Your ancestor was a Canadian volunteer in the Spanish Civil War?

By Nicole Watier

One of the more complex questions that our Genealogy desk receives is “Where do I begin to find the service records of my relative who served in the Spanish Civil War?”

Canadians might know a little about the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) through Pablo Picasso’s painting of the destruction of the town of Guernica or from reading Ernest Hemingway’s popular novel For Whom the Bell TollsOr perhaps through watching one of the films about Dr. Norman Bethune showing his mobile blood transfusion unit and the Instituto Hispano Canadiense de Transfusión de Sangre.

A black and white photograph of a man and a woman standing in front of a truck whose back is marked with a white cross.

Canadian Blood Transfusion Unit operating during the Spanish Civil War. Dr. Norman Bethune is at right. (a117423)

The Spanish Civil War began on July 18, 1936, and Canada, like many other countries, did not officially intervene. Although the Canadian government made it illegal for Canadians to serve by passing the Foreign Enlistment Act, more than 1,400 Canadians volunteered to defend the Spanish government. Along with more than 40,000 volunteer combatants worldwide, they fought for the democratic Republican government (supported by the Soviet Union and Mexico) against the Spanish Army officers led by General Francisco Franco (supported by Germany and Italy). The Communist Party of Canada organized the recruitment campaign in Canada.

A variety of reasons make it difficult to determine the exact number of Canadian volunteers and to find trace of them after the war ended.
As more and more Canadian volunteers arrived in Spain, the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion was formed and named after Louis-Joseph Papineau and William Lyon Mackenzie, leaders of the Rebellions of 1837-1838. The battalion was also known as the “Mac-Paps.” Canadians also served amongst the other battalions of the International Brigades, such as the Abraham Lincoln Battalion and the Washington Battalion.

Many of those who wished to serve in Spain used various means to leave Canada. Many travelled to New York or other countries to board ships destined for Spain. Some used aliases. There is the usual issue of variations of the spelling of names in records, which always makes research more complicated. Since many of the Canadian volunteers originally came from Europe, some had changed or simplified their names. The lack of detailed recordkeeping on both sides in itself presents a huge research challenge.

To help you with your research, here are a few hints from Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) unique collection. You may be interested in looking at the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion collection (MG30-E-173), which contains material collected by the Friends of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, its veterans’ organization, and other individuals who worked to compile records. The collection contains a variety of records of Canadians who served in the International Brigades, correspondence with veterans, articles, backgrounders, reminiscences, lists of names, and photographs. This includes some individual photographs of the volunteers, such as Elias Aviezer, a Canadian in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion during the Spanish Civil War, 1936 to 1938, killed at Jarama. Some of these photos are digitized in Collection Search.

A black and white photograph of a man in a suit and tie staring towards the camera.

Elias Aviezer, a Canadian in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion during the Spanish Civil War, 1936 to 1938, killed at Jarama. (a066954-v8)

LAC also holds the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion fonds (MG10-K2). This fonds consists of copies of selected records on microfilm reels of the International Brigades from the Communist International, or Comintern. This was the Soviet-sponsored agency founded in 1919 to coordinate the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism worldwide. When the Republican forces were defeated and Soviet officials, the commissars, left Spain in 1939, they took their records, including the records of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion. These records include a variety of administrative records, statistics, daily orders, various lists (nominal rolls, wounded, killed, deserted and repatriated), correspondence, and biographies. The original records and more are held by the Russian Centre for the Preservation and Study of Records of Contemporary History, in Moscow, whose permission is required to copy any record.

Other archival records held at LAC that make mention of the Canadian volunteers can be found in a large variety of archival fonds, such as the repatriation of the volunteers starting in February 1939 and the Canadian prisoners of war that followed in the Department of External Affairs (RG25) and the Immigration Branch (RG76). Over 700 returned to Canada, many stayed in Europe, over 200 were killed in action, and some are missing in action.

Some of the volunteers had previously served in the First World War or subsequently served in the Second World War. For Elias Aviezer, killed in action in 1937, we can find his name in the Personnel Records of the First World War database, under the name Elias Achiezer, having previous service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Published sources available at Library and Archives Canada to trace the volunteers include The Daily Clarion, the Communist Party of Canada’s newspaper. It includes stories from foreign correspondent Jean Watts, one of the few women in the field. Newspapers all across Canada wrote about the volunteers, and some local newspapers wrote of their departure and their subsequent return to their communities.

