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For the last fifty years at Concordia University the Department of Communication Studies has made significant contributions to the study of media, culture and society. 

Beginning as a department committed to the humanistic exploration of contemporary media, and growing into a multimedia teaching environment, members of the Department have expanded their influence into all realms of intellectual life pertaining to media and culture.


Our professors have produced some of the most impactful and well-regarded research and research-creation in the field. They have led major scholarly societies and journals, have served at the highest levels of granting agencies and juries, have curated ground-breaking shows, and have been the catalysts to the launching of innovative scholarly and artistic organizations.


Our former graduate students now populate the ranks of university faculty positions across the country and beyond, and they too are continuing our legacy of engaged and original scholarship on media and culture.


This timeline documents notable milestones in the history of Canada’s first university-level communication studies department.

Jump to   1970  1980  1990  2000  2010 

Spring 1964:

Reverend John E. O’Brien, S.J. proposes a Department of Communication Arts

After receiving a doctorate in communication from the University of Southern California, Fr. John E. O’Brien returned to his alma matter, Loyola College, with the ambitious goal of founding Canada’s first Department of Communication. In a proposal to the Dean and the President of Loyola in April 1964, Fr. O’Brien provided a two-fold rationale to launch a program akin to those offered in over 140 American universities at the time: to imbue “the spirit of Christian humanism” over the development of mass media in Canada and to close the gap in Canadian communication studies scholarship. From the outset, Fr. O’Brien advocated for the simultaneously theoretical and practical approach to the curriculum that remains in the Department today.

Autumn 1964:

Loyola College offers First Communication Course

Though the College did not accept his first proposal, Fr. O’Brien offered a single communication course in Fall 1964, which could be taken as a substitute for an English course requirement. Expectations for enrolment were low, from six to ten students. But after seventy-five students registered for the course, Loyola College began the process of implementing Canada’s first Department of Communication Arts.

March 1965:

Loyola College the First Canadian Post-Secondary Institution to Establish Department of Communication

Officially inaugurated in Fall 1965, the Department of Communication Arts at Loyola College mirrored existing American programs.

The program offered a BA major that included seven courses of 22 to be taken inside the new Department.

The course structure developed students in both the scholarly and creative facets of contemporary media.


November 1966:

Film Lending Library Opens

A project initiated by the Department of Communication Arts, forty-three National Film Board productions formed the core of the facility.

Source: Memo from Communication Arts Department to Loyola College Department Heads, 17 November 1966, I147/16A – Office of the President Fonds – Internals Relations, Academic, Department of Communications, 1964-1968, Folder #1: 1964-1968)

April 1967:

Father O’Brien spreads Word of the New Department

At a symposium entitled “The Present Position and Future Development of Canadian Communications Research and Teaching” held at the University of Saskatchewan, Fr. O’Brien presented about the new Communication Arts Department at Loyola College before an audience of fellow scholars and university administrators.

Source: O’Brien, John E. Presentation at Symposium on “The Present Position and Future Development of Canadian Communications Research and Teaching.” April 24-25, 1967.


Spring 1967:

Department Faculty Doubles in Size Following Expo ’67

For the first few years, four faculty – Fr. O’Brien, Dr. John Buell, Ross Dolinsky and Don Clark – formed the core teaching and technical staff of Communication Arts. After Montreal’s Expo ’67 wrapped up, however, Fr. O’Brien capitalized on the general interest in new media to recruit some of the Expo’s celebrated artists. Charles Gagnon, the renowned artist and filmmaker for Expo 67’s Christian Pavilion, became a professor and the Department’s artist-in-residence. Dr. Miroslav Malik, who was executive director for the Czech pavilion at Expo, joined the Department, initially as a visiting professor. That same year, the Department also welcomed its first female faculty member, Dr. Gail Valaskakis, as well as film scholar Fr. Marc Gervais.

