A brief history

A brief history

As the Research Chair for Religious History of Canada builds on the Research Centre that shared its name, it useful to briefly recall what the role of the Centre was and what those who work in the field of Canadian religious history owe to the Centre.

Created in 1967 by Saint Paul University in collaboration with the History Department of the University of Ottawa, the Centre set the following objectives from the beginning: 1) to promote, coordinate and support, as needed, research projects in the area of Canadian religious history; 2) to provide researchers who specialize in this field with materials and instruments that may be useful to them; 3) to generate interest in and, to the best of its ability, fund the publication of works in this field.

Research projects

The Centre was able, during its early years, to promote, through funding, a certain number of research projects and to organize seminars and colloquia, such as the colloquium on the role of the laity in the Church, organized at the request of the Dumont Commission; it resulted in a major publication (Le laïc dans l’Église canadienne-française de 1830 à nos jours, Montréal, 1972). By the end of the 1970s, this aspect of the Centre’s mission was less evident, although in 1992, 1997 and 2002, it organized colloquia marking, respectively, the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Centre, the 150th anniversary of the founding of the diocese of Ottawa, and the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.


In 1968, the Centre created the collection Histoire religieuse du Canada with the publisher Fides, which unfortunately ceased at the beginning of the 1980s, after five titles had been published. The Centre self-published the Conference Proceedings of 1992, marking its 25th anniversary (Status quaestionis, Ottawa, 1994), and those of the 2002 colloquium, dedicated to Vatican II (Vatican II. La réception du Concile au Canada, Ottawa, 2003). Also, in 2002 the Centre published the massive Dictionnaire biographique des évêques catholiques du Canada, prepared by Jean LeBlanc; a second edition was published in 2012.

Where the Centre most successfully achieved its objectives was in developing research instruments. A retrospective bibliography was begun soon after the Centre opened, which included some 40,000 titles; from 1993 to 2011, an annual bibliography was prepared and was published by the journal Études d’histoire religieuse, under the French section of the Canadian Catholic Historical Association. It is also worth mentioning the publication of two archives guides: one dedicated to archives of religious communities (1974) and the other to diocesan archives (1981). But the Centre’s major project in this area is the inventory done between 1977 and 2009 of documents of Canadian significance from the archives and libraries of Rome. In relation to this project, the Centre was the project manager of a book published in 1999 by Éditions de l’IQRC: L’Amérique du Nord dans les archives religieuses de Rome, 1600-1922.

When it comes to making available to researchers archival materials or other items touching on Canadian religious history, the Centre worked in the 1970s to obtain from various European or Canadian archives paper copies or microfilms of documents of interest to Canadian religious history. Then other archival holdings were added – mainly gifts from organizations or individuals that played a role in their respective churches. Finally, in the 1990s, certain ecclesial organizations, such as the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, decided to entrust their archives to the Centre. All of this important documentation was collected and is stored in an archives facility attached to the University Library.