#CHASHC2013 President's Address

Lyle Dick, President of the CHA: “On Local History and Local Historical Knowledge” / Lyle Dick, président de la SHC « L’histoire locale et la connaissance historique locale »


  1. Introduction to the Presidential Address of Lyle Dick

    Dominique Marshall, 4 June 2013

    Canadian Historical Association, Victoria


    Chers collègues, dear historians, guests and friends,

    It is an honour for me this afternoon to introduce our president, Lyle Dick, public historian, long time employee of Parks Canada, administrator extraordinaire, advocate of our profession, and colleague.

    Au cours de ses études en histoire aux Universités de Brandon et de Manitoba, au milieu des années 1970, Lyle s’est intéresé principalement aux déportations du Canada dans l’entre deux guerres.   Suivirent trois décennies de travail à Parcs Canada, d’où il a pris sa retraite il y a quelques mois. 

    When he graduated from the Universities of Brandon and then of Manitoba, in the mid 1970s, Lyle was working on the history of deportation from Canada in the interwar years.  Followed three decades and a half of work with Parks Canada, from which he has recently retired. 

    Initially based close to home, in Winnipeg, he first helped commemorate Prairie life, with colleagues of all disciplines.   We owe to his team the interpretive work around and about the Motherwell Homestead National Historic Park, in Saskatchewan, a working farm, and the preparatory research for the Grasslands National Park.  The book  that came out of this research in 1989 Farmers ‘Making Good:’ The Development of Abernethy District, Saskatchewan, 1880-1920, offered a comprehensive and interdisciplinary view of a small community, in the best tradition of Annales scholarship: from the quantitative analysis of homesteading costs, to the politics of unrest, with chapters in between on the nature of the farmer’s work, their beliefs, the structure of their socio-economic lives and their social relations. This work is outstanding, and still popular, as the Clio Prize for Prairie history attested and it is still popular, as the second publication of recent years attest.

    There began a fruitful pattern of work, research and publishing, where he combined the work for Parks Canada with long hours of  research and reflection outside of Parks Canada.  There again he worked in collaboration, this time with his life long partner, Ron  Frohwerk, with whom he travelled from one field of investigation to the other, and whose  training and experience in archives and art history is present in every page.

    Le bureau de Parcs Canada à Winnipeg couvre un vaste territoire incluant la Saskatchewan, le Manitoba, le Yukon et les Territoires  du Nord Ouest, et il commença un large project sur les parcs du nord, basés sur l’histoire orale de plusieurs communautés du Québec et de Nunavut.  On peut lire les résultats de la recherche qui s’ensuivit dans deux livres dont Muskox Land: Ellesmere Island in the Age of Contact, récipiendaire du Prix Adam Innis, publié après deux décennies du genre de patiente enquête et de reconceptualisation qui fait l’objet de son discours de cet après-midi.

    [ The Winnipeg office of Parks Canada covered Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories, and he began work on national parks in the north, based on interviews with Inuits in communities  of Quebec and Nunavut.  We can read the results of the research that followed in two books,  Muskox Land: Ellesmere Island in the Age of Contact, recipeint of a Canada price, and published after a decade the kind of patient enquiry and honest reconceptualization which is the object of most of this afternoon’s address.] 

    For his later 15 years of public history, Lyle shifted his home and attention to the West Coast, this time writing on human–ocean relations, polar exploration, and the commemoration of Canadians in European battlefields.  His study of the unbelievable fate of WW1 Japanese Canadian veteran Sergeant Masumi Mitsui is the one I know best, an attentive and imaginative reflection of a great many, and painful paradoxes. He has also investigated trials of gay men in Winnipeg and Regina, returning in some way to the history of persecutions he had written for his graduate work;  he has now opened his questions to the social history of same sex men in the prairies.

    Lyle’s work in public history was accompanied by a steady outcome of reflexive articles and chapters on the nature of commemoration and interpretation in Canada, in articles on television, films, landscapes, animals, and more.  In the early 1990s, the quality of his indefatigable work as a manager of public history projects owed him to preside over three years of rethinking the whole System Plan Review of the National Historic Sites Directorate : the consultation his team devised from Ottawa, where he lived for three years in the early 1990s is a model of openness, ambition and accountability, whose results helped revamp and diversify national commemoration in remarkable directions. In the recent controversies over the Library and Archives Canada, the Canadian  Museum of History and the announced federal review of history teaching, his knowledge, and his quiet assurance in matters of public consultations,  have helped the Canadian Historical Society in important ways.   The authors of the recent collection on Parks Canada Centenary have turned to him to write their concluding chapter, and the editors of an upcoming textbook in public history have asked him to write the section on working in historic sites.

    Lyle est entré au conseil de la Société historique du Canada comme le responsable du dossier des affaires publiques, une fonction pour laquelle il a participé aux premiers forums des usagers des archives.  Il a épaulé les présidents qui l’ont précédé, Craig Heron et Mary-Lynn Stewart, au cours d’années difficiles de coupures et de réorganisations au sein des grandes institutions fédérales liées à l’histoire, des archives aux parcs, en passant par le Musée de la guerre. Il est donc arrivé à la présidence bien outillé pour faire face au dédoublement du travail de représentations publiques.  Sa persistence et sa connaissance semblens avoir porté fruit: la Société historique du Canada est respectée, davantage connue et, espérons-le, un peu plus crainte qu’auparavant...   [Lyle entered the CHA Council as the  portfolio holder for advocacy, and he learnt the ropes by participating in LAC stakeholders forums.  He helped the Presidents who preceded him, Craig Heron and Mari-Lynn Stewart, through difficult times of severe cuts and reorganization.  He was well prepared for two years of presidency where the CHA role in the work of advocacy has multiplied and accelerated.   His persistence and knowledge seems to have paid off: the CHA seems to be better known, and hopefully a little more feared than before...]

    It is his accumulated experience as a historian of local communities which he has distillated for us this afternoon, in an address entitled “ON LOCAL HISTORY AND LOCAL HISTORICAL KNOWLEDGE”.  I had the pleasure to read his text this in advance.  To most of us, his knowledge of methods and theories, and his deep understanding of the few Canadian places who were lucky to have him as their historian, now make Lyle one of the elders of the profession. “Elder” with a small “e” , he would tell you.  I say this seriously, because of all the repect he has come to attach to the word “elder” himself, those women and men on whose accumulated wisdom groups of people rely “since time immemorial.”

    Please join me to welcome our colleague and president, Lyle Dick.