, or any professional practice. While practicing professional archivists such as myself can provide valuable lessons to students in class, they occasionally lack the ability to see the “big picture” of the profession (e.g. where the profession came from, where it’s going, the issues, biases etc.). Only a tenured professor who can take the time to study these topics can speak with authority on these issues. Practitioners find themselves pigeon-holed due to their experiences and the type of archives they run.  If the UManitoba wants to continue its tradition of archives education excellence, reducing its tenured faculty is not the answer.

In a world is that demands universities to modernize and be practical in its teaching, removing the opportunity to work is counterproductive.  While I did not attend the University of Manitoba, one of the highlights of my graduate school experience was in obtaining in-field experience under the tutelage of archival practitioners.  Thanks to my internship, I not only had an excellent experience, it also led to my first job after graduation, effectively launching my career in government archives and information management.  High employment rates after graduation can only help the reputation of your program.    

As an employee at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, one of the stumbling blocks for many indigenous communities is a lack of knowing their past.  I encounter people on a daily basis that simply want to know where they came from, and needing to access this information via the Federal Government because the information is not available in their communities.  While there are countless problems in indigenous communities, this does not need to be one of them.  It would be wonderful if we could enable indigenous people to keep their own histories and bulid their own archives so that they are not at the mercy of a third party to access their history. In addition, the archival community lacks diversity and if the UManitoba can attract First Nation and Métis students to its program and train them, it will give a new segments of the population a voice in building Canada’s historical narrative.       

Thank you for considering my opinions and ideas.  Should you wish to discuss any of this with me further, please contact me at

Best regards,

Joel Sherlock, MLIS, MA


Bobcaygeon: Or How I Learned the Song Was Named After It

It’s amazing how death causes one to reflect upon the things that matter most. The things we take for granted, once stolen, become the things that you suddenly can’t live without.  I’m sad to say that The Tragically Hip are one of those things for me. It took me a long time to realize how big an impact The Hip had on without me realizing. First, a couple of apologies:

  1. This blog post is gonna get personal and dig into some feelings and personal experiences. But then again, this post wouldn’t be worth writing without personal insight, so, sorry, not sorry.
  2. Lest I be accused of being a “poser,” or bandwagon jumping, I’m not a Tragically Hip fan. I’m not going to pretend to be one. This is a reflective piece on moments when they meant something to me and how I took them for granted. Something I regret, since I only now recognize the genius in their music.

I wanted to share a few isolated experiences that made me appreciate The Hip and rock music in general:

Finding National Pride Through Song

When I was a student living in the United States, I had this fun but pig-headed roommate. I can’t remember exactly how the conversation started, but we got on the subject of Canadian bands. I started telling him about The Hip and put a song on for him, I think it was “Bobcaygeon.” My roomie hated it from the moment Gord Downie sang, blurting that he had an awful voice. I think my Canadian pride kicked in and I started defending the greatness of the song. He just wouldn’t have any of it. My thought was, “I guess he doesn’t get it since he’s not Canadian!” This was one of my key moments when I saw that Canadians and Americans were different and found national pride that I didn’t know I had.

Late Night Listening

When I was growing up I used to go to sleep with the radio on quietly. Following the example of my older brothers, I listened to 102.1 The Edge in Toronto. The Edge tended to play more throwback songs in the late night, so it was in these moments when I became acquainted with songs like “Grace, Too,” and “Fifty Mission Cap.” I don’t have recollection of my parents singing me to sleep (though they probably did) but Gord Downie sang to me every night and I never even realized or appreciated it.

Singing Me Geography

For me, whar separates good bands from great ones are the ability to rock out with distorted guitars, loud drums, and shredding solos while being equally good at capturing tenderness and reflecting on sweet moments through ballads. My favourite song by The Hip is “Bobcaygeon”, one of those tender ballads. When I started to enjoy the song as a teenager, I didn’t care to know what a “Bobcaygeon.” When I was 18 I was on a trip to Peterborough with some friends and we got lost on some back roads and found ourselves passing through Bobcaygeon, Ontario. It finally clicked that the song I listened to was named after a place. There’s Gordie teaching me Geography and me, the stubborn student, not listening until years later.

