A document of interest: an 1818 letter dealing with the treatment of Irish immigrants suffering from typhoid fever

By Martin Lanthier

In the early 19th century, the arrival of ships carrying sometimes-ill immigrants raised fears that epidemics would spread in Lower Canada. The colony’s elite became aware of the situation and took initiatives to address the problem.

The correspondence of the Civil Secretary to the Governor of Lower Canada (RG4-A1, MIKAN 105377) includes documents that reflect these concerns and that describe incidents faced by physicians at the time. One particular example is a letter from Dr. William Hacket, dated July 29, 1818, in which he describes his efforts to care for Irish settlers suffering from typhoid fever.

The immigrants had arrived at the city of Québec on July 21 aboard the Royal Edward. A number of them were sick and, after a few days, it was decided to treat them. Since no hospital could accommodate such a large number of patients (119), and because conditions on board the vessel were unsanitary, the order was given to quarantine and treat the patients on Île au Ruau [or Île aux Ruaux], near Grosse Île in the St. Lawrence River. Dr. Hacket was put in charge, assisted by two colleagues, Dr. Wright and Dr. Holmes.

In his letter, written six days after the arrival of the passengers on the island, Dr. Hacket first describes his difficulties in convincing them to leave the ship—some declared that they would only be removed by force. He then goes on to say that without the help of soldiers, who set up a camp, he would never have been able to accommodate and treat the patients.

First page of a handwritten letter, black ink on white paper.

Letter from Dr. William Hacket to A.W. Cochrane, Civil Secretary, Québec, July 29, 1818 (RG4-A1, volume 180 MIKAN 126122). e011181012

Once a basic level of comfort was established, Dr. Hacket could begin caring for those who were sick with typhoid fever and try to prevent the healthy from catching it. He developed a diet suited to the settlers’ habits and customs. Since these were poor people, he based the food choices on what he understood to be their regular diet: potatoes, milk, oatmeal, butter and a little meat (two days a week only). For the truly sick, meals could also include tea, sugar, wine and bread. After only six days, the patients’ health had improved, but Dr. Hacket did not relax his efforts. Though the patients could be released from quarantine since they seemed better, Dr. Hacket noted that they were impoverished as well as exhausted from their voyage. These conditions could lead to a fresh outbreak of the fever once they rejoined the general population, and the sickness might spread throughout the colony. However, the doctor’s fears do not appear to have been justified. The last Irish settlers left Île au Ruau around the end of August, and no typhoid fever epidemics broke out in Lower Canada in the following weeks.

The letter shows the situation increasingly faced by health authorities in the colony. The government and the elite came to understand that caring for the sick required more than a temporary camp on an island. As a result, the Hospital for Reception of Sick Emigrants, the first hospital in the city of Québec for immigrants, was established two years later. It operated until 1834, when a new hospital, the Marine and Emigrant Hospital, was built to care for this clientele. The hospital remained in operation until 1890.


RG4-A1, volume 180, letters from William Hacket, dated July 29 and August 25, 1818 (MIKAN 126122).

RG1-E1 (minutes of the Executive Council of Lower Canada), volume 37, State Minute Book I, p. 351-354 (MIKAN 3829851)

Fecteau, Jean-Marie , Un Nouvel Ordre des choses : la pauvreté, le crime, l’État au Québec, de la fin du XVIIIe siècle à 1840, Outremont, VLB, 1989 (AMICUS 9273445)

Goulet, Denis and André Paradis, Trois siècles d’histoire médicale au Québec. Chronologie des institutions et des pratiques (1639-1939), Montréal, VLB, 1992 (AMICUS 11892694) (in French only).

Lépine, Véronique (under the direction of Jacques Bernier and Rénald Lessard), Guide des archives hospitalières de la région de Québec. 1639-1970, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, January 2003 (in French only).

Martin Lanthier is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division of Library and Archives Canada.


Transcribing the Coltman Report – Crowdsourcing at Library and Archives Canada

By Beth Greenhorn

In the spring of 2016, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) digitized A General Statement and Report relative to the Disturbances in the Indian Territories of British North America, more commonly known as “the Coltman Report.” Its digitization was in support of the 200th-anniversary events commemorating the Battle of Seven Oaks, organized by the Manitoba Métis Federation in June 2016.

