Founded in 1973 and headquartered in Montreal, the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS) started out as a learned society with over 150 institutional and 600 individual members. It sought to act upon key recommendations from T.H.B Symons’ study To Know Ourselves (1975) that pointed to a considerable gap in knowledge on the part of Canadians about the country. The ACS proposed to address this situation by promoting knowledge about Canada through teaching, research, and publications.
Association for Canadian Studies (ACS)
The organization initially approached Canadian studies as an interdisciplinary exploration of all aspects of Canada's social, cultural and physical environment, its economic system, and its place in the world. It supported thematic studies of Canada as an entity, rather than discipline-based scholarship or regional studies. Over its first two decades, the ACS organized academic conferences and publications on national themes including the Canadian North, Canada and the Sea, Theoretical Discourse in the Canadian Community, Ecology and Culture, and the Practice of the Arts in Canada. It further undertook projects on Canadian history, multiculturalism, film and higher education.
In the 1990s the ACS mandate, mission and funding model were described as a hybrid that was part learned/academic society, part publishing house and part project manager. Funded mainly by the Canadian Studies program of the Department of Canadian Heritage, ACS activities were geared toward people outside of the academy that were interested in expanding their knowledge of Canada.
In 1999, the ACS de-emphasized its academic programs in favor of a public education approach with a focus on sharing information about Canada beyond the university. The ACS programs, including its flagship publication, Canadian Issues, were no longer going to be scholarly endeavors and instead targeted a large body of Canadian educators, policymakers and representatives of civil society. The objective was to promote better understanding of Canada and, in partnership with the Department of Canadian Heritage, made knowledge about Canada’s history a priority.
The ACS took up the challenge of measuring what Canadians knew about history and how this potentially impacted their sense of belonging to Canada. To this end, the ACS established an in-house research capacity and regularly released reports assessing the level of interest and knowledge about the country. Over time, the ACS conducted research for policy-makers and other stakeholders on a diverse set of topics with a growing emphasis on issues of official languages, multiculturalism and immigration.
In 2013, the Association of Canadians took over the management of the national Metropolis Conference on Immigration and Integration, the country’s largest annual gathering of immigrant service providers, policymakers and researchers. Research on immigration policies increasingly became an important part of the ACS mission and in 2015 the ACS established the Canadian Index for Measuring Integration. In 2003, the ACS created the publication Canadian Diversity which ultimately evolved into the publication of the national Metropolis Conference.
An international conference on the state of Canadian Studies that had been organized by the ACS in 1981 led to the creation of the International Council for Canadian Studies (ICCS). The mandate of the ICCS is to promote worldwide scholarly study, research, teaching and publication about Canada in all disciplines and all countries. Ultimately, the ICCS became a Federation for more than twenty associations for Canadian Studies abroad which until 2008 included the ACS. In 2012, ICCS funding was discontinued by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs (now Global Affairs Canada).
Since 2008 the ACS has pursued a limited number of knowledge transfer initiatives with several other countries and in collaboration with American and Mexican partners has since 2017 overseen the Metropolis North America Migration Policy Forum.
Although still described as an Association, the ACS operates more as a think tank or research institute that addresses questions about Canadian identities while offering opportunities for Canadians to expand their knowledge about Canada. The ACS continues to foster a national conversation on immigration, integration and identities by bridging the policy-making community, the academy and civil society as reflected in the organization’s conferences, publications and research.