Sources: Seaton, Beth. “Communication Studies began twenty years ago,” 25 April 1985. Pg. 8. Letter, Patrick G. Malone, S.J., President, Loyola College to Gail Valaskakis, 16 May 1967. P-125 – Gail Valaskakis Fonds, CUA.

Fall 1967:

First Graduate Program Begins

The Department launched its first graduate program, the Graduate Diploma in Communication, in 1967, designed specifically for people with Bachelor of Arts degrees from other disciplines.


February 1968:

Bryan Building Opens

Named for Fr. William Xavier Bryan, S.J. (1892-1947), a distinguished teacher of economics, sociology, French, and philosophy, and Dean of Studies at Loyola, the Bryan Building opened in the winter of 1968. The Bryan Building provided ample space not only for classrooms and offices, but also a combined television-film studio, two radio studios and control booths, a multi-media room, a photo studio-graphics room, an editing room, and a dark room. These modern facilities were considered a bold step forward for an academic program, and were instrumental in establishing the program reputation for curricular and scholarly innovation.

Bryan Building.”
“WOULD YOU BELIEVE?” pamphlet, 18 September 1967. I147/16A – Office of the President Fonds – Internals Relations, Academic, Department of Communications, 1964-1968.


April 1970:

Faculty Calls for Shift from Teaching to Scholarship

Changes were in the works. In April 1970, faculty members petitioned the Department to shift the focus from teaching to research. Department Chair Fr. O’Brien received a request from Dr. Buell for research funds, writing, “With some five years behind us, I believe it is now time for the Department to make its contribution on the wider levels of media theory and practice per se, and to arrive at a performance level commensurate with our capacities.” Charles Gagnon reiterated Buell’s sentiment in an October 1970 report to R.P. Duder, Assistant to the President of Loyola College, arguing for more time and resources to be dedicated to scholarly and artistic pursuits.

Source: Letter from John Buell to John E. O’Brien, S.J., 11 April 1970. I147/16A – Office of the President Fonds – Internals Relations, Academic, Department of Communications, 1964-1968, CUA, Concordia University.


Summer 1970:

Department offers Summer Institute in Europe for students

Communication Arts experimented with novel forms of teaching. In 1970, the Department offered a Summer Institute in Europe for students. The first of its kind for Canada, the Summer Institute aimed to provide added dimensions to the normal courses of Communication Arts study at Loyola. For the eight-week summer session, students in Communication Arts received concentrated and varied instruction through lectures, seminars, and exposure to leading communications authorities in seven different European countries. Students also visited many museums, art galleries and festivals, and met with authors, film directors, and foreign students to discuss their different concepts and theories of communication and mass media.

Source: Ernhofer, Ken. “Loyola Communication Arts summer institute in Europe.” Loyola News 46.22 1970/2/20. Pg. 3.


1970 Onward:

A Tradition of Campus Visits from Luminaries Begins

Notable on-campus events included a visit by the influential first director of the National Film Board, John Grierson, in December 1970, and a talk by Marshall McLuhan in February 1974. McLuhan appeared as keynote to a conference on “education as development of human potential” and spoke alongside Communication Arts faculty member Tom McPhail.

February 1974:

Executive Communication Symposium

Representatives of industry, business and government attended this full-day symposium hosted by Dr. Miroslav Malik. The day’s events included discussions about information design, communication analysis and the future of communication studies in Canada, as well as practical demonstrations by Communication Studies faculty.

May 1974:

First Research Lab Opens

A significant turn toward research transpired when the Myer F. Pollock Communication Research Laboratory opened in the Bryan Building. Led by Dr. Malik until his retirement in 1988, this facility, one of the first research labs in the field of biometrics, provided up-to-date media technologies for research, including biometric monitoring equipment, a fifty-channel multimedia programmer, and instruments for television scenography testing.

Source: Thwaites, Hal. “IN MEMORIAM: Miroslav Malik, 1931-1998,” Concordia Thursday Report, 1998.