Top half of Page 1 of William Batchelor Coltman’s report concerning the Battle of Seven Oaks. Handwriting in faded black ink on cream coloured paper. The writing begins before and crosses over the red vertical margin line on the left side of the page.

Screenshot of Page 1 of the Coltman Report, 1818 (MIKAN 114974)

As part of our support, LAC launched a crowdsourcing transcription tool and chose the Coltman Report as the first document to be transcribed.

Events leading to the Battle of Seven Oaks on June 19, 1816

Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, or Lord Selkirk, was a Scottish peer who was granted a huge parcel of land by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The land, referred to as the Selkirk Concession, included portions of Rupert’s Land, or the watershed of Hudson Bay. It covered sections of present-day Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Its settlement was at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers in the Red River Valley.

Lord Selkirk’s plan was to bring Scottish settlers to farm in the area. Their arrival threatened the Métis, who felt that settlement would have a negative impact on their way of life. Although the Métis occupied this area, they held no “legal title” and feared losing their lands and livelihoods.

Many Métis were working for the North West Company (NWC) and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). A number were employed to supply pemmican to the fur trade. In 1814, as a result of food shortages in the Red River District, the governor of the new Red River Colony, Miles MacDonell, issued the ‘’Pemmican Proclamation’’ to the inhabitants of the area.

The proclamation declared that no one should “take out any provisions, either flesh, dried meat, grain, or vegetable.” It was the governor’s attempt to guarantee adequate food supplies for the HBC and to stop the Métis people from exporting pemmican out of the district. The HBC wanted to prevent the Métis from selling pemmican to its rival, the NWC. The settlers tried to block the Métis pemmican export business because they wanted the pemmican for themselves.

The proclamation had an enormous impact on Métis livelihoods. They saw it as a ploy to monopolize the fur trade as it prohibited them from selling their pemmican to the fur brigades. Led by Cuthbert Grant, the Métis ignored the new law, which further fueled the conflict between the Métis and the settlers.

The Battle of Seven Oaks and emergence of the Métis Nation

The dispute over the pemmican supply culminated with the Battle of Seven Oaks (also known as “The Battle of Frog Plain”). It took place on June 19, 1816, along the Red River just north of the HBC’s Fort Douglas. It was a quick but fierce battle that left 21 HBC employees and settlers dead. There was one Métis fatality.

The battle is commemorated with a monument at the battle site in Winnipeg, at the intersection of Main Street and Rupert’s Land Boulevard.

Map showing the Assiniboine and Red Rivers, where they join, and farm lots on cream-coloured paper. The rivers are drawn in blue ink, general information is written in black ink, and the legend and a special note are written in red ink.

Map showing the area of the Battle of Seven Oaks, William Sax, D.P. Surveyor, April 1818 (MIKAN 4149343)

Following the Battle of Seven Oaks, William Coltman was commissioned by the governor in Lower Canada (now the province of Quebec) to investigate. After taking depositions from the Métis and the settlers, Coltman sympathized in his report with the NWC’s position while condemning the use of violence on both sides. He determined that the Métis did not fire the first shot, but had reacted in self-defense. On pages 193 and 194 of the report, Coltman concluded that:

Such is the evidence by which the fact of the first shot being fired by the Colonists stands supported; of [19 June 1816] those present, five Witnesses speaks [sic] positively to its being so, and not one except Hayden states the contrary even on belief, and all others who have spoken to the question, concur in stating that such was the general report; whilst the opposite statement of Hayden remains unsupported by a single evidence either direct or indirect. (Page 193 and Page 194)

The battle marked the emergence of a new nation—the Métis Nation. It was also the first time that the Métis flew their blue infinity flag, which helped shape their sense of identity. Today, the Coltman Report provides one of the best sources on the fur-trade war and is a key document in the history of the Métis Nation.

Transcription tool a success

The transcription of this 521-page handwritten report was a resounding success. The transcription tool was announced on June 16, 2016, and thanks to an enthusiastic public, the entire report was transcribed within less than a month. In addition to the transcription, every page has tags related to the individuals, dates, locations and specific events recorded during Coltman’s investigation. A PDF of Coltman’s report is available in the database and is fully searchable. Each entry is accompanied by a link to the corresponding digitized page from the report.

