Vatican Archives and Canada

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Project realized under the direction of Pierre Hurtubise, o.m.i., Chairholder, Research Chair for Religious History of Canada

Historical background

Specialists in Canadian history have long deplored the fact that the archives in Rome, a third capital, unlike the English and French archives, have long remained relatively unexploited and never have been the object of systematic investigation and inventorying. Thus, in the absence of this fundamental archival support, especially given the role that Catholicism played in Canada as early as the 17th century and that it would continue to play thereafter, one risked being limited to an incomplete, even truncated, perception of Canadian historical reality. It was to respond to this concern that in 1977 the Research Centre for the Religious History of Canada (RCRHC), in collaboration with the Public Archives of Canada, established the project entitled “Inventory of Documents of Canadian Interest in the Archives and Libraries of Rome.” Limited at first to the archives of the Propaganda and to only those of the 17th and 18th centuries, this project was broadened in 1981 to other archival repositories of the Vatican and subsequently to all the archives and libraries in Rome. At the same time, the inventory was expanded to include more recent periods such as the l9th and 20th centuries. At this juncture, a third associate, the Canadian Academic Centre in Italy (CACI) joined in and served for many years as a base for researchers involved in the project. It was also at this time that the aforesaid project really took off thanks to considerable subventions received between 1982 and 1987 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) in the category “Canadian Studies: research tools.” After 1994, the RCRHC assumed sole responsibility for the project and financed it thanks to the support offered by Saint Paul University and the generosity of friends of the Centre. Since 2009, for all practical purposes, the project has been completed and has attained the objectives it set itself in 1981. Already its many collaborators and supporters have the satisfaction of having placed at the disposition of researchers and the public at large some twenty inventories covering the period 1622-1922, inventories that for several years have been available in hard copy or microfiche, and for some on the website of Library and Archives Canada (LAC). All this constitutes the identification and description of tens of thousands of documents relative to the history of Canada. In addition, certain documents in the Propaganda archives, notably those of the 17th and 18th centuries and part of the 19th century, were microfilmed earlier and may be consulted in that format.

The recent opening of the collections of the Secret Vatican Archives for the reign of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939) and the planned opening of the series for his successor Pius XII (1939-1958) allow us to contemplate embarking on new projects for inventories devoted to those two pontificates that are of very great importance to the history of the twentieth century. Until such time as this can occur – which in any case requires a great deal of time and money – it seemed important to make available even now on our own website, and eventually certain collections on CD-Rom, the inventories produced in the framework of the project devoted to the period 1622-1922. So now, we are at the last stage of the project in question. Our hope is that as researchers progressively discover, one after the other, the inventories placed at their disposal, they will become as convinced as we are of the importance and wealth of material they contain, material that bears on several aspects of Canadian history.