"The Backdrop Against Which Everything Happened": English-Canadian Student Movements and Off-Campus Movements for Change


  • Roberta Lexier University of Alberta


University History, HIC, 2007, Roberta Lexier


This article examines the relationship between the 1960s’ student movements at English-Canadian universities and provincial, national, and international movements for change. Student activists, the intellectual and political leaders of the student movements, were greatly influenced by issues external to the university and inspired by movements aimed at wider social change. Through an examination of the student movements at three English-Canadian universities — University of Toronto, University of Saskatchewan, Regina Campus (now University of Regina), and Simon Fraser University — it becomes clear that, although external issues and movements often failed to mobilize large numbers of students on campus and frequently divided student leaders themselves, student activists were inspired by what they saw as national liberation movements, including the Civil Rights Movement, the Red Power Movement, the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, the Vietnam War, and the Canadian nationalist movement. Such external movements, which sought democratic rights for perceived oppressed groups, helped shape the political culture on university campuses and often further radicalized student activists. Throughout the Sixties, student activists continued to draw inspiration from global, national, and provincial movements aimed at wider societal change and they became increasingly radicalized, seeking change both within the university and in the wider society.

Author Biography

Roberta Lexier, University of Alberta

Roberta Lexier rlexier@ualberta.ca is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta. Her dissertation, entitled "The Sixties Experience: Hegemony, Identity, and Student Activism at English-Canadian Universities," explores the creation, evolution, and decline of the English-Canadian student movement during the Sixties, arguing that the student movement was rooted in a common definition of student identity and a shared worldview. She has published a number of articles based on this research and hopes to continue academic pursuits following the completion of her degree.