First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients

As part of its commemoration of the centenary of the First World War, over the next three years we will profile each of Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients. Each profile will be published on the 100th anniversary of the day that the actions for which the recipient was awarded the Victoria Cross took place.

Colour photograph of a medal. Ribbon is crimson. Cross-shaped medal is bronze with a lion above a crown bearing the inscription For Valour on a scroll.

The Victoria Cross (MIKAN 3640361)

The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest military decoration in the Commonwealth and takes precedence over all other medals, decorations and orders. A recognition of valour in the face of the enemy, the VC can be awarded to a person of any rank of military service and to civilians under military command. So far, 96 Canadians have been awarded the Victoria Cross, beginning with Alexander Roberts Dunn who in 1854 fought in the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. The Victoria Crosses were awarded to 71 Canadian soldiers during the First World War, and 16 were awarded during the Second World War. The remaining VCs were awarded to Canadians for the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (in which William Hall of Nova Scotia became the first-ever black recipient of the VC) and the South African War (1899–1902).

In 1993, the Canadian Victoria Cross was adopted in place of the British VC. The medal is identical to the British VC but the inscription is in Latin—Pro Valore—a linguistic ancestor to both English and French. The Canadian Victoria Cross has yet to be awarded.

The profile series will also include links to photographs, service papers, war diaries, and other digitized artifacts in Library and Archives Canada’s collections that help to tell the stories of the Canadians who experienced the Great War on many fronts, including the home front, and whose actions and memories shape how contemporary Canadians remember and understand the first truly global conflict.

We will begin our First World War Victoria Cross profiles with Lance-Corporal Frederick Fisher.

Reindeer in Canada

In the early 1900s, the introduction of reindeer to Canada was seen as a possible way of supplying food and bringing an economic boost to remote northern areas of the country. This animal had been domesticated in many other northern nations and had played an important role in sustaining the population. While reindeer meat, milk and other bi-products such as hides and horns can provide resources vital to life, these animals are also strong—packing or pulling heavy loads great distances. As well, they are naturally adapted to the northern climate and environment.

Black-and-white photograph of a photo album collage. There are five photographs showing reindeer pulling sleds of various kinds, with people in the background. The pictures are labelled and some of the people are identified.

Reindeer have been used as draught animals for hundreds of years. Here we see herders with reindeer harnessed to sleds possibly on Richards Islands, N.W.T., circa 1942 (MIKAN 4326743)

Several efforts to introduce reindeer to Newfoundland and Baffin Island had early success but the most successful example was the Alaskan experiment. The American government, urged on by missionary groups, purchased 1,200 Siberian reindeer from Russia between 1892 and 1902. Another small herd was bought in Norway and shipped to Alaska, along with a group of Lapp herders and their families, hired to manage the animals and train the local indigenous population to become herders.

Canada’s government began to study the results of the American experiment. A Royal Commission on reindeer and musk-ox was appointed in 1919. The dramatic growth of the Alaskan herd was impressive, several hundred thousand deer, spread across a hundred herds, with several hundred local indigenous owners and herders engaged in the enterprise. Fresh meat was now available for local consumption, and sold to the southern states for profit.

Black-and-white photograph of a photo album collage. Four photographs showing reindeer carcasses and skins drying.

Reindeer meat drying on racks and being lifted on a hoist (possibly Elephant Point, Alaska and Richards Island, N.W.T., 1938 (MIKAN 4326727)

Many groups pressed the Canadian government for action, resulting in plans to purchase an Alaskan herd and move it to a suitable site in the Northwest Territories. Two Interior Department botanists searched for a location with good grazing, recommending a headquarters be established (to become known as Reindeer Station) east of the Mackenzie River delta. A contract was signed with the Loman Bros. Company for purchase and delivery of 3,515 animals at a price of $150 a head. The reindeer drive was expected to take 18 months and cover 1,500 miles but incredibly it took five years and travelled twice the distance. In March 1935, Andy Bahr and his crew delivered 2,370 reindeer. Shortly afterwards, 811 fawns were born, bringing the final total close to the initial target number.

Black-and-white photograph of a photo album collage. Four photographs showing reindeer herds. Some photographs are taken from afar, others are close-ups of the herd.

