Mirrors with Memory: Daguerreotypes from Library and Archives Canada—an exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada

When the daguerreotype was invented in 1839, it was a revelation. The first photographic process to be made available to the public, daguerreotypes were shiny, reflective objects that delighted and astonished viewers by capturing the likenesses of friends and family with brilliant clarity. For the first time in history, portraits of loved ones could be recorded and shared or passed down to descendants. The impact of the daguerreotype and of photography on the lives of ordinary people was immense.

A hand-tinted daguerreotype portrait of a seated woman in a polka-dot dress.

Kate McDougall, ca. 1848 (MIKAN 3192966)

The science of capturing light on a photographic surface was co-developed in France by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) and Joseph-Nicephore Niépce (1765–1833). Niépce died before practical success was achieved, and Daguerre went on to perfect the process. Highly polished silver-plated sheets of copper that were sensitized with iodine vapours and developed in mercury fumes, daguerreotypes created compelling, one-of-a-kind images with infinite detail.

A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada features examples of these special objects. While not rare, daguerreotypes are not often exhibited due to their susceptibility to light and environmental degradation. Drawn from the collection of Library and Archives Canada, the objects in this exhibition have undergone careful preservation and conservation treatment, and offer the viewer an extraordinary look at these unique photographs. Intimate, detailed and captivating, these objects—reflective by their very nature—are some of the earliest photographic glimpses of Canada in existence.

A daguerreotype photograph of a man (standing) and a woman sitting on the ground, among the destroyed remains of the brewery.

The Molson family brewery after the fire, Montréal, Quebec, 1858 (MIKAN 3192967)

The exhibition features street scenes as well portraits of both well-known and unknown personalities. Most likely taken in Europe in the late 1840s, the portrait of Maungwudaus, a member of the Anishnaabe Nation of the New Credit Mississauga, is one of the earliest photographic portraits of an Aboriginal person in the Library and Archives Canada collection. Maungwudaus grew up near what is now Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. Educated by Methodist missionaries, he later worked in mission outreach and as a translator and writer before finding acclaim as a performer in a “Wild West” show that he along with friends and family members, organized and travelled through parts of the U.S. and Europe. The troupe was celebrated in England and in France where Maungwudaus was presented with several medals by King Louis Philippe I.

Daguerreotype portrait of Maungwudaus wearing ceremonial dress including a feathered headdress and two medals.

Maungwudaus, ca. 1846 (MIKAN 3198805)

As one-of-a-kind objects designed to be stored in a closed case and looked at by one viewer at a time, daguerreotypes are intimate by nature. Some show the wear and tear expected of objects over a century old. Often, the names of the sitters or any other accompanying information has long since disappeared, making the exceptions even more special. One such example is the portrait of a group of merchants from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, dated 1855. This daguerreotype had a small manuscript tucked inside at the back of the plate, which is signed by one of the sitters and lists all the members of the group, as well as the location of the sitting and the name of the daguerreotypist, Wellington Chase. In this portrait, among others, we can see Loran Ellis Baker, seated front row, centre. Twenty-four years old at the time of this portrait, Baker was one of Yarmouth’s most prominent businessmen and civic leaders, and a member of the Legislative Council of Nova Scotia from 1878 to 1900.

A velvet-lined case with a daguerreotype portrait of nine men: five seated in front, four standing.

Group of merchants from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, 1855 (MIKAN 3622937)

Visit the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa from September 4 to February 28, 2016.

For the Record: Early Canadian Travel Photography – an exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada

In the early 19th century, tourism in Canada was an emerging concept. Improved modes of transportation, such as new railways and passenger steamships, finally allowed Canadians and visitors alike the chance to witness some of the nation’s greatest sights and scenery.

Contrasting interests dictated what the most popular tourist attractions were, with pristine, untouched nature (waterfalls and mountains) as well as industrial, modern achievements (bridges and railways) being the biggest draws.

A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa showcases some of these fascinating images. Drawn from the collection of Library and Archives Canada, these photographs show us how visitors saw the country, often for the very first time. They demonstrate the wonder travellers felt with the natural world, and with the new impressive infrastructure that was developing all around them.

Black-and-white photograph of a woman standing in front of a large, hollowed-out tree.

