William James Topley’s Fancy Dress Ball Photographs

One of the most celebrated and well-known photographs by Ottawa photographer William James Topley (1845–1930) is his composite image of the first major Canadian fancy dress ball, hosted by the Earl of Dufferin and his wife on February 23, 1876. This composite, which was constructed in the months following the event by cutting out individual photographs and pasting them onto a painted backdrop of the Rideau Hall ballroom, recreates a moment from this prestigious social affair. Look closely and see if you can make out the different costumes…

Composite image of the Dufferin Grand Fancy Ball at Rideau Hall on February 23, 1876. The image was created in the months following the event, and was probably finished in May or June.

Composite image of the Dufferin Grand Fancy Ball at Rideau Hall on February 23, 1876. The image was created in the months following the event, and was probably finished in May or June. (Source: MIKAN 3260601)

The fancy dress ball was a private costumed event that grew in popularity over the course of the nineteenth century in Canada. Those who were invited to a fancy ball would often portray characters from history, literature, Shakespearean plays, mythology, legends, nursery rhymes, or fairy tales, or even ones from “exotic” lands. While guests at fancy balls were expected to conform to certain societal expectations, they could also exercise a few liberties.

For example, women were permitted to wear their hair loose and flowing at the ball (normally it would have been worn up). They could also dress in outfits that revealed more of their legs than a typical ball gown of the day. Miss Minnie Smart, who came dressed in uniform as a heroic “vivandière” for the Dufferin Grand Ball, is certainly revealing a fair amount of her stockings in this photographic portrait!

Miss Minnie Smart dressed as a “vivandière,” originally a type of female auxiliary in the French army who sold food and drink to the soldiers.

Miss Minnie Smart dressed as a “vivandière,” originally a type of female auxiliary in the French army who sold food and drink to the soldiers. (Source: MIKAN 3421162)

Many of the costumes that men wore required tight leggings. This undoubtedly resulted in a few of the guests feeling self-conscious about their bodies, which were normally hidden under conventional dark suits.

Mr. Newby dressed as a “Court Jester.” He wore this same costume again for a skating carnival that took place in 1881.

Mr. Newby dressed as a “Court Jester.” He wore this same costume again for a skating carnival that took place in 1881. (Source: MIKAN 3477362)

There were also those who dressed as characters from other lands. These individuals often acted out their roles in very stereotypical ways, and their costumes did not necessarily reflect the identity that they were appropriating. Mr. Waddell, who came dressed as a “Heathen Hindoo,” apparently had his face painted brown with iodine, leaving a stain that lasted for days after the event.

Mr. Waddell dressed as a “Heathen Hindoo.”

Mr. Waddell dressed as a “Heathen Hindoo.” (Source: MIKAN 3477518)

Not only do these photographs serve as entertaining records of the men and women who attended this exclusive event, but they are also important visual remnants of the past that reflect the social, political and economic contexts in which they were created.

For further research

 

July 15, 1870: Manitoba joins Confederation

Originally posted on Library and Archives Canada Blog:

Before becoming a province, Manitoba was the stage for many events and pivotal moments in Canada’s history. Pending the transfer of Rupert’s Land to Canada, the federal government sent survey crews led by Lieutenant Governor William McDougall to map the Red River area in 1869. The Métis became concerned about the redistribution of land to future settlers and the effect this would have on their own lands.

The Métis group’s leader, Louis Riel, declared that the survey was a menace and established a “National Committee” of which he became secretary and John Bruce president. On October 25, 1869, Louis Riel was ordered to appear in front of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia to explain himself. Riel indicated that the “National Committee” would prevent the entry of McDougall or any governors into Red River unless the union with Canada was based on negotiations with the local population.

In November, Riel…

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Mary Riter Hamilton, Canada’s First Unofficial War Artist

It has been 90 years since Mary Riter Hamilton donated 180 of her oil paintings and dozens of her chalk, pastel and pencil drawings depicting the devastation in Europe after the First World War to the Public Archives of Canada (now Library and Archives Canada). These works by Riter Hamilton are not light-hearted. The subject matter deals almost exclusively with the destruction of war. They depict muddy trenches and blighted landscapes, graves and cemeteries, churches and towns ripped apart from shelling.

