Library and Archives Canada celebrates its founding on this day in 2004!

Fifteen years ago now, on May 21, 2004, the Privy Council adopted the order to put in force An Act to establish the Library and Archives of Canada. With this, the will of legislators became a reality. In many ways, the new act broadened the horizons of a unique organization.

Black and white page from the Canada Gazette Part two, Registration S1/2004-58, 2 June 2004, Library and Archives of Canada Act. “Order Fixing May 21, 2004 as the Date of the Certain Sections of the Act” is written in bold

Extract from Canada Gazette (Vol. 138, No. 11) announcing the coming into force of An Act to establish the Library and Archives of Canada on May 21, 2004.

The nascent organization was both a reflection of the past―the result of a decade of preparation―and a promise for the future, due to the challenges Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is called upon to overcome as well as the original defining traits that characterize and support its future development.

An idea gains traction

Let’s rewind a little. In the 1990s, Canadian society was undergoing important changes and pressure was growing for LAC’s two predecessors, the National Archives of Canada and the National Library of Canada. On the one hand, the organizations faced expanding requirements linked to a documentary explosion and the rise of information technologies, which transformed both their practices and their roles. On the other hand, the Government of Canada was dealing with a high deficit and launched a review of all programs, which drastically reduced available funds.

As digital technologies became a new method to both distribute and access publications and archival documents, an urgent question arose: How can we better meet the needs of Canadians? By 1994, the idea of combining the two institutions began to circulate. Historian John English considered the idea in 1999, but rejected the proposal in favour of a closer collaborative relationship between the two institutions.

At the same time, a parliamentary commission was examining the role of the Canadian government in terms of heritage. The commission’s report, presented at the dawn of the new millennium, focused heavily on digital technologies, championing Canadians’ access to the documentary resources necessary to create a knowledge-based society. Additionally, the recently appointed leaders of the National Archives of Canada and the National Library of Canada were fostering increased collaboration between their organizations.

With these dual driving forces, combining the two institutions into a single one became a real possibility and was announced during the 2002 Speech from the Throne. The legislative process was not completed until May 2004, but along the way the merger gained the support of most professional associations and organizations in the industry.

Screenshot of LAC website with “Library and Archives Canada” written in red at the top followed by the headline “What’s New? Legislation Creating Library and Archives Canada proclaimed.”

The proclamation of An Act to establish the Library and Archives of Canada is announced on LAC’s website

As a result of this journey, the new institution’s motto was to be a “knowledge institution” that promotes Canadians’ access to their documentary heritage. This approach was depicted in LAC’s logo, which combined an inuksuk with the slogan “Knowledge is here.”

Four cornerstones of a unique institution: Library and Archives Canada

In the course of its development, four specific characteristics emerged to enable the new institution, LAC, to face future challenges.

The first two characteristics were political. First, there was the integration of the two institutions into one by virtue of the Act―a rare phenomenon in the field of documentary heritage. It was also pushed forward by Ian E. Wilson, National Archivist, and Roch Carrier, General Administrator of the National Library of Canada―who sought to group functions into a single internal structure, an approach that remains new to this day.

Two colour photographs side by side. The photograph to the left is of a man, Ian Wilson, speaking at a podium with a poster that reads “Knowledge is here” behind him. The photograph to the right is also of a man, Roch Carrier, speaking at a podium.

Left: Ian E. Wilson in 2005. The “Knowledge is here” poster is clearly visible. Credit: David Knox, Library and Archives Canada.
Right: Roch Carrier, General Administrator of the National Library of Canada. Credit: David Barbour, National Library of Canada.

The second political characteristic was the insertion of a new concept into the Act: documentary heritage. This concept, the result of an international evolution, is a key connector between archives and libraries. By integrating professional practices, especially digital, it calls for collaboration in preserving and providing access to documentary heritage.

The two remaining characteristics were organizational in nature and consolidated the institution. First, internally, a program titled Transformation aimed to analyze both professional settings in order to generate a common ground and, in the words of Ian Wilson, “seek commonalities rather than differences.” Second, externally, both the National Archives and the National Library had been collaborating with other organizations across the country since the 1990s. As changes began to sweep through both institutions, several consultations took place with partners, whether they be professional associations or organizational networks. As such, the community itself was invited to work with and support the new institution throughout the process. These exchanges ensured that the project moved along relatively smoothly, which certainly contributed to its successful transformation.

