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!

So many lockers, so little time

When visiting Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in Ottawa at 395 Wellington to do research, you may be asked more than once if you need a locker. Let’s explore why and where this might be the case. First off, when you arrive, the Commissionaire at the security desk on the ground floor will ask you if you need a locker to store your personal items, such as your jacket or coat, hat, large bag, or umbrella. As you can understand, none of these items is allowed in the reference or consultation rooms in order to keep the collection safe from damage or loss. These personal storage lockers are located on the ground floor, and are for day use only. You must leave the key to your locker with the security desk when leaving the building, both at the end of the day and for any reason during the day, even if you plan to come back.

The next locker you might require is located on the third floor. Here there are three types of lockers for temporarily storing archival, published, or restricted items. They are loaned out for up to a month at a time and may be renewed as required. The first type of locker is the one most commonly used for open archival material. You must ask the consultation staff to assign you one of these lockers, and you can request up to a maximum of three at a time. You can either request the locker(s) when requesting your material in advance or if you are planning on coming in person to do your research during or outside of service hours. Keys for these lockers are also kept with the security desk on the ground floor and must be returned daily or when leaving the building. The same applies for the second type of locker, a smaller one for when you only require a small space to temporarily store published items you have requested.

The third type of locker is the restricted one, for those researchers who have access to restricted (code 32) material. The same procedures apply for requesting this type of locker, but please note that keys are not issued automatically. The Commissionaire stationed in the lobby of the third floor must verify the researcher’s access to the restricted locker(s) before access can be granted.

Lastly, here are the most important things to remember when you are assigned any of the lockers located on the third floor:

  • Use lockers for LAC material only—no personal items please
  • Do not keep self-serve/archival microfilm in the lockers
  • Be aware that the expiry dates of lockers and items often differ
  • Make sure to renew your locker and archival items to ensure that the items are not sent back before you have completed your work
  • Note that overdue items may be removed and returned to storage even if the locker is not expired
  • Renew lockers or items after hours by contacting consultationtext@bac-lac.gc.ca. Be sure to provide all the details

Photo Album 47: Record of a real and a constructed journey to western Canada: a mystery!

In the previous posts, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Tour of Western Canada, June 1914 and Visit to Jasper National Park, we followed on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s trail as he travelled through Canada in 1914. The images of the trip came from a large album of photographic prints put together by William Topley capturing the author’s travels—supposedly. Upon doing further research, there are some curiosities with the way the album has been presented.

The photo album (see pages from the album below) appears to be not only a record of the Conan Doyle tour of 1914, but also a constructed record of a journey that an immigrant or tourist would take on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.

A black-and-white photograph showing a group of people sitting on a veranda overlooking a wooded area.

The Conan Doyle party sitting on a veranda. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is on the far right.

Clues

First, the original nitrate and glass plate negatives are located in the Topley fonds rather than the Department of the Interior, which employed the photographer for the Conan Doyle tour.

Second, the photo album resides within the Department of the Interior’s fonds in a series entitled, Immigration Branch — Photographic Albums of Canadian Settlement. The MIKAN record notes that the albums in this series contain photographs taken by two photographers, John Woodruff and Horatio Topley, working for the William Topley Studio. However, the photographs in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle album are clearly identified as having been taken by William Topley, rather than his brother, who died in 1910.

Third, while the MIKAN record—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Tour—suggests that the entire album is of Conan Doyle’s tour, a close inspection of the physical album reveals that only a portion of the photographs are from the tour! The last part of the album has photos of places along the remainder of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway route from Jasper, Alberta through central northern British Columbia to Prince Rupert on the Pacific coast—places which Conan Doyle did not visit as he returned east after his stay in Jasper National Park.

So why are these other photos in the album? By looking at the finding aid for the Topley Studio Series SC, we learn that Topley may have travelled on the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway to photograph the Mount Robson Glacier and Berg Lake in 1913. In July 1915, he may have taken the railway from Jasper, Alberta all the way to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Along the way, he photographed:

Photograph of a typewritten list with photograph numbers and titles of locations along the Grand Trunk Railway.

The finding aid at the beginning of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle photo album from the Immigration Branch listing the photographs contained in the album.

