Activist archiving of alternative media in Canada: The tip of a fast-melting iceberg

Kirsten Kozolanka, Michael Lithgow


The struggles of subjugated communities against the status quo often find their only visibility in alternative media. These are media that function outside traditional market-based routines, servicing small, neglected audiences whose experiences challenge or destabilise hegemonic discourses. Their marginalised political and cultural status is largely what makes them alternative: these are the articulations of activist citizens whose exclusion from dominant media has driven them into the production of their own cultural texts. Yet alternative media texts – like news texts generally – quickly lose their cultural currency. Archives exist as an apparatus of cultural preservation and legitimisation, but they traditionally have been the purview of large state-run or private institutions with little interest in preserving alternative media. This article examines the practices and preservation of alternative media archives in Canada. By mapping archival practices at sites of independent media production across Canada, and also archiving practices at a sample of provincial, municipal, independent and community archives in relation to alternative media holdings, this research assesses the current state of archiving alternative media records in a Canadian setting. The findings of the study suggest that while institutional archives often overlook alternative media records as falling outside of their explicit mandates, alternative media organisations are struggling to preserve their histories due to financial, technological and expertise deficiencies. Our findings suggest that a broad national strategy to help Canada deal with an alarming loss of alternative cultural records is long overdue, and that a partnership of archivists, activists, librarians and alternative media practitioners would constitute an important path forward at a time when our forgotten activist media are close to being lost.


Alternative media, activist, archives, digital archiving, activist history, cultural heritage

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