Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Tour of Western Canada, June 1914

Imagine if the Canadian government invited a famous British writer to travel across Canada by train and stay at one of the country’s newest national parks—all at the expense of taxpayers! Think this scenario is impossible? Well, it happened a little over a century ago. In the spring of 1914, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of Sherlock Holmes fame) was invited to travel on the newly opened Grand Trunk Pacific Railway from Montreal to Jasper National Park. Conan Doyle accepted the invitation, and he and his wife, Jean Leckie, conducted the trip between May and July, 1914. The official photographer for the journey was none other than the celebrated William James Topley—a real public relations coup! Topley’s son-in-law, R.C.W. Lett, held a prominent position with the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, and persuaded him to photograph Conan Doyle’s travels.

Montreal to Winnipeg

Conan Doyle’s trip to Jasper by train was, as it is today, a quintessential Canadian travel adventure. Writing about the experience later in Memories and Adventures, Conan Doyle stated:

“…We accepted an invitation from the Canadian Government to inspect the National Reserve at Jasper Park in the Northern Rockies. The Grand Trunk Railway (Canadian) made matters easy for us by generously undertaking to pass us over their system and to place a private car at our disposal. This proved to be a gloriously comfortable and compact little home consisting of a parlour, a dining-room and a bedroom. It belonged to Mr. Chamberlin, the president of the line, who allowed us the use of it. Full of anticipation we started off in May upon our long and pleasant journey.”

Thus the celebrated author set out with his wife by ship from England to New York City in late May 1914, and travelled by train to Montreal, arriving in the city on June 3, 1914.

A black-and-white postcard featuring three photographs of the sights around the train station in Montreal.

A postcard published by the Albertype Company, showing three views: Grand Trunk Railway Station, Grand Trunk Railway Offices and Place Viger C.P.R. Hotel and Station (MIKAN 3335217)

Conan Doyle visited the sights of the city and went on a side trip to Trois-Rivières. The author then spoke to the Montreal branch of the Canadian Club on The Future of Canadian Literature. This same speech would be repeated in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Ottawa. Between June 5 and 8, Conan Doyle travelled from Montreal to Winnipeg by train and by boat. First, by train to Sarnia, Ontario, then on the S.S. Harmonic steamship to Fort William (near Thunder Bay). Of this part of the trip, he observed: “Then comes the enormous stretch of the Great Lakes, those wonderful inland seas, with great oceangoing steamers.”

Of Northwest Ontario, he noted: “The true division between the East and West of Canada is not the Great Lakes, which are so valuable as a waterway, but lies in the 500 miles of country between the Lakes and Winnipeg.” They stayed one night at the Minaki Lodge near Sioux Lookout, arriving in Winnipeg, Manitoba, late on June 8.

A black-and-white photograph showing the entrance to an imposing building. Automobiles and horse-drawn buggies are lined outside, and people are standing near the entrance.

The entrance of the Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian National Railway Station in Winnipeg, by William Topley, 1914 (MIKAN 3587592)

A black-and-white photograph showing a wide street, busy with streetcars, automobiles, horse-drawn buggies, cyclists and pedestrians. The buildings along the street look new and prosperous.

The Eaton’s store on Portage Avenue, in Winnipeg, by William Topley, 1914 (MIKAN 3587605)

These images are superb at documenting the bustling prairie city. The stop in Winnipeg was not long, but Conan Doyle remarked: “I do not suppose the average Briton has the least conception of the amenities of Winnipeg. He would probably be surprised to hear that the Fort Garry Hotel there is nearly as modern and luxurious as any hotel in Northumberland.”

From Winnipeg to Edmonton

By June 9, Conan Doyle was in Edmonton, having crossed the Prairies.

A black-and-white photograph of a train station taken from the other side of the tracks. There is a sign with the word Biggar, and there’s a note at the bottom of the photograph identifying it as G.T.P. Station, Biggar, Sask.

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Station, Biggar, Saskatchewan (MIKAN 3393480)

And he would have crossed over the high-level bridge entering Edmonton.

A black-and-white photograph showing a high-level railway bridge spanning a river.

