Introducing Co-Lab: your tool to collaborate on historical records

A turquoise banner with the words Co-Lab: Your collaboration tool Crowdsourcing has arrived at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). You can now transcribe, add keywords and image tags, translate content from an image or document and add descriptions to digitized images using Co-Lab and the new Collection SearchBETA.

Take on a challenge

To make it even more interesting, we will launch what we call “challenges”.  These challenges are content put together under a theme. For example one of our first challenges is on Rosemary Gilliat (Eaton)’s. Your challenge will be to transcribe her diary and describe her photographs from her Arctic travels. Or instead, try your hand at transcribing the love letters from Sir Wilfred Laurier to his sweetheart and future wife, Zoé – another challenge now available.

A screenshot of the Co-Lab Challenges page showing what challenges are available.Contribute using Collection SearchBETA

When you are conducting research using our new search tool and find images, you’ll see that you have the option to “enable this image for Co-Lab contributions”. After answering just a few short questions, you can enable an image found in Collection SearchBETA for Co-Lab use and transcribe/translate/tag/describe to your heart’s content. If an image has already been enabled for Co-Lab use, you’ll be able to add your own or edit the contributions of others’. If you create a user account, you will be able to keep track of your contribution history and be able to hear about new challenges and updates to Co-Lab.

A new way to view images

A screenshot of an excerpt of a handwritten letter in a window and on the right-hand side there’s a space to transcribe the letter and underneath is a box with the transcription status.

The launch of Co-Lab also introduces a new image viewer – which lets you scroll to zoom in on different parts of the image, or click and drag to move around the image itself. This is particularly useful when looking to transcribe or add keywords and image tags to describe small details!

What if something’s wrong?

It’s inevitable that mistakes will be made, especially when transcribing handwritten documents. Every image in Co-Lab is subject to review by other crowd members. If you see something written incorrectly, go ahead and edit it yourself, or mark it as “Needs review” for others to take a second, or third look.

The best thing about this new tool is that every contribution made by the public directly benefits fellow researchers and improves access. Every addition to a record becomes new metadata – which is searchable within 24 hours, helping LAC’s records become more “discoverable” day after day. Transcription of textual material that was previously just digital images also becomes accessible to those who use text-to-speech machines or screen readers, and translation of transcribed documents opens the door to unilingual Canadians.

For more info and frequently asked questions, you can read the About Co-Lab page. If you’re ready to start contributing, give a hand to history and try Co-Lab now.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of April 2018

As of today, 581,553 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to 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 9926 and last name Venables.

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.

The case of the patent leather photograph: a Library and Archives Canada pannotype mystery

By Tania Passafiume, with assistance from Shannon Perry

While working on a census of over 300 cased objects in Library and Archives Canada’s photographic holdings, I discovered a hidden treasure. I noticed that one of the cased images looked a bit odd, as it did not resemble a daguerreotype, an ambrotype or a tintype, which you would typically find as the photograph in one of these small leather, paper or plastic cases.

A colour image of a paper case with red velvet. On the right-hand side, a black-and-white photograph in a brass mat of a man wearing a dark jacket.

A pannotype of an unknown sitter, in a paper case (MIKAN 325561)

The questions began: What is this? What photographic process was used to create this object? The first clue that I was dealing with something different came when I noticed that the item was unsealed, meaning that there was no original sealing tape. Historically, paper tape was used to seal the package found within the cased object, for various reasons. But there was no indication of any original tape, so with no tape to disturb, I decided to open the package.

The findings

Immediately after removing the package from the paper case, I noticed a piece of thick card attached to the back of the package. This card appeared to be a leftover piece of paper. Handwritten in pencil in the top-left quadrant were some words that were partially cut off: “hol” and “acid.” There was also some sort of damage along the top. From the discolouration, it had to be a liquid stain. At first, I did not think much about the card. Since there was no longer any original sealing tape, someone might have previously removed the tape and placed a piece of paper behind the photograph. This finding was not unexpected, as photographic plates were often taken out of cases and the cases switched. Only later did I realize that the text was indeed vital to understanding the nature of the photograph.

