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Secure a future for the past

In search of a new home for
the Connexions Archive project

“Anyone who has explored the world of archives will know that it is a treasure house, one that is full of surprises, crossing paths, dead ends, painful reminders and unanswered questions.”
- Nelson Mandela
“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”
- Joni Mitchell
“Within the broader realm of archives, Connexions fills a unique, indispensable and ultimately dynamic role – documenting Canadian grassroots movements for social and environmental justice. Because these movements tend to be ignored or misrepresented in the mainstream present, they can fade too easily and irretrievably into oblivion. Connexions ensures that their legacy – a vital part of our shared legacy – remains alive and accessible.”
- Michael Riordon





A Quick Summary

  1. Connexions is committed to recovering and preserving the history of grassroots movements for social justice and making it accessible to new generations. We believe in the importance of peoples’ history – keeping alive the memories, experiences, strategies, successes, failures, and visions of those who have worked for social justice over the years – so future generations can learn from and be inspired by them.
  2. The Connexions Archive is a unique resource for the grassroots in Toronto, in Ontario, in Canada, and internationally. For the last 37 years, Connexions has worked tirelessly to preserve records of grassroots activism and make them available in living, breathing form using modern tools to make it instantly accessible to, and searchable by, everyone.
  3. The Connexions Archive is searching for a new space to house the collection and  those who work on it.
  4. We need a partner organization or sponsor(s) to provide space or material resources to make Connexions’ continued work possible. We seek help from individuals who are able to make the ‘connections’ and help open doors to help secure space or funding.
  5. Connexions is a project established in 1975 to keep alive and share the rich history of grassroots movements for social justice. It is both a physical archive housing materials that span more than 50 years of grassroots activism, and an electronic library maintained by a working group engaged in digitizing materials and making them widely available online.
  6. The Connexions Archive is at a watershed moment in its own history. Its activities are thriving and growing, but it may soon find itself without a roof over its head.
  7. For the past 16 years, Connexions has been housed in space donated by a supportive organization. That space will be closing in the near future, making it necessary to find a new home for the collection and for the volunteers and interns who work to digitize, abstract, index, and translate the materials in the collection.
  8. The Connexions Archive operates with no outside sources of income – a miracle of making things happen on very little except the vision and enthusiasm of volunteers! – so its future also depends on finding either donated space, or help from partners, sponsors, funders and donors willing to support the long-term survival of the project.
  9. Because Connexions is a very active project – a place where interns and volunteers come to scan, index, write, research, and translate – it needs a transit-accessible space able to accommodate both the physical collection and those who work on it.
  10. Its space needs are modest. It currently occupies about 1,200 feet of space, though a larger space would allow the Connexions Archive to accept more materials and would provide space for more volunteers, interns and equipment.
  11. Connexions is approaching potential supporters and partners – individuals and institutions – to provide space directly, or to provide suggestions, contacts, introductions, letters of support, or other assistance in establishing a new home for the Connexions Archive. Our goal is to secure a future for the Connexions Archive by enlisting the creative support of partners and sponsors who see the value of this project.




Connexions: An Activist Archive

What is the Connexions Archive?

  1. * A physical archive comprising tens of thousands of documents, newsletters, magazines, newspapers, posters, brochures, leaflets, books, newspaper clippings, buttons, postcards, audio recordings and other materials.
  2. * An ever-expanding digital archive with more than 13,000 documents and images already available online, and more being added continuously. The oldest document on the site is from 1649, the most recent are from 2012. More than 70,000 visitors a month use the website, recording more than 300,000 page views each month.
  3. * An active project with volunteers and interns who select, catalogue, scan, proofread, and index materials, maintain databases, write descriptions and abstracts, create HTML, PDF, image, and other digital files, and maintain the website and databases.
  4. * Working with other grassroots and informal archives: Connexions is also committed to working with other organizations to identify, preserve, and digitize existing “basement archives” of grassroots groups and activists, to ensure these peoples’ histories are made available to new generations of activists.

What does the Connexions Archive do?

  1. * The Connexions Archive is an extremely active “living archive” where interns and volunteers from Canada, Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia come together to work on digitizing, abstracting, indexing, and translating materials and making them available online.
  2. * Connexions’ internship program provides interesting and challenging work experience for Canadian and international interns. Over the past seven years, interns and volunteers have come to Connexions from more than 25 countries, as well as from various parts of Canada.
  3. * The Connexions website makes materials available to a wide national and international public. The multi-level indexing system gives users – activists, students, scholars, and the general public – deeper and more relevant search results when they search for information, ideas, and sources. The website records more than 300,000 page views a month, making it one of the top 1% of websites in the world in terms of traffic.
  4. * The Connexions Archive provides graduate students and researchers with access to the materials in the physical collection.