Topley was quite probably employed by Department of the Interior to record these trips as he had a number of prominent assignments with the Department in the first two decades of the 20th century.

In 1917, the Department of the Interior published the book, Description of and Guide to Jasper Park, which includes several of Topley’s photos from his 1914 trip with Conan Doyle and one photo of his 1915 trip.

A photograph of an album, showing three black-and-white photographs of a city.

A page taken from the album showing photographs of the city of Edmonton.

A photograph of a photo album, showing four black-and-white photographs of groups of people with horses and tents.

A page from the album showing photographs taken of a press excursion at Jasper Park that are clearly labelled 1915.

A photograph of an album, showing four black-and-white photographs of various scenes in British Columbia, including the totem poles at Kitwanga, a view of the village, an unidentified medicine man and a person fishing on a stream.

The album showing locations in British Columbia that Conan Doyle did not go to during this trip.

A collage of two images. The first one is a label explaining how to reorder the binder if necessary, and the second one shows two black-and-white photographs: one of an Ottawa bridge and the other captioned, “Str. Prince Rupert leaving for Vancouver.”

First and last pages of the album. The last photograph shows a steamer heading towards Vancouver. However the Conan Doyle party never made it past Mount Robson.

Whether the Department of the Interior album was intended for public viewing or not, one thing is certain—Topley’s western excursions were addictive. The photographer was drawn to the grand western landscapes. Retired Library and Archives Canada photo archivist and Topley expert Andrew Rodger writes in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography: “Topley and his wife, who died in 1927, spent much of their last years in Edmonton with their daughter, Helena Sarah, and son-in-law, Robert C.W. Lett, an employee of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The latter was probably influential in the naming of the town of Topley, a community on the rail line in northern British Columbia.

William Topley died in Vancouver in 1930.

Conserving the William Redver Stark sketchbooks: dates and locations

In this last article on page mapping, we are looking at the dates and locations of Stark‘s sojourn in Europe, matching the ones inscribed in his sketchbooks to the events and locations of his military unit.

In many of his sketchbooks, Stark wrote the name of the town or village that he was sketching. Occasionally, he would also include the date. These notations give the modern viewer a real sense of the time Stark spent in France and Belgium, and were a great help in the re-sequencing of the detached leaves.

We were able to verify dates and locations by looking at the war diaries of the 1st Battalion of the Canadian Railway Troop. War diaries are the daily accounts of First World War units.

Colour photograph showing an open sketchbook with a watercolour of a train with a German naval gun on a wagon. The gun is wildly patterned with a camouflage paint. Soldiers are standing around, looking at it and talking.

A sketchbook showing a German gun captured during the Second Battle of the Somme and dated August 1918 by Stark. (MIKAN 3029137)

Black-and-white reproduction of a typewritten page for August 14, 1918 reading, “The large 11,2 inch German naval gun on railway mountings, captured in the recent push was brought down from Chemin Vert. This was captured complete, with ammunition and locomotive. […]

Entry in the war diary of the 1st Battalion of the Canadian Railway Troop showing the entry for the captured German naval gun on August 14, 1918.

A colour photograph of a sketchbook at an angle showing a riverbank with the date and location in the lower right corner, “Perrone April 17.”

A view of Pérrone dated April 1917 found in sketchbook 7 (MIKAN 3028908).

A black-and-white reproduction of a handwritten page for April 15, 1917 reading: “[…] Battalion Headquarters moved to Peronne.”

The war diary of the 1st Battalion of the Canadian Railway Troop showing the first entry referencing the move of the battalion headquarters to Pérrone.

Visit Flickr to view more images of the conservation of books and visual material.

Open Data: Providing access to historical Government of Canada studies

Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government details how the federal government is promoting transparency and accountability and encouraging citizen engagement by releasing unrestricted government data and information. Releasable information falls under two categories: structured data (machine readable) and open information (unstructured documents and multimedia assets). To make this information easily discoverable and reusable, it will be located on the Open Government website and made available under the unrestricted Open Government Licence. Structured data is made available through the Open Data portal of the website and unstructured information through the Open Information portal.