After I removed the card, I saw a piece of leather. I knew immediately what I was holding in my hands! The leather was not another layer that had been added behind the photographic plate. This was an actual photograph on leather! This photographic process is called pannotype (the prefix comes from the Latin pannos, which means cloth). I had read about pannotypes and seen modern recreations; however, it is very rare to find originals, let alone for them to be in good condition. I turned the object over and removed the brass mat with its cover glass. And there, under the deteriorated and soiled glass, was a glossy leather surface with, in excellent condition, the image of a man. The deteriorated glass had distracted me and made me question the type of photographic process. Now, through my careful analysis and with an added dash of serendipity, Library and Archives Canada has an identified 19th-century pannotype in its holdings!

The history behind the process

Pannotypes were a bit of a trend between 1853 and the early 1880s. They were made by a method similar to that for ambrotypes. But instead of glass, a piece of cloth or leather was used as a support. What is interesting is that pannotypes were made by placing drops of a dilute solution of nitric acid in alcohol onto an existing ambrotype. This was done to allow the photographer to remove the emulsion (which contained the actual image) from the glass support and place this emulsion onto a new support, such as a piece of leather. This brings me back to the handwritten partial words on the piece of paper that I found on the back of the leather, “hol” and “acid.” Could the words be alcohol and nitric acid: the very ingredients required to make a pannotype?

A colour image of a stained piece of paper with partial text “hol” and “acid” written on it.

The paper found at the back of the photograph, with the text “hol” and “acid” written in pencil.

A colour image of gloved hands holding a piece of leather that has been stained along the top and sides.

The leather back of the photograph. Photo credit: Carla Klück

A colour image of gloved hands holding a black-and-white portrait of a man, which is being peeled away from a brass mat with its cover glass.

The photograph (patent leather with emulsion) and the brass mat with its cover glass. Photo credit: Carla Klück

This pannotype photographic process was presented for the first time in 1853, to the French Academy of Sciences by the firm of Wulff & Co. Instructions for the process were made available for sale by that firm for 100 francs. Pannotypes soon became generally known, with many professional photographers making commercial use of them, as evidenced in surviving advertisements and journal articles. Customers were interested in the process at the time because pannotypes were believed to be more stable, since they could not break because they were not printed on glass like ambrotypes, nor could they be easily scratched like daguerreotypes or bent like tintypes. We know very little about how the pannotype process was developed and practiced here in Canada, but we do know that there were several prominent photographers using this process, including George Robinson Fardon (1807–1886) from Victoria, British Columbia. His images of “Portrait and Views on patent leather” were sent to the London International Exhibition, 1862, and they eventually became part of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s holdings.

Here and now

Today, discovering a pannotype is rare, as their durability was very limited because of their inherently fragile qualities. However, the newly discovered pannotype is on patent leather and is in excellent condition. The only difficulty here is that the original glass in the brass mat had begun to deteriorate; however, following some conservation work, the problem has been fixed. Our next step is to share this information with the public, and perhaps to try and solve the next mystery: who is the man in the photograph, and who was the photographer? Stay tuned!


Tania Passafiume is the Head Conservator of Photographic Materials in the Care of Collection Division of the Digital Operations and Preservation Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Shannon Perry is a Photo Archivist in the Government Archives Division of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

New additions to Rare Books album now on Flickr, 2018

Colour photograph of a row of books: left to right: Euclid’s Elementa, 1482; Milton’s Paradise Lost, 1758; Relation de ce qui s’est passé en la mission des pères de la Compagnie de Iésus …, 1651; Sophocleos Tragoediai, 1502; The Lower-Canada Watchman, 1829.