April 1975:

Media Man and the Creative Process

The Department brought together academe and industry to talk to students about the state of media in Canada and the world for this three-day conference.

Source: Media Man and the Creative Process symposium pamphlet. April 1975. Sheelah O’Neill, personal collection.

October 1976:

Department becomes Communication Studies

After a decade of operations, and following the merger of Loyola College and Sir George Williams College to form Concordia University in 1974, the Department of Communication Arts becomes the Department of Communication Studies in October 1976. The change reflected the more common name for equivalent departments in universities across Canada and the United States.

Source: Savoie, Pierre-Olivier, “Pop culture is serious,” The Link, 2001/1/23. Pg. 12.

September 1979:

Communicating Non-Traditionally

Co-sponsored by the federal Department of Communications and Concordia’s Department of Communication Studies, guests from local broadcasting stations across the country, as well as representatives of the CBC and CTV, attended this three-day seminar. In discussion groups, guests recounted their experiences with innovative broadcast experiments in their localities, which included Vancouver, Inuvik and Yellowknife, Saskatoon, Kitchener-Waterloo, Chicoutimi-Jonquière and Halifax. Central questions for the conference concerned how media could meet the needs of people at a local level and how people in small communities could access programming relevant to them.

Source: Smith, Beverly. “Broadcast reps to attend conference: Communicating non-traditionally.” The Thursday Report. 13 September 1979. Pg. 6.


Fall 1983:

Department launches MA in Media Studies

The launch of advanced graduate programs in the 1980s signaled the maturity of the Department as well as the recognition of its advanced standing in the scholarly community. The Master of Arts in Media Studies program began accepting students for 1983-1984, introducing its innovated research-creation project option in 1991. This option, which allows students to develop extended research projects in a medium other than print with a creative or documentary intent, has since been emulated by other graduate programs and has helped to establish the Department of Communication Studies as a national leader in “research-creation” in the humanities.

Source: Lalonde, Mark. “Masters program to be introduced in Poli Sci,” Loyola News 56.2. 9 September 1979. Pg. 1. And Tourneur, John. “Arts and Science faculty council ok’s Communication Studies M.A.” The Georgian 43.29. 15 January 1980. Pg. 5.


Summer 1985:

Gail Valaskakis becomes President of the Canadian Communication Association

Faculty have held influential positions in the Canadian Communication Association, the field’s main national scholarly association, with Dr. Valaskakis (1985-86) and Dr. William Gilsdorf (1990-91) both serving as president, a position that was later held by Dr. Leslie Reagan Shade (2004-06).

Faculty members have also been involved in leadership roles in many academic organizations beyond the Canadian Communication Association, including the Film Studies Association of Canada, the International Communication Association, the Association of Internet Researchers, and the Digital Games Research Association.


September 1985:

20th Anniversary of the Department

Celebrating the Department’s 20th anniversary, past and present faculty contributed to a book collection titled Humanism in a Technological Age. The book grouped essays under five interrelated themes that demonstrated the specific strengths of the Department: Communication Studies history, Marshall McLuhan’s ideas, visual media, media and social/political contexts, and communication pedagogy. In his introduction, former Department Chair Dr. Bill Gilsdorf noted that while the Department had grown significantly in all respects, its focus on humanism in theoretical and production practices has remained a constant.

Source: Department of Communication Studies, Humanism in a Technological Age, Concordia University. September 1985. Sheelah O’Neill, personal records.


Fall 1987:

PhD Established

The success of the MA in Media Studies prompted further expansion at the graduate level. In 1987, under the auspices of Concordia University, Université de Montréal, and Université du Québec à Montréal, the Joint Doctorate in Communication Studies began its offerings.

The program was both the first inter-university and bilingual program of its kind in Canada. It was also the largest, in terms of participating students and faculty members. The PhD program was accorded permanent status in 1994.

