Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Death of the Dominion Institute

It was fun while it lasted.

For a dozen years, The Dominion Institute, "an NGO for Canadian history," was a nimble and clever and provocative actor on the national scene. In the cause of Canadian history and Canadian citizenship, the DI was always coming up with innovative projects and publicizing them brilliantly. It partnered with novelists and veterans and celebrities and new-media gurus in startling ways, and it practised convergence across media platforms long before the concept was a cliché. Its cheeky polls became a July 1 tradition to rank with fresh strawberries and cold beer. The Dominion Institute was history in your face, of a kind we've never quite seen before. It did discomfit the usual spokesmen from time to time. But I admired it all. (Yeah, I got some work from them too, and they kept me on the invitation list for some terrific parties over the years.)

Anyway, today the announcement is out that the DI has been merged into the Historica Foundation, to create Dominion-Historica. Even the startlingly retro name has become a meaningless hyphen-thing.

The Historica Foundation has done useful things, for sure. Just keeping the Canadian Encylopedia alive, let alone all it has done to make it online, interactive and up-to-date, has been a great service to the world. But by comparison to the DI, the Historica Foundation has always seemed ponderous and sanctimonious and expensive and bureaucratic. It's not hard to guess which culture will dominate in the merged institutions.

Started with what seemed like vast financial endowments from two Canadian zillionaires, Historica somehow exhausted them and began competing against the DI (and everyone else) for public and private funding. The government started asking why it should have to listen to two or three agencies and began pushing for mergers. And no doubt the current economic downturn, shrinking the budgets of donors and funders everywhere, was the last nail.

Well, I wish the best for the newly merged institution and its projects, and all the people who labour on them. But some of the fun just went out of Canadian history. Rudyard, Marc, Alison, Eric, Jeremy, and all of you, you did a terrific thing while it lasted.
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