Dominion Institute (Historica Canada)

Founded in 1997, the Dominion Institute (DI) portrayed itself as an advocate of cultural memory and historical education. But, the corporate and military funded institute focused on promoting the notion “that citizenship is constructed primarily through experiencing and appreciating Canada’s military past.” In 2009 DI merged with Historica Foundation to create Historica Canada.

DI promoted a variety of education initiatives. During Stephen Harper’s government, DI convinced federal officials to declare a national day of commemoration when the last World War I veteran died and they helped rewrite the citizenship study guide for new immigrants. The updated citizenship handbook Discover Canada: the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship praises this country’s military history and includes more than a dozen photos of armed forces personnel.

DI mostly targeted its educational efforts at schools. Begun in 2000, the Canadian Forces Memory Project has reached over 1.5 million Canadians, mostly students. The initiative brings veterans and CF members to schools and its digital archive offers educators more than 3,000 firsthand stories and 1,500 original artefacts chronicling Canadian military history. In Memory, Militarism and Citizenship: tracking the Dominion Institute in Canada’s military-cultural memory network, Howard Fremeth writes, “the Memory Project is a perfect example of the banal militarism behind Operation Connection that brings the military into public spaces not only on solemn events like Remembrance Day or during disasters, but throughout the year.”

Established partly as a response to the popularity of social history, DI focuses on military life instead of the class politics that may drive war or how militarism can spur racism and patriarchy. In Warrior Nation, Ian McKay and Jamie Swift describe the Memory Project message to students: “In essence, the story goes, warriors, made us what we are today. Warriors led us in the past and should govern in the future; and, if you are lucky, you too might grow up to be a warrior.”

The Memory Project received significant funds from Veterans Affairs, Canadian Heritage and DND. Since the early 2000s these three arms of the federal government have ploughed millions of dollars into the Memory Project.

While the federal government has been an important source of financial support, the Donner Canadian Foundation gave DI its start-up funds. In its first year DI received $200,000 from Donner, beginning a long-term relationship with the large funding agency and its chairman, Allan Gotlieb, a businessman and former Canadian ambassador to the US. 

“Paymaster to the right”, Donner has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to DI. While softening the harder edge of its politics, the 2009 merger with Historica Foundation greatly increased DI resources.