Source: Savoie, Pierre-Olivier, “Pop culture is serious,” The Link, 2001/1/23. Pg. 12.

Spring 1989:


Organized by faculty members Dr. Hal Thwaites, Christine Davet and Dr. William Gardiner, the 3Dmt conference involved an international audience of practitioners, academics, students and technicians. Thirty speakers from ten countries discussed topics including holography, 3D film, television and sound, and the final day of the conference featured hands-on demonstrations of 3D techniques.

Source: Greenway, Kate. “3D conference to give university spotlight.” The Thursday Report. March 9, 1989.


October 1994:

Harold Innis and Intellectual Practice for the New Century: Interdisciplinary and Critical Studies

The conference was organized by Dr. William Buxton and Dr. Charles Acland. It included discussions with over 30 visiting scholars on a number of papers related to Innis’s work, an evening of films featuring themes of interest to Innis, and a keynote address by the influential communication theorist and historian, Columbia University professor James W. Carey. This conference and the subsequence book Harold Innis in the New Century: Reflections and Refractions (1999) effectively recast Innis’s legacy with a new depth and humanity that earlier renditions, concentrating on a relatively small sample of his work, had understood as technologically deterministic.

Source: Concordia Thursday Report. 8 September 1994.

Spring 1998:

Archival Research Conference

Dr. Sawchuk led the “Textual Encounters of the Archival Kind,” a conference on archival research and practice. The event notably prefigured the more recent ‘archival turn’ in humanities scholarship and influenced research that followed over the next decade.

October 1998:

Sex on the Edge: An International Symposium on Sexuality and Marginality

This event brought together more than 150 scholars, representing a wide range of disciplines, from Europe, North America and Australia to tackle complex issues such as sexual politics, identity and marginalization. The conference was led by Dr. Thomas Waugh (Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema) and Dr. Chantal Nadeau. Keynote address came from Concordia University Communication Studies alumna Dr. Elspeth Probyn (University of Sydney) and Dr. Michael Warner (Rutgers University).



Summer 2003:

Dr. Maurice Charland awarded Major National Book Prize

The most prestigious book award for communication scholarship in Canada is the Gertrude J. Robinson Book Prize, awarded annually by the Canadian Communication Association. Dr. Charland was the Department’s first recipient with Law, Rhetoric, and Irony in the Formation of Canadian Civil Culture (2002), co-authored with Michael Dorland (Carleton University and alumnus of our Communication PhD). Dr. Charles Acland was the next recipient for Screen Traffic: Movies, Multiplexes, and Global Culture (2003). Dr. Peter van Wyck has been a dual recipient of this honour, for his books Signs of Danger: Waste, Trauma, and Nuclear Threat (2004) and The Highway of the Atom (2010).

2004 Onward:

Department Bolsters Reputation with Research Chairs

The reputation of the Department of Communication Studies received additional recognition by being awarded major research chairs. Dr. Charles Acland took up the Concordia University Research Chair (Junior) in Communication Studies in 2004. Currently, Dr. Mia Consalvo holds the Canada Research Chair in Game Studies and Design (Tier I) starting in 2011, and Dr. Krista Geneviève Lynes began her tenure as Canada Research Chair in Feminist Media Studies (Tier II) in 2013. From 2012, Dr. Kim Sawchuk has held the Concordia University Research Chair (Senior) in Mobile Media Studies.

August 2005:

Visible Evidence

Visible Evidence is an annual international and interdisciplinary conference on the role of film, video and other media as witness and voice of social reality. Concordia University’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema and the Department of Communication Studies hosted visible Evidence XII, and Dr. Martin Allor of the Department was instrumental in its success. The keynote speaker was Anand Patwardhan, an internationally celebrated Indian documentarist.


