The funding will expand the existing physical archive and establish a digital archive of images, documents, video and other assets that are related to Greek Canadian history.
When Christopher Grafos entered the Graduate Program in History at York University, he encountered the same problem time and time again.
“When I spoke to Greek Canadians about their immigration experiences and their time in Canada, they would often tell me that they had thrown out a lot of the materials that would help researchers examine their history,” says Grafos, who completed his PhD in 2016. “It was such a tragedy for me to learn that we were in danger of allowing these experiences to fade away without preserving them through images, videos, newsletters, and other materials that brings this history to life.”
Together with his then-supervisor, Professor Sakis Gekas, HHF Chair in Modern Greek History, Grafos founded the Greek Canadian History Project in 2012. As the archives grew, so did the need to catalogue, digitize, present and preserve these materials, and to help Greek Canadians tell their stories through recorded oral histories and other methods.
On Sept. 22, the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies announced an important $1.4-million gift from the Hellenic Heritage Foundation (HHF) that will help York preserve, catalogue, digitize and teach these histories.
In recognition of this new gift, the Greek Canadian History Project will receive a new name; starting Sept. 27, the project will be known as The Hellenic Heritage Foundation Greek Canadian Archives.
“This support from our partners at HHF will allow us to add resources that will expand the archives and increase our capacity to engage with our community’s past and present,” says Gekas. “In collaboration with the Clara Thomas Archives, York libraries and community partners, our intention is to digitize a lot of the paper material that we already hold and will acquire in the future for preservation and dissemination purposes, primarily in research and teaching. For example, historical material such as photographs and films, but also written records like old newspaper articles, which would otherwise be destroyed without preservation.”
This gift from HHF will help expand the existing physical archive and establish a digital archive to be housed at York University. As well, the funding will provide a framework for the study of Greek diaspora around the world.
“Focusing on the experiences of average Greek Canadians has tremendous importance,” says Grafos, who is currently the project’s director. “That’s because during the early days of the project, almost everyone said that they never saw themselves as important enough to preserve their story in an archive.”
“York University is profoundly grateful for its longstanding partnership with the Hellenic Heritage Foundation,” said Rhonda Lenton, president and vice-chancellor. “For more than two decades, the Hellenic Heritage Foundation has been a generous supporter of the University and the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. Today’s landmark $1.4-million contribution will serve to expand the newly renamed Hellenic Heritage Foundation Greek Canadian Archives, providing indispensable resources for scholars and researchers exploring the immigrant experience in Canada.”
The partnership between HHF and York University started in 2000, when the Foundation made a landmark contribution to create the Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair in Modern Greek History, an endowed chair position currently held by Prof. Gekas.
“The establishment of the HHF Chair in Modern Greek History was a visionary act,” says JJ McMurtry, dean of LA&PS. “Under Prof. Gekas’ exceptional leadership, the Chair has opened up new lines of inquiry, which have led to important new academic activity focusing both on Modern Greece, and on Greece’s many intersections with modern Canada.”
For HHF President Tony Lourakis, the most exciting part of the Foundation’s investment is the long-term and infinite possibilities that will come from expanding the archives.
“Investing in the HHF Greek Canadian Archives represents the foundation of what we hope to achieve,” says Lourakis. “The archives will be public and available for people to study. They’ll be able to learn about Greek Canadian history in a way that they might not experience from other public historical records. And in turn, we can engage with the public in a more familiar and intimate way than we might have otherwise.”
For Grafos, the recognition that this investment from HHF brings validates the importance of the archives.
“With this recognition, we hope to collect even more materials and more stories about the Greek immigrant experience in Canada,” he says. “It’s time to let community members tell their own stories.”