Why is the Connexions Archive important?

  1. * Peoples’ history: Dedicated to keeping alive the rich history of grassroots movements in Toronto, in Ontario and in Canada
  2. * A resource to help the citizen activists of today and tomorrow connect with and learn from the lives, the work, the writings, and the experiences of prior generations of citizen activists.
  3. * The Connexions Archive collects resources reflecting a diversity of viewpoints and alternative approaches to achieving social justice and environmental sustainability. The bulk of collection comes from grassroots groups and projects in English Canada.
  4. * Our mandate supports the values of democracy, civil liberties, freedom of speech, universal human rights, secularism, equality, economic justice, ecology, and the creation and preservation of community.

Statement of Values

We believe .....

  1. In the value of preserving the history of grassroots movements for social justice and making it accessible to new generations.
  2. In the importance of keeping alive the memories, experiences, strategies, successes, failures, and visions of those who have worked for social justice over the years so future generations can learn from them and be inspired by them.
  3. In the tradition of “history from below”, working to keep alive memories of resistance in the face of a political culture that insists there are no alternatives to the way things are, and that ‘resistance is futile’.
  4. In the importance of diversity and pluralism, of recording and making available a wide range of approaches to social change and social justice. We aim, as best we can, to feature resources reflecting a variety of viewpoints and alternative approaches to social justice.
  5. In the value of knowing our history, of knowing that people have been working at the grassroots for a better world for many decades and of learning about the problems they faced and how they tried to deal with them.
  6. In the value of passing on the experience and knowledge of elders, and of people who have passed on, to the activists of today and tomorrow. These are threads of wisdom and experience that can be woven into the tapestries of our movements for change.
  7. In the importance of sharing information as well as preserving it. Our goal is to make the contents of the archive available as widely as possible, in a variety of formats and languages.
  8. In connecting people in different places. For people to act locally and think globally, it helps to know what people in other places are facing and how they are trying to bring about change.
  9. In the values of democracy, civil liberties, freedom of speech, universal human rights, secularism, equality, economic justice, ecology, and the creation and preservation of community, which we seek to support through the Connexions Archive.
  10. See also the Archive mission statement.

A brief history of Connexions

  1. The Connexions project arose in 1975 from a loose network of Canadian community organizers and advocates involved with issues related to poverty and homelessness Canada. Feeling a need to exchange information, ideas, and reflections on their experiences, they formed a collectively based information clearinghouse for grassroots activists.
  2. The new project was named “Canadian Information Sharing Service.” Participants sent copies of their materials to be abstracted and shared. A stapled newsletter with information and abstracts about resources and projects was issued several times a year to participants and other interested parties.
  3. In 1978, the name of the project was changed to “Connexions” to more clearly identify the project’s goal of connecting grassroots activists with each other and with information, ideas, and organizations.
  4. Funding for the project was minimal. Free space was provided by churches in Toronto, and printing was done on a Gestetner machine, (a small manual printing press then found in many church and non-profit offices). The work was done by a collective of committed volunteers assisted by local contacts across the country.
  5. This model – a volunteer collective relying largely on donated resources – has defined the project for most of its 37-year existence. Despite its modest scale, it has been remarkably productive, publishing abstracts and descriptions of thousands of resources and organizations, and playing a low-key but significant networking role among grassroots activists for more than three decades.
  6. The Connexions Archive grew organically from documents that were sent to the Connexions office from across Canada. Over time, a substantial collection of materials developed and the Connexions Archive gradually began to assume a distinct organizational identity of its own.
  7. In 1985, Connexions began publishing the Connexions Directory of Grassroots Organizations. The Directory is now available in electronic form on the Connexions website, along with the Connexions Calendar, which lists events sponsored by grassroots organizations. Profiles and literature from hundreds of projects and organizations which are no longer in existence but which were included in earlier editions of the Connexions Directory, are now preserved in the Connexions Archive.
  8. In 1994, publisher and media critic Barrie Zwicker offered to provide space to house the Connexions Archive in the building housing the Sources directory. SOURCES also made server capacity available for the nascent online version of Connexions.
  9. Development work began on the Connexions website – www.connexions.org – which replaced the printed Connexions Digest newsletter as the medium through which abstracts of materials are published and disseminated.
  10. Currently work is focused on digitizing documents in the Connexions Archive and on developing indexing systems and search technologies for the content. The Connexions website has developed into a sophisticated and widely used site providing access to many thousands of documents. It is visited by users from more than 100 countries, and receives more than 300,000 page views a month.