The Lesson

I’m not prepared to say that The Hip are the greatest Canadian band of all time. It’s a worthless discussion as musical enjoyment is extremely subjective and personal music tastes change dramatically over time. I dislike most of the music I enjoyed as a teenager. Besides, how can we legitimately rate one’s artistic expression and compare it to someone else’s? The beauty of any musical piece lies in the listening ear. 

What I am prepared to say is that The Hip always seemed to “be there” whether I appreciated them or not. They didn’t stop making music when I wasn’t listening. Like a good parent, they stood by, kept doing their thing, and waited for me to come around. The sad thing is that it took Gord Downie’s impending death for me to sit down and reflect on the greatness of this band. It’s funny that while I didn’t appreciate The Hip when they were big, I’m certainly going to miss them when they’re gone. I’ve learned that I ought to cherish good bands while they’re at their best rather than realize how great they were in hindsight.

I’m going to miss you Gord. Thanks for the memories.

The Olympics Just Aren’t That Important

I just read a recent report that the Australian Olympic Team will not be staying in their Rio Olympic Village accommodations due to electrical and plumbing issues, and an apparent robbery. Another point on the “What’s wrong with Rio” list along with water cleanliness issues, Zika virus, and human rights infringements. Due to these issues and other pending career decisions, many notable athletes have chosen not to participate in the Rio games. Among these include basketball star LeBron James, golfers Jason Day and Vijay Singh, and cyclist Tejay van Garderen.
Athlete participation isn’t the only concern of the International Olympic Committee. There’s an ever-increasing movement in the developed world that opposes hosting the Olympic games due to tax increases, increased traffic congestion, and likelihood that the Games will put the city in punishing debt –especially with the Games adding new events requiring elaborate facilities (e.g. golf). The prestige of hosting the games no longer outweighs the burden of the taxpayer. The Toronto City Council recently voted to not pursue a bid for the 2024 Summer Games, a city that nearly won the bids for the 1996 and 2008 games finishing 3rd and 2nd respectively.  This puts ever more pressure on the developing world to carry the burden of hosting which comes with an entire new set of baggage. Quick Google searches for the Beijing, Sochi, and Rio games reveal the struggles that developing countries have in hosting. Not to mention the struggles that Greece is facing since hosting in 2004.

How do we solve these problems. Despite my trashing of the Olympics here, let it be known that I freaking love the Olympics, and I want it to continue in a sustainable way.

There are two issues at play here: the first is that the Olympics is failing to draw the best athletes in all its events to its games. The second is that the games are too expensive to host and the expectations of the host are too high which leads to shady business deals and shoddy facilities. The easiest way to cut the Games down to size is to eliminate certain events. It’s a tough pill to swallow.

The usual event selection process criteria involve IOC recognition, presence of an international federation of the sport, value added to the Games, and the internationality of the event (i.e. is the sport played around the world). Despite these criteria, the Olympics fail to draw the top athletes from each sport, especially from the lucrative sports such as basketball, tennis, and golf. I think IOC ought to create another selection criterion: how an Olympic gold medal stacks up against a sport’s top championship.

I was recently listening to a show on TSN 1050 with decorated Canadian Olympic kayaker Adam van Koeverden. He explained that despite all of the challenges that Rio 2016 is facing, there was no question as to whether he would be competing. An Olympic gold medal represents the pinnacle achievement in his sport. If he chose not to go, that’s 4 years of training down the drain as well as sponsorships that allow him to eat. He can’t afford to miss an Olympics. He will be there Zika or not. This is especially salient since we have just learned that athletes are advised not to put their heads under water (good luck to the triathletes, kayakers,and sailors).