In the September 5, 1938, issue of the The Montreal Gazette, page 9, the following article announces the return of James Wilson to Edmonton, and includes his future-telling comments.

A column of text from a newspaper, with the heading “Edmonton Man Returns.”

“Edmonton Man Returns,” The Montreal Gazette, September 5, 1938, p. 9. (OCLC 1035398537).

For further reading, you can search the Aurora catalogue to find books that list volunteers and provide context to events, including

  • Canadian Volunteers: Spain 1936-1939 by William C. Beaching (OCLC 19517663)
  • The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion: Canadian Participation in the Spanish Civil War by Victor Howard (OCLC 79017)
  • “Ukrainian Volunteers from Canada in the International Brigades, Spain, 1936-39: A Profile” by Myron Momryk in the Journal of Ukrainian Studies, volume 16, nos. 1-2 Summer-Winter, 1991 (OCLC 6744531)
  • Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War by Michael Petrou (OCLC 185078047 [Translation in French available at OCLC 1007098925])

Online indexes of Canadian volunteers and other information can be found at

For help on this subject, or other genealogical questions, feel free to contact the Genealogy team by completing the “Ask us a genealogy question” online form.


Nicole Watier is a genealogy consultant with the Public Services Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

Retrospective publications: better late than never

By Euphrasie Mujawamungu

Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) mandate includes the acquisition of all documents published in Canada, regardless of format, subject or language. This mandate also covers foreign works whose authors, publishers, translators, illustrators or performers are Canadian, or whose subject matter is related to Canada. We call these publications “Canadiana.”

The collection of retrospective Canadiana covers various types of documents published between 1867 and five years before the current year:

  • documents published before the establishment of legal deposit in 1953
  • documents published after legal deposit was adopted but that were not acquired at the time of publication
  • documents not subject to legal deposit, such as works published abroad by Canadian authors or on Canadian subjects

Since LAC aims to be a source of permanent knowledge accessible to all, it must have as comprehensive a collection as possible, to accomplish this mission.

Shaped by our past

The present is shaped by the past: each period has its history … a history that is as vast as it is rich in events. Consider, for example, the first Stanley Cup, the first French-Canadian prime minister, the Klondike Gold Rush, the first female MP, the winning of the right to vote by women, the two world wars, or the bestselling novel Anne of Green Gables by Prince Edward Island author Lucy Maud Montgomery.

The daily life of yesteryear has left its imprint on many areas: art, literature, fashion, transportation, cooking and more. This is reflected in the retrospective publications in LAC’s collection, which open windows to good times and bad times; they cover topics as varied as travel, our great-great-grandmothers’ recipes, epidemics, famines, trophies won and games lost.

As guardian of the past and our recent history, LAC is a vital resource for all Canadians. It makes it easier for Canadians to search its rich collection, helps them to discover the most relevant documents and provides access to these. That is the core of its mandate.

However, gaps in the national collection must be addressed, to ensure that no aspect of our history is overlooked or undervalued. And this is not a one-day job or a one-time activity. On the contrary, constant attention and vigilance are required to identify opportunities to enrich the collection.

Colour photo of a variety of hardcover and softcover books.

Some titles acquired retrospectively by LAC in the summer of 2019. Photo credit: David Knox

The tools

From near or far, history is always interesting, making the search for publications truly exciting. As a librarian, I have several resources to identify retrospective publications to be acquired:

  • used bookseller catalogues
  • antique dealer catalogues
  • websites specialized in selling used books
  • publications given to LAC (I then look through donations to find documents missing from the collection)

The acquisition of vintage publications is subject to strict conditions: each work must be an original edition and in good condition. There is a good reason for this requirement, since contaminated or mouldy publications will not only deteriorate, but they will also damage other publications.

In addition, for a work to retain its full value, it is important to preserve all of its original components, such as the cover, illustrations and edition statements.

If LAC does not acquire it, who will?

LAC collects and preserves Canada’s documentary heritage, with the ultimate goal of meeting the needs of its users.

From vintage to contemporary publications, this heritage is a legacy for current and future generations. And there is always room for more!

LAC is a true hub of knowledge, with skilled professionals who serve the public and are dedicated to the collection. Each treasure acquired by LAC is treated with the appropriate care, and our state-of-the-art facilities guarantee preservation under optimal conditions.

In addition, LAC is at the leading edge of technology, facilitating collaboration with other organizations as well as interactions with clients.

