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Valedictorian studied birth of multicultural policy

by Janice Hamilton

A joking remark made by a former RCMP security intelligence chief set valedictorian Mark Kristmanson on the path that led to his PhD thesis in Humanities and put him on the podium at today's graduation ceremony. The thesis, titled "Plateaus of Freedom: Nationality, Culture and State Security in Canada, 1927-1957," tells a story of the formation of Canadian cultural policy that hasn't been told before.

Based on research material from the National Archives of Canada, much of which has only recently been made available through Access to Information, Kristmanson's thesis describes how our cultural and multicultural policies were forged in the security-conscious context of war, including the Cold War.

First, Kristmanson looks at the origins of Canada's multicultural policies during the Second World War. "The initial impulse to a multicultural philosophy was as a response to perceived internal security concerns over Eastern Europeans, Germans and Italians," he says. It began as a way to identify and repress these groups through internment and deportations, and was popularized later as a more liberal policy.

"Multicultural states are security states; you can't have one without the other," he suggests, noting that a security state has an apparatus to monitor social, political and cultural activity. "The dawning of Canada as a multicultural state in the Second World War is also the dawning of a whole apparatus to essentially manage cultural differences." He examines the role of Tracy Philipps, a veteran of British Intelligence who helped manage Canada's early multicultural policies, and discusses the "red scare" at the National Film Board during the years 1948-1953.

He also explores the development of cultural policies during the Cold War, focusing on the role another former MI6 counter-intelligence specialist, Peter Dwyer, played in both founding the Canada Council and managing the government's internal security during the McCarthy era. Dwyer also played a seminal role in spy Igor Gouzenko's defection, leading Kristmanson to re-examine one of the causes of the Cold War.

He looks at the case of black American singer and social activist Paul Robeson in research gleaned from 1,200 pages of Canadian security intelligence documents. "I have showed how cultural policy was formed as a kind of emergency measure to forestall further growth of a progressive popular front of cultural activities," he explains.

Another section of the paper, titled "Dwellers and Occupiers," examines the way Canadians inhabit their landscape. Kristmanson goes into detail about landscape artist A. Y. Jackson's trip aboard the government Arctic patrol ship Beothic, and about Archie "Grey Owl" Belaney's approach to photographing his landscape.

The thesis includes about 100 photos and other images, as well as taped sounds. Kristmanson is currently revising his 480-page thesis for publication as a trade paperback by Between the Lines Press, a 20-year-old independent publishing house.

Sherry Simon, Director of the PhD in Humanities program at the School of Graduate Studies, stresses the incisive way Kristmanson weaves history, literature and art in this interdisciplinary paper, combining rigorous research with a sensitive and reflective writing style.

"He takes nothing for granted," she said. Digging at the underside of his subject matter, he creates unexpected encounters by juxtaposing things like totem poles with radio antennae.

Kristmanson, who lives in Montebello, halfway between Montreal and Ottawa, says his experience working in the cultural sector of the federal capital stimulated his curiosity about these subjects.

Now 39, he grew up in Fredericton, where his father taught chemical engineering. He went to Ottawa in the early 1980s, and spent nine years combining undergraduate studies in history at University of Ottawa with a full-time job at the National Arts Centre, where he eventually became production manager of music and opera.

He got a Master's degree from the Department of Arts Policy and Management at City University in London, England, then spent two years at Concordia doing courses and exams. Returning to Ottawa, he became artistic director of New Theatre of Ottawa from 1994-1998, and began researching his thesis. He managed to tie these two interests together by producing several performance works derived from this research.

Interested in learning more about Peter Dwyer, he was invited to a luncheon at the Press Club that has been attended by people from the security and cultural sectors since the 1950s. There, a former head of the RCMP security service asked him whether he was Icelandic. Kristmanson replied no, he was Canadian, but the encounter made him realize that his name identified him as someone who was different. "At that precise moment, the thesis took the shape that it did."

Fall convocation

Honorary doctorates will be awarded today at the Palais des Congr¸s to




The Hon. Lise Thibault, Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec

Robert Lepage, Multidisciplinary artist

Copyright 1999 Concordia's Thursday Report.