Assessing some other olympic sports, there isn’t the same “play or perish” mentality tied to participating in the Olympics. I think it’s because those athletes have income sources that are not tied to Olympic participation, and because the championships in their respective sports are more prestigious than an Olympic gold medal, such as:

– Men’s Basketball (NBA Championship)

– Men’s and Women’s Tennis (Wimbledon)

– Men’s cycling  (Tour de France)

– Men’s Golf (The Master’s and British Open Championship)

– Women’s Golf (The US Open)

– Men’s Football (The World Cup, Euro Cup, Copa America, European Champion’s League, Copa Libertadores)

– Women’s football (FIFA Women’s World Cup)

– Baseball (The World Series) *Men’s baseball and Women’s softball were just reinstated for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

These are just sports I thought of off the top of my head. There might be more. My point is why put pressure on athletes to compete in competitions that they don’t want to be in? The IOC does not have a corner on sport prestige and achievement and shouldn’t pretend that it does. To LeBron James, an Olympic medal just isn’t that important. To Usain Bolt, it is incredibly important.

The IOC needs to be honest with itself and accept the fact that not every top athlete is going to go through hell and high water to compete at the Olympic Games. Rio 2016 proves this. Therefore, give the Olympics to the athletes that want it most, and cut the events that the sports’ athletes don’t care about. This is one way that the Olympics can keep its events competitive, worthwhile, and frankly, watchable. This will also mean fewer athletes to house, and fewer playing facilities to build, and better TV coverage for the sports that matter to the athletes.

Final thought: Is an Olympic gold medal really valid when 5 of the top 10 athletes in the sport are choosing not to compete? Absolutely not.




Understanding the Meaning and Impact of Expo ’67: A Lesson in Context


Back in June I made a post regarding Expo 67 and its importance to Canadians. Since I published that post, I learned significantly more about the Expo, and believe a follow-up post is in order. Back in August, I made a presentation to Library and Archives Canada staff regarding the Expo at LAC’s Summer Student Symposium. Being quite pleased with my presentation, I decided the text of the presentation would make a good blog post, so here we go.

Back in May 2014 I was assigned to undertake a block review project for the Expo 67 Fonds.  Though I was excited to start the project, I was nervous since I knew little about Expo 67. As I started the project, and in doing some preliminary reading, I had prematurely come to the conclusion that the Expo was just one big, long fair that was held from April to October 1967.

However, there were a few things I found in the records that challenged my initial conclusion. First, why did stars of film and television like Ed Sullivan and Bing Crosby, royalty like Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, and high powered politicians like Hailie Selassie, Charles de Gaulle, and the Kennedy Family converge in Montreal for what was seemingly just a big carnival?

Second, why did Pierre Dupuy, Commissioner General of the Expo, receive so many letters simply thanking him for putting on such a successful event? Some of those letters were from people of high standing such as international ambassadors and business people who out of good manners, sent him a thank you and congratulations; however, a good number of these letters were from low-level employees of the Expo, and ordinary visitors from all over the world.

Even letters of complaint were accompanied by grand compliments and tokens of appreciation for the Expo. In an odd case, one young woman employed as a nurse by the Expo even thought that Dupuy could help resolve her relationship problems with a young Expo doctor. I obviously needed to do more reading to gain a better sense of the context around the Expo.

See Phillippe de Gaspé Beaubien’s interview with Bob Evans promoting the Expo. Beaubien was Expo’s Director of Operations and unofficial “Mayor of Expo.”

A Rising Country

I discovered that Canadians prior to 1967 had a somewhat subdued national self-esteem and patriotism. Canada was still among one of the youngest countries in the world, struggling to find its identity and global niche to separate itself from being only a member of the British Commonwealth. Not to mention the United States’ constant shadow cast over Canada with the Vietnam War- and Cold War-related news stories. Expo created an opportunity for Canada to take a step and stand out, and it seized the opportunity.

The success of Expo marked the beginning of a new era of national pride and image for Canadians, and much of the British press agreed. The Lancashire Evening Post called Expo “the greatest man-made show on earth.” The London Observer commented, “Expo 67 isn’t just a world fair, it has a glitter, sex appeal, and it’s given impact and meaning to a word that had neither: Canadian.”