Library and Archives Canada is in the process of extracting and preserving datasets from outdated storage devices that are related to studies undertaken by federal departments. The studies cover a wide range of topics, such as the environment, health and immigration. The digital content from these studies, acquired since the early 1970s, is being converted from its outdated file structures and encoding schemes so it can be used by contemporary computers that are based on the ASCII encoding scheme.

Once the datasets are migrated, they will be made available on the Open Data portal. Codebooks that describe the file structure of the data and define the variables contained in each field will also be supplied. These migrated datasets will be in the form of raw data. To interpret and analyze the content in each file, you will require specialized software, such as a spreadsheet or a statistical tool. Raw data preserves the integrity of this archival content and will allow you to perform your own interpretation and analysis.

Stay tuned in the coming months for news about dataset releases.

Oscar Peterson

These photographs of Oscar Peterson and his family were taken in 1944. He was in his late teens and already an experienced professional musician. He had been playing regularly with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra since 1942, a popular swing band that played to the dance crowd in and around Montreal. Oscar left the orchestra in 1947 and began a residency at the Alberta Lounge, a club near Windsor Station, leading a trio there for two years.

A black-and-white photograph showing Oscar Peterson playing the piano in a lounge.

Oscar Peterson, photographed by D.C. Langford [1944] (MIKAN 4167283)

Given the vibrant jazz scene in the city, Oscar had lots of opportunities to play: he performed professionally, played live for CBC Radio broadcasts, attended jam sessions, and met and jammed with visiting musicians performing in town. He earned praise from Count Basie, Woody Herman, Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie and others. Oscar was based in Canada until 1949 when Norman Granz convinced him to join the “Jazz at the Philharmonic” concert series in Los Angeles. This marked the beginning of his international career.

Oscar’s parents were immigrants to Canada. Daniel Peterson, Oscar’s father, was from the British Virgin Islands and worked as a boatswain on a merchant ship. His mother, Kathleen Olivia John, was from St. Kitts, British West Indies, and worked as a cook and housekeeper. They met and married in Montreal, settling in Little Burgundy/St-Henri, a predominately black neighbourhood. Like many men living there, Daniel got a job at Windsor Station as a porter on passenger trains for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

A black-and-white photograph showing Oscar Peterson with his father, Daniel. Both men are sitting at a piano, with their hands on the keyboard, smiling and looking up at the camera.

Oscar Peterson and his father, Daniel, at the piano [1944] (MIKAN 4542845)

With instruction and encouragement from their parents, the Peterson children became accomplished musicians.

Fred, the eldest child, introduced Oscar to ragtime and jazz when he played it on the family piano. Fred died in the 1930s while still a teenager. Oscar said Fred was the most talented musician of the family.

A black-and-white photograph showing Oscar Peterson seated, playing piano. His brother Charles, dressed in the uniform of the Canadian Army, stands next to him playing the trumpet.

Oscar Peterson on piano, with his brother, Chuck, accompanying him on trumpet [1944] (MIKAN 4542843)


Another brother, Charles, who served with an artillery battery in the Canadian Army during the Second World War, played in the regimental band. After the war, he continued as a professional trumpet player, doing studio work and performing at various Montreal nightclubs through the 1950s and 1960s. Like his siblings, he also played the piano, but was forced to give it up after suffering an industrial accident while working in a factory in Montreal after the war.

A black-and-white photograph of Oscar Peterson and his sister Daisy seated at the piano with their hands on the keyboard. They are looking at the camera and smiling.

Oscar Peterson with his sister, Daisy, at the piano [1944] (MIKAN 4542840)

Daisy, Oscar’s oldest sister, was also a virtuoso pianist. She earned a degree in music from McGill University and had a lengthy and influential career as a music teacher in Montreal. She was her siblings’ first piano teacher and introduced Oscar to her own piano teacher, Paul de Marky, a concert pianist who played in the Franz Liszt tradition. Daisy taught for many years in Montreal; her students included future jazz musicians Milton Sealey, Oliver Jones, Reg Wilson and Joe Sealy.

