When the Donner Foundation approached Rudyard Griffiths in 1997 about creating an institute that would champion Canadian history, he jumped at the opportunity. Griffiths, a Trinity College alumnus who earned his BA in history and political science in 1995 and worked for Foreign Affairs after graduation, had some strong opinions on the subject. “History informs who we are today,” he says. “Our history has been underutilized. We wanted to explore what holds us together as a nation and better understand our history.”
And so the Dominion Institute was founded, with Griffiths, now 31, as its executive director and its leading visionary. Started in 1997 with a $150,000 budget and a lone staff member, the institute has grown to a staff of five and a budget of $1 million. Its mandate has broadened into two main areas: educational resources and policy research.
A poll released by the institute last September found that 76 per cent of Canadians are embarrassed by the limited knowledge citizens have about their history and 80 per cent believe that a Canada-wide history curriculum would help foster a sense of national identity. (A previous survey revealed that only half of young Canadian adults could name John A. Macdonald as the first prime minister.) The institute’s book and Web site project, entitled The Great Questions of Canada, is used in schools across the country.
Griffiths’ latest undertaking involves The Memory Project, which brings Second World War veterans into classrooms to talk about their experiences. Already more than 1,000 children have written stories about these talks. “It becomes a living testimony,” says Griffiths. “You put the children in the position of historian.”