The American press also celebrated Expo and acknowledged Canada’s achievement. Time magazine called the Expo, “The most successful world’s fair in history.”  Life Magazine gushed, “In all ways, Expo, which cost $1 billion, turns out to be the biggest show ever.” However, Canada was not the only sociopolitical entity coming of age during the Expo.

See a video of Expo’s Opening Ceremonies

Lester B. Pearson’s Welcome Speech

Québec’s Coming-out Party

The success of Expo 67 also seemed to be a climax in Québec’s Quiet Revolution. (Slide 6) 1967 did not only mark the 100th birthday of Canada, but the 325th anniversary of the City of Montreal. This was not just Canada’s coming out party, but also aroused a sense of Francophone pride and values in Québec, as it caused the Québecois to reevaluate their situation in Canada and the World. Louise Arbour, who became a Canadian Supreme Court Justice and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated, “[Expo 67] gave French Canadians the sense that they existed in the eyes of the world.” French-Canadian film producer Monique Simard observed, “[Expo 67] was a very strong catalyzer, especially for Francophones who had a ‘shy’ relationship to the world. Suddenly they felt they were a part of the world.”

Generational Gaps and Conflicting Narratives

Researchers from the University of British Columbia noticed a dichotomy between Anglophones and Francophones in their interpretation and remembrance of the significance of Expo 67. Forty years after the Expo, these researchers conducted a survey with people who attended the Expo from both Québec and British Columbia. The Anglophones surveyed regarded the Expo as Canada’s centennial birthday with a few mentioning French-English tensions in Canada, whereas Francophones saw it as a triumph for Quebec, with no mention of the national centennial whatsoever. In sum, there are two competing narratives elucidating the importance of the Expo to two different segments of the national population.

In comparing casual conversations with the older generation that remember Expo, and with students my age, I have come to notice a generational gap in understanding the importance of Expo. My generation has grown up in a Canada with intense national pride with global importance, and one that has achieved much acclaim in international diplomacy, global athletic competitions, and by way of the achievements of actors, actresses, musicians, and other artists; and thus, has not constructed a narrative around the importance of Expo. Thus far, Expo has not received the recognition it is due from my generation, and with more and more aging baby boomers, Expo risks being forgotten altogether.

My generation fails to see that Expo was a major step in realizing this international recognition, and a launching point for this national pride that we now enjoy. I never knew of the Canada that was described prior to 1967; and this historical narrative seems to be disappearing from the curricula of history courses at all levels of education. My hope is that the opening of the Expo 67 fonds—in conjunction with Expo’s 50th anniversary, Canada’s 150th anniversary, and Montreal’s 375th anniversary—will re-open the discussion of the long-term impact of the Expo, both on the French and English sides of the country, and breathe new life into this fading branch of our national story.

Further Reading

Anderson, David and Viviane Gosselin. “Private and public memories of Expo 67: A Case Study of Recollections of Montreal’s World’s Fair, 40 Years After the Event. museum and society 6 (March 2008): 1-21.

Fulford, Robert. This Was Expo. Toronto, ON: McClelland and Stewart, 1968.

Kenneally, Rhona Richman and Johanne Sloan. Expo 67: Not Just a Souvenir. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2010

Lownsborough, John. The Best Place to Be: Expo 67 and its Time. Toronto, ON: Allen Lane, 2012.



Cheerleading and Figure Skating Aren’t Sports


A few months ago, a friend of mine was trying to tell my class that figure skating was a sport due to the physical strength, precision, and agility required to be successful. I really wanted to chime in but I bit my tongue since I didn’t want to start a war in my classroom especially since class was almost over.  While I respect figure skaters’ training regimen and the ability it takes to be a world-class figure skater, the athletic aspect is only one criterion in determining whether an activity is a sport.  Cheerleaders have been doing a great job advocating for their activity for the longest time, trying to argue that it is a sport using the same logic that my friend did, but again, athleticism doesn’t make or break whether an activity is a sport, or not.   In this post I want to establish a working definition that defines the term “sport.”  Before I move on though, I want to make a few things clear:

a. I am not of the opinion that if an activity isn’t a sport, it is somehow lesser than activities that are considered sports, or diminishes what they are.

b. Just because one participates in a activity that is not a sport, does not mean they are not “athletes.”

c. Though I am ranting on this for the heck of it, I think it’s time sport junkies got together and tried to develop a definition for a sport because I believe the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary is inadequate:

An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment: team sports such as soccer and rugby.