The high-level bridge in Edmonton, by William Topley, 1914 (MIKAN 3587671)

The couple stayed in Edmonton for two days. Here, Conan Doyle noticed the rough-hewn nature of the city, comparing it to Winnipeg: “There were no such luxuries in 1914 in Edmonton. The town was in a strangely half-formed condition, rude and raw, but with a great atmosphere of energy, bustle, and future greatness. With its railway connections and waterways it is bound to be a large city.”

A black-and-white photograph taken from a hillside overlooking a town, showing cyclists resting on the grass and other men seated nearby.

The town of Edmonton from “Summer House,” by William Topley, 1914 (MIKAN 3587646)

A black-and-white photograph showing a wide avenue, roughly paved, where streetcars, horse-drawn carriages and automobiles share the road. It is a streetscape bustling with activity.

Edmonton—a street view of this frontier town, by William Topley, 1914 (MIKAN 3587667)

The two prairie cities, Winnipeg and Edmonton, contrasted greatly with the breathtaking mountain scenery of Jasper National Park. In the next Blog, we will look at Conan Doyle’s extended stay at Jasper, a place that inspired him to write a poem of some importance…

Did your ancestors come from Sweden?

Do you want to know who your first Swedish ancestor was and when he or she left Sweden and arrived in Canada? Are you curious about your Swedish 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 Swedes. 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.

If your ancestor came to Canada between 1865 and 1935, you might find his or her name on the passenger lists.

Images of the North West Mounted Police in Yukon now on Flickr

The Klondike gold rush left an infrastructure of supply, support and governance that led to the continued development of the territory to such a great extent that Yukon became a Canadian territory on June 13, 1898. The North West Mounted Police stayed to maintain peace and order under their steady hands.

Go North, Sir!

In 1894, the Canadian government’s interest turned towards the Yukon. There were concerns about the influx of American citizens into the region as the new border was disputed in certain areas. In addition, there were mounting concerns over law and order, and the liquor trade among the resident miners.

Inspector Charles Constantine of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) was dispatched to the Yukon to carry out law enforcement, border and tariff control, and to assess the policing needs of the territory. After four weeks of duty, Constantine returned south and submitted his report to the government recommending that a larger force of seasoned, robust and non-drinking constables between the ages of 22 and 32 years be sent to the Yukon to carry out border and law enforcement. It wasn’t until 1895 that a contingent of 20 constables under Inspector Constantine’s command finally set out from Regina towards the Alaskan border. They reached the town of Forty Mile and established Fort Constantine in July 1895. The year was marked by logging, enduring the elements and insects, and constructing their detachment building. Remarkably, crime during this time was rare.

Two black-and-white photos mounted on an album page depicting two groups of North West Mounted Police personnel outside in the snow

Fort Constantine detachment (now Forty Mile) on the Yukon River, 1895, the first North West Mounted Police group in the Yukon (MIKAN 3715394)

Things changed drastically in 1896. Gold was discovered near the Klondike River and news spread quickly. From a population of about 1,600 in the area, it swelled by tens of thousands by the summer of 1897 with prospectors, gamblers, speculators and those with criminal intent. A majority of these miners came from the United States. The NWMP commanded by Inspector Charles Constantine faced a challenge in policing the influx of miners streaming into the region from all directions. Customs posts were set up at the Chilkoot and White Pass summits and the collection of duties and tariffs began. Those miners with insufficient provisions to make it to Dawson City and survive the winter were turned back. By 1898, outnumbered, under-supplied and under-staffed, 51 NWMP members and 50 members of the Canadian militia maintained Canada’s sovereignty, and law and order at the border passes and in the mining areas in the Yukon.

Three North West Mounted Police constables in uniform standing at ease with clasped hands over the muzzles of their rifles.

North West Mounted Police in the Yukon, 1898–1899 (MIKAN 3379433)

The Klondike gold rush lasted into 1899 until gold was discovered in Alaska. The migration of fortune seekers turned their attention and travelled towards that state’s Nome region. However, the Klondike gold rush left an infrastructure of supply, support and governance that led to the continued development of the territory to such a great extent that the Yukon was made into a Canadian territory on June 13, 1898. The North West Mounted Police also stayed to maintain peace and order under their steady hands.