Row of books [left to right: Euclid’s Elementa, 1482; Milton’s Paradise Lost, 1758; Relation de ce qui s’est passé en la mission des pères de la Compagnie de Iésus …, 1651; Sophocleos Tragoediai, 1502; The Lower-Canada Watchman, 1829. [Filename IMG_3472]

The Rare Book Collection at Library and Archives Canada is one of the largest collections of rare Canadiana in the world. Canadiana is defined as works printed in Canada or printed outside of Canada but concerning Canada, written or illustrated by Canadians.

Visit the Flickr album now!

The Battle of Vimy Ridge

A banner that changes from a black-and-white photograph of a battle scene on the left to a colour photograph of the Vimy Memorial on the right.Everything was in place for the hour of the assault, 5:30 a.m. on April 9, 1917.

The preceding hours of darkness aided by cloud cover had permitted the infantry to file forward unobserved into their jumping-off positions, many of which were clearly observable to the enemy in daylight. Had this movement been witnessed, an enemy barrage might have broken up the assault wave with serious casualties; as it was, the positions were gained without notice.

In the half-light of zero hour under a cold overcast sky, when manoeuvring was still largely obscured from the enemy, the intense bombardment opened with sudden fury, and the advance of the infantry began. Continue reading

Images of Tartans and Kilts now on Flickr

A colour photograph of a smiling girl wearing a tam and tartan shoulder accessory.

Betty Chan at Scottish games, Winnipeg, Manitoba. [MIKAN 4302026]

Tartan is a multicoloured cloth pattern of criss-crossed horizontal and vertical bands. Traditionally, tartan is made with wool, but other kinds of materials may be used. Scotland and kilts in particular are associated with tartan patterns; however, the steady immigration of Scots to Canada created a special environment for tartan in this country. Cultural events, such as Highland games across Canada, showcase the various patterns seen in kilts, jackets, blankets and clothing accessories. For less traditional clothing, these patterns are often referred to as plaid. There are unique Canadian tartans, such as the provincial and territorial patterns, most of which are registered with the Court of the Lord Lyon. This court regulates Scottish heraldry, including tartan patterns. Canada’s green, gold, red and brown tartan, known as the “maple leaf,” became an official national symbol in 2011.

A black-and-white photograph of two women at a loom. The woman sitting on the left holds a shuttle. The woman standing on the right inspects the tartan pattern and weave.

Tartan being woven, St. Ann’s, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. [MIKAN 4948510]

A black-and-white photograph of two girls who are standing and wearing tams, matching jackets and kilts.

Two girls dressed in kilts at Highland games, Antigonish, Nova Scotia. [MIKAN 4315223]

Visit the Flickr album now!

Pre-Confederation Land Patents issued by the Registrar General

By Rebecca Murray

Reference Services frequently receives requests about land patents in Canada. Here, we will focus on pre-Confederation land documents. Be sure to refer also to Crown land patents: Indian land sales for more information. The next post on land patents will focus on post-Confederation land patents.

What is a Land Patent?

Land patents are issued by the Crown to grant or confirm title to a portion of land. They represent the first title to land, and serve as proof that the land no longer belongs to the Crown.

How Do I Find a Land Patent?

As this is a challenging request even for practiced archivists, this post will guide you through an example of how to approach this type of research from home or while onsite at Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

Step 1:

Start with the information you have: a date, a location, a person or organization (patentee). It is preferable to proceed with all three pieces of information (especially the date), but you can find the answer with one or more of the pieces of information.

Example:

  1. Date (specific or general): June 7, 1856
  2. Location (detailed or general): Lot 8, Range 3, east of Plank Road, Township of Seneca
  3. Patentee: David Patterson

Step 2:

With the patentee and date, or the date and location, you can look at the Indexes to Indian and Ordnance Land Patents (nominal [by name] and geographical indices) for the period 1845–1867 found in RG68, volume 911, microfilm reel M-1638. With the patentee and location, you can consult either the nominal or the geographical indices but without the date, you will have to perform a wider search using the General Index.

