James Naismith: his early formative years in Canada leading to the invention of basketball

The origins of popular sports such as baseball, football and hockey are often difficult to pinpoint; often a number of individuals and places claim to be the inventor or the birthplace of a sport. However, there is no dispute on who invented the sport of basketball: Canadian Dr. James Naismith. Born in the Ottawa valley town of Almonte, province of Canada on November 6, 1861, James Naismith was orphaned at a very young age and was raised along with his older sister Annie and younger brother Robbie by his uncle and aunt.

A popular childhood game in Naismith’s youth was “duck on the rock.” A stone called “the duck” was placed on a larger stone or a tree stump. The objective of the game was for players to knock the duck stone off its base, run to retrieve their own stone and return to the original throwing location. A participant would play the role of the “guard” whose role was to pick up the duck rock if it had been knocked off, place it back on its base, and race to tag one of the throwers before the latter returned to his starting point. While each player had his or her throwing technique, Naismith noticed that the most successful players lobbed their stone with aim and accuracy which would allow them more time to pick up their stone. The memory of this childhood game would influence his creation of the game of basketball.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of men standing in a field watching a game of duck on the rock.

A game of duck on a rock, Alberta, September 1906 (MIKAN 3386054)

Naismith struggled with his studies and decided to quit during his second year at Almonte High School at the age of 15. He preferred to work on the family farm in the summer and the logging camps in the winter. The 1881 Canadian census lists his occupation at the age of 19 as a farmer.

Later that year, Naismith decided to go back to high school and graduated in 1883 at the age of 21. He moved to Montréal and pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Honours and Philosophy and Hebrew at McGill University. Late 19th-century Montréal was an important centre for the early development of organized sports in Canada and North America. The first official rules for popular sports such as lacrosse and hockey were elaborated during that period. Naismith—blessed with natural athletic abilities—was drawn to many sports played at the university including gymnastics, rugby football and lacrosse. He graduated from McGill with a Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education in 1888. These interests led him to be named the first director of physical training at McGill in the fall of 1889.

A black-and-white photograph of two rugby football players crouching, the man on the left is holding the ball, waiting to throw it to the other man behind him.

James Naismith (on the left) playing rugby football (MIKAN 3652828)

A black-and-white photograph of the McGill University rugby football team. They are wearing striped knee socks and white uniforms adorned with a crest.

James Naismith (far left, sitting down) part of the McGill rugby football team (MIKAN 3650079).

In September 1890, Naismith moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S. to attend the International YMCA Training School. Tasked with creating a new indoor sport, he invented the game of basketball. The first game was played in the YMCA gymnasium in Springfield in December 1891. Basketball has since become of one of the most popular sports in the world.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of men sitting on a staircase. On each side are the baskets that were first used in the sport.

The world’s first basketball team. Dr. James Naismith is on the right in the center row (MIKAN 3652826)

For more photos documenting Naismith’s professional and personal activities, consult the D. Hallie Lowry collection held by Library and Archives Canada.

The watercolour paintings of Edith Fanny Kirk

Since the 1970s, there has been a continuous effort to acknowledge women artists in history. As part of this effort, the Galt Museum and Archives in Lethbridge, Alberta has curated an exhibition on artist Edith Fanny Kirk. The exhibition entitled, A Legacy of Adventure & Art: Miss Edith Fanny Kirk, focuses on her sense of adventure and distinguishes her artistic achievements and legacy. The exhibition will include four watercolours from the Library and Archives (LAC) collection, and will be on display from June 6 until October 12, 2015.

Kirk was born in England in 1858 and immigrated to Canada in 1905. She eventually settled in Lethbridge, Alberta, where her artistic influence as an art teacher was fundamental to the community. She also presented papers on art at the Mathesis Club of Lethbridge and has been credited with the development of the Lethbridge Sketch Club in the 1930s (now the Lethbridge Artists Club).

A colour reproduction of a watercolour depicting a landscape dominated by a light smoky sky. There is a river in the foreground with a green shore marking the boundary between sky and water.