Great Cedar Tree, Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1897 (MIKAN 3192504)

Almost immediately, capturing and recording these experiences became a popular and lucrative endeavour. Photography was the ideal medium with which to attract potential tourists, and it was quickly utilized by professional photographers who produced images for promotional material as well as traveller souvenirs. Later, as amateur photography became easier and more affordable, the personal snapshot rivalled these commercial images.

Black-and-white photograph of Montréal’s Victoria Bridge, with a young man seated on a rock in the foreground.

Victoria Bridge, Grand Trunk Railway, Montréal, Quebec, 1878 (MIKAN 3323336)

Niagara Falls was the first major tourist destination in North America, and was a bustling scene of commercialism even in the 19th century. Having your picture taken in front of the Falls was a prestigious event, but if you couldn’t make it there in person, you could always have Niagara as a painted backdrop in your studio portrait.

Black-and-white tintype photograph of a woman standing in front of a wooden fence with a painted backdrop of Niagara Falls behind her.

Studio portrait with Niagara Falls backdrop, ca. 1870 (MIKAN 3210905)

Vital components of both the burgeoning tourist industry and of the growing interest in amateur photography, the travel and tourism photographs produced during this period helped to define the country. By creating a familiarity with popular scenery, these images introduced the viewer to what are now recognized icons of the Canadian landscape.

Black-and-white stereograph of two men (one with binoculars) standing on a bluff overlooking Alberta’s Bow River.

Bow River Valley, Banff, Alberta, 1900 (MIKAN 3509496)

Black-and-white stereograph of three small children standing on a pathway in Halifax’s Public Gardens.

Public Gardens, Halifax, Nova Scotia, n.d. (MIKAN 3509481)

Visit the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa, from March 6 to August 30, 2015. Check out our Flickr set to see more 19th-century travel photographs or listen to the podcast – Canada’s photographic memory!

Feature Film Collection

Film festival season is upon us, and as numerous Canadian cities including Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and Vancouver welcome the world’s film industry, it is an opportune time to discover the rich collection of feature films at Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

Since the 1970s, LAC has been acquiring and preserving Canadian feature films, an effort that has become more concerted since 2000. Our collection now includes the earliest surviving Canadian feature film, Back to God’s Country (1919) by Canadian film pioneer Nell Shipman, as well as the latest acclaimed works, such as Louise Archambault’s Gabrielle (2013), Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy (2013) starring Jake Gyllenhaal, and the latest from the Trailer Park Boys, Swearnet (2013).

Film poster for Back to God’s Country (1919), the earliest surviving Canadian feature film

Film poster for Back to God’s Country (1919), the earliest surviving Canadian feature film (MIKAN 2894160)

Since 2000, we have acquired master copies of all feature films funded by Telefilm Canada, a federal cultural agency, thereby ensuring their long-term preservation. In addition, we have compiled a collection of privately funded films.

Representing the most diverse and complete collection of Canadian features in the world, we have over 2,800 feature films starring national and international award winners, including Academy Award nominees and winners. Our collection includes film prints, master videotapes and digitally created features, all preserved in our state-of-the-art storage facility.

As the film industry rapidly switches to digital filmmaking, we too are changing the feature film acquisition process by including Digital Cinema Packages (DCPs), the digital equivalent of a film print.

In light of the influence of the American film industry on the international cinema market, Canadian feature films frequently have limited theatre distribution. As a result, LAC is a major access point for Canadian films that are no longer available commercially, thus preserving a diverse collection of feature films to archival standards, and accessible to researchers.

These films provide cinephiles with access to Canada’s cinematic heritage through online descriptions; on-site research and screenings; and loans to festivals and cinematheques for exhibition.

Related Resources :

Taking It All In: The Photographic Panorama and Canadian Cities Exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada

Most of today’s digital cameras come with a simple, point-and-shoot mode for creating panoramic images.

But back in the days of film cameras, creating a panoramic photograph meant either spending hours in the darkroom, painstakingly stitching images together by overlapping exposures onto the finished photo paper or buying an expensive panoramic format camera.

Possibly members of the Benjamin Low family on a passenger steamer showing various types of cameras, including a panoramic camera, 1904.

Possibly members of the Benjamin Low family on a passenger steamer showing various types of cameras, including a panoramic camera, 1904 (MIKAN 3191854)

A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa showcases panoramic photographs of Canadian cities from the 19th century. These images, which come from the collections of Library and Archives Canada, document how early photographers used this wide format to capture and celebrate the rapid urban development of their time.