In this case, I found an entry for David Patterson in the Indexes to Indian and Ordnance Land Patents (RG68 volume 911, microfilm reel M-1638) and noted that the corresponding entry would be found in Liber EO (some libers are titled by letters rather than numbers), on folio 172.

Step 3:

Once you know the liber (register) and folio (page number), you need to find that liber within RG68 records. There are two options for continuing your search:

Web-Based Search

  1. Perform a search for “finding aid 68-2” in Enhanced Archives Search–Advanced. Beside the first box “Any Keyword,” click the down arrow and change to “Finding Aid Number” and enter “68-2” in the empty box to the right.
  2. Click SUBMIT.
  3. Filter results for a specific decade of interest and/or add another search term such as “land” in the second search box, or liber number (found in the file number field).

Many records for this period are available on digitized microfilm. Search Héritage to see if the reel has been digitized.

Onsite at LAC

When onsite at 395 Wellington St., you can use paper finding aid 68-2 to look up the liber number and find the corresponding volume and microfilm reel numbers. Microfilm reels are also available for self-serve consultation in room 354.

A black-and-white reproduction of an official Province of Canada document describing the exact location and size of the land grant.

Land patent confirming title to land granted to David Patterson in Haldimand County, dated June 8, 1856. (RG68 volume 231, file EO, page 172)

How to Use the Key to the General Index / the General Index

If your date does not fall in the 1845 to 1867 period, or you are unsure of the date, you can rely on the Key to the General Index for 1651–1867 to identify entries in the General Index related to the individual in question.

Paper copies of the Keys and General Indices for the pre-Confederation period are also available in the 2nd floor Reference Room of 395 Wellington St. Please keep in mind that the General Index applies to all types of documents produced by the Registrar General, not just land documents. Hence the importance of using the Key to the General Index to expedite your search.

For example, the Key to the General Index for the period 1841–1867 can be found in RG68 volume 896, which is available on microfilm reel C-2884. The Key to the General Index is organized by name. Find the individual in question and copy down each pair of numbers next to the name, as they will allow you to locate the relevant entries in the corresponding General Index. The pair of numbers is associated with two columns: the “No.” column indicating the “line number” and the “Folio” column indicating “page.” This allows you to jump directly to the correct page of the General Index and locate the corresponding entry. From this line, you get more information, namely the liber and folio numbers necessary to locate the patent itself. For example, in the image, take note of the first pair of numbers associated with the Rev. James Cochlan and wife: “4” and “680.”

A black-and-white reproduction of a nominal index with a few columns: Name, No., Folio, No., Folio, etc.

Excerpt from the Key to the General Index for 1651–1841 (RG68 volume 893), showing the liber (No.) and folio numbers associated with each name (RG 68, Volume 893 on Canadiana). Take note of the first pair of numbers associated with the Rev. James Cochlan and wife: “4” and “680.”

A black-and-white reproduction of a ledger with five columns: No., Lib, Folio, Date and Surrenders.

Excerpt from the General Index for (RG68 volumes 894 and 895), showing the entry on line 4 of page 680. The liber and folio for the document in question are “KM” and “6.”

After identifying the liber and folio numbers using the General Index you can review Step 3, from home or onsite, to determine the complete reference for the patent including the microfilm reel number.

It can be very challenging to navigate this research; please try it on your own, but do not hesitate to contact us if you need any assistance!


Rebecca Murray is a Reference Archivist in Reference Services at Library and Archives Canada.

Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, VC

By Emily Monks-Leeson

Today our First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients, remembers Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, who received the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest award for gallantry, for his actions at the Battle of Moreuil Wood on this day 100 years ago.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier taken slightly in profile.