In short, in 2004, a new path opened up for this institution tasked with preserving the collective memory of Canada. And while the challenges were many, and still are, LAC not only managed to carve out its unique place in the world, but it is better equipped than ever to move forward.

“As a single institution we can show that by putting our collections and expertise together, by developing services and programs to meet the needs of Canadians, we have taken steps to ensure the strongest contribution to the advancement and quality of life of Canadians. We are all responsible to make the potential of LAC happen.”

Ian E. Wilson, at a general assembly on June 8, 2004, a few days after the proclamation of the Act.

Read more in the article titled “The Birth of a Unique Institution” published in the latest edition of Signatures.


Alain Roy is a Policy Advisor at Library and Archives Canada.

Women in the War: The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS)

We often receive reference requests for photographs of loved ones serving with the Canadian Forces. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds a vast photographic collection, over 30 million images, a substantial portion of which is found within the Department of National Defence fonds (RG24/R112). A project to survey accession 1967-052 “Canada. Dept. of National Defence collection” 1939–1953 and to index all photographs of servicewomen began in April 2018 and is well under way. I hope to see the work completed for all three arms of the service, Navy, Army and Air Force, by 2022. Representing all three branches of the armed forces and comprising over 500,000 photographs, this collection is one of my favourites and at the top of my list for review when a researcher requests photographs from the Second World War or the Korean War. It includes photographs from the home front and theatre of war, making it a rich, well-described collection.

My colleague’s post “75th Anniversary of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service ” published in 2017 serves as a perfect complement to this work and features many photographs, both colour and black and white, of servicewomen at work and play. To quote from the post, I want to highlight here that: “Those serving with the WRCNS were commonly called ‘Wrens,’ the nickname used by their British counterparts, who were members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS).” Throughout the captions, I found both terms “Wren” and “WRCNS” used to identify servicewomen.

A black-and-white photograph of two members of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service washing the front of a bus while their colleague sprays the side of the bus with a hose.

Personnel of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) washing a bus at H.M.C.S. CONESTOGA, Galt, Ontario, Canada, July 1943. (a108171)

The accession is broken down into prefixes, most often by location (such as base or city) or by ship. For example, the MAG prefix is comprised of photographs documenting “the HMCS Magnificent between 1948 and 1957.”

The finding aids for each prefix, also referred to as caption lists, are available for consultation in the second-floor reference room at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. They are also part of LAC’s initiative to digitize the majority of existing finding aids, ongoing until 2024.

A survey of the caption lists for each of the prefixes specific to naval photographs has been completed, and all those captions that mention servicewomen have been noted. The result is 2,652 photographs, or 1.3 percent.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman in a military uniform leaning across a counter to interview three women beside a sign that reads “Canadian Wives’ Bureau.”

Leading Wren Evelyn Kerr (right) of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) interviewing British wives of Canadian sailors, Canadian Wives’ Bureau, London, England, 30 November 1944. (a128179)

One of the pleasures of the project has been the exposure to the various trades and functions that the Wrens performed. From photographers and dieticians, to motor transport drivers and librarians, the servicewomen performed all sorts of valuable work at home and abroad to support the war effort. I also came across and included numerous images of Nursing Sisters.

A black-and-white photograph of a member of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service handing a man a tall stack of books beside a ship.

Leading Wren Ruth Church, Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS), delivering a supply of library books to Able Seaman Bill Swetman of the HMCS Petrolia, Londonderry, Northern Ireland, November 1944. (a189717)

How to Search for “Your” Servicewoman

You can write to us with information about “your” Wren or Nursing Sister to see if there are any indexed photographs that identify her by name. It would be helpful to know her maiden name, where and when she served, as this will help us narrow the search. Similarly, once you identify relevant records within a series, a review of those photographs by yourself or a freelance researcher may reveal additional photographs that did not identify her by name OR that did not indicate that any servicewomen were in the image. For example, many captions simply describe the photograph as “Christmas Dance” or “Holiday Party” and were not included.

