Investigating the Impact of the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada

Wendy Duff and Nicola Fairbrother


In the last decade, the intersection of social justice and archives has gained increasing prominence as an object of study in archival research. Presently, the development of an archival-social justice framework to measure and understand the potential social justice impact of archives has emerged as a focal point in this discourse. In order to foster the potential for archives to serve social justice goals, it is necessary to acknowledge the capacity for archives to shape and instigate change, and to investigate the historical social justice landscape accordingly. To do so, this research presentation will focus on the social justice impact of the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada.

In 2010, the Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) project entitled the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada joined together research scholars, community partners, and sterilization survivors in Western Canada to create awareness of the history of eugenics in Canada through the development of a predominantly oral archives. This archives operates as an accessible resource for community engagement and historical awareness with a particular emphasis on empowering victims of sterilization through oral testimony. The website hosts twelve interactive tools designed to explore the archives, including an encyclopedia, several timelines, biographies, video interviews, and oral testimonies.

In order to measure and investigate the social justice impact of the project, individuals who participated as contributors and collaborators were interviewed, and asked to reflect on how the project affected them, and how they felt that it made a difference. Project participants were derived from three categories: academics and archivists; community organizations and support groups involved with the Living Archives; and individuals who contributed their oral histories to the project. This research presentation will discuss the methodologies involved in the interview process, and the overall results of the study.


Wendy Duff is a professor and Dean in the Faculty of Information where she teaches courses in the areas of archival access and community archives. Her research and publications focus on the trustworthiness of records in analogue and digital environments, archives and archival finding aids as cultural texts, and archival description as rhetorical genre. In her current research she explores the impact of archives on social justice.
Nicola Fairbrother is the Principal with Fairbrother Consulting and Director of Neighborhood Bridges a human rights organization committed to supporting the citizenship of people with intellectual disabilities in Edmonton, Alberta. Her community based research includes, most recently, Team Leader with the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada ( where she was responsible for the collection of survivor testimonies from victims of Alberta’s Sexual Sterilization Act and survivors of current victims of eugenic practices in our community. Most recently she has expanded her work with a foray into filmmaking and is co-director of the documentary film ‘Surviving Eugenics’ released though Moving Images Distributors in 2015.

Along with the Neighborhood Bridges Community she has spent the last 10 years exploring what citizenship looks like for parents who have intellectual disabilities and people who are co-morbid with dual diagnosis and severe trauma histories. Together this community has used human rights based support models, community activism and community development projects to challenge the community to see disability as part of natural human variation.