Lieutenant Gordon M. Flowerdew, Victoria Cross recipient (MIKAN 3521609)

Flowerdew was born in Billingford, England, on January 2, 1885. He immigrated to Saskatchewan in 1903 and later settled in British Columbia as a rancher. He enlisted in September 1914 in Lord Strathcona’s Horse, a cavalry brigade, and became a commissioned officer in 1916. By 1918, Flowerdew was Lieutenant (Acting Captain) in command of “C” Squadron of Lord Strathcona’s Horse. Though the cavalry brigades had not engaged in much direct fighting because of the static nature of trench warfare, this changed in the spring of 1918 with the return to rapid, open warfare. On March 30, 1918, the Strathconas were engaged in heavy fighting at Moreuil Wood, France, having been tasked with preventing the Germans from crossing the Avre River and advancing on Amiens.

As German soldiers entered Moreuil Wood, Acting Captain Flowerdew spotted two lines of German infantry positions supported by machine guns. He ordered a cavalry charge. His squadron passed over both German lines, attacking with their swords, and then turned and passed over the lines again, driving the defending German soldiers into retreat. According to Flowerdew’s Victoria Cross citation, by then the squadron had suffered 70 percent casualties, killed and wounded, and Acting Captain Flowerdew was badly wounded in both thighs. Nonetheless, Flowerdew continued to encourage his men, ordering them to dismount.

Through hand-to-hand fighting, the survivors managed to hold the previously occupied German positions until a unit led by Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey joined them. Harvey had received the VC in 1917 for his role in the attack on German positions at the Guyencourt, France. Flowerdew and his men prevented the capture of Moreuil Wood and denied the advancing German army a strategically important position.

A handwritten description of the day’s actions in combat.

Lord Strathcona’s Horse war diary page with a description of Flowerdew’s actions of the day, Page 422 (MIKAN 2004721)

Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew died of his wounds on March 31, 1918. He is buried at Namps-au-Val British Cemetery in France. Library and Archives Canada holds Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew’s digitized service file.


Emily Monks-Leeson is an archivist in Digital Operations at Library and Archives Canada.

New podcast! Check out our latest episode, “Gratien Gélinas: One of Our Own.

Our latest podcast episode is now available. Check out “Gratien Gélinas: One of Our Own.
Black-and-white photo of Gratien Gélinas, with his head in his hands, holding a cigarette.Gratien Gélinas is considered one of the founders of modern Canadian theatre and film. He was a playwright, director, actor, filmmaker and administrator of cultural organizations. His personifications of the common man paved the way for many of Quebec’s leading scriptwriters, and he gave a voice, at home and abroad, to French Canada’s culture and society. On today’s episode, we travel to Saint-Bruno, near Montréal, to speak with Anne-Marie Sicotte, granddaughter of Gratien Gélinas, who tells us about his life and legacy.

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.

A Little History: the Hidden Stories of Children—an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of History

Too often the experiences, stories and contributions of children are romanticized, overlooked, or entirely absent from our history books. As is often the case, the least powerful in society leave little trace of their lives. Those childhoods that were documented and preserved can be quite telling.

The exhibition, A Little History: the Hidden Stories of Children, at the Canadian Museum of History presents rarely seen archival documents, photographs, works of art and artifacts from the collections of both the Canadian Museum of History and Library and Archives Canada. The exhibition recounts the unique experiences of children found in archival documents.

Children are rarely the authors of their own histories. Fragments of their stories lie within the materials that adults produce—from formal portraits found in family collections to documents in government and institutional records. These traces of their experiences help reveal the attitudes of adults toward them and the impact of laws and policies on them throughout history.

An oil painting of two young girls dressed in identical red dresses with lace around the neckline and red necklaces. One of them holds a small dog.

Céline and Rosalvina Pelletier, attributed to James Bowman, ca. 1838, oil on canvas (MIKAN 2837219)

Before the advent of photography, painted portraits were the only visual records of individuals. The absence of portraits of poor children demonstrates how this type of art was exclusive to the affluent. This portrait of the Pelletier sisters reflects their wealth and status. Depicted as little adults, the girls are dressed stiffly, holding a miniature dachshund (a symbol of fidelity), and wearing coral necklaces, which were believed to ward off childhood diseases.