Screenshot of the transcriptions of the front and inside covers and the first page of the Coltman Report. The page is divided into five columns that organize the content by image number, image text (transcribed text), notes, tags and image link. The horizontal sections for each page alternate between pale blue and white backgrounds.

Screenshot of the transcription of the Coltman Report (MIKAN 114974)

LAC owns the only copy of this report. Prior to digitization and transcription, researchers had to arrange a visit to the Gatineau Preservation Centre with an archivist to consult the report. Travel to LAC is not an option for many researchers. Consequently, some historians have perpetuated information found in many secondary sources that described the confrontation as a massacre initiated by the Métis. Through digitization, and with the help from the public to transcribe this important document, historical inaccuracies have been corrected.

Beth Greenhorn is Project Manager in the Online Content and Exhibitions Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Five years of blogging at Library and Archives Canada!

A black-and-white photograph of a giant cake with a young woman standing on one side of the cake and on the other side is a poster with a list of ingredients contained in the cake.

Woman standing next to a 4,000 pound cake made to promote Freimans department store (MIKAN 3615467)

It’s been five years today since we published our first blog, “Published Histories: Discover what individuals or military units did during the war” and since then more than 650 posts have been published.

It is very easy to forget major milestones in a project and yet it is so important to look at the past to realize the progress we have made.

This is the perfect opportunity to thank everyone who made it possible to succeed. We can’t name all who contributed to the success of the blog, but we want to thank everyone who did.

How does an article get published?

Before a blog is posted, there is a lot of collaboration among the different teams throughout the organization. First, the blog has to be written by content experts working at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and they do it on a completely voluntary basis. Then there’s an initial review and formatting of the text before sending it off to Communications for editing and translation. Once we have final copies in both languages, they are uploaded to WordPress simultaneously.

Our blog highlights our collection and our services. We have a lot of awesome images and documents, but sometimes copyright stands in the way. And even though we double- and triple-check articles prior to publishing, sometimes a mistake gets through or a link is broken—so we appreciate it when our readers let us know.

A colour print showing a pilot talking to a mechanic in an airplane hangar. Flying planes and a British flag can be seen through the window. The word “Collaboration” is written at the top of the poster and “Merci Mon Vieux!” is at the bottom.

A poster about Canada’s war effort and production sensitive campaign titled, “Collaboration: Merci Mon Vieux!” (MIKAN 2846765)

What we have written about

In five years, we have touched upon many subjects such as searching the collection, genealogy and family heritage, rare books, immigration, and military heritage. The most popular topics are military heritage for the English blogs, and genealogy for the French blogs. The most popular English blog is The 1940 National Registration File and the most popular French blog is Recherche d’actes de naissance, de mariage et de décès (English version). We will continue to make our collection known with some special projects scheduled for next year such as a series of blogs resulting from a partnership between LAC and The National Archives (UK), another series about Canada 150, and a lot more. Follow us so you won’t miss any of it!

Of course, the blog wouldn’t exist without you—so a big thank you to all our readers! We are happy to share our knowledge so you can learn and discover more about your Canadian heritage.

Now how about a slice of that cake?

Library and Archives Canada releases its latest podcast episode, “Wilfrid Laurier: It’s Complicated”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, “Wilfrid Laurier: It’s Complicated.”

Sir Wilfrid Laurier had the largest unbroken term of office as Canada’s seventh prime minister. He was considered one of Canada’s greatest politicians, full of charisma, charm and passion, qualities that served him well in office, and also in his personal life. This passion is seen in many of the letters he wrote to his wife Zoé. But perhaps we gain a deeper insight into his character through his letters to Émilie Lavergne.

In this episode, we traveled to the Perth and District Union Library, in Perth, Ontario. We sat down with Mr. Roy MacSkimming, author of the historical novel, Laurier in Love, to gain some insight into these letters.

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.

Sir Wilfrid Laurier—175th anniversary of his birth

By Michael MacDonald

One hundred and seventy-five years ago, the Right Honourable Sir Wilfrid Laurier was born in the parish of Saint-Lin, Lower Canada (modern day Saint-Lin–Laurentides, Quebec). Laurier is generally regarded as one of Canada’s greatest prime ministers and was Canada’s longest consecutively serving prime minister.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a wealth of records which reveal many stories of Laurier who is well-known for his desire to build an autonomous Canada that included both English and French cultures, his belief in the separation of church and state, his opposition to conscription, his support in Quebec, and his meticulous wardrobe and charismatic presence.

