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No. 119
Jean-Pierre Wallot, The Historian Archivist, 1985-1997

by Victorin Chabot, Manuscript Division

Jean-Pierre Wallot took up the his duties as National Archivist on June 1, 1985. He was not a career archivist, but his qualifications included a solid university education and an impressive body of experience.

After classical studies at the Seminary de Valleyfield, he studied history at the Université de Montréal, where he earned a doctorate in 1965 with a thesis on Lower Canada under the Craig administration, 1807-1811. He taught at a number of universities, including the University of Toronto and Concordia, and worked as a historian at the National Museum of Man, now the Canadian Museum of Civilization. In 1973, he was appointed professor at the Université de Montréal. He was also assigned important administrative duties, serving as Director of the History Department (1973-1975), Associate Dean for Academic Affairs (1975-1978), Associate Dean for Research (1979-1982) in the Faculty of Arts and Science, and the University’s Vice Rector of Academic Affairs (1982-1985). His activities were not confined to administrative duties; he conducted historical research, delivered papers and published numerous articles and monographs on contemporary Quebec and on the economy and society of French Canada between 1760 and 1850. He was active in many organizations and served as president of the Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française (1973-1977), the Association canadienne-française pour l’avancement des sciences (1982-1983), the Canadian Historical Society (1982-1983), and the Académie des lettres et des sciences humaines of the Royal Society of Canada (1985-1987). He served on numerous committees and commissions, including the Canada Council’s Advisory Academic Panel (1973- 1976), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (1983-1984), the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board (1981-1984) and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board (1985- 1997). He was a visiting Associate Academic Advisor at the École des Hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris on a dozen occasions between 1975 and 1994.

Dr. Jean-Pierre Wallot, National Archivist, 1985-1997

Dr. Jean-Pierre Wallot, National Archivist, 1985-1997. Library and Archives Canada photo.

Jean-Pierre Wallot’s accomplishments earned him many awards and honorary titles, including Officer of the Order of Canada in 1991 and honorary degrees from Université de Rennes 2 in 1987 and from the University of Ottawa in 1996. His impressive curriculum vitae made him an ideal candidate for the position of National Archivist when it was left vacant by the departure of Wilfred I. Smith. The Canadian Historical Society supported Jean-Pierre Wallot’s candidacy, and in the spring of 1985 Communications Minister Marcel Masse, asked him to take the helm at the National Archives of Canada.

Upon his arrival, Jean-Pierre Wallot familiarized himself with internal issues at the Archives. The first matter to claim his attention was the review of the Public Archives Act of 1912. After lengthy consultations with government departments, a Bill was tabled in the House of Commons and was enacted into law on March 25, 1987. The institution which had been known as the Public Archives of Canada since 1872 was renamed the National Archives of Canada, and the Federal Archivist became the National Archivist. The new Act assigned the National Archives a three- pronged mandate: acquiring and conserving records of national significance and making them available to the public; facilitating the management of records of federal institutions and ministerial records; and encouraging archival activities and the archival community.

The new Act required the National Archives to better define and, in some cases, to revise its own activities. To fulfil the first part of its mandate, an acquisitions policy was developed to pursue the objective of illustrating all facets of Canadian society and to define the role of the National Archives in the acquisition of public and private records. Plans for the appraisal and acquisition of federal government records were also prepared. To meet the needs of the archival community, the Canadian Council of Archives was created in 1986. Minister Marcel Masse granted the Archives $7 million, over and above its regular budget, to be used to create the Council, set up a museum of caricature and computerize the Archives.