A black-and-white studio photograph of three children. One is sitting in a chair and the two others stand beside.

The Children We Seek to Help, photographer unknown, ca. 1900, silver gelatin print. (MIKAN 3351178)

Institutional records are a key source of information about children. The “child-saving” era of the late 19th century saw the creation of a number of child welfare organizations, such as the Children’s Aid Society. These charities sought to help poor, abandoned and neglected children by operating orphanages and training schools, and providing adoption services. Child-rescue workers used photography to both document and promote their work, often invoking contradictory images to draw attention to their cause by portraying children as both innocent victims and criminals in training.

When viewing the past through adult eyes, the role and presence of children is sometimes obscured. But children were also involved in or felt the impact of significant events in Canadian history.

A black-and-white studio photograph of two children leaning against a side table, each with a hand on a cheek.

Jean-Louis and Marie-Angélique Riel, ca. 1888, by Steele & Wing, albumen print (MIKAN 3195233)

Jean-Louis and Marie-Angélique were born in Montana during the political exile of their father and Métis leader, Louis Riel for his role in the 1870 Red River Resistance. After their father’s execution in 1885, Marie-Angélique went to live with an uncle in Winnipeg, where she died of tuberculosis in 1896. Jean-Louis took his mother’s family name, moved to Montréal, and later died at the age of 25 in a horse-and-cart accident.

A handwritten letter from Louis Riel to his wife and children.

Letter from Louis Riel to his wife and children, dated November 16, 1885, ink on paper (MIKAN 126629)

This last letter from Louis Riel to his wife and children offers a private view of the Métis leader. Written on November 16, 1885, the day of his hanging in Regina, Riel speaks of his children, asks his wife to “have them pray for me” [translation] and ends his letter with “Take courage. Bless you. Your father, Louis ‘David’ Riel.” [translation].

Items created by children are often ephemeral and seldom preserved in collections. Those that have been preserved can be challenging to find as they are frequently subsumed within the broader histories and heritage of their families and communities and are rarely catalogued as being child-made. For these reasons, it is easiest to find material created by children who grew up to be important adults or were related to a famous adult.

The handwritten diary of Sandford Fleming, open and showing his writings.

Diary of Sandford Fleming, 1843, pencil and paper (MIKAN 4938908)

This diary, kept by 16-year-old Sandford Fleming, seems to foretell his later success as an engineer and inventor. Filled with architectural plans, scientific formulas, and inventions, the diary exemplifies Fleming’s industriousness.

Children’s letters and diaries provide a rare glimpse into their private worlds, revealing their unique ways of speaking, thinking and interpreting the world around them. Intimate, candid, and sometimes whimsical, the diaries, letters and drawings created by children invite us to see history with fresh eyes.

A black-and-white studio portrait of a young man in uniform, with arms crossed.

Portrait of Arthur Wendell Phillips Lawson, photographer unknown, 1918, matt collodion print (MIKAN 187937)

A handwritten diary with boxes on each date that includes the scores of the World Series games.

Diary of Arthur Wendell Phillips Lawson, 1914, ink, paper, and leather (MIKAN 129683)

This diary of 16-year-old Arthur Lawson invites us to understand his childhood sense of self and the world around him. Written at the beginning of the First World War, Lawson’s headlines about the battles raging overseas seem casually inserted alongside mundane notes about the weather, family events (like his brother’s birthday) and the scores of the 1914 World Series between the Boston Braves and the Philadelphia Athletics. Before the war was over, Lawson enlisted.

For more examples of these intriguing stories, visit A Little History: the Hidden Stories of Children on display in the Treasures from Library and Archives Canada gallery at the Canadian Museum of History from March 30, 2018 to January 27, 2019.