Fall 2005:

Department moves into the CJ Building

Following a move out of the Bryan Building, and a temporary stint in Hingston Hall, the Department moved into its new home, the Communication Studies and Journalism (CJ) Building on the site of the former Drummond Science Complex. The CJ’s opening, overseen by departmental representative Dr. Martin Allor, coincided with the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Department. The Communication Studies and Journalism departments that share the building now had more classrooms, more offices, state of the art technological infrastructure for teaching, and most importantly additional laboratory and research space for newly expanded needs and future innovations.

Summer 2006:

Major Scholarly Journals Arrive

The Department’s contributions to the national scholarly scene have extended to journal editorship. Two leading peer-reviewed journals were housed and edited here for six years: Canadian Journal of Communication (with participation from Simon Fraser University, 2006-2012) by Dr. Kim Sawchuk and Canadian Journal of Film Studies (with participation from Cinema Studies at Concordia, 2008-2014) by Dr. Charles Acland.



September 2010:

Iconic Montreal Signs hung on Walls of the CJ Building

Dr. Matt Soar and Concordia Archivist Nancy Marrelli unveiled their Montreal Signs Project, which salvaged and restored iconic signs from Montreal businesses, in conjunction with the Communications Studies program’s 45thanniversary celebrations. Beginning with signs for Ben’s Restaurant, Monsieur Hot Dog, Warshaw Supermarket and the Paramount Movie Theatre, the walls of the CJ Building have been increasingly populated with additional colourful reminders of Montreal’s visual heritage.


October 2010:

Media Gallery opens in the CJ Building

As Department Chair, Rae Staseson began the Media Gallery in order to exhibit artwork and creative productions. Since opening, the Media Gallery has showcased professional, local, national and international artists.

Source: Hays, Matthew, “Communication Studies Media gallery,” Concordia University Journal, 31 January 2011. Pg. 7.

May 2011:

Database | Narrative | Archive Symposium

Dr. Matt Soar and Dr. Monika Kin Gagnon hosted this international conference to explore new methods of interative media practice, focusing on database documentary, interactive narrative, and experimental archiving. A collection of essays emerging from the conference later appeared on the Scalar platform, and itself was an experiment in open access, interactive scholarship.

October 2011:

Fr. O’Brien receives Prestigious Loyola Medal

The Loyola Alumni Association and the administration of Loyola College created the Loyola Medal in 1961 to pay tribute to outstanding leadership and contributions to society. It remains one of the highest honours awarded by Concordia University. In October 2011, Fr. O’Brien received this honour in a ceremony attended by friends, colleagues and alumni.

Source: “Loyola Medal.” Concordia University Magazine Vol. 35, No. 4 (Winter 2011/12). Page 26.

May 2013:

Differential Mobilities: Movement and Mediation in Networked Societies

Mobile Media Lab co-directors Dr. Kim Sawchuk and Dr. Owen Chapman hosted the international mobilities conference, which was sponsored by the Pan-American Mobilities Network in collaboration with the European Cosmobilities Network. The focus of the 2013 conference, ‘differential mobilities,’ challenged participants to conceptualize movement, mobility, or flows within spaces and places, while accounting for the systemic differences within infrastructures and terrains that create uneven forms of access.

February 2015:

World of Matter: Extractive Ecologies and Unceded Terrains

Dr. Krista Geneviève Lynes and Darin Barney (Canada Research Chair in Technology and Citizenship, McGill University) organized this symposium, which asked how the fields of contemporary art and media studies, Indigenous studies, and critical environmental studies might bring into focus the globalizing dynamics of extractive ecologies. In doing so, it sought to build substantive discursive grounds for resisting incursions into sovereign land, denials of the rights of nature, and the persistent dispossession of Indigenous and First Nation peoples.

May 2015:

 Arclight Symposium

Dr. Charles Acland, along with collaborators from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, hosted this international conference on the relationship between media history and digital humanities. Presentations ranged from critical examinations of “big data” in historical research to demonstrations of new on-line methods of scholarly analysis. This event was part of the interdisciplinary work of the Media History Research Centre.

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