Prairie in Weather Made Smoky from Forest Fires, Lethbridge (MIKAN 2948200)

The four watercolour paintings from the LAC collection included in the exhibition demonstrate Kirk’s adherence to the medium of watercolour—as opposed to the more traditional oil paint. Watercolours are ideal for rendering delicate tones and soft colour transitions, and this technique is especially apparent with the hazy atmospheric sky in Prairie in Weather Made Smoky from Forest Fires, Lethbridge where birds fly through a subtle cloud of smoke.

A colour reproduction of a watercolour landscape showing snow-capped mountains and green forested meadows.

Mount Edith Cavell, Jasper Park, Alberta (MIKAN 4626658)

Watercolours would have been a preferred medium for working outdoors as they were readily available, portable and compact. Kirk hiked backcountry trails and national parks to paint as a member of the Alpine Club of Canada, which she joined at age 60! Kirk’s painting of the now iconic Mount Edith Cavell, Jasper Park, Alberta demonstrates the expansiveness of Jasper National Park. We can see how the peaking mountains continue off the page so as to appear as if they infinitely continue, and the depth of the trees is rendered in purples, greens, and blues.

Kirk painted at a time when it was challenging for women to support themselves as artists due to social pressures and economic disparity. A Legacy of Adventure & Art: Miss Edith Fanny Kirk is an opportunity to look closely at her life and artwork, and to enrich our understanding of Canadian art history.

Be sure to visit the Galt Museum and Archives exhibition on Edith Kirk. You can also read more about women artists’ self-portraits in the recent blog post, Self-portraits by women artists in Library and Archives Canada’s collection.

 

Open Data: Health and Welfare Canada Drug Studies

In the 1970s, Health and Welfare Canada sponsored several studies on the use of prescribed drugs, alcohol, and cannabis as well as drug-related deaths. Raw statistical data from four sets of surveys has recently been migrated into ASCII character-encoding scheme. Specialized software such as a spreadsheet or statistical tool is required to open, interpret and analyze the data. A codebook is provided that describes the file structure of the data and defines the variables contained in each field. If you are interested in any of the surveys listed below, they are now available on the Open Data portal.

Consumption of prescribed drugs in Canada 1977

In 1977, Health and Welfare Canada sponsored two studies relating to the use of prescribed drugs in Canada. Some of the main survey findings revealed:

  • Analgesics and antibiotics were found to be the most frequently used in the general population.
  • Anti-hypertensive and cardiac medications were used by elderly respondents.
  • Females were over-represented among users of sedatives and tranquilizers.

National surveys of alcohol consumption in Canada

The purpose of the Dialogue on Drinking Campaign was to increase public awareness of drinking behavior and encourage community involvement in programs directed toward alcohol-related problems. The campaign was carried out in phases using a variety of advertising mediums such as newspapers, magazines, radio and television broadcasts. This advertising was followed up by a series of surveys to investigate the public’s awareness of the Dialogue on Drinking Campaign itself and the drinking habits of Canadians. In 1976, one survey also collected data on the smoking habits of Canadians.

Use of cannabis by adult Canadians

In 1978, Health and Welfare Canada sponsored a survey of adults aged 18 and over. Respondents were interviewed on their use and frequency of use of marihuana and/or hashish. The study was undertaken to determine trends in cannabis use, identify populations at risk, assess social correlates of cannabis use, and formulate policy.

Drug related deaths in metropolitan Toronto

This data was collected in 1973 from the records of 18 full-time and part-time coroners from the Toronto area. The data was extracted from files which recorded alcohol- or drug-related deaths and includes the general drug category, specific drug, form of alcohol, name of solvents and poisons involved.