Panoramic photographs exaggerated a town’s size and accentuated its landmarks. This made them useful promotional images and much sought-after travel souvenirs.

The following image is part of a rare panorama of Toronto from 1856. The full panorama (consisting of 12 images) was intended to be used in the city’s bid to be named the capital of the United Canadas. At the time these images were created, photography was a cumbersome and expensive practice.

A view from the Rossin House Hotel, from King Street West to York Street North, Toronto

A view from the Rossin House Hotel, from King Street West to York Street North, Toronto (MIKAN 3194746)

To take this view of the city, the photographer had to lug heavy equipment and chemicals to the rooftop of the Rossin House Hotel. The slow emulsion and wet collodion process required long exposures, which resulted in blurred movement and rendered busy streets into seemingly quiet, deserted spaces.

In 1887, Canadian photographer John Connon patented a panoramic camera, which permitted a continuous, near 360-degree exposure. Capturing images on waxed paper negatives, Connon’s camera rotated on a turntable.

Page from John Connon’s patent application for panoramic camera, 1888

Page from John Connon’s patent application for panoramic camera, 1888 (MIKAN 4628414)

Connon probably used his new camera to take this view of the Canadian Pacific Railway as it passed through the town of Fergus, Ontario.

View along the rail line, Fergus, Ontario, ca. 1886–1887

View along the rail line, Fergus, Ontario, ca. 1886–1887 (MIKAN 4488786)

In addition to being used to capture urban development, panoramic photography was used to take photographs of landscapes, significant events and portraits of large groups.

Visit the exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada or check out our Flickr set to see other panoramas in our collection!

Newspaper Collection website launched

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to announce the release of a new version of its Newspaper Collection website. The website provides an overview of LAC’s newspaper collection, including a list of newspapers available on microfilm, an index to the Canadian newspapers in its collection and a sampling of online Canadian news resources available from third-party websites.

Highlights of the new version include links to other websites offering free online digitized copies of newspapers, direct links to the AMICUS descriptions, and other improvements that make the website easier to navigate.

Sir John Coape Sherbrooke: Military Hero, Governor General, Clairvoyant?

Last year, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) acquired an important collection of documents relating to the Canadian career of Sir John Coape Sherbrooke (1764-1830). His pivotal role in the defence of the British colonies that would become the Atlantic Provinces during the War of 1812 led to his appointment as Governor General of British North America in 1816. However, his arrival in Nova Scotia in October of 1811 was not his first time in Canada.

Detail from an engraving. Portrait of Sir John Coape Sherbrooke

Portrait of Sir John Coape Sherbrooke (Mikan 4310479)

The Ghost and Captain Sherbrooke

In 1785, Sherbrooke was an officer in the 33rd Regiment of Foot which was fighting on the British side in the American Revolution. By late October, the 33rd Regiment had taken up winter quarters in Sydney, on Cape Breton. At that time, Captain Sherbrooke was close friends with Lieutenant George West Wynyard. On the evening of October 15, as Sherbrooke and Wynyard were sitting in the latter’s quarters, they were stunned by the sudden appearance of a ghostly figure. After recovering from his initial shock, Wynyard exclaimed that it was his older brother John. Sherbrooke and Wynyard immediately searched the premises but could find no further evidence of the apparition. After discussing the event with another officer, Lieutenant Ralph Gore, Sherbrooke and Wynyard both noted down the date and time of the ghostly appearance.

On June 6, 1786, ships from England finally arrived, bringing supplies and correspondence from friends and family. Sherbrooke received a short note from an army surgeon, asking him to inform Wynyard that his brother John had passed away at the family’s apartment in Kensington Palace on October 15th. He had died on the same day and at the same time as the apparition had appeared before Sherbrooke and Wynyard in Cape Breton.
For over 200 years, writers and readers have been fascinated by the tale of the Wynyard apparition, and it is among the most well-known ghost stories in Great Britain. While some people thought that the officers must have been drunk or ill when the incident occurred, others argued that it was a true story. Sherbrooke’s status and success as a military officer and colonial administrator caused many to believe in the veracity of the tale.

