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Showcase Archives

Showcase Archives

This Month From the Archives


Canadian Youth Congress 

This month we feature the archives of two organizations from different periods of the 20th century.  What they have in common is that they were operated by students and other young Canadians, and they both took ‘anti-establishment’ positions in their stands for peace.

The Canadian Youth Congress (CYC) was established in Toronto in 1935 as an umbrella group for most of Canada’s youth organizations.  The CYC was remarkable for its diversity, reporting in 1936 that they represented “men and women: youth from all the different religious denominations; from schools and universities; from all political groupings; from different racial groups; from farms, factories, the professions; English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians.”  Together, they advocated for youth employment during the Great Depression, and, in the lead-up to the Second World War, took a strong position for peace, declaring “war is not inevitable” and seeing war as a threat primarily to the nation’s youth.  The CYC archive was donated to the University Library in 1978 by several of the CYC’s earliest members; it includes extensive documentation on its activities, primarily from 1935 to 1942.  For more information on the CYC, including scans of documents from the archive, see Youth Mobilize for Peace: The Canadian Youth Congress in the 1930s, part of the Library’s ‘Peace and War in the 20th Century’ website.

The Student Union for Peace Action (SUPA) was founded in 1964 as the successor to the Combined Universities Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CUCND).  Like the CUCND, SUPA opposed the proliferation of nuclear weapons but also expanded the CUCND mandate to lobby for other issues of interest to students, including opposition to the Vietnam War.  The CUCND/SUPA archive is one of our most consistently used collections, accessed year after year by students from McMaster and other Canadian universities.  That usage speaks to ongoing student interest in peace, and its history.

Previous Showcase Archives


Louise Bennett - February: Human Rights & Racialized Perspectives on Peace

Louise Bennett (1919-2006), better known as ‘Miss Lou’, was a Jamaican poet, perfomer, writer and broadcaster.  She is celebrated for her pioneering work in promoting Jamaican ‘patois’ (or ‘creole’, ‘dialect’, ‘nation language’) and was very influential in raising Jamaican and Caribbean consciousness in the post-colonial era, emphasizing links to African culture instead of British culture. 

Her popularity and influence in Jamaica and the West Indies cannot be over-emphasized.  Through stories such as Aunty Roachy Seh¸ columns in The Gleaner(Jamaica), live performances, and radio and television programs, she reached huge audiences and paved the way for future writers and poets. 

 Miss Lou had always wanted to be a writer and started by drafting stories in English.  After a chance encounter with two women on a street car who were speaking in dialect, she was inspired to begin writing in ‘Jamaica language’.  In so doing, she came to celebrate the local language and to criticize those who belittled it.  As she wrote:

My Aunty Roachy seh dat it bwile her temper an really bex her fi true anytime she hear anybody a style we Jamaican dialec as “corruption of the English language.” For if dat be de case, den dem shoulda call English Language corruption of Norman French an Latin an all dem tarra language what dem seh dat English is derived from.  Oonoo hear de wud? “Derived.” English is a derivation but Jamaica Dialec is corruption! What a unfairity!  (Louise Bennett,Aunty Roachy Seh, edited by Mervyn Morris, Kingston, 1993).

Although there was a veiled anger in her words, she was very much a peace-maker, a bridge between cultures.

The Miss Lou archive was acquired by Mills Library in 2010 from the executors of her estate--her son, Fabian Coverley and her friend, Pamela Appelt.  The archive includes manuscripts of her work, photographs, audio recordings and more.

For more about her archive:

To see and hear material from her archive:

 Louise Bennett


Basil H. Johnston - January: Indigenous Perspectives on Peace

Basil H.Johnston, revered author, storyteller and preserver of Anishinaabemowin, the Anishnaabe (or Ojibwa) language, was born in 1929 on Wasauksing First Nation (formerly Parry Island First Nation) located near Parry Sound, Ontario, and was a member of the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation.   He was the author of 16 books (5 published in Anishinabemowin), including Ojibway Heritage (1976), Moose Meat and Wild Rice (1978), and Indian School Days (1988).  In 1978, Johnston published The Ojibway Language Course Outline and the Ojibway Language Lexicon for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, works that are still in use.

Johnston was a survivor of the residential school system.  In Indian School Days, he used humour to deal with his experiences there, but as he aged, he became more outspoken in his criticisms of the system and more open about the sufferings he had witnessed and experienced.  By the time of his death in September, 2015, he instructed his children to bury him according to Ojibwa traditions and not according to the rites of the Catholic Church, with which he had been affiliated for much of his life.

Johnston donated his archive to McMaster University Library in 2012.  It includes manuscripts of his writings, correspondence, documents relating to the Ojibwa language, material he used in teaching, sound recordings, photographs, and material relating to residential schools.  In celebration of his donation and in recognition of his incomparable role in preserving Objiwa language and culture, Johnston was honoured by the Library and McMaster’s Indigenous Studies Program at an event held in September, 2013.

Excerpt from Ojibway Heritage:

Dance of the Pipe of Peace: “Each spring the sacred pipe was removed from its casement to be renewed and regenerated.  Only the keeper of the pipe (oshkawbaewis) could perform this ceremony.  And as he opened the bundle to expose the pipe to the sun and to the eyes of men, he chanted prayers re-dedicating, re-sanctifying, and consecrating the pipe to the mood and spirit of peace. … From the sun’s rays the pipe received a portion of the power of the sun and the earth; from men and women, a human peace.  The pipe was by touch and intent consecrated by all.  It possessed the spirit and medicine of peace.  In turn, the pipe imparted peace to all who touched it.”