To know more about “your” servicewoman’s time with the Canadian Forces, request a copy of her Military Service file.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling member of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service carrying a large bag on her shoulder.

Leading Wren June Whiting of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) disembarking at Liverpool, England, April 1945 (a142415)

Please feel free to visit us at one of our public service points in Ottawa, Halifax, Winnipeg or Vancouver or write to us with questions about LAC’s holdings, both archival and published.


Rebecca Murray is an Archivist in the Reference Services Division.

New podcast! Check out our latest episode, “UFOs at LAC: The Falcon Lake Incident – Part 1 of 2”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, “UFOs at LAC: The Falcon Lake Incident – Part 1”.

Black-and-white drawing of a vehicle resembling a flying saucer. There are various annotations, measurements and dimensions written on the paper.

A vehicle resembling a flying saucer [ufo-sketch]

Falcon Lake, Manitoba. Located in the Whiteshell Provincial Park, 150 kilometers east of Winnipeg. It’s May 20th, 1967, and mechanic, and amateur geologist Stephan Michalak wakes up early to begin his hobby of prospecting for quartz and silver. After a morning of working in the bush, and a light lunch, Stephan returns to the task at hand, chipping away at a quartz vein he has found. The cackling of some geese nearby, obviously frightened by something, startles him. He looks up, and see’s two glowing objects descending towards him.

In part one of this two part episode, we unravel Canada’s most infamous UFO case with the help of Stephan Michalak’s son, Stan, and Canadian UFO expert and author, Chris Rutkowski. Also, Palmiro Campagna, an accomplished author and a ‘regular’ in the research rooms at LAC, will take us through some of the extensive records surrounding the case.

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

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

Dressing Up at Ottawa’s Fancy Dress Balls and Skating Carnivals (1876–1896)

By: Emma Hamilton-Hobbs

Don’t you just love to dress up, spending hours upon hours devoted to selecting, conducting research on, and finally creating an impressive outfit for an exclusive costumed event? Well, many Canadians in the late nineteenth century certainly did!

A fancy dress ball was a private costumed party that grew in popularity over the course of the nineteenth century, hosted and attended primarily by the most privileged members of society. The men and women who received invitations to the events spent weeks upon weeks carefully selecting their costumes, poring over published magazines and books devoted to fancy dress, and even perusing historical books or paintings for inspiration. Popular ideas included historical dress, literary, mythological and allegorical characters, and finally, characters from “exotic” lands.

Newspapers in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal reported extensively on the major Canadian fancy dress balls, providing detailed descriptions of the various costumes that the elite guests had worn. Many who attended the balls eagerly flocked to photography studios in the days and months following these special occasions to have their portraits taken in costume. Sometimes these portraits were used to create impressive composite photographs, including the one fabricated by Ottawa photographer William James Topley (1845–1930) of the Grand Fancy Ball hosted by Governor General Lord Dufferin and his wife Lady Dufferin in the Rideau Hall ballroom on February 23, 1876.

A group photograph of hundreds of costumed guests at a fancy dress ball. The background is a painting of the Rideau Hall ballroom.

Composite image of the Dufferin Grand Fancy Ball at Rideau Hall on February 23, 1876. The final composite was completed in either May or June. (e008295343).

This composite was created by pasting hundreds of individual portraits taken in Topley’s studio onto a painted scene of the Rideau Hall ballroom, which was then re-photographed to create the final product. Topley learned how to create composite images from his former mentor and employer, William Notman (1826–1891), who owned a successful photography studio in Montreal. Topley, like Notman, was an astute businessman who took full advantage of these vice-regal events to turn a profit, as guests were eager to have their costumed characters preserved in the form of photographic portraits that they could share with family and friends, or paste into personal albums as memorable keepsakes.

Many individuals played up their character in the photography studio, assuming different poses and using a variety of props in their staged portraits. Mr. Campbell posed theatrically as a “Court Jester” when he visited Topley’s studio shortly after the Grand Fancy Ball hosted by the Dufferins had ended. William Campbell was the private secretary to Lord Dufferin and a well-liked staff member.

A black-and-white photograph of a man dressed as a jester and posing in a photography studio. He grasps a puppet on a stand in his right hand.