Shaping our national winter sport: hockey innovations

The first artificial ice arenas in Canada

In 1911, Frank and Lester Patrick, hockey players and entrepreneurs, built the first two artificial ice rinks in Canada—the Denman Arena in Vancouver, and the Victoria Arena in Victoria. The Denman Arena was the largest arena in Canada at the time with a seating capacity of 10,500. The rinks were constructed to be the main rinks for the new Pacific Coast Hockey Association games, created by the Patrick brothers to bring professional hockey to western Canada and to compete with the National Hockey Association (predecessor to the National Hockey League).

A colour reproduction showing a colourized photograph of a young man wearing a red-and-white sweater with a red “R” emblazoned in the middle of his chest.

Hockey card for Frank Patrick, circa 1910–1912 (MIKAN 2962979)

According to Library and Archives Canada’s database Canadian Patents, 1869-1919, Frank Patrick applied to the Canadian Patent Branch to patent the refrigeration system for their rinks in 1913. The patent seems to have been granted in June 1914, although the application does have “cancelled” stamped on it.

A black-and-white reproduction of a sketch showing the cooling mechanism for a hockey rink.

Ice rink patent application (Patent number 156325)

Recognized as the leaders in the development of artificial ice hockey rinks in Canada, Frank and Lester Patrick are also credited for implementing many rules of hockey that are instrumental to how the game is played today.

For more information on the opening of the Denman Arena and the creation of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, please see our virtual exhibition, Backcheck: a Hockey Retrospective.

The creation and evolution of the hockey net

The first hockey goals consisted of two rocks, and later posts, which were placed at each end of the rink. The goal posts were first eight feet apart, then reduced to the 6-foot width still used today.

A black-and-white photograph showing hockey players during a game on an outdoor hockey rink

Hockey match at McGill University (MIKAN 3332330)

A typewritten page showing the rules of hockey.

Ontario Hockey Association rules as found in Hockey: Canada’s Royal Winter Game.

In the 1890s, a number of hockey leagues started to experiment with the use of fishing nets attached to the posts to avoid arguments over goals. In 1899, the newly-created Canadian Amateur Hockey League officially adopted the use of hockey nets during their games. The goal consisted of a net attached to a rope connecting the top of each goal post.

A black-and-white reproduction of a handwritten notebook titled “Intermediate Championship”

Minutes of the annual meeting of the Canadian Amateur Hockey League, December 9, 1899 (MIKAN 100095 or on the Héritage website, image 95).

In 1911, Percy LeSueur, one of the best and most innovative goaltenders at the time, submitted a patent application to improve the hockey net. According to his application, the objective of his patent claim was to “enable much greater accuracy in deciding scores to be maintained.” LeSueur’s proposed hockey net improved on the existing goal type where the supporting top bar was set back a number of inches from the goal line and allowed a shot from close range and at an upward angle to go over the bar, even if it crossed the goal line. The patent was granted to Le Sueur in 1912 and the concept behind his patent remains the foundation for the hockey goal still used today.

A black-and-white photograph with medallions portraits of 12 men centered around a white square.

Group photo of the Ottawa Hockey Club in 1914, which includes Percy LeSueur (top middle) (MIKAN 3386140)

A black-and-white reproduction of a detailed illustration of a goal net with measurements.

Le Sueur’s patent application drawing showing the improved goal net (patent number 139387)

For more information on the Canadian Amateur Hockey League Association, please consult the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association fonds held by Library and Archives Canada.

The goalie mask

In November 1959, the all-time great goaltender, Jacques Plante, would change the hockey world by starting to wear a face mask on a regular basis. Until then, goaltenders did not use protective masks. A few notable exceptions included Elizabeth Graham who used a fencing mask in a hockey game in 1927 and National Hockey League (NHL) goaltender Clint Benedict who used a leather mask in a few games in 1929. Plante of the Montreal Canadiens had experimented since the mid-1950s with different masks in practices and exhibition games to protect himself from pucks and sticks.

A black-and-white photograph of a man leaning on the hockey boards holding a transparent mask in his hands.