Related Resources

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Tour of Western Canada – Visit to Jasper National Park

On June 11, 1914, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his wife travelled via the Grand Trunk Pacific railway to the town of Jasper within Alberta’s Jasper National Park. Of the place, the author later wrote:

“Jasper Park is one of the great national playgrounds and health resorts which the Canadian Government with great wisdom has laid out for the benefit of the citizens. When Canada has filled up and carries a large population, she will bless the foresight of the administrators who took possession of broad tracts of the most picturesque land and put them forever out of the power of the speculative dealer.”

This statement proved to be pure gold for government travel marketers! During Conan Doyle’s visit, the commissioner for Canada’s national parks, J.B. Harkin, created his own promotional campaign for national parks, releasing the booklet entitled “Just a Sprig of Mountain Heather.”

The Jasper Park trip lasted eight days. Conan Doyle was the guest of an old friend, Colonel Rogers, who was the park’s superintendent. The author noted: “For a week we lived the life of simplicity and nature.”

A black-and-white photograph showing a veranda with seating to take advantage of the view. The architectural style is rustic, with river stones and rough-hewn beams.

The veranda of the Administration Building in Jasper Park, Alberta, by William Topley, 1914 (MIKAN 3587685)

Conan Doyle wrote of his experience in the town of Jasper as follows: “Life in Jasper interested me as an experience of the first stage of a raw Canadian town. It will certainly grow into a considerable place, but at that time, bar Colonel Rogers’ house and the station, there were only log-huts and small wooden dwellings.” He and his wife visited many now-famous locations, such as Pyramid Lake, Lake Edith, and the Maligne River and Canyon.

A black-and-white photograph showing a man and a woman with a horse by a lake. The man is seated and the woman is holding the lead to the horse. There are tall coniferous trees behind them.

A couple with a horse at Pyramid Lake, Alberta, by William Topley, 1914 (MIKAN 3587697)

A black-and-white photograph of a group of people outside a rustic log cabin.

The Conan Doyle party preparing lunch outside (MIKAN 3587725)

A black-and-white photograph showing one person walking and five people on horseback, on a log bridge crossing a river, with mountains in the background.

The Conan Doyle party crossing the Athabasca River in Alberta (MIKAN 3303264)

A special train was organized to take Conan Doyle, his wife, and friends to visit the area near Mount Robson. The mountain, located just over the Alberta border in British Columbia, is one of the highest and most iconic mountains in the Canadian Rockies. William Topley, the celebrated Ottawa photographer, dutifully took these photos.

A black-and-white photograph showing a train stopped beside a river.

The train near Lucerne, British Columbia, by William Topley, 1914 (MIKAN 3587749)

A black-and-white photograph showing a man walking along train tracks, with a view of Mount Robson in the distance.A black-and-white photograph showing a man walking along train tracks, with a view of Mount Robson in the distance.

A man walking along the railway tracks, with a view of Mount Robson in the background, by William Topley, 1914 (MIKAN 3587770)

Today, a century later, the landscape looks much the same. Mount Robson is notoriously difficult to photograph without clouds obscuring its peak, so Topley was extremely lucky to get such clear shots. After this excursion, Conan Doyle would survey the layout for the first golf course in Jasper (as noted in the 1914 edition of “Golf Illustrated”) and take part in a baseball game between teams from the towns of Jasper and Edson, making sure to pitch the first ball! Although Topley missed capturing the moment, another local photographer was lucky enough to get this shot.

Conan Doyle’s Return Journey East

We do not have any images of the return trip back East, perhaps because the point of the expedition was to promote the Canadian West and its newly minted national park. We do know that the couple left Jasper on June 19 and that the return journey meandered through Winnipeg, along the north shore of Lake Superior, through Algonquin Park, down to Niagara Falls, and finally back to Ottawa for Dominion Day (Canada Day). They headed back to England on July 4. The visit resonated deeply with them as they would take their children to Jasper Park in the 1920s.

The First World War would begin one month later, giving Conan Doyle’s daydream poem The Athabasca Trail an even greater poignancy.

In the last article in this Blog series, we will take a closer look at the photo album associated with Conan Doyle’s trip, and explore some of the mysteries surrounding the images it contains. Why, for example, are there photos of places in British Columbia that Conan Doyle never visited?