Black-and-white photograph of two men in North West Mounted Police uniform sitting on cots in a tent

North West Mounted Police in the Yukon, 1898–1910 (MIKAN 3407658)

A wide variety of documentation is available at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) related to the North West Mounted Police, the Klondike gold rush, and their time in the territory. You may start your initial research in Charles Constantine‘s fond using Archives Search. A general search using his name will provide further records from the Department of Justice.

Try searching with some of these keywords to get more records from the era:

Bennett Lake / Lake Bennett
Chilkoot Pass
Dawson City Yukon
Dyea
Forty Mile
Gold rush
Klondike River
Skagway
White Pass
Yukon River

Related sites

Did your ancestors come from Denmark?

Do you want to know who your first Danish ancestor was and when he or she left Denmark and arrived in Canada? Are you curious about your Danish 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 Danes. 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.

If your ancestor came to Canada between 1865 and 1935, you might find his or her name on the passenger lists.

Library and Archives Canada Sir John A. Macdonald treasures on display. Part 2: Shopping stories

As part of the year-long commemoration surrounding the 200th anniversary of the birth of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is presenting an exhibition at Bellevue House, in Kingston, Ontario—Parks Canada’s official historic site dedicated to Macdonald.

The exhibition includes rare treasures such as this page from a draft of the British North America Act (BNA), thought to have been handwritten by Sir John A. Macdonald himself.

A handwritten page in faded ink.

The first page of the British North America Act (MIKAN 456819)

Lesser known, but equally intriguing, LAC holdings are also highlighted in the exhibition, including a sampling from the vast assortment of receipts Macdonald accumulated over the course of a lifetime for items that he purchased. These unassuming documents—usually handwritten, and often with elegant 19th-century flourishes—give unexpected insight into Macdonald, as a private person; the purchases they record are often both amusing and endearing.

Macdonald purchased a toboggan, for example, from renowned Montreal furrier John Henderson & Company (“Importers, Manufacturers and Dealers in Hats, Furs, Indian Moccasins, Snowshoes, &c.”) on December 23, 1862. It’s possible to speculate that this iconic Canadian sled may have been part of his family’s Christmas celebrations—perhaps chosen as a present for his young son Hugh John. Or that Macdonald himself may have succumbed to the fad for recreational tobogganing that gripped the well-to-do during the 19th century.

A handwritten receipt from Montreal furrier John Henderson & Company detailing purchases made, on various dates, by Sir John A. Macdonald. These include a toboggan, which was purchased on December 23, 1862.Historians have also speculated about the expensive ladies’ riding whip, bought from London’s exclusive Swaine Adeney, during a trip to Great Britain that Macdonald undertook as a new widower. Though travelling on official business, to promote government projects, Macdonald still found time to choose this luxurious present. The identity of the lady who received it remains an historical mystery.

On another trip to Great Britain, Macdonald—whose receipts reveal a lifelong fascination with fine clothing and smart men’s accessories—visited relatives in Scotland and stopped there to purchase himself a full kit of Macdonald clan “Highland appointments”: including a kilt, hose and the “silk-velvet Highland jacket… generally worn by Gentlemen.” The distinguished Edinburgh firm from which he purchased these items provided its Canadian buyer with instructions on how to wear everything properly, together with a suitable “air-tight coat case” for storage.

Image shows a detailed receipt for a complete kit of Macdonald clan ‘Highland appointments,’ including a kilt and a Highland jacket (MIKAN 122162)

Macdonald suffered for years from ill health due, in part, to his alcoholism. The collection is full of curious receipts for 19th-century style medicine, together with copies of personal prescriptions. This prescription, for “The Ferruginous tonic,” was based on the commonly held idea that tincture of iron could improve the functioning of the digestive tract. Macdonald was said to have suffered terribly from indigestion. He was prescribed this mixture during the final decade of his life.

Image shows an 1883 prescription from Ottawa “Chemist & Druggist” John Roberts for a tonic designed to alleviate Sir John A. Macdonald’s gastric issues.Come see Sir John A. Macdonald’s personal receipts at Bellevue House National Historic Site between May 16 and October 12, 2015.