Jacques Plante showing off a mask, the “Louch Shield” which he experimented with in practice before 1959 (MIKAN 4814213)

On November 1st, 1959, after suffering a broken nose and cuts to the face during an NHL game against the New York Rangers, he returned from the dressing room with a mask created by fibreglass specialist, Bill Burchmore.

In January 1960, Jacques Plante began wearing a new lighter mask, commonly known as the “pretzel mask,” built by Burchmore and consisting of 540 woven ends of fibreglass yarn.

A black-and-white photograph of a goalie with a mask defending his net. Behind him other players (without helmets) are falling on the ice, reaching for the puck.

Jacques Plante in action wearing a second type of mask on January 17, 1960 (MIKAN 4814204)

A black-and-white photograph of a man taking off a goalie mask.

Jacques Plante lifting his hockey mask (MIKAN 3194972)

Other goaltenders would follow suit and the mask soon became a standard piece of equipment for a goaltender. Jacques Plante would continue improving goalie masks and created his own mask-making business towards the end of his hockey playing career.

For more information on Jacques Plante and his innovations, consult the Jacques and Caroline Raymonde Plante fonds held at Library and Archives Canada.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of July 2015

As of today, 171,771 of 640,000 files are available online via our Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918 database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • A to Dagenais (boxes 1 to 2257)
  • Free to Gorman (boxes 3298 to 3658)

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, the following boxes were skipped in the digitization process, but will be done in the next few months.

  • Dagenais to Fredlund (boxes 2258 to 3297)

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Did your ancestors come from France?

Do you want to know who your first French ancestor was and when he or she left France and arrived in Canada? Are you curious about your French origins?

If so, our website is a great place to begin your research. Here you will find a page dedicated to genealogical research on the French. This page provides you with historical information, archival documents and published material from the Library and Archives Canada collection, as well as links to other websites and institutions.

Library and Archives Canada holds a vast collection of census returns, from 1666 to 1916, in which you can find names of your French-Canadian ancestors.

Railway sleeping car porters

Railway sleeping cars were introduced to Canada in the 1870s by the Pullman Palace Car Company. Pullman built and operated luxury passenger rail cars equipped with seating areas that converted into bunk beds; the seats were converted into the lower berth and the upper berth was pulled down from the ceiling. Pullman cars were known for their accommodations, comfort, and the service provided by the porters.

A black-and-white photograph of three men posing beside a railway car. A chef stands on the steps leading into the train, another man holds the handrail and the third, a porter, stands to the side beside the train.

A porter with two other employees at a stop during the tour of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle across Canada, 1914 (MIKAN 3587745)

A black-and-white photograph of a woman, in profile, lying under the blankets in the lower bunk reading a newspaper.

In the evenings, the porters would make up the beds. One of the seats was extended to create the comfortable lower bunk. While the passengers slept, the porters continued to work until after midnight. The porters could nap if there were no calls or emergencies during the night, but were awake to begin their workday before dawn, 1937 (MIKAN 3353752)

A black-and-white photograph of people seated in a railway sleeping car, looking out the windows.

While the passengers were at breakfast, the porters would convert the berths back into seating. The upper berth would be stowed into the panels above the passenger seats, 1929 (MIKAN 3350533)

The railways were one of the few Canadian companies to hire black men in the early 20th century. It was an opportunity that appealed to many men. There were limitations, however. The railways hired black men solely to be porters, and from the First World War until the 1950s, did not hire or promote black men to the post of engineer, conductor, or any other job on the train.

The porters served the passengers during their trip; they would help with boarding and disembarking, serve drinks and snacks, set up berths, make beds, polish shoes, tend to and entertain small children, and cater to the customers’ needs and wants. The porters were essential to rail travel—they were always present but also pushed to the background.

A black-and-white photograph of people in a train station. A porter, with luggage on a dolly, is facing away from the camera. Two well-dressed travellers are speaking to a ticket agent. An information board with destinations is on the wall behind the travellers announcing the train as “The Dominion” from Montréal to Vancouver. A passenger train is visible in the background.

