York CRC wins prestigious prize

York Professor Colin Coates (left), Canada Research Chair in Canadian Cultural Landscapes at Glendon College, received the most prestigious award of the Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française (IHAF), on Oct. 24. He and Cecilia Morgan of OISE were given the Lionel Groulx – Yves Saint-Germain Foundation prize, recognizing the best work dealing with a particular aspect of French-American history, one which stands out owing to its analytical rigour.

The much-coveted prize, worth $5,000, was in recognition of Coates’ and Morgan’s book (below, right), Heroines & History: Representations of Madeleine de Verchères and Laura Secord, published by the University of Toronto Press in 2002.

In awarding the prize, an IHAF representative commented that “this work represents the result of a fruitful collaboration by the two authors on the cultural history of Quebec and Canada. Its two heroines, Madeleine de Verchères and Laura Secord are united in their representations, their actions and their commemoration.

“The authors situate the construction and the successive reconstructions of these two icons in the changing contexts of the history of Quebec and of Canada. To accomplish this, they have drawn on an impressive variety of primary, published and iconographic sources, presenting a series of complicated narratives which enlighten us on colonial, imperial and gender relations. Their choice of illustrations and their narrative style make reading this book a delight.”

Coming to York University’s Glendon College from the University of Edinburgh, Coates has chosen to focus his current research on the various attempts to create utopian societies in Canada’s past. Coates, who has served for five years as director of Europe’s oldest centre for Canadian studies, is re-examining the country’s past with an emphasis on the role played by women, Aboriginal peoples, non-European immigrants and other groups neglected in earlier historical interpretations.

In his work as the holder of the CRC in Canadian Cultural Landscapes, Coates is studying communities such as the Iroquois Confederacy, the Catholic refuge at Ferryland in 17th-century Newfoundland, the counter-reformation town of Ville-Marie in 17th-century Quebec, the free African-Canadian model villages in southern Ontario in the 1840s and 1850s, and the various religious and socialist communities in western Canada – including the Doukhobours, Mennonites, Hutterites and the Finnish socialist community in Sointula, British Columbia.

In addition, Coates will also pursue two other research streams already underway. First, he will explore the creation of an idealized absolutistic political culture in New France between 1663 and 1759. Second, he will look at the European notion of the “noble savage” in the context of Canada, and the way that early ethnographies of First Nations communities influenced the work of Scottish writers such as Adam Smith and Adam Ferguson.

York will be further enriched by Coates’ plans of presenting, over the next five years, a series of academic seminars and workshops, a multidisciplinary conference on Canada’s cultural landscapes and the publication of a history of Canadian utopian visions.

For more information on Coates, check the June 27, 2003, YFile.