“The Pointe”

Pointe St. Charles or “The Pointe” as it is more commonly known, is a Montréal, Quebec neighbourhood located southwest of downtown that has a rich and varied history. The area known as Pointe St. Charles was first acquired by Charles le Moyne in 1654, and is named in his honour. Throughout its early history, it was occupied by various religious communities and is also where Marguerite Bourgeoys, founder of the Congregation of Notre-Dame, welcomed and housed les Filles du Roi, the young French women who immigrated to New France to increase its population. Thereafter, Pointe St. Charles remained primarily a farming community until the mid-nineteenth century.

Black-and-white stereoscopic photograph showing the construction of a bridge.

Stereoscopic photograph of the Victoria Bridge construction in progress from Pointe St. Charles (MIKAN 3357662)

The landscape and population of Pointe St. Charles changed dramatically upon completion of the Lachine Canal in 1848, and further still with the new railway infrastructure and construction of the Victoria Bridge to Montréal’s south shore. Several companies were drawn to the area; new jobs were created, and land previously given to agriculture was bought for residential housing. According to Héritage Montréal, by the beginning of the 20th century, Pointe St. Charles had become the largest industrial sector not only in Montréal but in all of Canada. It was at this time that The Pointe also became the quintessential example of an ethnic melting pot. Populated primarily by English (75%) and French (25%) Canadians, The Pointe increasingly became home to many different ethnic groups.

Black-and-white photograph showing a locomotive under construction.

“Trevithick” railway engine under construction at Pointe St. Charles, from the Alexander Mackenzie Ross collection by William Notman, 1859 (MIKAN 3192802)

Several factors would contribute to The Pointe’s dramatic turn from Canada’s largest industrial sector to one of its most notorious slums. The Great Depression was the first event that contributed to the decline of the area’s primary economic activities. This was followed by the exodus of various factories and businesses to other industrial areas around Montréal, then culminating with the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 and the closing of the Lachine Canal. Adding further to the area’s decline was the building of expressways that now run along The Pointe’s north and southwest borders. The Richard Arless photographic collection held by Library and Archives Canada substantiates the existence of these slum conditions. Montréal-born Richard Graham Arless (1906-1995) began his career as a Second World War military photographer. After the war, he worked for various newspapers and magazines, eventually opening his own commercial studio in Montréal. His photographs of the slum conditions of Pointe St. Charles, all taken on the same April day in 1946, capture the bleakness and poverty of this once vital, now broken-down and battered neighbourhood.

Black-and-white photograph showing a courtyard with laundry hanging from various clotheslines. Three children are playing on the ground.

Children playing in a courtyard in the Pointe St. Charles district, April 25, 1946 by Richard Arless (MIKAN 3380642)

Black-and-white photograph showing a long, narrow lane strewn with garbage. A young child stands at the far end looking at the viewer.

View of a child in a narrow, garbage-strewn lane in Pointe St. Charles district, April 25, 1946 by Richard Arless (MIKAN 3380643)

The people of Pointe St. Charles have always been a gregarious and hardy bunch. As their population dwindled and their neighbourhood and living conditions deteriorated, the residents banded together to confront and improve their lot. Community groups were started to improve housing, build parks and promote recreation and health care.

Black-and-white photograph showing the dilapidated back lane behind the row houses. Children look towards the viewer.

View of a dilapidated back alley in Pointe St. Charles district, April 25, 1946 by Richard Arless (MIKAN 3380652)

Most recently, The Pointe has experienced a revitalization. Land around the Lachine Canal was transformed for recreational use with bike paths, while many of the abandoned factories have been converted into condos that have attracted many new residents.

Project Naming is Expanding!

In early 2002, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) teamed up with the Nunavut Sivuniksavut Training Program and the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, to create Project Naming. The goal was to digitize photographs of Inuit from present-day Nunavut in LAC’s photographic collections in order to identify the people depicted in the images. At the time of the launch, LAC expected that the project would be concluded the following year. We never imagined that this initiative would become such a successful and popular project with the public.

