A History of the Centre for Rupert's Land Studies

The Centre for Rupert's Land Studies

The Hudson’s Bay Company Archives Research Centre was formed at The University of Winnipeg in 1984, and was renamed the Rupert’s Land Research Centre (RLRC) the following year.  Envisioned as a kind of successor to the Hudson’s Bay Record Society, whose unfortunate demise was imminent at the time, it was a membership-based organization promoting the rich history of the area once known as Rupert’s Land.  The RLRC promoted documentary publishing, issued a newsletter, organized regular colloquia, and created the foundation for today’s Harington Fellowship.

In 1996, under the direction of Dr. Jennifer S.H. Brown, the Centre for Rupert’s Land Studies (CRLS) took over the functions of the RLRC.  Today, the CRLS continues to foster interdisciplinary research and communication among all who share an interest in the history and peoples of Rupert’s Land, with a particular emphasis on Aboriginal and fur trade history.

One of the Centre’s most important activities is the colloquium held every two years in various locations. Since the first of these colloquia in Winnipeg in 1984, they have brought together academics, public historians, enthusiasts, and others in a friendly and lively exchange of work and ideas.  Proceedings of many of these colloqiua have been published, either digitally or in print form.

The Centre is also very proud of its support for University of Winnipeg students pursuing advanced research on aspects of Rupert’s Land studies.  Established in 1986, and since supplemented by two further major contributions from the donor, the Dr. C. Richard Harington Fellowship has now supported 26 students, usually one a year, for work and research in the Centre.  Seven former Fellows have completed their doctorates, and one has gone on to become the Centre’s current Director.

The publishing of volumes, documents, and papers relating to the Aboriginal and fur trade history of Rupert’s Land has been a major part of Centre activities since the 1980s, when Dr. Jennifer S.H. Brown took up the role of overseeing and editing important works that otherwise would not have found means of reaching interested scholars, students, and community and family historians who value these contributions.  Besides a series of monographs and several volumes of papers collected from our colloquia, since 1989 the Centre has co-published the Rupert’s Land Record Society series with McGill-Queen’s University Press.  This highly regarded series of documentary editions has produced 12 volumes over 22 years.

The Centre has collaborated with other partners in its efforts to disseminate information and facilitate understanding.  Between 2003 and 2005, with funding from SSHRC and Canadian Heritage, the Centre worked with Cree historian and storyteller Louis Bird to transcribe and make available over 80 of his stories on  Two books of his stories, edited in collaboration with CRLS faculty and researchers, also came out of this work.  

More recently, CRLS collaborated with the Pimicikamak First Nation (Cross Lake, MB) to write a history of their community that could serve them in an arbitration case.  Rupert’s Land assistant Anne Lindsay was its prime author and researcher, with assistance from Dr Jennifer S.H. Brown.  In 2010, they produced an award-winning report of over 400 pages, which assembled all the documentary material that could be found pertaining to the community.  

The Centre has come a long way from its origins being run from faculty offices.  We now occupy dedicated space on the mezzanine above the fifth floor of The University of Winnipeg Library.  This space houses offices, a reading room, and the Elizabeth Losey Fur Trade Library (close to 1000 books, many of them rare and out of print), as well as a substantial collection of publications on Métis history, other Aboriginal and fur-trade-related volumes, and a collection of close to 70 unpublished dissertations and theses relating to these areas donated by long-time CRLS Director, Dr Jennifer S.H. Brown. Students and researchers, both within and outside UW, appreciate CRLS as an excellent source of resources and guidance in regard to Aboriginal and fur trade research projects.    

From 2004 through 2011, Dr. Jennifer S.H. Brown held a Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) for which CRLS served as the “Centre of Excellence” that such chairs were intended to help create.  In 2009, CRLS became a member of the H. Sanford Riley Centre for Canadian History at The University of Winnipeg.  The recent North West Company endowment of $100,000, gifted beginning in 2012, is a tremendous boost and a great vote of confidence in the Centre’s work.  As the Centre enters its 33rd year in 2017, the future looks bright.