William Campbell, private secretary to Lord Dufferin, as a “Court Jester” by William Topley, March 1876. (e011091709)

Miss Maggie Jones and Miss Zaidee Cockburn both dressed up as “Bonnie Fishwives of New Haven” at the Dufferins’ Grand Fancy Ball. They attracted some attention throughout the evening, which may have been linked to the lengths of their skirts, which were much shorter than acceptable Victorian dress.

A black-and-white photograph of a young woman dressed up as a “fishwife” and posing in a photography studio. She is shown standing with her left hand resting on her hip, her other hand holding a papier mâché fish and her right foot raised and leaning on a wooden barrel.

Miss Maggie Jones dressed as a “Bonnie Fishwife of New Haven” by William Topley, March 1876 (e011091718).

Fancy dress skating carnivals were also very popular during this time, and, unlike the fancy dress balls, were far more accessible to the average Canadian citizen. In his studio, Topley recreated outdoor skating scenes for his sitters with a painted, snowy backdrop complete with artificial snow and a reflective surface to imitate ice. Women loved to wear peasant or pastoral dress to skating carnivals, as shorter skirts also allowed them to move around freely on skates.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman dressed up in costume as a shepherdess on skates in a photography studio. The backdrop is a painted, snowy scene.

Miss Fraser as a “Shepherdess” by William Topley, February 1889 (a138398)

Allegorical characters were also well represented at the fancy dress balls and skating carnivals. Women dressed as “Night,” “A Hornet,” “The Alphabet,” or even as the “Dominion of Canada,” as represented by Mrs. Juschereau de St. Denis LeMoine at the Dufferins’ ball.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman dressed up as the “Dominion of Canada” in a photography studio. On the front of her dress is the coat of arms of the Dominion surrounded by embroidered maple leaves, with miniature snowshoes on the train of her dress.

Mrs. Juschereau de St. Denis LeMoine as the “Dominion of Canada” by William Topley, March 1876. (e011091705)

A black-and-white photograph of a man dressed up as explorer “Jacques Cartier” in a photography studio.

Mr. Juschereau de St. Denis LeMoine dressed as explorer “Jacques Cartier,” March 1876. (e011091707)

The Historical Fancy Dress Ball hosted by the Governor General, the Earl of Aberdeen, and his wife, Lady Aberdeen, in the Senate Chamber of the original Parliament buildings on February 17, 1896, was another widely reported event. This educational ball featured nine periods in Canadian history, from the Vikings to the Loyalists, enacted by two hundred and fifty individuals in a series of dances at the ball.

A photographic portrait of a group representing the voyages of the Norsemen at the Aberdeens’ ball illustrates how the medium of photography had evolved since the Dufferins’ ball twenty years earlier. Topley, who once again photographed the groups in his studio after the ball had ended, could now take an entire group together as a result of faster exposure times. The scene is also illuminated by natural light streaming in from the skylight seen at the top left of the image.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of seventeen men, women and girls wearing Viking costumes in a photography studio.

A historic group representing the voyages of the Norsemen to Northeastern North America photographed in Topley’s studio. They were the first historic group who performed a lively “polska” at the Historical Fancy Dress Ball hosted by Lord and Lady Aberdeen in February 1896. The young girl seated in the middle is Lady Marjorie Gordon, daughter of the vice-regal hosts, wearing a white and gold dress with her mother’s Celtic jewellery. (a137981).

A souvenir album was created and sold to guests afterward as well, illustrated with photographs of the historic groups taken by Topley (with the exception of one group) and text by historian and civil servant Dr. John George Bourinot, who provided advice and guidance to Lady Aberdeen in the months leading up to the event. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a copy of this souvenir album in its collection.

All of the above digitized images were reproduced from original glass plate negatives found in the Topley Studio fonds at LAC. These images, along with many others taken by Topley of guests who attended the Ottawa fancy dress balls and skating carnivals, are available online through LAC’s website.

Reproductions of these original glass plate negatives are on display at the National Gallery of Canada in the Canadian and Indigenous Galleries.


Emma Hamilton-Hobbs is a photo archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Railway Stations now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of the exterior of an Intercolonial Railway station. A train is parked to the left, and a group of people stand on the platform, Pictou, Nova Scotia.

Intercolonial Railway station, Pictou, Nova Scotia [PA-029397]

At one time there were approximately 1,300 railway stations across Canada, which included everything from grand urban stations to small flag stops found in remote areas and in-between cities.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of immigrants on the platform of Union Station, Toronto, Ontario.

Arrival of immigrants at Union Station, Toronto, Ontario [C-047042]

Railway stations were the first buildings passengers stepped into when they arrived or the last building they occupied when they left a town by train. A station serves a variety of purposes: it is the central community hub bringing people together, and it operates as one of the main connections to surrounding areas.

A black-and-white photograph of five men with their baggage, standing outside a small Canadian Pacific Railway station, Leanchoil, British Columbia.

Canadian Pacific Railway station, Leanchoil, British Columbia [PA-023198]

Railway companies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as the Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway, designed and constructed attractive stations with diverse and distinctive architecture.

A black-and-white photograph of a trolley car, and horses and carriages outside Windsor Station, Montréal, Quebec.

Windsor Station, Montréal, Quebec [PA-008678]

Visit the Flickr album now!

Why is that written there? Insights into the Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, 1926: Instructions to Commissioners and Enumerators

By Sara Chatfield

To glean the most information from a Canadian census return, start by reading the Instructions to Commissioners and Enumerators. At first glance, this publication may seem dry, but it is anything but! By informing themselves on what instructions were given to the commissioners and enumerators, genealogists can learn more about their ancestors, gather more clues, and understand why their ancestors responded as they did. Don’t forget that there will always be exceptions to the rules, as not all enumerators interpreted the instructions the same way.

Here are some of the highlights:

Column 3 – Names of each person in family, household or institution

Census chart titled “Dominion Bureau of Statistics: Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, June 1, 1926” with handwritten entries for each of 25 columns. The columns include such information as name and residence, personal description, place of birth, race and citizenship, language and education.

A page for St. Boniface, Manitoba, from the 1926 census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Note the entry for Jules Vinckier, who was enumerated as head of a household that included a domestic and a lodger. (e011228052)

The 1926 Census of Prairie Provinces lists “the names of every person whose usual place of abode on June 1, 1926 was with the family or in the dwelling house for which the enumeration is being made.” The key point in that sentence is that the person must call the home for which the enumeration is being made their “usual place of abode.” Genealogists should keep that in mind when searching for families with older children, as they may have struck out on their own by 1926. This also includes lodgers and those employed as domestic help or as a servant.
Dwelling houses could also be considered institutions, such as “hospitals, poorhouses, asylums for the insane, prisons, penitentiaries, schools of learning, military barracks, homes for the aged, homes of refuge, etc.”

Column 16 – Racial or tribal origin

Census chart titled “Dominion Bureau of Statistics: Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, June 1, 1926” with handwritten entries for each of 25 columns. The columns include such information as name and residence, personal description, place of birth, race and citizenship, language and education.

A page for Jackhead Indian Reserve, Manitoba, from the 1926 census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta (e011226423)

Racial or tribal origin is a column on the census chart that most genealogists find extremely helpful. While this information gives researchers valuable insight into where their ancestors originated, one needs to consider the enumerator instructions for deciphering the answer to this question. According to the publication, “The racial or tribal origin is usually traced through the Father, as in English, Scotch, Irish, Welsh, German, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Bohemian, Ruthenian, Bukovinian, Galacian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Japanese, Polish, Jewish, etc. A person whose father is English but whose mother is Scotch, Irish, French or any other race will be considered in this connection as English, and so with any of the others.”
This line of thought did not hold true for Indigenous families. The instructions state “in the case of Indians, the origin is traced through the mother, and names of their tribes should be given, as ‘Chippewa,’ ‘Cree,’ etc.”

Column 17 – Year of immigration to Canada

 Census chart titled “Dominion Bureau of Statistics: Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, June 1, 1926” with handwritten entries for each of 25 columns. The columns include such information as name and residence, personal description, place of birth, race and citizenship, language and education.

A page for North Battleford, Saskatchewan, from the 1926 census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta (e011242806) Note the entry for Frank Madon and his wife, who appear to have been born in Canada, immigrated to the United States where they were naturalized, and then returned to Canada as immigrants in 1920.

A researcher might be surprised to see an immigration year for a Canadian-born ancestor. The reason for that notation may be that, according to enumerator instructions, column 17 “applies to all persons, irrespective of age or sex, who were born outside of Canada, and also to Canadian-born persons who had formerly become domiciled in a foreign country but have returned to their native soil.” The publication clarifies further “for those of Canadian birth, the year of their returning home to remain permanently should be given.”

Column 18 – Year of naturalization

Census chart titled “Dominion Bureau of Statistics: Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, June 1, 1926” with handwritten entries for each of 25 columns. The columns include such information as name and residence, personal description, place of birth, race and citizenship, language and education.

A page for Regina, Saskatchewan, from the 1926 census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Note the notation of “pa” in column 18 for Andrew Susylinski (e011245054)

The enumerator instructions state that a notation of “pa” in column 18 indicates that the “person has applied for papers but has not yet reached the full status of citizenship.” A notation of “pa” would signal to the researcher that more information about their ancestor may be found in naturalization records.

If you are curious about finding your ancestors in other census years, feel free to explore Library and Archives Canada’s Census page.


Sara Chatfield is a project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content division at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Images of Dolls now on Flickr

A colour postcard depicting a doll, a stuffed bear, and a cat in a basket.

Loving Christmas Greeting postcard [e008299729]

Dolls may be figures of humans, or sometimes animals. They have been used in magic rituals, for religious ceremonies, and as toys for children. Dolls are common across countries, cultures and eras.

Indigenous communities in Canada can trace doll making back many generations. The main differences between them are the materials used, including fur, wood, leather or dried materials. Colonial settlers brought dolls with them from china, cloth and leather. Canadian retailers such as Eaton’s sold imported and locally made dolls from 1900 to 1994, and other retailers continue to sell dolls today.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman helping a young child wearing leg braces to walk using parallel bars. A small doll is located at the end of the bars as a focal point for the child.

Mrs. E. Marr, physiotherapist, with Gifford, 2-1/2 years old, at the walking bars in the polio clinic at the Sudbury General Hospital, Ontario [e011175909]

A black-and-white photograph of a boy and a girl holding and examining three dolls.

Children examine Mrs. Betsy Howard’s dolls outside her roadside workshop, Nanoose Bay, British Columbia [e011176293]

The Canadian doll industry blossomed during the early 1910s and into the 1930s. It competed with toy companies in the United States, as well as others around the world. During this time, companies such as the Dominion Toy Company, Commercial Toy and the Bisco Doll Company closed for various competitive reasons. The longest-lasting domestic manufacturer was The Reliable Toy Company, which eventually ended production in the 1990s. New materials to make dolls, such as plastic and vinyl, appeared between the 1930s and 1950s. These are still used now to make dolls, for toys or for art.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman brushing a doll’s hair. The doll’s head is mounted on a wooden peg.

A doll’s head [e011176357]

Visit the Flickr album now!

Enfranchisement of First Nations peoples

On the left of the graphic, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] in traditional regalia on horse. In the middle, Iggi and girl engaging in a “kunik”, a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide stands holding a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.By Jasmine Charette

I have always been interested in the concept of identity in the Canadian context. I enjoy learning about how people tie themselves to identities to connect with their community, or sever those same ties for the benefit of being seen another way. However, this was not always done in fairness or voluntarily. A striking example of this is the enfranchisement of First Nations peoples.

What is enfranchisement?

Enfranchisement meant losing legal identity as an “Indian” in the eyes of the government to become a full Canadian citizen, with all the rights and privileges attached. This process was enshrined in the Indian Act of 1876, which consolidated several pieces of colonial legislation in force at the time.

A black-and-white typed page of a legal statute.

A page from the Indian Act as published in the Statutes of Canada, 1876 (Canadian Research Knowledge Network, Acts of Parliament)

Enfranchisement could be sought by a First Nations person, as long as certain requirements were met, including age, sex and competency in either English or French. Someone outside the band, such as a priest or Indian agent, needed to determine the person’s fitness for becoming enfranchised. Some records show individuals, in their own words or the correspondence of an Indian agent, wanting to enfranchise for the benefits of land titles and band monies. The loss of legal status meant they were no longer subject to the Indian Act.