Memorial for the Second Canadian Division in a Mine Crater near Neuville St. Vaast.

Memorial for the Second Canadian Division in a Mine Crater near Neuville St. Vaast (MIKAN 2836007)

Mary Riter Hamilton was born in 1873 in Teeswater, Ontario and grew up in Clearwater, Manitoba where her family moved to farm. She married Charles W. Hamilton at the age of 18 and by the age of 23 was widowed. It was soon before the death of her husband that Mary began attending art classes in Toronto. Recognizing her talent, most of her European-trained teachers urged her to further her studies in Paris. Mary studied first in Germany then moved to Paris where she lived and studied for the next eight years. Mary returned to Manitoba for a year in 1906 then again for eight years in 1911. During these years, Mary’s work was exhibited in galleries in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary.

The Sadness of the Somme

The Sadness of the Somme (MIKAN 2835991)

Always wanting to return to Europe, it was in 1919 while Mary was living and working on Canada’s west coast, that she was offered a commission by the Amputation Club of British Columbia to provide art work for The Gold Stripe, a veteran’s magazine. Mary left immediately, “ … to paint the scenes where so many of our gallant Canadians have fought and died.” For three years, Riter Hamilton worked tirelessly in post-war France and Belgium, painting battlefields including Vimy Ridge and the Somme, Ypres and Passchendaele. Conditions were harsh. She lived in make-shift shelters while enduring foul weather and meagre rations. She returned to Canada physically and emotionally spent. Refusing to sell her paintings, Riter Hamilton donated her work to the Public Archives of Canada. She died, poor and visually impaired, in 1954.

As the centenary of the First World War approaches, these works take on a renewed poignancy. Mary Riter Hamilton was never an official ‘war artist’ yet through her courage and talent and indomitable dedication, the sombre beauty and mournful tone of her collection serve as an enduring account of the ravages of war.

Trenches on the Somme

Trenches on the Somme (MIKAN 2894917)

To learn more about Mary Riter Hamilton, to view more of her work, or to see what materials are contained in the LAC collection, visit:

Looking for your Newfoundland Ancestors Who Served in the First World War?

Newfoundland was a Dominion of the British Empire when the First World War broke out. At the time, there was no formal military presence in Newfoundland, but the Government of Newfoundland went on a recruiting drive to provide a force for British service. Many Newfoundlanders also joined the war effort by joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in Canada.

After Newfoundland joined confederation in 1949, the personnel records for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the Newfoundland Forestry Corps were transferred to the Government of Canada as these individuals became eligible for veterans’ benefits. Later, the files were microfilmed by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and FamilySearch. The originals remain in LAC’s holdings.

Searching for Newfoundland service files

If you aren’t sure in which service your ancestor served or where he joined, you will need to look at both the CEF records using the Canadian soldiers of the First World War: 1914-1918 database for people from Newfoundland who enlisted in other parts of Canada and the general Archives Search for people who enlisted in Newfoundland regiments. For the latter group, enter the surname of the person, “Newfoundland” and RG38 in the keyword search. The results page will identify which microfilm reel you will need to order to consult the service record.

Meanwhile, the microfilms can be consulted onsite at LAC, through the Family History Centre or in the Newfoundland Provincial Archives at The Rooms in St. John’s. The latter has digitized some of the service files and these can be found in the Newfoundland Regiment and the Great War database.

LAC is presently digitizing all of the remaining 640,000 service files of the men and women who served in the First World War with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The digitized service records will be made available on the website as they become available, but access restrictions may be in effect at times. Learn more about the digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces Service Files by consulting the Fact Sheet: Digitization of Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files.