A quick overview of the Connexions Archive

  1. * The collection includes more than 10,000 periodicals, more than 2,000 books and pamphlets, 20 filing cabinets with documents and clippings, as well as posters, audiotapes, buttons, and other non-document materials.
  2. * The collection is housed mainly in filing cabinets and on shelves; with some additional materials currently stored in boxes in a storage locker.
  3. * The Connexions Archive also houses materials which belong to individuals who have placed them with the archive on long-term loan to be scanned and indexed and made available for research.
  4. * The Connexions Archive currently occupies about 1200 square feet of space.
  5. * The current space includes 6 work stations for interns, volunteers, and researchers, most with computers and and/or scanners, a small server room, an administrative office, and a small meeting space.

The Connexions Digital Archive

  1. The Digital Archive is at the core of Connexions as it represents the key to accessibility and search. Once digitized, most materials in the Connexions Archive are made available online via the Connexions website www.connexions.org. Some digitized materials are available on-site only, and not on the website because of copyright or technical restrictions.
  2. Connexions.org, the website, is a distinct and separate entity that works hand in hand with the Connexions Archive to make materials from the archive available online once digitized. Connexions.org also features and indexes content that does not originate in the Connexions archive, notably documents published by other organizations and documents in other archives, as well as a current events calendar (the Connexions Calendar), a directory of grassroots organizations (the Connexions Directory), and Connexipedia, a recently initiated social justice encyclopedia.
  3. Connexions.org receives approximately 70,000 visitors per month, and registers about 300,000 page views monthly.
  4. Documents in the Connexions Archive are often scanned in two formats during digitization. An OCR (text) scan makes it possible to create searchable text that search engines like Google can read and index. An image scan allows users to see a copy of the original publication as it actually appears visually. In materials where the visual design is an important feature (e.g. newsletters and leaflets) both types of scans are normally required.
  5. A description or abstract is provided for each resource wherever possible, and subject headings selected from a controlled-vocabulary database of terms are assigned to every item. Wikipedia references Connexions as “one of the largest, if not the largest, human-indexed archives of social change documents in existence.”
  6. Connexions uses sophisticated multi-level indexing and search systems to assist users in finding the materials in the collection most pertinent to their needs. One of the ideas underpinning the Connexions approach is to guide users not only to the resources they are searching for, but also to types of resources that they may not have thought of but which may be relevant to the subject being researched. The use of an extensive controlled-vocabulary database of search terms allows for in-depth indexing and cross-indexing of resources.
  7. The Connexions indexing and search system is designed to provide a deeper level of relevance than is provided by popular search engines such as Google. Whereas Google ranks results largely by popularity (and ability to pay for placement), Connexions puts more emphasis on the depth and quality of coverage found in a document. Search results include links to related concepts and topics which the user may not have considered.
  8. At the same time, the Connexions website employs a variety of search engine optimization (SEO) techniques designed to ensure that documents in the Connexions Archive rank high in relevant searches in Google and other search engines. In many instances, users first discover the Connexions site through Google, and then discover the depth of resources on the site through the indexing and search functions specific to Connexions. Visitors to the site typically view an average of five pages per visit, which is an excellent measure of relevance and interest.
  9. While we are proud of the amount of information available on the Connexions website and in the Connexions Archive, the true goal is to foster something more valuable: knowledge and understanding of how and why social transformation happens, and to be an inspiration for action.
  10. View a glimpse of the materials found in the Connexions Archive: here

A sampling of publications and groups whose materials are included in the Connexions Archive