Five black-and-white photographs of the same man side by side at these approximate ages, left to right: 24, 33, 50, 65 and 70 years old.

A collage of five photographs of Laurier at different times in his life. (Sources of images from left to right, MIKAN 3218126, 3194714, 3623432, 3218138 and 3628621.)

One does not need to be an academic to find these fascinating records regarding Laurier; one just needs to search out some of these gems using LAC’s database for archival documents, Archives Search. A search for “Wilfrid Laurier” will result in over 60,870 records and more are continually being added.

Even more documents and information can be found on LAC’s web pages such as First Among Equals (or the children’s version), Prime Ministers’ Fonds, Laurier House, and our thematic guide to the South African War, to name just a few. (For a listing of general resources on politics, see Politics and Government.)


A screen capture of a web page showing the results from a search on “Wilfrid Laurier” using <abbr title=

While there are obviously far too many documents to highlight, below are four examples of lesser-known topics concerning Laurier, which can be researched through our website.

Laurier, the military man

Many people think of Laurier as being anti-military as he was against conscription and the forced recruiting of armed forces for imperial wars such as the Second Boer War and the First World War. However, many don’t realize that not only did Laurier serve in the militia, but so did his father and grandfather.

Two manuscripts side by side. The paper on the left was delivered to Carolus Laurier and issued by The Right Honourable James, Earl of Elgin and Earl of Kincardine. The paper on the right was delivered to Charles Laurier by George, Earl of Dalhousie.

Commission papers of Carolus Laurier on the left and Charles Laurier on the right (MIKAN 4929180 and 4929179)

Charles Laurier, Sir Wilfrid’s grandfather, was commissioned as a captain in the Terrebonne Militia Division in 1825; Carolus Laurier, Sir Wilfrid’s father, was a captain in the 3rd Battalion of Leinster in 1847; and Laurier received the Canada General Service Medal as a Lieutenant in the Arthabaskaville Infantry Company in 1870 during the Fenian Raids.

Two black-and-white photographs of both sides of a medal. On one side is a flag surrounded by maple leaves. On the other side is a woman wearing a crown.

The Canada General Service Medal (MIKAN 3638053)

Laurier, the nation builder

Laurier was the first francophone prime minister who brought the Liberals to power by establishing support in his home province of Quebec.

One of the first issues Laurier dealt with when he became Canada’s seventh prime minister was the Manitoba Schools Question. Laurier defeated the earlier proposal that public funds should not be used for Catholic schools and proposed the compromise that public funds could be used where there were enough Catholic students to warrant it. Laurier was especially pleased with the compromise he was able to strike, and referred to his efforts as “sunny ways” (voies ensoleillées)—a slogan which you may recognize, as it has been regularly used by the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau and his government today.

It was also Laurier’s government that in 1898 established the Yukon as a distinct territory from the Northwest Territories, and in 1905 created the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. As you can see from the maps below, Canada looked very different in the map created circa 1906 than the one circa 1897.

Two coloured maps of Canada side by side.

On the left, Canada’s territorial divisions, circa 1906 (MIKAN 4153332), and on the right, a political map of Canada, circa 1897 (MIKAN 4153334).

 Laurier, the man with a $1000 smile

While we are all familiar with Laurier’s image on the Canadian five-dollar bill, did you know that Laurier used to be on the thousand-dollar bill? Laurier’s image was used on the thousand-dollar bill for the first bank note series issued by the Bank of Canada in 1935 (see below for sample images), and again for the 1937 series. In 1954, the Bank of Canada’s third bank note series included Queen Elizabeth II’s image on every bank note and replaced Laurier’s image on the thousand-dollar bill. Laurier’s image was placed on the five-dollar bill in 1986 and has remained there since. While it may seem like a “demotion,” the thousand-dollar bill ceased to be printed and was withdrawn from circulation in 2000, whereas the five-dollar bill is seen by more Canadians than any other. It is also interesting to note that other than Queen Elizabeth II, only Laurier has enjoyed the prestigious honour of having his image on the Canadian thousand-dollar bill.

Two images of thousand-dollar bills side by side; the draft bill on the left is gray and yellow and the final bill on the right is white and grey.