The job of a collections librarian is dynamic and rewarding; it requires considerable dedication. In line with the services offered to the community, the work evolves as the pace of our knowledge society changes. I can say that LAC, far from being a warehouse of random items, truly enriches our collective memory. Experienced researchers, students, music lovers, or simply curious and information‑hungry citizens: everyone will find a valuable resource in LAC.

Colour photo of a variety of paperback books.

Some titles acquired retrospectively by LAC in the fall of 2019. Photo credit: David Knox


Euphrasie Mujawamungu is a librarian with the legal deposit team in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s life and legacy

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 Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s name is associated with speed, athleticism, determination, courage and perseverance. His Onondaga name, “Cogwagee,” translates as “all” or “everything.” Facts, stories and photographs of his life have been collected, published and examined over the past century, in an attempt to capture, recreate and demystify his life.

Thomas Charles Cogwagee Longboat was born to George Longboat and Elizabeth Skye on July 4, 1886 (some sources have June 4, 1887). He was Wolf Clan of the Onondaga Nation from Six Nations Territory and lived a traditional life of the Haudenosaunee (Longhouse). At the age of 12 or 13, Longboat was forcibly sent to the Mohawk Institute Residential School, an Anglican denominational and English-language school, which operated from 1823 and closed in 1970. This experience did not go well for him and his fellow First Nations students, who were forced to abandon their language and beliefs to speak English and practice Christianity. Longboat reacted by escaping the school and running home. He was caught and punished, but then escaped a second time, with the foresight to run to his uncle’s farm, where he would be harder to find. This proved successful and marked the end of Longboat’s formal education. He worked as a farm labourer in various locations, which involved travelling great distances on foot.

Longboat began racing as an amateur in 1905. He won the Boston Marathon on April 19, 1907, in two hours, 24 minutes and 24 seconds, shaving nearly five minutes off the previous record for the world’s most prestigious annual running event. With this incredible race, he brought tremendous pride and inspiration to Indigenous peoples and Canadians. The following article was published the day after he won the marathon:

“The thousands of persons who lined the streets from Ashland to the B.A.A. were well repaid for the hours of waiting in the rain and chilly winter weather, for they saw in Tom Longboat the most marvelous runner who has ever sped over our roads. With a smile for everyone, he raced along and at the finish he looked anything but like a youth who had covered more miles in a couple of hours than the average man walks in a week. Gaining speed with each stride, encouraged by the wild shouts of the multitude, the bronze-colored youth with jet black hair and eyes, long, lithe body and spindle legs, swept toward the goal.

Amid the wildest din heard in years, Longboat shot across the line, breaking the tape as the timers stopped their watches, simultaneously with the clicking of a dozen cameras, winner of the greatest of all modern Marathon runs. Arms were stretched out to grasp the winner, but he needed no assistance.

Waving aside those who would hold him, he looked around and acknowledged the greetings he received on every side. Many pressed forward to grasp his hand, and but for the fact that the police had strong ropes there to keep all except the officials in check, he would have been hugged and squeezed mightily. Then he strode into the club, strong and sturdily.” (The Boston Globe, April 20, 1907)

A year after winning that race, Longboat competed in the marathon at the 1908 Olympics in London, England. He collapsed and dropped out at 32 kilometres, unable to finish the 42.2 km race. He then turned to professional running, and in 1909 received the title of Professional Champion of the World at a Madison Square Garden race in New York City.

A black-and-white page from the 1911 Canadian census with entries for each of 38 columns. The columns include such information as name and residence, personal description, place of birth, occupation and citizenship, and language and education.

A page from the 1911 census listing Thomas C. Longboat and his wife Loretta [Lauretta], in York County, Ontario. His profession is listed as “runner.” (e002039395)

A black-and-white photograph of two men in First World War military uniforms smiling and buying a newspaper from a young boy. The man on the right is accepting a newspaper from the boy and giving him money in exchange.

Private Tom Longboat, the Onondaga long-distance runner, buying a newspaper from a French boy, June 1917. (a001479)

In 1916, Longboat went overseas as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to fight in the First World War. He employed his natural talent and served as a dispatch runner. Longboat was mistakenly declared dead in the battlefields of Belgium, after being buried in rubble as a result of heavy shelling. His wife, Lauretta Maracle, a Kanienkenha:ka (Mohawk) woman, whom he had married in 1908, believed him to be deceased and remarried. Longboat subsequently married Martha Silversmith, an Onondaga woman, with whom he had four children. He continued his military career, serving as a member of the Veterans Guard in the Second World War while stationed at a military camp near Brantford, Ontario. The Longboat family settled in Toronto. Upon his retirement from employment with the City of Toronto, Longboat moved back to Six Nations. He passed away on January 9, 1949.

