Research project Anne van der Pas - Ottawa library & archives

Research Report - ACSN Student Research Award

I’m Anne van der Pas, a master student of North American Studies at the Radboud University in Nijmegen. This past winter, with the support of the ACSN’s Student Research Award, I was able to spend four weeks in the national Library and Archives in Ottawa researching the papers of the late Hon. J.W. Pickersgill. These materials, which include letters, memos, policy papers and speeches, form an integral aspect of my M.A. thesis research, which focuses on Canadian nationalism and in particular on Jack Pickersgill’s individual concept of nationalism and its expression in government policy. Pickersgill, who was born in 1905 in Ontario but was raised in Manitoba, had a long and distinguished career in the civil service and politics. For fourteen years, he acted as personal assistant and advisor to first Prime Minister Mackenzie King and later PM Louis St Laurent, and in this role he was involved in almost every aspect of Parliament Hill business. In 1953 he entered public life as an MP for a Newfoundland riding, a seat which he would retain until his retirement from politics in 1967.

Although his influence was extraordinary (at one point the saying in Ottawa was to ‘clear it with Jack’), Pickersgill is largely unknown to modern audiences. For this reason, I was not expecting the Pickersgill fonds at the archives (where an astounding 279 boxes of material are stored) to be very popular. I was proved wrong; there were multiple occasions where the records I wanted to access had already been taken out by another researcher. Luckily, with the help of the wonderful Library and Archives staff, I was able to view and document all the materials I had set out to review. Archival research was a completely new experience for me, but fortunately this research trip was a total success.

While the archival research went smoothly, the real struggle of the trip proved to be the Canadian winter weather. Having previously spent an exchange semester in London, Ontario, I believed that I was prepared for the challenge of traveling around Ottawa in January. However, an unusually snowy and cold winter, combined with some public transport issues, meant that there were a few days where it wasn’t even possible to leave the house. In the moment this was very annoying, but looking back at those days I can safely say that I really did have the true Canadian winter experience!

I would like to thank the Association for Canada Studies in the Netherlands, and in particular Mathilde Roza whose advice helped point me in the direction of the ACSN, for making this research trip possible.