To mark the annual National Aboriginal History Month in June 2015, LAC is pleased to announce the launch of Project Naming. While the project still includes communities located in Nunavut, it will be expanded to Inuit living in Inuvialuit (Northwest Territories), Nunavik (northern Quebec) and Nunatsiavut (Labrador), as well as First Nations and Métis communities in the rest of Canada. Project Naming: 2002–2012 will still be available online, but new content will only be added to the new project site.

Project Naming: 2002–2012 began with the digitization of 500 photographs from the Richard Harrington fonds. Since then, LAC has digitized approximately 8,000 photographs from many different government departments and private collections. Thanks to the enthusiasm and support from Inuit and non-Inuit researchers, nearly one-quarter of the individuals, activities or events portrayed in the images have been identified, and this information along with the images is now available in the database.

Over the years, LAC has received many wonderful stories and photographs from members of the public who have reconnected with their family and friends through the photographs. Among these was a photograph shared by the Kitikmeot Heritage Society that organized several community slide shows during the winter of 2011. Mona Tigitkok, an Elder from Kugluktuk, discovered her photograph as a young woman during one of these gatherings.

Colour photograph of an elderly Inuit woman wearing a fur-trimmed floral parka posing in front of a screen with a slide projection of her photograph when she was a young woman, taken at a community hall.

Mona Tigitkok posing with a picture of herself taken more than 50 years ago, Kugluktuk, Nunavut, February 2011. Credit: Kitikmeot Heritage Society.

Author and historian, Deborah Kigjugalik Webster, has used Project Naming, both personally and professionally. In her words:

I was first introduced to Project Naming a few years ago through my work in the Inuit heritage field, but there is also a personal connection for me—the database allows people to search by communities in Nunavut so I’ve discovered photographs of relatives and community members.

It was not uncommon in the past for photographers not to name the subjects of images. Often photo captions were simply “group of Eskimos” or “native woman” and so on. One afternoon, over tea, I showed some of the photographs from the Project Naming database to my mother, Sally Qimmiu’naaq Webster, and we were able to add a few names to faces from our home community of Baker Lake (Qamanittuaq). I felt a sense of satisfaction in identifying unnamed individuals in photographs and providing names to replace nondescript captions provided by the photographer. In a sense, when we do this we are reclaiming our heritage.

Photograph of a young Inuit woman wearing a turtle neck sweater looking away from the camera.

Photograph of the late Betty Natsialuk Hughson (identified by her relative Sally Qimmiu’naaq Webster). Taken in Baker Lake (Qamanittuaq), Nunavut, 1969 (MIKAN 4203863)

Project Naming allows people to not only identify individuals in images, but to add information including corrections to the spelling of names in an online form. It is well worth checking out the database, especially with an Elder, because seeing the image opens up discussion.

As part of my work I manage a Facebook page Inuit RCMP Special Constables from Nunavut to acknowledge the contributions of our Inuit Specials and pay tribute to them. Last year I posted a portrait photograph that I found on the Project Naming database of Jimmy Gibbons, taken in Arviat in 1946. Special Constable Gibbons was a remarkable man who joined the RCMP in 1936 and retired to a pension in 1965. This post was met with many enthusiastic likes, shares and comments from S/Cst. Gibbons’ descendants saying that he was their father, uncle or great-grandfather. Some people also simply said “thank you.” Shelley Ann Voisey Atatsiaq proudly commented, “No wonder I wrote earlier that I highly respect the R.C.M.P. I’ve got some R.C.M.P-ness in my blood. Thank you for sharing!”

Black-and-white photograph of a close-up of an Inuit man wearing a knitted vest and tie standing outside.

Jimmy Gibbons, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Special Constable, Arviat, Nunavut, August 1, 1946 (MIKAN 4805042)

For more information about the history of the project, read the article Project Naming / Un visage, un nom, International Preservation News, No. 61, December 2013, pp. 20–24.

As with the first phase of the project, LAC wants to hear from you through The Naming Continues form.

Start your search for Aboriginal content

Images of Canada in the Netherlands now on Flickr

Near the end of the Second World War, Canadian forces had the responsibility of liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. During the fighting, civilians behind the German lines suffered from malnutrition, starvation, and the lack of proper shelter. Over the course of many months, approximately 18,000 civilians died, and over 6,700 Canadian troops lost their lives for the liberation of the Dutch.