A porter takes luggage for passengers about to board “The Dominion” at Windsor Station, Montréal, Quebec, circa 1947 (MIKAN 3613396)

The men received regular wages, had the opportunity to see Canada and meet travellers. Stanley Grizzle, a former sleeping car porter, states in his autobiography that porters were admired within the black community.

These benefits and rewards came at a cost. Porters worked long hours, often on call for 24 hours with their sleeping accommodations on the train in the men’s smoking room. They were frequently away from home for days at a time. They were also wary of passenger complaints and were often subject to harsh discipline from management. Porters would risk reprisals from passengers when they reported gambling, excessive drinking, or illegal activities.

The porters received demeaning and insulting comments and names from passengers. Stanley Grizzle wrote that passengers would frequently address porters as “George” after George Pullman, the original owner of the Pullman Car Company. The porters were also forced to rely on tips from passengers. While the money was welcome, Stanley Grizzle writes, the act of asking for a tip was demeaning, reinforced subservience, and allowed the company to justify keeping wages low because of the tips.

A black-and-white photograph of a crowd of people with baggage standing on the platform next to a passenger train. Two porters are seen beside the train. One is on the platform attending to some luggage; the other stands in the doorway of the train. An automobile in the foreground has a sign on the door reading “Jasper Park Lodge.” Mountains are visible in the distance.

Two porters assist passengers and other crew at the railway station in Jasper, Alberta, 1929 (MIKAN 3199681)

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was organized in Canada during the Second World War. The union helped to negotiate higher wages, better working (and sleeping) conditions, fairer and more transparent disciplinary measures, and ended racial discrimination in hiring and promotions. Beginning in the 1960s with changes in the travel industry, the railways were employing fewer and fewer sleeping car porters. In 1999, Heritage Canada unveiled a plaque at Windsor Station, Montréal, Quebec, to honour the sleeping car porters.

Related resources

For Better or For Worse: Library and Archives Canada’s collection of Lynn Johnston’s iconic comic strips

Lynn Johnston is best known for the creation and illustration of her popular syndicated comic strip, For Better or for Worse, which has run in over 2,000 newspapers in 160 countries. Inspired by Johnston’s experience with her own family life, the comic offers humorous, touching, and thoughtful renderings of the fictional Patterson family—John and Elly, their children Michael, Elizabeth and April, and beloved family dog Farley—as they move through the challenges and enjoyments of life.

This summer, the Art Gallery of Sudbury is curating a travelling retrospective exhibition of Johnston’s work entitled, For Better or for Worse: The Comic Art of Lynn Johnston. It will celebrate the 30-year run of the comic strip by exploring the artist’s life, creative process, and the responses she received from readers over the years. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) will be lending close to 50 of Johnston’s original panel drawings from its collection to be included in the exhibition.

Ranging from Johnston’s early strips in 1979 to later works created in 1995, the selection of drawings from LAC covers a variety of relatable and humorous subjects, a number of which focus on Elly Patterson’s experiences as a housewife.

The Lynn Johnston collection at LAC contains other objects that speak to the popularity of Johnston’s comic strip. Included among these is a collection of dolls that were made in the likeness of April Patterson, the youngest of the Patterson children. LAC also houses memorabilia from the Farley Foundation, an organization dedicated to assisting those in need with the finances associated with taking care of beloved pets. The organization is named after Farley Patterson, the family’s cherished Old English Sheepdog who passes away in the strip.

Finally, the collection holds a large amount of fan mail that was written by Johnston’s readers. Most notable are two sub-series of the collection that concentrate on major events that took place in the comic strip. For example, Johnston’s decision to incorporate an openly gay character in her strip generated a huge number of responses from readers across North America. Similarly, the death of Elly Patterson’s mother resulted in many fans reaching out to Johnston as they mourned for the fictional Pattersons alongside their own personal losses.

Be sure to check out the exhibition at the Art Gallery of Sudbury between July 11 and November 1, 2015 for more details about Johnston’s work and creative process!