Only a few years after moving to 395 Wellington St., the Archives were already short of space and in 1971 began asking for a new building. At the time, the government was concentrating on construction of the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Civilization; it did not want to consider the construction of a third cultural facility. Having run out of space, the National Archives began spreading their holdings and collections to more than a dozen warehouses in the National Capital Region. A large quantity of historical government records were also stacked up in regional centres which store semi-current documents. Between 1985 and 1987, a series of disasters occurred; the National Archives decided to publicize the damage and alert the public. When Jean-Pierre Wallot appeared before the Standing Committee on Communications and Culture in the spring of 1987, he was asked for explanations. The Committee launched an investigation and, in a report to the government in December 1987, recommended construction of a new building. At the same time, a three-person panel, including National Capital Commission Chair Jean Piggott, submitted a long-term real estate development plan for the National Capital Region to the government. A proposed building for the National Archives was at the top of the list. In May 1988, the government responded to the Standing Committee with a two-pronged strategy. First, it agreed to the construction of a new building (Minister Flora McDonald announced the choice of the Gatineau site in September 1988); secondly, it proposed that the West Memorial Building be renovated to house the National Archives’ headquarters. In the interim, the Mitel building in Renfrew would be bought and renovated. The Gatineau project was approved on April 30, 1992, and construction began in September 1992. The official opening was held in the first week of June 1997. But no sooner were the celebrations over than the Archives began girding for battle yet again: it was expected that the two buildings in Renfrew and Gatineau would be full to capacity by 2004 and new storage facilities needed thereafter.

Another project on which Jean-Pierre Wallot worked tirelessly was organizing the International Congress on Archives in September 1992. The Executive Committee of the International Council on Archives had chosen Montreal as the site of the gathering at the invitation of Wilfred I. Smith, Jean-Pierre Wallot’s predecessor. With his leadership skills, Wallot secured the co-operation of provincial and territorial archivists and the archival community, and the congress became a national project. It proved to be a resounding success, providing an opportunity for fruitful exchange between Canadian archivists and their colleagues from around the world. After the conference, Jean-Pierre Wallot became President of the International Council on Archives for a four-year term (1992-1996), during which time he raised community awareness of the importance of archives. He succeeded in attracting UNESCO’s attention, and UNESCO Director-General Frederico Mayor asked him to chair the International Advisory Committee of the Memory of the World program. He occupied that position from 1993 to 1999.

On the domestic front, the government asked Jean-Pierre Wallot to conduct a severe program review, which resulted in a 30% overall cut in the National Archives’ budget. The Archives were, however, granted special funds for certain specific projects, such as the Canadian Council of Archives’ conservation program and the processing of prime ministerial archives. The process of renovating the West Memorial Building had begun and many internal projects were launched: a review of appraisal methods for government records; the development of an integrated acquisition program for electronic documents; talks with federal institutions to induce them to introduce better records management practices; negotiations with the Supreme Court, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the CBC on transferring their historical records to the Archives; a reorganization of federal records centres to make them less costly and more effective; the development and application of standards for the description of archived records; a review of client services and the standardization of conditions of access for researchers; the introduction of participatory management; co-operation with other archival services to acquire private sector records; the creation of a committee on the protection of audiovisual documents; participation in a project to revise management practices to make the operation of the federal administration more flexible; the development of the Friends of the National Archives; and co-operation with the archival community and provincial and territorial archivists.

Dr. Jean-Pierre Wallot in the Gatineau Preservation Centre, 1997

Dr. Jean-Pierre Wallot in the Gatineau Preservation Centre, 1997. Library and Archives Canada photo.

Jean-Pierre Wallot left the National Archives on June 6, 1997, after 12 years of tireless service. On March 18, when he announced his retirement, he told staff, “I have given the 12 best years of my career to the National Archives. They were also the best years of my professional life. I have never found any other place as exciting, stimulating and rewarding.... Together, we have won many archival Stanley Cups. Now, you need a new coach to help you stay on top.”

Since he left the National Archives, Jean-Pierre Wallot has been characteristically busy. He was President of the Royal Society of Canada from 1997 to 1999, and he completed his term as Chair of UNESCO’s Memory of the World program in 1999. He is now a visiting professor at the Institute of Canadian Studies at the University of Ottawa and is pursuing his historical research. He still finds the time and energy to work on various committees in the archival and historical communities. Retirement? That word is not part of his vocabulary.