Many people were enfranchised against their will, some because of employment as lawyers, doctors or clergy. Others were enfranchised because of serving in the First or Second World War, attending university, or simply because an Indian agent thought they were “civilized” enough. Eventually, compulsory enfranchisement expanded to include any First Nations woman who married a non-Status individual (see below for 1985 changes to the Indian Act).

What does this mean for First Nations peoples?

The Indian Act was and is still seen in many ways as restrictive for First Nations individuals. The loss of identity brought repercussions such as becoming ineligible for social services, the loss of hunting and land rights, and for many, becoming both physically and intangibly distant from their homes and cultures. There are examples in the record of Councils of Chiefs refusing the Enfranchisement of individuals because they do not believe the Franchise Act applies to them, noting a fear that lands may be sold off and the community would be lost.

For some, enfranchisement was a direct trespass on previous agreements. A petition from the Mohawk members of the Five Confederated Nations (now Six Nations of the Grand River) notes that a treaty with the British stated the British would never try to make those Indigenous persons British subjects. Enfranchisement involved breaking that promise.

A black-and-white reproduction of a handwritten petition addressed to His Excellency the Governor General of the Dominion of Canada, the Right Honourable Lord Stanley.

Six Nations agency—correspondence regarding a petition from the Six Nations Indians to be exempted from the provisions of the Franchise Act of 1885. (e006183352)

Was it only individuals?

One case exists of an entire band being enfranchised: Michel Band in northern Alberta. An Order-in-Council enfranchised all eligible members of the Michel Band as of March 31, 1958.

A black-and-white typewritten text outlining the disposal of the funds of the Michel Band and the lands of the Michel Indian Reserve No. 132.

Schedule B, “Plan for the disposal of the funds of the Michel Band and of the lands of the Michel Indian Reserve No. 132,” dated March 31, 1958. RG2-A-1-a, Volume 2215, PC 1958-375 (Canadian Research Knowledge Foundation, Orders-in-Council)

This enfranchisement order split the reserve lands among enfranchised individuals, dissolving the band entirely. Only three years later, compulsory enfranchisement was repealed, and some members of the historic Michel Band are still seeking to regain band status today.

Why is this relevant today?

When the Indian Act’s enfranchisement sections were repealed in 1985, they were replaced with what we now know as Indian Status. It became impossible to give up one’s Status, and many who were enfranchised regained Status through various provisions of the 1985 repeal, and subsequent amendments to the Indian Act. The sex-based discrimination in the Act was changed, and Status was returned to people who lost it by marrying a non-Status individual or because of the “double mother” rule of 1951 (Status was lost at age 21 if both the paternal grandmother and the mother had acquired Status through marriage).

Do you have a question about enfranchisement?

Reference Services is available to answer your queries and to help you navigate archival and published materials, including records on enfranchisement. Ask Us a Question; we are always glad to help!

Sources

This blog is part of a series related to the Indigenous Documentary Heritage Initiatives. Learn how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) increases access to First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation collections and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Jasmine Charette is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Plaisance: A French fishing colony in Newfoundland

By Valerie Casbourn

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds records related to the French colonial period in early Canada, and some of these records are available online. Included are records about the French cod fishery in the Atlantic region and the French colony of Plaisance in Newfoundland (1662–1713).

During the 17th century, the cod fishery in Newfoundland became increasingly important to the European fishing industry. France was one of several European countries competing for a share of this fishery, and in 1662, the French established a garrison town at Plaisance, on the western side of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula. The French wanted to secure their merchant fishing fleet’s access to the fishery and their share of the European market for cod.

The site of Plaisance was chosen for its proximity to rich fishing grounds, its sheltered and relatively ice-free harbour, and its strategic location. Eventually, the colony of Plaisance grew to have a small permanent population, with military fortifications, and served as a base for the French Atlantic cod fishery.

A hand-drawn and coloured illustration that shows the shore with people on a wooden stage working on curing and drying cod in Newfoundland.