Reindeer herds on a summer range and in a corral, probably in Kidluit Bay, Richards Island, N.W.T., 1941(MIKAN 4326736)

The early success was followed by a series of setbacks, culminating in the death of four Inuit owners and a Lapp trainer in a boating accident in 1944. It became more difficult to interest traditional Inuit hunters to abandon their customary lifestyle for the often lonely and monotonous life of a herder. Months of effort could be overturned in a moment as storms or predators could cause a stampede resulting in the loss of many animals.

Black-and-white photograph of a group of men standing around a small reindeer chute and pen.

Inuit were original owners and employees of the first reindeer enterprises in Kidluit Bay, N.W.T. (MIKAN 3406119)

As with the other Canadian experiments, the Reindeer Project did not achieve the success of Alaska’s venture. The herds under Inuit control were passed back to government control and the Canadian Wildlife Service administered the operation until 1974, at which time it was sold to a private owner, Canadian Reindeer Ltd., and remains a private operation today. Although the ambitions of early advocates have not been achieved, the efforts form an interesting piece of Canada’s northern history.

Related resources

There are hundreds of documents and photographs held in the Library and Archives Canada collections which reveal much more detail about the reindeer experiment in Canada. You can have a look at some of them by searching the following sources:

Government sources

Prime Ministers’ papers

Private papers

Library and Archives Canada releases latest podcast episode, “Digging Into the Past: Family History in Canada”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, “Digging Into the Past: Family History in Canada”.

In this episode, genealogy consultants Sara Chatfield and Richard Lelièvre from Library and Archives Canada join us to discuss genealogy research. We explore what genealogy is, what is involved, how to start, suggest resources to use and how Library and Archives Canada can help you with your genealogy research.

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.

For more information, please contact us at podcasts@bac-lac.gc.ca.

Jean Talon, Intendant of New France, 1665–1672

In the early 1660s, New France was facing many challenges. It had been weakened by 20 years of fighting against the Iroquois and the far-reaching powers of the governor. It was time to reorganize New France, and so Louis XIV, along with Jean-Baptiste Colbert, his minister responsible for the colonies, decided to take action. In 1663, New France became royal property. The governor’s powers were reduced, and the colony was reorganized administratively. An important role was given to the Intendant, as representative of the King, in the administration of justice, police and finances.

On March 23, 1665, Louis XIV appointed Jean Talon to the position of Intendant. Almost 40 years old at the time, Jean Talon had been educated by the Jesuits in Paris, and he had an excellent reputation as an administrator. He had held various administrative positions in the French military and had become the Intendant of the County of Hainaut in 1655.

Jean Talon held the position of Intendant from 1665 to 1668 and from 1670 to 1672, putting in place many initiatives that greatly improved conditions in the colony. First, he worked to increase the population by promoting immigration, encouraging and supporting large families, urging single people to marry, bringing over the filles du roi, motivating soldiers to settle in the colony after their military service, etc.

A watercolour of a domestic scene. A group of people are standing around a central character (Jean Talon). In the background we see a fireplace where a kettle is heating over an open fire, and a woman with a baby is seated next to it. An old man is sitting on a bench in the foreground.

Jean Talon visiting settlers, painted by Lawrence Batchelor in 1931 (MIKAN 2896077)

Talon encouraged people to settle permanently by making it easier to access land, but also by forcing them to live on the land. Added to concession contracts were specific clauses requiring settlers to clear the land and “keep hearth and home” within 12 months, and prohibiting them from selling the land until there was a house built on it and two acres had been cleared.

Talon also oversaw the reorganization of the legal system; he reduced the number of trials by fostering accommodations, promoting out-of-court settlements and asking that cases at the first level be brought before him directly.

In terms of the economy, Talon was a visionary: he dreamed of factories in New France producing textiles, rope, tar, potash, soap, etc. He conducted mineral exploration around Trois-Rivières, a prelude to the Forges du Saint-Maurice in the 18th century, worked toward creating a network of alliances for the fur trade, and built a brewery in Quebec City to produce local beer. By the time he left, the face of New France had changed dramatically!

Library and Archives Canada holds copies of many historical documents written by Jean Talon, including his memoirs and observations on the state of the colony, correspondence, and the censuses held in 1666 and 1667.