A draft version of the thousand-dollar bill on the left, and the final version on the right (Bank of Canada).

While the above images are taken from the Bank of Canada’s website, LAC holds other sketches that were proposed for the thousand-dollar bill, as well as miscellaneous correspondence on this subject in our Sir Wilfrid Laurier fonds, and other collections.

Laurier, the elusive

While it is understandable that there are fewer films of Laurier than many other prime ministers simply because he was prime minister from 1896 to 1911, it is quite surprising how very little footage appears to have survived. It was a long-time researcher of LAC’s holdings who told me that when he used to come for his regular visits in the 1980s, he was shown the footage below by a former archivist who claimed that it was the only footage of Laurier that LAC held. While a more exhaustive and time-consuming search would be needed to confirm the number of films, a preliminary search certainly confirms that there are indeed very few films.

The next time you watch a documentary concerning Laurier, pay close attention to how little actual film footage is included, and how producers have used photos. For now, enjoy this very short clip which has only 6 seconds of Laurier, followed by his state funeral. The Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC) production of “Did You Know? – The History of Wilfrid Laurier” contains the same footage starting at 3 minutes and 14 seconds into the recording.

In addition to LAC’s YouTube channel, which has a small sampling of LAC’s videos, you can conduct searches for other audiovisual material using our Film, Video and Sound Database

Related resources

A Sunny Legacy: Celebrating Sir Wilfrid Laurier (Exhibition)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier – Canada’s 7th Prime Minister

Sir Wilfrid Laurier fonds 

Michael MacDonald is an archivist in the Political Archives area of the Science, Governance and Politics Division at Library and Archives Canada.


Sir Wilfrid Laurier podcast images now on Flickr 

Sir Wilfrid Laurier had the largest unbroken term of office as Canada’s seventh prime minister. He was considered one of Canada’s greatest politicians, full of charisma, charm and passion, qualities that served him well in office, and also in his personal life. This passion is seen in many of the letters he wrote to his wife Zoé. But perhaps we gain a deeper insight into his character through his letters to Émilie Lavergne.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force personnel service files – update of November 2016

As of today, 361,236 of 640,000 files are available online in our Soldiers of the First World War: 1914–1918 database. Please visit Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10,686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the contents of some boxes have been moved. You might find that the file you want (with a surname that should have been digitized) is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 6052 and Mattineau.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Images of Canadian war artists now on Flickr

Canadian War Artists brings together the portraits of eighteen Canadian war artists who painted during the Second World War. These portraits, from the collections of Library and Archives Canada are accompanied by short biographies.

120th anniversary of the birth of Harold Anthony Oaks: pioneering Canadian aviator

By Laura Brown

Harold Anthony Oaks was one of 22,000 Canadians who served with the British flying services during the First World War. While many did not return home, Oaks survived the conflict and transitioned his wartime flying experience into a successful career as a bush pilot and award-winning aviator.

Oaks was born in Hespeler (now Cambridge), Ontario on November 12, 1896. A student when he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in October 1915, Oaks was soon sent to France and served in the 1st Canadian Divisional Signal Company, Canadian Engineers as a motorcycle dispatch rider. While overseas Oaks continued to study, spending some time on leave learning French and Spanish. Whether it was his bookish nature or that his father was a doctor, Oaks earned the nickname “Doc,” which stayed with him for life.

In the summer of 1917, Oaks left the CEF to join Britain’s Royal Flying Corps. Less than a year later, he had cemented his reputation as a skilled fighter pilot, serving in numerous battles with the 48 Squadron in France. Oaks received a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his efforts.

A black and white portrait showing a young man in uniform. He sits facing the camera and sports a slight smile.

Harold Anthony Oaks, ca. 1918 (MIKAN 3219517)

After returning to Canada, Doc Oaks attended the University of Toronto, where he obtained a degree in mining engineering in 1922. In the following years, he began numerous aviation ventures which focused on how planes could assist in prospecting in Canada’s north. In 1926, Oaks started Patricia Airways and Exploration Limited with a former Royal Flying Corps pilot, Tommy Thompson. The goal of the one-plane operation was to transport people, goods, and mail to remote mining areas in Northern Ontario. In its first year, the company transported 260 passengers, 14,000 pounds of freight and 3,000 pounds of mail.