For more information:

Basil H. Johnston’s archive – Division of Archives and Research Collections, Mills Memorial Library

Deemed “authentic”: Basil H. Johnston – Historical Perspectives on Canadian Publishing

McMaster University Library and the Indigenous Studies Program honoured Johnston in 2013.

Translation of the English word ‘peace’ into Anishinaabemowin, in Johnston’s own hand (Basil H. Johnston archive, box 14, folder 5).

Letters Home from the First World War: December - Peace & Place

For many people, the December holiday season is a time to spend at home with family, a time to celebrate peace and goodwill.  For those separated from their families, it can be a time of heartache.  Such is the case for many military personnel.  The Division of Archives and Research Collections in Mills Library has thousands of letters sent by soldiers on active duty in the First and Second World Wars to their loved ones at home.  Here are but two examples from the First World War:

Gerald Blake served with the British Expeditionary Force and saw action in France in the earliest stages of the war.  His letters home to his mother and brother, Clive, in London, England, include a couple from December 1914 and January 1915 describing a most unusual event—at Christmas, British and German soldiers left their trenches and fraternized in ‘no man’s land’.  The so-called ‘Christmas truce’ was a brief interlude in a long and brutal war.  Blake was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Closer to home, McMaster graduate Bernard Freeman Trotter left his graduate studies at the University of Toronto to enlist.  He received a commission with the British army and served in France with the Leicestershire Regiment.  His letters home include poignant observations that he captured in poems such as this:

We shall grow old, and tainted with the rotten
Effluvia of the peace we fought to win,
The bright deeds of our youth will be forgotten,
Effaced by later failure, sloth, or sin;
But you have conquered Time, and sleep forever,
Like gods, with a white halo on your brows --
Your souls our lode-stars, your death crowned endeavour
The spur that holds the nations to their vows.

Trotter was killed on May 6, 1917.

Vera Brittain - November: Women's Health & Empowerment and Global Peace


Vera Brittain was preparing to enrol at Oxford to study English literature when the First World War broke out and interrupted her plans.

Young and idealistic, Brittain volunteered for service as a nurse, working in England, Malta and near the front in France.

It was during this time, while tending to both Allied and German sick and wounded, that Brittain experienced the horrors of war first hand.

The sight of disfigured soldiers and exposure to diseases like typhoid and dysentery were constants for Brittain, as was the danger inherent in being close to the front.

Her fiancé, Roland Leighton, was killed December 23, 1915 – just one day before he was to begin a week’s leave to spend Christmas with Brittain.

She also lost her brother Edward and two close friends to the fighting.

All of this led Brittain to adopt a pacifist stance after the war. She also re-enrolled at Oxford, but this time in the History program, in an attempt to make sense of the things she had witnessed during wartime.

Her 1933 memoir, Testament of Youth, continued her struggle to understand the war, when she and her peers had been “used, hypnotized and slaughtered.” It also documents her struggle to establish a career as a woman in a very much male-dominated society.

The manuscript of that memoir, as well as the letters sent between Brittain and Leighton, make up just part of the Vera Brittain archives, now housed at McMaster.

The extensive collection regularly attracts interest from researchers around the world, and is accessible to the public.


Farley Mowat - October: Water & Peace


After serving in the Italian campaign during the Second World War, Farley Mowat (1921-2014), exhausted and disillusioned by the slaughter he had witnessed, retreated to the wilderness of the Canadian north.  In the midst of peace and solitude, he was introduced to the Ihalmiut, a small branch of Innuit.  His groundbreaking book, People of the Deer (1952), exposed their forced re-location and subsequent famine and launched Mowat’s career as a fierce advocate for preserving natural habitats and traditional ways of life.  He went on to write over 40 books, including the bestseller Never Cry Wolf (1963) and popular children’s books, such as The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be (1957).

Mowat was sometimes accused of playing fast and loose with the facts in his published works.  He was fond of saying “never let facts get in the way of truth.”  In his writing, facts are subsumed in an imaginative narrative that points to a bigger reality, a style that can be described as “creative non-fiction”.

Mowat began donating his archive to McMaster in 1970 and did so regularly until his death in 2014.  Consisting of almost 400 boxes, the archive documents Mowat’s life and work, containing detailed journals of his travels in the Canadian north and other parts of Canada and the world; manuscripts of his many books; thousands of letters; hundreds of photographs; and much more.

For more information about the Farley Mowat archive:


Bertrand Russell - September: Peace and Conflict Transformation


Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a British philosopher, social reformer and peace activist.  His work for peace spanned over 50 years, from opposing the British involvement in the First World War to the American involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s.  In between, he was an international leader in the fight against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  His life-long commitment was the embodiment of peace building, and it is fitting that our archive showcase should begin with him.  Russell’s vast personal archive has been at McMaster University Library since 1968, and scholars from all over the world regularly visit the Library to pore over his manuscripts and correspondence with individuals as diverse as world leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Zhou Enlai, scientist Albert Einstein, and pop culture icons John Lennon and Muhammad Ali.

Find out more about his peace work here: website

Find out more about his archive here: