Constructing the Black Prairie Archives: “It Had Been There All Along”

Sponsored by Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Recorded on 05/06/2020
Posted in The Authority File

Episode 123

Writers like Sinclair Ross and W.O. Mitchell shaped the popular image of the Canadian prairie settler as white, anglophone, and male, and the region’s image as sweeping grasslands broken by farms and small towns. The prairies in fact have a much more diverse history—and collection of writers—than the popular images suggest. We talk with Karina Vernon, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, whose work complicates and expands those images.

In pursuit of sources during her graduate studies, Dr. Vernon stumbled upon an archive that included accounts of Black settlers. This discovery cracked open her perception of her home—the Canadian prairie—and sent her on a years-long hunt for Black writers from the prairies. The result is The Black Prairie Archives: An Anthology.

In the first episode of this four-part series, Dr. Vernon explains the process of gathering word-of-mouth or other untraditional sources, the inclusivity of the anthology, and the task of defining a collection that hadn’t before been seen as an archive. She also talks the personal connection she developed to the book’s subject matter: “It changed my research trajectory, but ultimately it really changed my life and my own conception of myself, my history, and my place on the prairies.”

About the guest:

Karina Vernon
Associate Professor
University of Toronto Scarborough

Enjoy the conversation? Check out the rest of the series: