Conference Report: Understanding Canada / Concevoir le Canada

Trier University

July 4-6 2013

It is with great appreciation that I write this conference report, documenting my participation in the recent "Understanding Canada/Concevoir le Canada" conference held at the University of Trier, Germany from Thursday July 4th to Saturday July 6th, 2013. At this conference, I was able to present a paper entitled: "Understanding Immigration: A Perspective from a smaller level of scale". The conference included afternoon discussions of Thursday, three panel presentations on Friday, and two on Saturday, with the addition of two keynote addresses, and a variety of academic and social activities throughout the weekend.

The conference opened with a welcome address by the President of the Nachwuchsforum Gesellechaft fur Kanada-Studien (GKS), Dr. Ursula Lehmkuhl. Dr. Lehmkuhl welcomed everyone to the conference, noting the special tenth anniversary celebration of young scholars gathering to attempt to further their understanding of Canada. The majority of participants speaking in the conference were doctoral students or young researchers, though many in attendance were faculty of the University of Trier, and members of the GKS board. The emphasis on the conference was both challenging current threads of knowledge, and recognizing the new and innovative work of young scholars.

Following introductions, Dr. Paul Morris delivered a lecture, which offered a suggestion that Canada is entering a 'post-ethnic' period of multiculturalism, as shown using literary and historical examples to demonstrate how this paradigm has been reached. Following the introductory lecture (which spurred lively and challenging discussions), a traditional German barbecue took place on the campus, allowing for participants and audience members to further any previous conversations in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Friday's conference sessions opened with a discussion on indigenous discourses on Canada's past, present and future. In this panel, a paper on the role and mythology of Canada's promotion of the 'Viking discovery' of Canada, and more recent media presentations of Attiwapiskat, both demonstrated that there continues to exist a hierarchical distinction between Canada's indigenous history and reality, and its non-indigenous history and reality.

Following this, a French language panel on Quebec's minority status in Canada took place. In this panel discussion, the relationship between Quebec and indigenous peoples was discussed, as well as Quebec's feminist poetry, and the internal/external perceptions of the province.

The final panel of the day discussed various themes in Canadian literature, including space and place, and dreaming and memory. These papers all shared an approach of using Canadian literary case studies to work through theoretical questions about space and memory; authors discussed include Thomas King and Robert Arthur Alexie.

Friday's keynote address was given by Professor Graeme Wynn, and looked at the historical settlement of Canada's east coast as being transcultural. In his talk, professor Wynn challenged participants by suggesting that transculturalism is not something new in Canada.

Friday evening brought two conference social activities. The first was a walking tour of Trier. Trier is Germany's oldest city, and was once an important trading port during Roman empire. This tour included the "Porta Nigra", Trier's oldest building, which rested in the town square sitting around 1800 years old. It is also included pointing out Roman baths and ruins, the basilica, and the involvement of Trier in World War II. Following the walking tour, the Canadian Embassy sponsored a traditional German dinner, which took place in a beautiful wine cellar. Here, conference attendees and board members ate dinner while further discussing the day's events. It was here that I had the opportunity to discuss the 'state' of Canadian studies with some of the GKS board members, learning of how program-funding cuts in Canada have an international impact abroad. Here, I discussed the purpose and activities of the CSN-REC, and encouraged a number of individuals to visit the website for opportunities.

Saturday's panel presentations brought another round of challenging and lively discussions. The first panel covered topics of Canadian art history that dealt with the artwork of the 1950s, and the literature of Richler, and his writing on Jewishness in Canada. Following these talks, my presentation took place.

My paper challenged approaching settlement from a federal level of scale, and used local examples from Windsor, Peterborough, and London Ontario to demonstrate how the local might subvert federal program aims. The paper was well received, and sparked a good discussion later with Professor Paul Morris, who earlier presented on multiculturalism.

At the conference, I was one of only a handful of Canadian scholars presenting. It was enlightening to hear perspectives of approaching Canada from a more international perspective, both in terms of how Canadian studies courses are taught, and in terms of how Canada is understood (through legislation, literature, and history, for example). This was also the first conference that I participated in as a panelist outside of Canada, which added to my excitement and enjoyment of the conference. Again, I thank the Canadian Studies Network for their support in my participation in this conference.