The Sherbrooke Collection at LAC

For those interested in learning more about Sherbrooke’s career in Canada, consult the Sir John Coape Sherbrooke Fonds (MIKAN 104985) where you can access digital copies of textual documents, maps, plans, works of art and objects related to Sherbrooke’s time as the Governor of Nova Scotia and as the Governor General of Canada, as well as his activities as the commander of the Atlantic forces during the War of 1812.

The Hidden Room: An Intimate Look at P.K. Page’s Creative Space

P.K. (Patricia Kathleen) Page is regarded as one of Canada’s most beloved creative voices. Both a poet and artist, Page crafted beautiful images through her words and art in her home office in Victoria, British Columbia. When Page passed away in 2010, her literary executor Zailig Pollock documented the contents of her office to preserve a sense of the physical creative space that inspired her while she wrote and worked on her art pieces.

A photograph of P.K. Page’s computer desk holding her various papers, books and mementos

P.K. Page’s computer desk holding her various papers, books and mementos

This idea of capturing a glimpse of the way writers work is becoming a vital practice for cultural heritage institutions like Library and Archives Canada (LAC). At Emory University Libraries in the U.S., visitors can access author Salman Rushdie’s papers and nose around his computer. Emory transferred the author’s donated digital files to a computer that replicates the operating system he used to write his earlier works. You can trace Rushdie’s creative process by accessing documents and emails he wrote and programs he used. When the British Library acquired poet Wendy Cope’s archives, the institution preserved the physical environment that affected the writer’s creative work through one panoramic photo of her office.

A photograph of P.K. Page’s art table

P.K. Page’s art table

The same effort was made in preserving P.K. Page’s creative space through photographs. Researchers took photos of her office, and her books and possessions were carefully catalogued, shelf by shelf, so that we can know what kinds of books she referred to and what she looked at when she paused to consider her next line of verse. Symbols from Sufism—the mystical branch of Islam that Page began studying in the 1960s—surrounded her on the walls and cushions in her office.

Some of the most intimate details captured in documenting P.K. Page’s creative space were the items found on her desk. Mementos she would have glanced at numerous times each day rested in front of her computer screen. These items included a note with the question “What’s next?” and a handwritten prayer in Portuguese. This prayer must have meant something special to the poet to have occupied such a place on her desk. We know that she acquired it in the 1950s while living in Brazil with her husband, W. Arthur Irwin, during his time as Canadian Ambassador to that country.

A photograph showing a selection of literary works on the bookcase in P.K. Page’s office

A selection of literary works crowd the bookcase in P.K. Page’s office

By preserving Page’s creative space, we get a peek at how she created art with words, and researchers now have clues they can use to better understand the work and life of one of Canada’s most prolific and inspired poets. Her archival fonds, which contains manuscripts, personal papers, photographs, and some sound recordings, is held at LAC. For more information on how to access an archival record at LAC, we invite you to read our blog series “Discover the Access Codes for Archival Records at Library and Archives Canada“.

Photographs by Emily Ballantyne.

Also discover:

Sir John A. Macdonald: Rare and intriguing treasures from the vaults of Library and Archives Canada

Library and Archives Canada holds Canada’s most comprehensive collection of material related to the life, times and continuing appeal of Sir John A. Macdonald (1815–1891)—charismatic firebrand, architect of Canadian Confederation and Canada’s first prime minister. The year 2015 will mark the bicentennial of Macdonald’s birth.

Take a look at our Flickr album to browse a selection of original documents, art and ephemera related to Macdonald, from historical and modern periods. Acquired over the years and from a variety of sources, these unique records document the public face, private life, and enduring power of one of Canada’s most iconic cultural figures.

This material represents only a small portion of Library and Archives Canada’s holdings related to significant Canadians and important events that will be showcased in the lead-up to the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 2017.

Journal recording the birth of Sir John A. Macdonald and preserving a lock of hair

By Hugh Macdonald, 1820. View of writing and human hair on the left side and marble endpaper on the right side of the journal. Library and Archives Canada, e008295645.

By Hugh Macdonald, 1820. View of writing and human hair on the left side and marble endpaper on the right side of the journal. Library and Archives Canada, e008295645.

This is one of several personal items, dating back to childhood that Macdonald kept with him all his life. The curious discrepancy in Macdonald’s birthdate remains a historical puzzle: January 11th in this journal, but January 10th on the official record.

