Coptic Canadian History Project marks official launch at conference

The first Coptic Canadian History Project (CCHP) conference was held April 6 at York University. The event marked the launch of the CCHP, a non-profit community outreach organization connecting the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections (CTASC) to the broader public and Coptic communities in Canada.

The event was supported by a generous donation from York University Professor Marcel Martel, holder of the Avie Bennett Historica Canada Chair in Canadian History, and sponsored by the Department of History at York University.

“We deeply appreciate their support, and warmly thank all participants and attendees,” said Michael Akladios, event organizer and York U PhD candidate in history.

Left to right: William Jenkins, Paul Sedra, Elizabeth Cohen, Gilberto Fernandes, Bishoy Dawood, Christopher Grafos, Miray Philips, Michael Akladios, Candace B. Lukasik, Helene Moussa, Patty Ibrahim, David Leonard, Bavly Kost, Joseph Youssef

The CCHP began in the fall of 2016 under the direction of Akladios. It aims to identify, acquire, digitize, preserve, and provide free access to source materials that reflect the knowledge, collective memory and experiences of Egypt’s Coptic population, Coptic immigrants in Canada and their descendants.

The project emerged in response to a scarcity of records pertaining to this group in public archives, and as a means to facilitate the preservation of archival records held by organizations and individuals across Canada. It aims to bridge the gap between public archives, immigrant communities and academic scholars.

Recognizing CCHP’s potential for building bridges, fostering research, and advancing social and cultural equity, the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections (CTASC) and the Department of History at York University have partnered with the project. The support of a prominent Canadian university will allow the project to raise the profile of Coptic Canadians, highlight their diverse identities and experiences, and ensure that their legacy carries well into the future.

“The Graduate Program in History is proud to add the Coptic Canadian History Project to a list of research and community engagement projects launched by our PhD students working on immigration,” said Elizabeth Cohen, director of the Graduate Program in History. “Following the lead of Dr. Gilberto Fernandes for the Portuguese community and Dr. Christopher Grafos for the Greeks, Michael Akladios has inaugurated a project on Coptic Christians in Egypt and in their North American diaspora.”

In addition to his own dissertation, said Cohen, Akladios is building an archive related to Copts and Coptic Canadians to be housed at Special Collections.

Left to right: Michael Akladios, Paul Sedra and Mamdouh Shoukri

Paul Sedra, associate professor of history at Simon Fraser University, delivered an engrossing keynote address during the conference. A historian of modern Egyptian history and Christian-Muslim relations, Sedra is a prolific author and commentator on modern Egypt, Christian-Muslim relations, Canadian policy in the Middle East and Middle East politics generally.

Mamdouh Shoukri, president and vice-chancellor of York University, also attended this milestone in the project’s history. Guests in attendance included various academics and cultural leaders in and outside Toronto’s Coptic Canadian communities.

“Their endorsement confirms the overall reach and public interest of our mission,” Akladios said. “This event marks the beginning of what we expect will become an ongoing partnership between the CCHP and various Canadian institutions, organizations and individuals.”

The CCHP will continue to be a digital repository for information, accessible for educators, researchers, students and the general public. It also intends to encourage scholarly collaboration, unite junior researchers in the field of Coptic studies, and establish vibrant partnerships with Coptic Canadian organizations and individuals through public lectures, digital and physical exhibits, and academic conferences. This work will be in partnership with, and a natural complement to, other projects associated with York University, such as the Portuguese Canadian History Project (PCHP) and the Greek Canadian History Project (GCHP).