The Winnipeg School of Communication: Rationale & Goals

16Jul20

Winnipeg Today, a photo of near the “Forks,” where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River

I have been reading and seeing the phrase “Winnipeg School of Communication” for a couple of years now and never before that and I assumed that it was being used in the same sense as the Frankfurt School, the Toronto School, Chicago School, etc. That usage of the word school usually denotes a coherent line of thought, an approach to understanding, a system of ideas that, although articulated and complex, is essentially understandable as a body of ideas that belong together. It does not matter that such usage of school is applied retroactively, never having been used or thought of by its principal thinkers in the past. It often takes the hindsight of history to see the connections and relationships that comprise a “school” of thought which can only much later be described as such. That was the case with the Toronto School, which Eric McLuhan stressed that his father had never thought of as a “school” and never used the term.

A group in Winnipeg has now adopted the name Winnipeg School of Communication and established a website to announce themselves to the world. I contacted them recently to find out about them and their plans. i received a reply from their Director Jennifer Reid and these are her responses to the questions I posed to her:

About the Winnipeg School of Communication

By Jennifer Reid, PhD

Q – The main thing I want to know from you is what you mean by the Winnipeg School of Communication. Do you mean it in the same sense as the Frankfurt School or Toronto School of Communication?…

The Winnipeg School of Communication marks a return of balance to thinking about media and communications in Canada. It evokes the natural ecology of the land, which is to say land as understood by waterways as communication. Canada, as Harold Innis pointed out, was formed on the basis of the commercialization of communication. As the early fur traders discovered, once past the arctic watershed, you have no choice but to carry on to Winnipeg, located at the forks of the rivers at the heart of the North American continent. This configuration gave rise to its emergence as an early “hub”. Winnipeg is also understood as “mid-ocean”—in the middle of the three oceans that obsessed Europeans and shaped Western modernity. It’s the ultimate expression of “centre-margin” relations. Winnipeg precedes Toronto in this sense, and it’s interesting to see how that historical and geographical reality is reflected in the spread of thinking about media and communications in Canada. It may be said that the pre-history of the Toronto School is rooted in Winnipeg, and more specifically, in the confluence of minds at the Broadway Campus of the University of Manitoba during the first half of the twentieth century.

Innovators of the Winnipeg School

Q – Who are its principal thought leaders who are related by intellectual affinities rather than the fact that they were all born in Winnipeg?

We’ve identified what we call the “Group of Nine” as inspirational for us. They comprise what may be understood as the Winnipeg School of thought on media and communications, from which our organization arises. For a thirty-year span during the first half of the twentieth century, the Broadway Campus of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg’s city centre was a meeting point for figures who went on to be central to media and communications in Canada and beyond. Significant intellectual cross-pollination and career intersection was the outcome. Three of the original five members of the Explorations group, D. C. Williams, W. T. Easterbrook, and Marshall McLuhan, grew up together in Winnipeg and received their initial academic training at the Broadway Campus. S.I. Hayakawa, a significant innovator in the field of semantics, and Graham Spry, instrumental in the establishment of the CBC, represent an earlier cohort. Erving Goffman left chemistry in favour of the National Film Board and went on to be a dominant force in sociology. Professors Henry Wilkes Wright (psychology), Rupert Clendon Lodge (philosophy), and H. Noel Fieldhouse (history) provided their students with generative exposure to the history of ideas, with emphasis on communications and education.

Goals and Relationships of the Winnipeg School of Communication

Q – What are your goals or what is your mission statement?

Ultimately, we are not so much strictly regional in focus as committed to the idea that there is a uniquely Canadian understanding of media and communications. We’re a venue for knowledge dissemination and creation in this spirit. As teachers of English language and literature, we follow McLuhan in identifying the need to teach about media. This sort of education is hard to come by in our current institutions, and that’s where we come in. When Eric McLuhan was in Winnipeg for the dedication of Marshall McLuhan Hall at the University of Manitoba in 2004, he said that if a communications school were to be started here, it would be a world leader. We’ve taken that prompt seriously. Andrew McLuhan lends an important editorial voice to our journal, Winnsox, and we’ve partnered with The McLuhan Institute in the promotion of a network or circuit of research centres across Canada.

We’ve taken a “deep green media ecology” approach to the study of the media. The four elements of our deep green media ecology approach consist of communication, media, education, and ecology. Considering the great impact of media on our contemporary society we need to “understand” media as never before. It comes as no surprise that the human species needs to transition to a sustainable way of life now. Understanding media is the key. The Winnipeg School of Communication is here to help with that very transition.

Q – Are you related in any way to either of the two universities in Winnipeg?

We are a fully independent, privately owned and run organization, so that affords us a great deal of freedom away from the institutional structures that represent the old way of doing media education.

The Website of the Winnipeg School is at: https://winnsox.com/


Construction for Winnipeg Auditorium, 1931 – The Broadway Campus of the University of Manitoba would soon be to the right and above where the Auditorium would be

View from the back of the Hudson’s Bay store, circa 1948, showing the Winnipeg Auditorium (now home to the Archives of Manitoba and Manitoba Legislative Library), but also providing an unusual view of the Broadway Campus of the University of Manitoba including the “Arts Building” (the white building at the rear of the Science Building), where McLuhan studied.


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