The North-West Rebellion (North-West Resistance)

There are few historical events in our national story that solicit stronger opinions and create more debate than the disputes of 1870 and 1885 between the Métis in Western Canada and the Government of Canada. Various names refer to these two series of events, and their usage often reflects the loyalties, opinions and even biases of the user. Today, we see the application of such terms as rebellion, resistance, insurgency and disputes.

A cartoon drawing of Louis Riel with an angel’s wings, a devil’s tail, and a halo overhead but off to the side. He has the stem of a maple leaf in his mouth, as if it were a blade of grass.

Louis Riel portrayed as a devil with angel wings, by Dale Cummings (MIKAN 3018796)

Arguably, the debate on the events of 1870 and 1885, Louis Riel, and the place of the Métis in our history and contemporary Canadian society has had an enduring effect on our national psyche. In March, 1885, an article published in The Globe of Toronto stated: “It is not given to every man to have caused two rebellions. In the history of the Dominion, Sir John Macdonald and his friend Riel alone have won that distinction.”

A black-and-white reproduction of a newspaper clipping from The Globe of Toronto in 1885. It is an article about the North-West Rebellion.

A newspaper clipping from The Globe of Toronto, 1885 (MIKAN 521291)

To put things into context, the 1870s saw the disappearance of the bison herds, pushing many First Nations peoples to near starvation. As for the Métis, the loss of the bison on which they also depended brought hardship that was further compounded by the end of the fur trade.

The Métis of the North-West Territories felt that the established North-West Council failed to represent their interests. They sought assurances from Ottawa that the titles to their river-lot homesteads and farms would be guaranteed in advance of any large-scale influx of settlers.

The Métis sent more than 70 petitions to Ottawa in an attempt to address these grievances, none of which were responded to. In the eyes of the Métis, the federal government was indifferent to any attempt to redress territorial grievances and protect occupant rights.

Frustrated white settlers newly arrived in the North-West Territories were also waiting for their property titles, as they were necessary for obtaining loans to improve their farms. At the same time, widespread dissatisfaction with the First Nations treaties and rampant poverty prompted Chief Big Bear, of the Plains Cree, to attempt to renegotiate the terms of the treaties. Hence, the First Nations issues and grievances were largely unrelated to those of the Métis and white settlers apart from their commonly held belief of a neglectful, distant and imperial Ottawa.

As a result, the Métis decided to resist any subsequent actions by the federal government. When Louis Riel organized an “illegal” provisional government, it incited Ottawa to assert its sovereignty in the North-West Territories.

A black-and-white print taken from The Illustrated London News, 1885. The sketch shows a column of soldiers marching through a winter landscape.

The Rebellion in the North-West Territories of Canada: Colonial troops marching over the ice of Nipigon Bay, Lake Superior, from The Illustrated London News, 1885 (MIKAN 2933970)

The North-West Rebellion (or North-West Resistance) was a violent, five-month uprising against the Canadian government, fought mainly by Métis militants and their First Nations allies.

A pen-and-ink drawing over pencil depicting a wooded battle scene with the Métis behind a barricade firing against the approaching British army. The Métis are greatly outnumbered.

Battle of Batoche, 1885, by Charles William Jefferys (MIKAN 2835223)

With the Métis defeat at the Battle of Batoche (in present-day Saskatchewan), the North-West Resistance had essentially ended. For many, including Louis Riel and Chief Big Bear, the consequences were swift and direct.

A black-and-white photograph of a man seated, wrapped in a blanket. He is looking directly at the viewer.

Chief Big Bear, 1886, by William Topley (MIKAN 3358338)

Métis and First Nations communities would suffer severe and lasting consequences from the events of 1885. In addition, relations between the French and the English and the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people of Canada would be set back for years to come.

The Rare Book Collection: recent additions

A collection of 500 pre-1800 books were recently relocated to a permanent location in Library and Archives Canada’s rare books vault. The vault is equipped with optimal environmental conditions to ensure this special collection is properly preserved for generations to come. Prior to being transferred to Library and Archives Canada, the books were owned by the Library of Parliament. Most of this collection consists of books published in England or France, and many are multi-volume sets. The subject matter ranges from geography and history to theatre and essays.

 

Colour photograph showing rows of books on a shelf. All the books are flagged with a slip of paper with a call number on it.

The permanent location in the rare books vault.

