The Persons Case, 1929

The Persons Case is a historic part of women’s fight for political equality in Canada. The case is significant for establishing that interpretation of the Canadian Constitution is adaptable to the changing needs of society and for determining that “qualified persons” in the British North America Act, 1867 (BNA Act, now known as the Constitution Act, 1867) includes women. This decision paved the way in Canada by asserting women’s rights to be active in political life.

The events leading to the Persons Case began in 1916 when Emily F. Murphy was appointed as the first female police magistrate in the British Empire. Undermining her authority, lawyers challenged her position as illegal on the grounds that a woman was not considered to be a person under the BNA Act, and therefore she was unable to act as magistrate. Although the Provincial Court of Alberta would confirm Murphy’s appointment by declaring women as “persons,” this decision was not proclaimed federally.

Over the next 10 years, the federal government faced pressure from women’s groups to appoint a female senator. The government declared the appointment of a women impossible according to the BNA Act, which specified only “qualified persons” could hold a senate position. Turning to the law, Murphy found that under section 60 of the Supreme Court Act, five interested persons are allowed to petition the government for interpretation on a constitutional point.

Murphy enlisted the help of Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney, and Irene Marryat Parlby—now known as the “Famous Five”—who were engaged politically and championed equal rights for women.

A black-and-white photograph showing five women standing on either side of a man.


(Front row, L-R): Mrs. Muir Edwards, daughter-in-law of Henrietta Muir Edwards; Mrs. J.C. Kenwood, daughter of Judge Emily Murphy; Hon. Mackenzie King; Mrs. Nellie McClung. (Rear row, L-R): Senators Iva Campbell Fallis and Cairine Wilson. This photograph was taken at the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the five Alberta women whose efforts resulted in the Persons Case, which established the rights of women to hold public office in Canada. Photograph taken by Eugene M. Finn, National Film Board of Canada, June 11, 1938, Ottawa, Ontario. (MIKAN 3193154)

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Hiding in Plain Sight: Discovering the Métis Nation in the Collection of Library and Archives Canada

Who Are the Métis?

The Métis Nation emerged as a distinct people during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. They are the second largest of the three Aboriginal peoples of Canada and are the descendants of First Nations peoples and Europeans involved in the fur trade.

Métis communities are found widely in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories, with a smaller number in British Columbia, Ontario, Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a great variety of archival documents pertaining to the Métis Nation (including textual records, photographs, artwork, maps, stamps and sound recordings); however, finding these records can be a challenge.

Challenges in Researching Métis Content in the Art and Photographic Collections

While there are easily identifiable portraits of well-known leaders and politicians, including these portraits of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, images depicting less famous Métis are difficult to find. Original titles betray historical weaknesses when it comes to describing Métis content.

In many cases, the Métis have gone unrecognized or were mistaken for European or First Nations groups—such as the people in this photograph entitled “Chippewa Indians with Red River Carts at Dufferin.”

Black and white photograph of a man, on the left, wearing European clothing and standing in front of a Red River cart, and a group of First Nations men, women and children wearing First Nations-style clothing and standing in front of another Red River cart, on the right.

Chippewa Indians with Red River Carts at [Fort] Dufferin” Manitoba, 1873 (MIKAN 3368366)

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Prison Portraits by Jean-Joseph Girouard

Jean-Joseph Girouard (1794–1855) was a notary, an amateur artist, and a member of the Parti Patriote in Lower Canada during the first part of the 19th century. The Parti Patriote was a political party that sought political reform and rallied for French Canadian cultural heritage, rights and interests. The 1837–1838 Rebellion led by the Parti Patriote was a pivotal moment along the road to nationhood for pre-Confederation Canada.

Girouard was incarcerated twice for his role in the Rebellion. He maintained a notarial office and, unexpectedly, an artist’s studio while imprisoned in Montreal. Girouard created portraits of many of his fellow Patriote prisoners using drawing paper and pencils supplied to him by a supporter. The majority of these unique and rare drawings are now part of the holdings at Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

A pencil sketch of Jean-Joseph Girouard in profile, sitting in a chair and drawing on paper with a pencil.

Jean-Joseph Girouard, self-portrait in prison, Montreal, ca. 1837–1838 (MIKAN 2894464)

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The New Westminster Salmonbellies, Vancouver Lacrosse Club and professional lacrosse in the early 1900s

In 1909, the New Westminster Salmonbellies and the Vancouver Lacrosse Club (VLC) started playing in the two-team professional British Columbia Lacrosse Association (BCLA).

A trading card with a colour print of a man wearing a plain green sweater with a red collar. It is captioned: “Bones Allen, Vancouver Team.”

Angus “Bones” Allen, midfielder/forward, played six seasons with the Vancouver Lacrosse Club. He is one of the few players to have won the Stanley Cup and the Minto Cup. (MIKAN 2963049)

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Library and Archives Canada releases its latest podcast episode, “Rising from the Ashes”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, “Rising from the Ashes.”

On February 3, 1916 at 8:37 p.m., the alarm was raised on Parliament Hill that a fire had broken out in the Centre Block. By the next morning, the building had been reduced to a smoking ruin, encrusted in ice. The exact cause of the fire was never determined.