I don’t feel intellectuals are qualified to speak on this subject since sport talk is not a true academic discipline.  Journalists, sport archivists, sport museum/hall of fame curators, and well-read fans tend to be the authorities on this topic. I feel only those invested in sports can define what a sport is. I consider myself a well-read fan and have aspirations of becoming a sport archivist.

d. I am not trying to make fun of other people or what they do by rejecting the notion that their activity is a sport. This is meant to be an intellectual discussion with an end to developing a proper definition for this word.

e. I would love feedback on this post.  Please put your two cents in the comments, or better yet, write your own blog post and refute it.

Criterion #1: Physical Ability

This is a foundational requirement for any sport.  Physical ability can refer to foot speed, accuracy and precision, and strength. A sport must require some kind of physical ability to be successful in it.

Criterion #2: Defence

A participating team or individual must have a means of legally preventing their opponent(s) from scoring.

Criterion #3: Objective Scoring

By “objective” I mean there is a surefire way of knowing whether a point was scored, or not.  For example, in soccer the ball must completely cross the goal line between the goal posts and under the crossbar in order for a goal to be tallied.  An example of a subjective scoring system would have an individual’s performance scored by a panel of judges or referees.

Criterion #4: Governing League or Organization

Finally, there needs to be a recognized and legitimate governance structure that accredits and regulates an activity for it to be considered a sport.  Though schoolyard games like red rover and four square meet the previous three requirements, there’s no legitimate governing body that regulates those activities and hosts tournaments and leagues, etc.

So which sports meet these four criteria?

More than you might think:

Basketball, Ice Hockey, Field Hockey, American Football, European Football, Rugby, Netball, Baseball, Volleyball, Lacrosse, Ringuette, Tennis, Racquetball, Squash, Badminton, Table Tennis, Curling, European Handball, Cricket, Polo, Water Polo.

How do we categorize other activities that are covered on channels like ESPN and TSN?

Art forms:

Figure Skating, Ice Dance, Cheer Leading, Ballroom Dancing, Synchronized Swimming, Floor Routine (Gymnastics).


Running races, Cycling, Speed Skating, Swimming, Auto Racing, Bobsleigh, Luge, Skeleton, Skiing, Horse Racing, Kayak, Rowing, Sailing.

Measurement contests (participants compete on their own and their performance gets measured against that of their competition):

Golf, Bowling, Darts, Shotput, Javelin, Hammer, High Jump, Long Jump, Triple Jump, Weight Lifting.


Fencing, Martial Arts, Ultimate Fighting, Boxing, Wrestling

Prepared routines scored by a panel of judges that are not art forms:

Diving, Gymnastics, Skateboarding, Half pipe, Body building.


Poker, Chess.

In Summary

I don’t mean to ruffle any feathers with this post, but I wanted to begin a dialogue in defining what a sport is and develop some criteria for it.  Please respond with any feedback you might have because it’s time we got this figured out.

Patents, Sports, and First Nations


Back in 2007, The University Illinois Board of Trustees made the controversial decision to retire their school’s mascot Chief Illiniwek,  This marked the end of a thirty-some year debate, arguing the merits of university-athletic tradition and perpetuating racial intolerance.  At the time, I was quite upset at the verdict by the University.  I love sports, especially the rituals, traditions, and symbols of University athletics in the United States.  As a student at Brigham Young University, I loved our University Mascot Cosmo the Cougar, singing the University fight song, and hearing the blasts of the George Q Cannon at football games.  I thought it was unfair that the University of Illinois had their tradition ripped from them by a bunch of bureaucrats that “probably don’t watch sports” and didn’t understand what the mascot meant to the students.