Underwater Canada: A Researcher’s Brief Guide to Shipwrecks

Shipwrecks, both as historical events and artifacts, have sparked the imagination and an interest in the maritime heritage of Canada. The discovery of the War of 1812 wrecks Hamilton and Scourge, found in Lake Ontario in the 1970s, and the discovery of the Titanic in the 1980s, served to heighten public awareness of underwater archaeology and history.

Whether you are a wreck hunter on the trail of a lost vessel, or a new shipwreck enthusiast eager to explore images and documents that preserve the epic tales of Canadian waters, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has something for you.

Starting your research

First, gather as much information as possible about the shipwreck(s) you are researching. Specifically, you will ideally want to obtain the following information (in order of importance):

  • Name of Vessel
  • Location of accident
  • Date of accident
  • Ship’s port of registry
  • Ship’s official number
  • Year of vessel’s construction

The Ship Registration Index is a helpful resource. The database includes basic information about more than 78,000 ships registered in ports of Canada between 1787 and 1966.

Can’t locate all of the information listed? There’s no cause for concern! Not all of the information is necessary, but it is essential that you know the name of the vessel. All Government records relating to shipwrecks are organized according to the ship’s name.

What is Available?

Using Archives Search, you can locate the following types of material:

Photographs

Maps

  • In Archives Search, under “Type of material”, select “Maps and cartographic material” to narrow your results.
    Government Records

All records listed are found in the documents of the Marine Branch (Record Group 42) and/or Transport Canada (Record Group 24).
Official Wreck Registers, 1870‒1975

  • Wreck Reports, 1907‒1974
  • Register of Investigations into Wrecks, 1911‒1960
  • Marine Casualty Investigation Records, 1887‒1980

Important: Government records contain information about shipwrecks that occurred in Canadian waters, and include all accidents involving foreign vessels in Canadian waters.

Please note: this is not an exhaustive list of resources, but rather a compilation of some of the major sources of documentation available on shipwrecks held at LAC.

Helpful Hints

You can find a number of digitized photographs, maps and documents on the Shipwreck Investigations virtual exhibition. More specifically, check out the collection of digitized Official Wreck Registers in the Shipwreck Investigations Database. Simply check if the name of the vessel you are researching is listed.

Another excellent source of information on shipwrecks is local public libraries. There are many maritime histories and bibliographies that offer reference points to begin your shipwreck research.

New finding aids available online

Library and Archives Canada has begun an initiative that will see the digitization and transcription of several significant finding aids. Adding these finding aids online will help users find material much more easily. We will continue to add other finding aids throughout the year, but so far, the following finding aids have been transcribed:

Finding Aid 15-25: Colonization Company Money Scrip

After the Hudson’s Bay Company transfer of Rupert’s Land and the North-West Territories to the Dominion of Canada, a few private companies were allowed to buy land to sell it through sponsored settlement schemes.

Finding Aid 15-33: Military Bounty Land Warrants, Riel Rebellion

Officers and men who served in Manitoba during the Riel Rebellion were offered free land grants in the newly opened lands of the North-West. Members could receive scrip (money certificates) equal in value to and in lieu of the land grant.

Finding Aid 9-8: Department of Militia and Defence Pre-Confederation Records – Adjutant General’s Office, United Canada Correspondence

Letters received in the Office of the Adjutant General of Upper Canada. The correspondence relates to the appointment, promotion and retirement of officers, as well as the organization of units.

Finding Aid 9-4: Department of Militia and Defence – Adjutant General’s Office, United Canada Correspondence

Letters received by the Deputy Adjutant Generals of Canada West, Canada East and United Canada, between 1846 and 1869. The letters relate to the Active and Service Militia as well as the Sedentary (Non-Service) Militia. Some of the letters were received by the Premier of the Province of Canada from 1854 to 1856, Sir Allan MacNab.

How to find references

  1. Go to the search screen for Archives Search—Advanced.
  2. In the drop-down menu, select “Finding aid number” and then in the box, enter 15-24.
  3. In the next line, select “Any Keyword” and enter a surname, a place name, or a topic.
  4. Click on the “Submit” button.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!