The MHSO has led, or been a partner in, a number of significant initiatives directed toward digitizing primary source materials and making them available online. Through its participation in these initiatives, the Society is preserving, and improving access to, irreplaceable records that are central to understanding the development of 20th-century Canada.
Discovering Multicultural Canada Digital Repository
Several years ago, the MHSO commenced a long-term initiative, Strangers No More: Immigrant History and Multicultural Canada, to provide global access to its extensive primary source collections. It was guided in this effort by an advisory group of scholars and heritage professionals, and it built on previous initiatives undertaken in partnership with Athabasca University and Simon Fraser University. The objective was the creation of an online digital archive focused on immigrant and ethnic experiences. With support provided by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the D. F. Plett Historical Research Foundation, the Chair in German Canadian Studies at the University of Winnipeg, the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Foundation, Villa Charities, the Rákóczi Foundation and the Sien Lok Society of Calgary, the Society began digitizing archival materials (oral history interviews, ethnic newspapers, historical photographs) and original documents related to its collection activities (interview log forms, narrator identification forms, and researcher/interviewer administrative files). It also established a virtual volunteering program. Volunteers participating in this program – over 500 as of March 2019 – transcribe interviews, translate, edit and annotate transcripts, index interviews, and research, write and annotate narrator biographical notes. The Society’s digitization work and the efforts of its volunteers have produced, and continue to produce, substantial content for online publication.
Over time, the vision for the Strangers No More initiative expanded. Indigenous histories became an additional content focus when the Society extended its stewardship efforts to a unique collection of Indigenous oral history interviews. Some forty years ago, the MHSO and the Ojibway and Cree Cultural Centre (OCCC) conducted over 300 interviews, the vast majority in Cree, Oji-Cree and Ojibwe, with Elders in remote First Nation communities in northern Ontario. The interviews were deposited in the OCCC. Recently, the Society retrieved and digitized the interviews, and began transcription and translation work in collaboration with the OCCC. The initiative was also expanded through an increase in the number of participants. A decision was made to add partners, with digital archives created by organizations and facilities with ethnocultural and Indigenous archival holdings augmenting the anchor archive created by the MHSO. The objective is now Canada-wide representation.
Supported by funding provided by the Department of Canadian Heritage, the MHSO began work on the customized technical infrastructure for Discovering Multicultural Canada in 2016. The work was undertaken in collaboration with the Canadian Macedonian Historical Society and the Canadian Polish Research Institute, the two founding partners. The design and development work and pilot testing were completed in 2018. Since then, the initial archival content has been uploaded to the repository.
Discovering Multicultural Canada is a work in progress. It will be continually expanded and upgraded over time.
The MHSO was a pivotal member of the consortium of university libraries and community organizations, led by Simon Fraser University, which created the Multicultural Canada website. The Multicultural Canada project digitized and made available online various archival materials – newspapers, interviews, photographs, textual records, and other resources – housed, and thus not readily accessible, in archives and special collections. The Society contributed oral history interviews from its Hungarian, Italian, and Vietnamese collections. It also contributed the majority of the ethic newspapers in the site – for example, the Chinese Canadian Community News (Chinese), L’Ami du Peuple (French), Berliner Journal (German), Kanadai Magyar Munkas (Hungarian), Tairiku Jiho (Japanese), Canadian Jewish Review (Jewish), El Popular (Latin American), Crescent (Pakistani), and Zhyttia i Slovo (Ukrainian). In addition, the MHSO made its landmark reference work, the Encyclopedia of Canada’s Peoples, available until 2015, and it contributed virtually all of the 85 publications included in Multicultural Canada. Although the site no longer exists, most of the materials are available in SFU Digitized Collections.
Connecting Canadians: Canada’s Multicultural Newspapers
The MHSO, Simon Fraser University, and the Galileo Educational Network partnered with Athabasca University in the Connecting Canadians: Canada’s Multicultural Newspapers digitization project. Connecting Canadians provides an opportunity for individuals to connect with their heritage by exploring ethnic newspapers and engaging in learning activities online. The collection in the website includes Croatian, Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Serbian, Serbo-Croatian, and Ukrainian newspapers. The MHSO contributed Estonian (Meie Elu, Vaba Eestlane), Finnish (Canadan Uutiset, Liekki, and Vapaus), Latvian (Brivais Latvietis), and Lithuanian (Liaudies Balsas) newspapers from its ethnic newspapers collection.