A few days ago, the Washington Redskins National Football League team had their trademark cancelled by the US Patent and Trademark Office because it was “disparaging to Native Americans”.  Since the outbreak of this story and debate, it has caused me to take account of and reflect upon my views and opinions on this matter.  Since I am a little older, a diehard sports fan, and a public historian, I feel the need to weigh in on this debate.

1. To continue doing something just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is not a valid reason to continue

On occasion we have to take stock of how we are doing certain things, whether it is running a business, raising and educating children, making decisions, etc.  Just because the Redskins have been the Redskins  since 1932, doesn’t mean they should continue that tradition.  The term “redskin” is offensive and derogatory to First Nations as it refers to how First Nations’ bloody scalps were sold for profit. It needs to leave our vocabulary since it perpetuates the racial oppression of the past.  A friend of mine brought to my attention how newspapers and  have used the term “scalped” as an idiom for defeating an opponent, it’s a shame that even up to the year 2000, newspapers were still using the term “scalped” in a sports context.

2.  Using a racial demographic as a sports nickname is dehumanizing

Think of what pro and college sports teams use as mascots: bears, lions, tigers, sharks, etc.  These are viscious animals meant to instill fear, and intimidate opponents.  The  Washington Redskins, Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Indians, and Atlanta Braves dehumanize and de-civilize First Nations by using their names in this context.  And if that’s not bad enough, these sporting organizations profit off these monikers through licensing and merchandise sales.  Now, I do realize that not all sports teams have intimidating nicknames like the Toronto Maple LeafsUtah Jazz, and Miami Dolphins, even still, it’s an objectification of the people that they misrepresent.

3.  What about the Notre Dame Fighting Irish?

This was one point that I struggled with for quite some time and delayed the publishing of this post.  I have come to the conclusion that the major difference between the Fighting Irish and these First Nations nicknames is that historically a good proportion of the athletes competing on Notre Dame were actually of Irish heritage.  Thus, it was actually an accurate representation of the team for a long time.  Of course, I hesitate to say it’s an accurate representation now with college recruiters going beyond the bounds of their states to seek out the best athletes for their teams, but no one’s complaining about the misrepresentation of the nickname of the University of Notre Dame at this time.  The following from the Notre Dame athletics website explains the name’s  origin:

The most generally accepted explanation is that the press coined the nickname as a characterization of Notre Dame athletic teams, their never-say-die fighting spirit and the Irish qualities of grit, determination and tenacity. The term likely began as an abusive expression tauntingly directed toward the athletes from the small, private, Catholic institution. Notre Dame alumnus Francis Wallace popularized it in his New York Daily News columns in the 1920s.

4. The bottom line

In reality, how many First Nations were actually playing under these offensive monikers when they were first established?  Few, if any.  How many First Nations are now complaining about these nicknames? A lot.  There are people that are being hurt and marginalized for the sake of tradition and profits, and it is not right.

What is baffling is that in sports, the nickname does not make the tradition and legacy of a team.  There are a lot of professional sports teams that have horrible nicknames with incredible legacies (see Los Angeles Lakers, Kentucky Wildcats, Oakland Athletics, New York Knickerbockers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, I could go on).  MVP awards, wins, and championships make teams and create storied legacies, not nicknames.  Therefore, if the Redskins were to change their nickname and start to win games and championships, no one would be saying that their legacy is tarnished because they’re “not the Redskins anymore”, instead they will be celebrating the “new and improved Washington (insert new name here).”

Furthermore, the Redskins have only made the playoffs three times in the last fifteen years.  Maybe they need a name and uniform to help revitalize this franchise, anyway.  They haven’t been competitive since I controlled them in Madden ’93 on Sega Genesis.  So Dan Snyder, do yourself, your fans, and the community a favour: change the name.