A view of a stage and also of the manner of fishing for, curing and drying cod at New Found Land […] (c003686) A digitized copy of the map L’Amerique, divisee selon l’etendue de ses Principales Parties, et dont les Points Principaux sont placez sur les Observations de Messieurs de L’Academie Royale des Sciences. Dressee Par N. de Fer, Geographe de Monseigneur le Dauphin can be seen at the Osher Map Library website.

The French and English established colonies along the southeastern coast of Newfoundland, which encroached on the Indigenous territory of the Beothuk and the Mi’kmaq. The French had little recorded interaction with the Beothuk, who withdrew from the coast and its resources to avoid contact with the European fishermen and colonists. Before the arrival of the colonies the Mi’kmaq navigated the waters between Cape Breton and Newfoundland by canoe. They established friendly relations with the French, becoming important trading partners and military allies.

The colony of Plaisance encountered many difficulties, particularly during its first few decades. Its population was small and poorly supplied, and its early governors were ineffective. However, in the 1690s, the colony became stronger, and the French administration highly valued the Atlantic fishery.

The economy of Plaisance was largely based on the cod fishery. The colony’s small permanent population with its “habitants-pêcheurs” was bolstered each year with the arrival of a large seasonal workforce on the merchant fleet from French ports. All worked intensely to catch and preserve cod during the summer months. The residents of Plaisance relied on the merchant fleet to bring extra labourers, food and manufactured goods, and to ship their dried catch back to Europe to be sold.

During this period, there was ongoing conflict between the French and the English, as well as between the Mi’kmaq and the English. In the 1690s and early 1700s, both the French and the Mi’kmaq conducted raids, sometimes jointly, on English settlements on the Avalon Peninsula. The War of the Spanish Succession culminated in the Treaty of Utrecht, signed in 1713, in which France ceded its claim to Newfoundland to England. The English took over the settlement of Plaisance, changing its name to Placentia. Most of the French colonists moved south to the colony of Ile Royale (now Cape Breton). There they established themselves in the new French settlement of Louisbourg and continued their work in the French cod fishery. The French also retained the right to fish off the coasts of Newfoundland and to process their catch along stretches of the shoreline, known as the French Shore.

Nautical chart, on vellum in coloured ink, of the coastline of Newfoundland, Acadia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Nautical chart of the coastline of Newfoundland, Acadia and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Produced after 1713, the chart shows both Plaisance and Louisbourg (e011182107)

Records at Library and Archives Canada

LAC holds records related to the colony of Plaisance, among other topics, in the Fonds des Colonies (MG1). This fonds includes copies and transcriptions of selected records related to the French colonial period in early Canada. The records are in French, and the original documents are held at the Archives nationales d’outre-mer in Aix-en-Provence, France. The Fonds des Colonies consists of records including correspondence, reports, journals, instructions, records of fortifications and commerce, civil registers, and notary documents.

Many records in the Fonds des Colonies have been digitized and are available directly on the LAC website. Use LAC’s Collection Search to search for records about the colony of Plaisance. Try keyword searches, such as “MG1 Plaisance” or “MG1 pêche” (without quotation marks), and use the drop-down menu to search “Archives.” Including “MG1” will limit your search results to records in the Fonds des Colonies; you can search more broadly by not including it. Because the original records are in French, try using French keywords such as “pêche” (fishing), “Terre-Neuve” (Newfoundland), or “morue” (cod).

Related resources


Valerie Casbourn is an archivist based in Halifax with Regional Services at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Parking now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of a double-headed parking meter on a street. In the background there are parked cars and a passing horse-drawn cart.

A horse-drawn carriage passes a double-headed parking meter, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island [e011176837]

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Today, the verb form of “park” has a different meaning: a driver stops a vehicle and leaves it temporarily in a “parking lot” or on the side of the road.

A black-and-white photograph of a tree-lined street with a long row of cars parked at an angle along the curbside.

Wellington Street parking area, Ottawa, Ontario [PA-034203]

If you live in a large urban setting, parking is easier said than done, and consumes many commuters’ time! It sometimes seems that there are more vehicles than parking spots in a city.

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Parking area at the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto, Ontario [PA-052987]

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