Caricature portrait by Sir John A. Macdonald’s “favourite” critic

By J. W. Bengough for Grip, 1887. Colour lithograph on wove paper. Library and Archives Canada, e010930930.

By J. W. Bengough for Grip, 1887. Colour lithograph on wove paper. Library and Archives Canada, e010930930.

Sir John A. Macdonald is said to have remarked: “My friend, Bengough, possesses… perfect accuracy in portraying my countenance.” Library and Archives Canada holds hundreds of caricatures by John Wilson Bengough, a sharp critic of Macdonald and the founder of Grip, one of Canada’s earliest satiric magazines.

Label for “Canadian Tomato Chutnee” featuring Sir John A. Macdonald’s image and endorsement

By an unknown artist, late 19th century. Photomechanical print on wove paper. Library and Archives Canada, e008072633.

By an unknown artist, late 19th century. Photomechanical print on wove paper. Library and Archives Canada, e008072633.

Over the years, many companies have drawn upon Sir John A. Macdonald’s recognizable image and popularity to sell products. This is only one example of this type of advertisement that can be found in Library and Archives Canada’s collection.

Library and Archives Canada releases tenth podcast episode, “The Virtual Gramophone: Early Canadian Sound Recordings”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, The Virtual Gramophone: Early Canadian Sound Recordings. LAC’s Virtual Gramophone is a multimedia website devoted to the early days of Canadian recorded sound, providing an overview of the 78-rpm era in Canada.

Gilles Leclerc, Archival Assistant, and Gilles St-Laurent, Head Audio Conservator from LAC join us to explore the Virtual Gramophone website and music collection. They discuss the different aspects of the collection and bring to light some incredible stories about maintaining the collection for future generations.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS or iTunes, or just tune in at: Podcast – Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

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

Sharpen Your Skates!

Below is a selection of children’s books inspired by Canada’s passion for its national winter pastime, hockey.

Le chandail de hockey, by Roch Carrier, is a Canadian children’s literature classic. Generations of children have read about the misadventures of the young narrator, who is forced to wear a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater instead of the Montreal Canadiens’ number 9 immortalized by Maurice Richard. Written in 1970 for radio, the story was translated by Sheila Fischman (AMICUS 20121258). The original French version, Les enfants du bonhomme dans la lune (AMICUS 877142), and the English translation, The Hockey Sweater and Other Stories (AMICUS 905257), were published in 1979. The story inspired Sheldon Cohen’s animated film, The Sweater / Le chandail, produced by the National Film Board. Sheldon Cohen then illustrated the 1984 storybook, published by Tundra Books (AMICUS 5003239).

Did you know that a copy of The Hockey Sweater travelled to the International Space Station in 2009, and that Abigail Richardson composed a symphony based on the story?

Other hockey-related books include the Hockeyeurs cybernétiques (AMICUS 3970428), which brings together the complete science fiction series by Denis Côté, published in 1983 and again in 1993 under the title, L’arrivée des inactifs (AMICUS 12293147). The new edition uses the original title. The hero of the story, Michel Lenoir, is a beloved hockey star who is used by a dictator to control an exploited population. The sport-recreation aspect of hockey is used as a backdrop to reveal an insensitive and programmed futuristic society.

In the 22 novels of The Screech Owls series (AMICUS 28705721), by sports journalist Roy MacGregor, readers follow a peewee hockey team on their adventures at tournaments. The Screech Owls travel throughout Canada, and even attend the Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, and in Lake Placid in the United States.

The majority of hockey-themed children’s books have been aimed at boys. However, the international reputation of Canada’s women’s hockey team has also inspired female characters. La fabuleuse saison d’Abby Hoffman, by Alain M. Bergeron (AMICUS 40395119), tells the story of Abigail Hoffman, who as a little girl in Toronto in 1955, pretended to be a boy so she could register for Little League hockey. Later in her athletic career, she competed in the women’s 800 metres at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, the 1968 Mexico City Games, the 1972 Munich Games, and the 1976 Montreal Games, at which she was Canada’s flag bearer.

Here are some other reading suggestions:

  • “Denis Côté : Le bon et le mauvais côté des choses,” appearing in Lurelu in 2013, by Marie Fradette (AMICUS 829835).
  • Mystery at Lake Placid, by Roy MacGregor (AMICUS 16776029).