A yellow, green and red postage stamp showing a frontal view of a Curtiss Lark airplane in flight with trees and water below. The words “Patricia Airways and Exploration Limited” appear above the plane and “Special Delivery, Sioux Lookout to Pine Ridge and Red Lake” appear below it. Bordering the stamp is a line design with maple leaf motif in each corner, accompanied by the word “Canada.” The words “Airmail” and “Red Lake” appear on the four sides of the stamp.

Postage Stamp, Patricia Airways and Exploration Limited, 1926 (MIKAN 3854727)

The success of his first air transport business prompted Oaks to expand. He went on to become the manager of Western Canada Airways and helped establish new flying routes in Northern Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. In addition, Oaks spearheaded a number of engineering projects that revolutionized winter flying, including special skis for planes and a portable nose hangar, which enabled crews to work on aircraft even under frigid temperatures.

A black-and-white photograph showing a floatplane at the edge of a lake. Two figures stand on the floats near the propeller and a third figure stands on the shore to the right. A fourth figure, partially in view on the far right, looks at the plane.

Harold Anthony Oaks and associates with Fairchild KR-34C, Oaks Airways Limited, Jellicoe, Ontario, 1934 (MIKAN 3390361)

In 1927, Oaks became the first recipient of the Trans-Canada Trophy for “meritorious service in the advancement of aviation.” Throughout the years, he would continue to engage in new projects including the establishment of his own airline, Oaks Airways Limited. He died in 1968 at the age of 71.

Oaks’ career as a successful aviator stems from his flying experience in the First World War. However, in January 1917, well before Oaks became a famed pilot, he was one of thousands of soldiers facing the relentless damp, cold, and mud of the Western Front. At the time, he recorded in his diary that he longed “to see a bit of real Canadian winter.” Following the war, Oaks went on to spend hundreds of hours flying above snowy Canadian landscapes. Undoubtedly, he got his wish.


Related resources

Laura Brown is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

The Altona Haggadah: The conservation and rebinding of an 18th-century illuminated manuscript

By Doris St-Jacques, Lynn Curry and Maria Trojan-Bedynski

The 1763 Haggadah manuscript is part of the Jacob M. Lowy collection of Judaica and Hebraica at Library and Archives Canada. It was created in Altona, Germany, which at the time was one of the Danish monarchy’s most important harbour towns and a major center of Jewish life and scholarship. The manuscript could be described as a sophisticated form of folk art and an important social document, giving testimony to how middle-class Ashkenazi Jewish families celebrated Passover. The Haggadah contains 97 illuminated miniatures and was intended to be read during the Jewish Passover Seder meal.

An analysis of the 48 pages of handmade paper textblock conducted at the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) revealed that the text is handwritten in iron gall ink and the pigments used in the miniature paintings are predominantly vermilion (red), Prussian blue, and atacamite/verdigris (green copper-based). A yellow glaze-like paint was also identified and the gold-toned colours were found to contain flakes of brass.

The paper, inks and many painted areas were in fragile condition due to corrosion of the iron gall inks and the copper-based pigments. There are also large brown stains on several pages caused by splashed red wine, likely having occurred during the Seder meal.

Two close-up colour images of pages from the manuscript. On the left, Hebrew writing with cracks in the ink letters and on the right, some colour miniature paintings in red and green.

Two examples of cracks and losses in the manuscript, caused by the corrosive nature of the iron gall inks and copper-based pigments.

Over 20 years ago, the Haggadah was removed from its covers for deacidification of the textblock and repair of cracks and tears. A more recent examination of the manuscript revealed new cracks and losses in the paper, inks and pigments (media). It was evident that the previous deacidification treatment was unable to completely protect the paper from continued deterioration. Damage caused by the corrosion of copper-based media is a problem in archival collections worldwide. To find a treatment that would protect the Haggadah media from further corrosion, a joint research project between Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and CCI was conducted to test known antioxidants. Due to the water sensitivity of the media in the Haggadah, only solvent-based antioxidants were included in the research project.

Laboratory-prepared inks and pigments similar to that of the Haggadah—iron gall ink, iron-copper ink, atacamite and verdigris pigments—were applied to strips of paper. These samples were then artificially aged to simulate the aged paper and media of the Haggadah. The aged samples were then treated with one of the six treatment combinations used in the study, followed by additional heat aging intended to simulate the effectiveness of the various treatments after many years. Tests conducted on the samples included colour analysis, pH measurements and strength testing of the paper, carried out before and after the treatments and aging.