About the Collection

The majority of the books are 18th-century hand bindings bound in full or partial leather. The collection also comprises some books made of paper, cloth or parchment. The books are decorated with intricate gold titling and tooling and are often accented with unique and stunning marbled papers, commonly used as the endpapers.

Colour photograph of an open book showing a sumptuous marble paper used for the end paper.

Marble paper detail.

Colour photograph collage of four beaver-stamp images showing the different stamp styles on the books.

The Library of Parliament “beaver” stamp on the spine of many of the books. The style and intricate details of the beaver changes over the years, but the familiar trademark remains easily identifiable.

The condition of the books

Before being added to the Rare Book Collection, factors such as moisture, temperature, light and dust contributed to the deterioration of many of the books. Although some books are in excellent condition, with the binding structures and text blocks intact, many are damaged and show signs of damage. Some items have suffered from water and fire damage, or contain traces of a pest infestation, while others are weakened and damaged due to centuries of physical use.

Red rot and leather deterioration

A large percentage of the collection (approximately 90%) suffers from various levels of leather deterioration. In some extreme cases, the type of damage is referred to by conservators as red rot. The deterioration of leather is a common issue in leather from this period as the tannins used in the manufacturing process contain chemicals that, over time, and in the presence of oxygen, undergo a chemical change that breaks down the leather molecules. This causes the leather to weaken, flake and powder.

Colour photograph of a gloved hand holding a book with the telltale signs of red rot. The glove and sleeve are covered in a fine reddish-brown coloured dust.

An example of red rot—the term describes the red-coloured powder that appears on the surface of badly deteriorated leather.

Next steps for this collection

So much can be learned from this collection of historical and beautiful books. Check back with us for the next blog posts on the physical inventory of this collection , which includes a detailed inventory of the state of the collection, the levels of conservation treatment required, the material composition of the books, type of decorations, etc. Also have a look at the following post, detailing what steps will be taken to preserve this fine collection.

Library and Archives Canada releases latest podcast episode, “Celia Franca: Shall we dance?”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, Celia Franca: Shall we dance?

Discover the story of Celia Franca, a woman who introduced Canada to world-class dance performances, pioneered the internationally famous National Ballet of Canada and devoted her entire life to dance. In this episode we are joined by LAC archivists Michel Guénette, Théo Martin and assistant archivist Judith Enright-Smith who will speak to us about who Celia Franca was, and the dance-related resources available to researchers at Library and Archives Canada.

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.

Objects used in Aboriginal communication

Long before European settlers came to America, Aboriginal peoples had developed communication systems that did not require writing or printing as was used in Europe or Asia. While it is generally acknowledged that Amerindians historically accessed their past primarily through oral traditions, we also know that they used physical means of communication for various purposes: for example, to communicate information; convey knowledge; commemorate events; identify certain titles, social positions and family ties; remember concepts, chants and ceremonies; and to situate past events in time and space.

Various modes of cultural transmission used drawings and symbols to express an idea or share information. Pictograms (stylized drawings used as symbols) were painted, drawn, traced, sculpted or woven using different materials. Themes often dealing with hunting, war and the supernatural world were represented in combinations of different colours, sizes and arrangements.

Written by a French Jesuit in 1666, “Mémoire au sujet des neuf familles qui composent la nation iroquoise [memoir of the nine families making up the Iroquois nation] (French only) includes drawings and explanations revealing how the Iroquois used pictograms to communicate information about family clans, military expeditions under way, the number of injured, etc.

These Aboriginal communication systems are found on bark rolls, animal skins, totem poles and rock faces (the images are known as petroglyphs). We also know that the Iroquois used—and still use today—special ceremonial canes covered in motifs representing the 50 chiefs of the Haudenosaunee Confederation, and that Amerindians sometimes made marks in sticks of different sizes to remember what they needed to discuss at meetings. They would also make notches in trees to indicate, for example, details of their travels through the land.

 

Black-and-white photograph showing five wooden totem poles. In the background are houses and mountains.

Totem in Kitwanga, British Columbia (MIKAN 3587914)

Because signs and symbols were used primarily as memory aids to illustrate concepts, they do not refer to specific words in spoken language; therefore they cannot be read in the same way as one would read a text. As valid and reliable as the written word, these mnemonic devices have the advantage of communicating information between people who speak different languages. Anyone able to recognize and decode the icons and symbols can decipher and understand the message, much like road signs today.