  1. Alternate Society
    Alternative to Alienation
    The Badger
    BiMonthly Reports
    The Black Fly
    Bread & Roses Newsletter
    Briarpatch
    Bulldozer
    CalendHer
    Canadian Dimension
    Canadian News Synthesis Project
    Canadian World Federalist
    Committee for a Sustainable Economy
    Community Forum on Shared Responsibility
    Compleat Mother
    Conscience Canada Newsletter
    Constructive Citizen Participation
    Cross Cultural Communication Centre
    Downtown Action
    Ecomedia Bulletin
    Economic Justice Report
    Empathic Parenting
    The Fisherman
    Gatt-Fly Report
    Global Health Project
    Good Work News
    Goodwin's
    Green Living
    Green Teacher
    Guerilla
    Harbinger
    The Harder They Fall
    Healthsharing
    Human Rights Internet Reporter
    Hysteria
    IDERA
    Issues & Actions
    Kick It Over
    Last Post
    Lutte Ouvriere
    Medical Reform
    The Moment
    The Mustard Seed
    Mysterious East
    Natural Life
    New Breed Journal
    New Canada
    The New Catalyst
    New Directions
    New Maritimes
    Newsletter - Challenge for Change
    Newsletter - Dying With Dignity
    A New Vision
    Next Year Country
    Nuclear Awareness Project Newsletter
    Nuclear Free Press
    Nurses For Social Responsibility
    Octopus
    One Sky Reporter
    The Other Woman
    Our Generation
    Our Schools, Our Selves
    Our Times
    Outlook
    Pacific Current
    Pagans for Peace
    Participatory Research Newsletter
    The Patient's Advocate
    The Peace Calendar
    Peace Magazine
    Peacetimes
    Phoenix Rising
    Pigeon Hill Peacemaking
    Prairie Messenger
    Press For Conversion
    Probe Post
    Quaker Committee On Jails & Justice
    RIKKA
    Rochdale Newsletter
    Science for Peace Bulletin
    Seven News
    Seven Sisters Society Newsletter
    Shunpiking
    Social Justice Committee of Montreal
    Southern Africa Report
    Switchboard
    Third World Resource Centre Newsletter
    Tides of Change
    Tightwire
    Toronto Citizen
    Toronto Clarion
    Toronto Men's Clearinghouse Newsletter
    Towards Justice in Health
    Transformation
    Upstream Journal
    Vie Ouvriere
    Waffle News
    Wages for Housework
    Women & Environments
    Worker Co-op

  2. View a glimpse of the materials found in the Connexions Archive: here



  3. What others have said about Connexions


    “Within the broader realm of archives, Connexions fills a unique, indispensable and ultimately dynamic role – documenting Canadian grassroots movements for social and environmental justice. Because these movements tend to be ignored or misrepresented in the mainstream present, they can fade too easily and irretrievably into oblivion. Connexions ensures that their legacy – a vital part of our shared legacy – remains alive and accessible.”
    - Michael Riordon, Author


    “The Connexions Archive [is] an extraordinarily rich collection of documents and other materials on the history of social activism in Canada... The Connexions Archive is such an important record of aspiration and intervention for social justice, with 'grey' materials that were rarely collected and catalogued by conventional libraries and have otherwise have vanished (or are rapidly disappearing as aging activists downsize!) that its value for our understanding of these efforts and their influence upon Canadian society is immeasurable.”
    - Bruce Kidd, O.C., Ph.D., Professor, Faculty of Physical Education and Health, University of Toronto


    “The Connexions Archive is an invaluable collection of materials that provide insight about kinds of social activism and political commitment that are too often marginalized and misunderstood in the conventional scholarship of social movements with its bias toward more institutionalized politics. The emphasis of the archives [is] on a popular politics of education and mobilization “from below,” and the ways this participatory politics has shaped Canadian society.”
    - Don Wells, Director, School of Labour Studies, Professor, School of Labour Studies and Department of Political Science, McMaster University


    “I wish to support with all the enthusiasm I am capable of expressing the importance of the retention in the most secure manner possible, the materials included in Connexions Archives. There is information and commentary to be found that will not be contained in any other archive of which I am familiar. [I have spent the last few years in both provincial, national and university archives without which my understanding and ability to express my “take” on the cultural history of the past 60 years would have been impossible. Any account of the past decades that ignored these materials can never provide a balanced record of what has transpired!.”
    - Walter Pitman, former President, Ryerson Polytechnical Institute; former Dean of Arts and Science, Trent University; former director, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education


    “Archives constitute our collective memory as Torontonians and are an invaluable aid to those who write our history – or produce new thinking on matters of current concern. Knowing, researching, celebrating collecting and uncovering our story is a critical piece to building our civic future. For these reasons I am an ardent supporter of the Connexions Archive. I have followed Connexions good work for over 30 years. It appeals to me because it is a volunteer community grassroots effort. It reveals the story of the community engagement of so many people working on issues of social justice. As such, Connexions is a vital part of the Toronto and Canadian story. It is also a live, ongoing operation with volunteers scanning, digitizing and indexing a wide variety of publications from across Canada that our larger publicly-funded archives are not, for whatever reasons, doing. The Connexions Archive soon must find new quarters, preferably in a college or university setting, for its volunteers and its materials. I want to commend it to any such institution, for support through space.”
    - Joe Mihevc, Toronto City Councillor


