New CRC Coates to look at utopian visions

Over the years, many immigrants to Canada – pioneers included – arrived filled with dreams of a better world. Newly appointed York Professor Colin Coates has plans to examine these dreams in their historical context.

Coates has been awarded a Canada Research Chair (tier 2) to examine attempts in Canada to create idealized social and political environments. As CRC in Canadian Cultural Landscapes, he will examine Canadian utopian visions of society in an international context.

In making the CRC announcement Industry Minister Allan Rock said, “Today, we are celebrating the strategic partnership between York University, the Canada Research Chairs Program and the Canada Foundation for Innovation.”

Coates notes that contemporary ideas about identity, race and gender in colonized countries like Canada are shaped as much by the colonial society as the colonizing states. “My goal with this research is to understand the broad historical context within which Canadians found it possible to imagine better worlds,” he said.

The utopian impulse is evident in Canadian literature and in many instances in Canadian history. These include the Iroquois Confederacy, the Catholic counter-reformation settlement of Ville-Marie in 17th century Quebec, the free African-Canadian model villages in southern Ontario in the 1840s and 1850s, and the Finnish socialist communities on coastal British Columbia.

A graduate of York University, Coates recently served as director of Europe’s oldest centre for Canadian studies at the University of Edinburgh. He is known for his study of the role played by women and Aboriginal peoples in Canadian popular history. His book, Heroines and History, with Cecilia Morgan, received an honourable mention for this year’s Sir John A. Macdonald Prize, the top award in Canadian history. It is an analysis of the historical portrayals of Canadian heroines Madeleine de VerchPres and Laura Secord, symbols of French-Canadian and English-Canadian identity and nationalism.

Coates believes that Canadian geography has been a strong force in shaping cultural expression as Canadians attempt to make sense of the physical resources available to them. The Chair in Canadian Cultural Landscapes will be located at Glendon College, York University’s bilingual campus, and will promote international, cross-disciplinary research on Canada’s national culture.