Colour photograph of laboratory material: four clear glass containers placed side by side with a sheet of paper in each one and bottles of chemicals behind them.

Ink and pigment samples in glass trays are being treated with solvent-based antioxidants.

We will confirm the results of this project with other research studies before selecting a specific antioxidant treatment for the Haggadah. In the meantime, the cracks and losses in the paper were mechanically stabilized using a solvent-remoistenable, ultra-thin transparent paper called Berlin tissue, which had been pre-coated with gelatin. Gelatin is known to prevent the spread of corrosive iron ions further into the surrounding paper.

Close-up images side by side of an old, opaque repair and a new transparent repair which allows the text to be read easily through it.

On the left, a close-up of an old repair, which obscured the text beneath. On the right, a new ultra-thin Berlin tissue repair, which allows the text to be read easily.

To prevent the transfer of inks, pigments or corrosion products onto facing pages, interleaving paper was required. Though the Haggadah was not being treated directly with an antioxidant, we decided to improve the aging properties of the manuscript indirectly by impregnating the interleaving papers with both an alkaline buffer and an antioxidant.

It was not possible to re-use the damaged original cover boards of the binding for various reasons. Instead, possible binding structures were researched and many samples were created and tested. We concluded that a sewn-board binding would meet the requirements for the Haggadah. The binding opens flat and stress-free and will provide optimal support during handling. Using supple boards and very little adhesive, the binding integrates the interleaving tissue, is dimensionally stable, and will be reversible in the future if further treatments of the Haggadah are conducted. The sewn-board binding style is also documented and supported as a conservation binding for 17th to 19th century volumes, so it was an appropriate style for the Haggadah.

On the left, a close-up of a hand holding a page of a book and a needle piercing through the page. On the right, a close-up of the bottom spine of the book laying open on a table.

On the left, a conservator is sewing the interleaving into the textblock. On the right, the sewn-board binding is open showing that the manuscript can be viewed without stress.

To be consistent with the design elements on the covers of the previous binding, the new leather covers were finished with blind tooling, which is the impressing of text or a design on a book cover without the use of colour or gold leaf. Five small fleuron were blind stamped onto the spine to provide a visual clue to the orientation of the book, which opens left to right.

The newly bound Haggadah manuscript is currently stored in a custom clamshell box along with the original covers in a controlled environment of 18°C and 40% RH. Its condition has been greatly improved, and it can now be handled safely while awaiting a future antioxidant treatment.

For more historical information, read the previous blog, “From the Lowy Room: the brightly illuminated manuscript of the Altona Haggadah.”

Links to articles about the conservation of the 1763 Altona Haggadah:

Tse, Season, Maria Trojan-Bedynski and Doris St-Jacques. “Treatment Considerations for the Haggadah Prayer Book: Evaluation of Two Antioxidants for Treatment of Copper-Containing Inks and Colorants.” The Book and Paper Group Annual, American Institute for Conservation, Vol. 31, 2012, pp. 87–97.

St-Jacques, Doris, Maria Bedynski, Lynn Curry, Season Tse. A 1763 Illuminated Haggadah Manuscript: How Ineffective Past Treatments Resulted in an Antioxidant Research Project, Impacting Current Treatment Decisions.” Paper Conservation: Decisions and Compromises, Vienna, 17–19 April 2013, pp. 17–20.

Bedynski, Maria, Doris St-Jacques, Lynn Curry, Season Tse. “The Altonah Haggadah: The History, Conservation and Rebinding of an Eighteenth-Century Illuminated Manuscript.” Care and Conservation of Manuscripts 14: Proceedings of the thirteenth international seminar held at the University of Copenhagen, 17–19 October 2012, Museum Tusculanum Press, edited by M.J. Driscoll pp. 157–176.

“Collaborative Research on Antioxidants and Its Impact on Treatment Decisions for the 1763 Altona Haggadah.” Annual Review 2012–2013, Canadian Conservation Institute, pp. 6–7.

Doris St-Jacques is Paper Conservator in the Preservation Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Lynn Curry is a Book Conservator in the Preservation Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Maria Trojan-Bedynski is a Paper Conservator in the Preservation Branch at Library and Archives Canada.