With Canada fully immersed in the First World War and the 50th anniversary of Confederation rapidly approaching, it was imperative that parliament be rebuilt immediately to engender a sense of enduring strength and continuity in the hearts and minds of Canadians. In this episode Johanna Mizgala, curator for the House of Commons, takes us back to that chilling night in Canada’s history. She also discusses the bold vision of the architects charged with the task of rebuilding parliament.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS or iTunes, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

Do I have the right to vote? Letters from women to the Canadian government, 1918-1919

Canadian women received the federal right to vote in three waves of legislation. It began with Prime Minister Robert Borden initiating the Military Voters Act of 1917, which enabled Canadian women on active service to vote. Borden also implemented the Wartime Elections Act that same year, which extended the vote to Canadian women who were related to men in the military forces. Lastly, on May 24, 1918, royal assent was given to a bill extending the vote to Canadian women who met the same qualifications as voting men. These quick and successive formative events caused confusion for the public.

The collection of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds various letters written by Canadian women that demonstrate the impact of the vote and include questions about their own personal eligibility to cast a ballot. Seeking information directly from the source, women wrote to Prime Minister Robert Borden and other government officials.

In a letter dated December 1919, Mrs. King of Colonsay, Saskatchewan inquired if she was eligible to vote as a Canadian citizen married to an American citizen. Her inquiry was forwarded to the Department of Justice, which replied that she should be eligible to vote based on her information and enclosed a copy of the Act. They also noted that her inquiry was not typically an affair for the Department.

The confusion between the Dominion Elections Act and the temporary wartime voting measures is evident in a letter dated February 17, 1919 from Mrs. Lillian Dill of Oshawa, Ontario. Mrs. Dill requested a copy of the Act in order to understand its impact and her eligibility to vote. Continue reading

Jeremiah “Jerry” Jones

This Black History Month, Library and Archives Canada highlights the service of black Canadians during the First World War. While all Canadians were equally caught up in the patriotism of the early part of the war and the opportunities offered by military service, black Canadians had difficulty enlisting due to the racism of the era. Although there was no official or explicitly stated policy of exclusion, the Canadian military left recruitment decisions to the discretion of individual commanding officers. Black Canadian volunteers along with those from other minority groups were left to enlist in whichever regiments would accept them. A special unit, the No. 2 Construction Battalion, was formed by members of the black community in Nova Scotia. The battalion, whose members weren’t allowed to fight, dug trenches, repaired roads, and attracted hundreds of recruits from across Canada and even the United States.

A sepia-coloured photograph of a man in uniform wearing an officer’s belt and cap holding a baton in both hands across his upper thighs.

Jeremiah “Jerry” Jones, First World War private taken by an unknown photographer, from the personal collection of the Jones family (Wikipedia)

Among those black Canadians who volunteered and served was Jeremiah “Jerry” Jones, a Nova Scotian soldier who enlisted with the 106th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) in June 1916. Born in East Mountain, Nova Scotia on March 30, 1858, Jones was over 50 years old when he enlisted and lied about his age in order to join the army. Jones was sent overseas, where he transferred to the Royal Canadian Regiment and saw combat on the front lines in France, including the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. During the battle, with his unit pinned down by machine gun fire, Jones moved forward alone to attack the German gun emplacement. He reached the machine gun nest and threw a grenade that killed several German soldiers. The survivors surrendered to Jones, who had them carry the machine gun back to the Canadian lines and present it to his commanding officer. It is reported that Jones was recommended for a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions, though no record exists to show that he ever received the medal. In the decades following the war, the Truro Daily News and Senator Calvin Ruck highlighted Jones’ bravery and lobbied to have the Canadian government formally recognize his actions. Ruck in particular argued that the racist sentiment of the time had prevented Jones and other black soldiers from being properly recognized for their heroism.

A nominal list showing the regimental number, rank, name, former corps, name of next of kin, address of next of kin, country of birth, and the place and date on which they were taken on strength.

Entry for Jeremiah Jones in the “Nominal Roll of Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men” of the 106th Battalion (MIKAN 2006098)

Jones was injured at the Battle of Vimy Ridge and again at the Battle of Passchendaele. He was formally discharged in Halifax in early 1918 after being found medically unfit. He died in November 1950. Jeremiah Jones was posthumously awarded the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service on February 22, 2010.

What is MIKAN?

The blog post “Ordering documents: what numbers do I need?” helps clients locate the right reference numbers among all the choices in a descriptive record. But what about the MIKAN number? What is that all about?

MIKAN is a computer system for searching, creating, and modifying information about archival materials. The name is based on an Algonquin word, meaning “road,” “path” or “discovery.”

The MIKAN number is a unique record number automatically assigned by the MIKAN system to a record at all levels of description (fonds, series, accession, file, item). Because it is a mandatory field in the MIKAN system, the number appears on each archival descriptive page – at the very bottom – in our Archives Search database. See example below.

Example of a MIKAN number.

Although it can be used to locate and order material, it is not an archival reference number per se and will not show up on our examples of reference numbers page. Therefore, it is best to always include the full archival reference and not just the MIKAN number.

Let Them Howl: 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage—An exhibition in Ottawa and Winnipeg

The year 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of women first winning the right to vote in Canada. On January 28—the date that Manitoba became the first province to pass women’s voting rights into law—Library and Archives Canada (LAC), in partnership with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, will officially launch an outdoor exhibition titled Let Them Howl: 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage.

The exhibition will feature reproduction portraits of some of the women who fought for equality and the vote. Be sure to check out the exhibitions January 28 to February 15, 2016 on the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa (presented in partnership with Winterlude) and February 12–21, 2016 at the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg.

The exhibition features reproduction portraits from LAC’s collection of historic figures like Nellie McClung and Agnes Mcphail to modern women who have broken gender barriers, such as Adrienne Clarkson and Beverley McLachlin.

A black-and-white photograph of Agnes Macphail in profile, reading the paper.

Agnes Macphail by Yousuf Karsh, 1934 (MIKAN 3256551)

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