    “I am writing in strong support of Connexions finding a permanent home with a partner institution or organization. When I was starting off doing my historical work on the emergence and development of the autonomous and independent left in Canada in the 1970s (especially the New Tendency) three years ago the Connexions Archive was an invaluable resource. It was from their site that I was first able to read the document produced by the Windsor Labour Collective called “Our of the Drivers Seat” and also that I was able to obtain a copy of the full-run of the Newsletters of the New Tendency. This was crucial in providing the basis for me to continue this research which is still ongoing.”
    - Gary Kinsman, Professor of Sociology, Laurentian University


    “I am writing to underline the importance of the Connexions Archives and the invaluable contribution the books, articles, electronic records can make to research and education in a wide range of fields. The Archives are multilingual, clearly and logically organized, and are a fount of the crucial information that is so necessary for understanding and addressing current critical problems. Particularly helpful to me has been the ample collection of past and present research which provides a necessary context for understanding where we are with climate change and many ecological and political crises.... The Archives offer exceptional breadth and ease of access to information and would be an invaluable addition to the university community.”
    - Judith Deutsch, President, Science for Peace


    “I strongly support the creation of a proper archives for Connexions documents. The history that your material embodies will be vital to researchers as they explore the development of Canada. This was a dynamic period of change in the country and the world. Many of the non-profit organizations that now play major roles were formed or transformed in that period. Others, sadly, no longer exist but were no less influential. This clearly would be a valuable resource. The institution that houses it will become a central focus of a range of scholars and supporters. As the baby boom generation ages, this will become even more important. Although I cannot speak officially on behalf of Humber College, my personal opinion as a professor, a program head, an author, and a consultant with 35 years of experience in the non-profit sector leaves me no doubt this is worthwhile. .”
    - Professor Ken Wyman CFRE, Coordinator, Postgraduate Fundraising & Volunteer Management Program, Humber College - Lakeshore Campus


    “The positive value of the Connexions Archive should, I hope, be immediately obvious to any thinking citizen. Santayana’s assertion that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is just one pearl of wisdom that highlights the priceless value of this particular archive. Historians, today and in the future, will find first-hand data here. A better society will surely be built on the shaky remnants of the current one. A significant store of the information, strategies, insights and wisdom needed to fashion that new future can be found in these archives.”
    - Barrie Zwicker, Author


    “As a print, radio and TV journalist, and author over the past 30 years, I frequently accessed the very valuable Connexions website when conducting research. I was able to obtain information concerning the background and history of social movements and related activities in Canada that were not available anywhere else. Should Connexions not be able to continue to do its important work, it would be a serious loss to the country.”
    - Nick Fillmore, Journalist, former president Canadian Association of Journalists


    “I just want to thank you and the people at Connexions Archive for the services you provide me recently. Prior to this, I had consulted a number of libraries (the National Archives, the Fisher Rare Books Library and the Toronto Reference Library among others) in vain trying to locate issues of 7 News, the Ward Seven community newspaper, for a research project on poet Patrice Desbiens. The fact the Connexions Archive had a complete collection was invaluable and allowed me to uncover five original and unreleased poems Desbiens contributed very early in his career while he lived in Toronto in the late 70's.”
    - Jean Marc Lariviere, Filmmaker


    “I am writing to endorse your efforts to find a space that will allow you to continue your valuable work of building a reference library of existing and future social justice materials. A grassroots library/archive is a valuable project.”
    - David Walsh, Chair, Seeds of Hope Foundation


    “Because of its unique orientation as a forum for networking and information-sharing, Connexions is something of a crossroads, a meeting place. Central to Connexions’ vision is the belief that the real power for humanizing society rests with those who struggle at the bottom of society. Connexions strives to create the strength that comes from solidarity among those who work for justice.... There is in Connexions’ experience a hopefulness apparent from the imagination and dedication of those in every province and the territories who are standing up to and moving the immense weight of government and business.”
    - Catalyst, Citizens for Public Justice





    (1) Wikipedia: Connexions Information Sharing Services
    The English, French, Spanish, and German versions of Wikipedia all have articles about Connexions, and in addition translations are now also available online in Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Esperanto, Farsi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, and Swedish.




    This document is also available in PDF format.
    A two-page summary is available here.




    More information:

    About Connexions
    The Case for Grassroots Archives
    A Glimpse of the Connexions Archive
    Selected Archive Projects
    Memory as Resistance: Grassroots Archives and the Battle of Memory




    Donations: Connexions welcomes donations of all sizes to assist it in carrying on its work. Cheques may be sent to the address below or use the online form to donate using Paypal.



    Connexions Information Sharing Services
    812A Bloor Street West, Suite 201, Toronto ON M6G 1L9
    Phone: 416-964-5735. Fax: 416-964-8763



Memory Resistance Grassroots Archives People’s History