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Archivist and Activist: a new scholarship honours the late John Smart

Submitted on Thursday, April 13, 2023

For the late Dr. John Smart (1939-2021), who worked for almost two decades at the Public Archives of Canada, archives were not just historical records but a place of democratic engagement and social justice. Now, in recognition of Smart’s contributions to the field as both a scholar and an educator, the Faculty of Information is launching the new John Smart Memorial Scholarship for Social Justice and Democracy. 

Smart was also a committed NDP activist and union member. The new scholarship is made possible through the generosity of the Douglas Coldwell Layton Foundation, which is working closely with Smart’s family and friends to raise the initial $25,000. Through the Faculty of Information’s matching program, the donation will be doubled, enabling the scholarship to launch as an endowed fund. 

Along with his work at the Public Archives (now part of Library and Archives Canada), Smart founded the Archives Technician Program at Algonquin College in 1992 and taught there until his retirement in 2000. He was the first recipient of the Alexander Fraser Award from the Archives Association of Ontario, given to individuals who have contributed in a significant way to the advancement of the archival community in Ontario.  

John Smart with wife Patricia

John Smart’s great loves were his family, politics, history, archives, books, and his cottage at Lac Bataille, says his wife Patricia Smart, who is pictured with her husband in 2005.

“Archives was what he did for a living, and he did it passionately and with love,” said his wife, Patricia Smart, Professor Emerita of French and Canadian Studies at Carleton University. I had graduate students who would tell me that when they went to the archives, John was the one who knew everything they wanted to research.”  

With a Ph.D. in history from Queen’s University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto, John Smart believed that open public research was a healthy feature in any society and that archivists in a position to protect and extend open research had a professional responsibility to do so.  

By telling stories and providing evidence of historical activities, archives contribute to social justice in many ways. One prominent recent example is the role of archives in documenting the damage caused by Canada’s residential schools. Another example is the preservation of archives and records from the internment camps for Japanese Canadians during the second world war.  

For the Douglas Coldwell Layton Foundation, which promotes the principles of social democracy while reclaiming the legacies of its founders, this scholarship was “the perfect tribute to [Smart’s] legacy,” said Josh Bizjak, Executive Director of the Foundation.  

“We contribute to public policy dialogue to provoke discussion through research and education by convening important conversations in Canada now and to support future generations. John was a committed community member. He believed strongly in democracy, in the importance of our history, and that good work should not be forgotten.”  

The new John Smart Memorial Scholarship for Social Justice and Democracy will be awarded to Master of Information students who demonstrate a commitment to the study of information in the advancement of social justice and/or democracy in a Canadian context. Preference will be given to students enrolled in the Archives and Records Management (ARM) concentration. The first scholarship will be granted in the fall of 2024.