In 1951, he received posthumous recognition with the establishment of the prestigious Tom Longboat Trophy. The trophy is awarded annually to Indigenous athletes who exemplify the hard work and determination they put forth in their chosen endeavours. The original trophy remains at Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in Calgary, with a travelling replica held by the Aboriginal Sports Circle in Ottawa. In 1955, he was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Indian Hall of Fame.

A red rectangle plaque with gold writing, with the crest of Canada and “Tom Longboat 1886–1949” at the top.

A Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada plaque honouring Tom Longboat, located at 4th Line Road, Six Nations Grand River Reserve, Ohsweken, Ontario. (Photo courtesy of Parks Canada)

Tributes in recognition of Longboat’s achievements continue today in many forms. A Government of Canada plaque was erected in his honour in 1976 at 4th Line Road, Six Nations, Ohsweken, Ontario. In 1999, Maclean’s magazine recognized him as the top Canadian athlete of the 20th century. Canada Post issued a stamp in 2000 commemorating his winning time. In Ontario, the Tom Longboat Day Act, 2008 designated June 4 as “Tom Longboat Day.” Tom Longboat Corner in Six Nations, a Tom Longboat Trail in Brantford, Ontario, a Tom Longboat Lane in Toronto, and a Tom Longboat Junior Public School in Scarborough, Ontario. There is also a Longboat Hall at 1087 Queen Street West in Toronto, the location of the YMCA where he trained. A statue of Longboat entitled “Challenge and Triumph,” created by David General, and an exhibit about him are on display at the Woodland Cultural Centre at Six Nations. Most recently, a children’s book about his life called Meet Tom Longboat was published in 2019.

Tom Cogwagee Longboat’s life and accomplishments are both fascinating and inspiring. To learn more about him, listen to our podcast, “Tom Longboat is Cogwagee is Everything,” which includes additional information.  Also check out the Tom Longboat Flickr album.

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.


Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour is a project archivist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Sweet treats from far away—anticipating Japanese “Christmas oranges”

By Caitlin Webster

This Christmas, many children will find a mandarin orange in the toe of their stocking. Few will realize how rare a treat this once was.

In our current era of multinational trade agreements, large-scale container shipping, and modern cold-storage technology, Canadians have come to expect international products on their grocery shelves year-round; however, for much of the 20th century, many foreign-grown items were available only as seasonal luxuries. Not surprisingly, their arrival each year drew excitement and publicity on par with today’s latest high tech.

A particularly sweet example was the introduction of oranges from overseas to the Canadian market. For northern consumers accustomed to local fare, these delicacies were an exotic change of pace from their usual root-cellar staples. In fact, to publicize the availability of these oranges, some early promotional posters looked more like educational pamphlets.

Poster showing a colour drawing of an orange, surrounded by the phrase “Oranges from South Africa.” Poster also includes the text “When it was winter here it was summer in South Africa and the fruits have been ripened and ready for you to eat them to-day. Try them.”

Oranges from South Africa—try them (e010758837)

While all fresh fruit was welcome during cold Canadian winters, the introduction of Japanese “Christmas oranges” became a holiday tradition, as well as a symbol of modern trade. Starting in the 1880s, the arrival of satsuma oranges from Japan generated great excitement each year. British Columbians eagerly anticipated the first shipments every winter, when the Port of Vancouver hosted celebrations and media events beside ships delivering oranges.

Photograph showing port officials holding boxes of mandarin oranges, two Japanese women in traditional dress standing by a pallet of orange boxes, and other people and equipment on a pier adjacent to a ship.

Port officials and two Japanese women in traditional dress with crates of mandarin oranges at the Port of Vancouver. Credit: M. Toddington (e011435438)

Photograph of two Japanese women wearing traditional dress, one of whom is holding a peeled mandarin orange. Crates of oranges and a ship are visible in the background.

Two Japanese women in traditional dress posing with a mandarin orange. Credit: M. Toddington (e011435437)

The oranges were then loaded onto special trains and trucks for shipment east.

Photograph of workers with hundreds of crates of oranges on a ship deck.

Crates of Japanese oranges on a ship. Photo: Leonard Frank (e011435435)

Port workers unloading crates of oranges from a ship, using cranes and carts.

Unloading Japanese oranges from a ship. Photo: Leonard Frank (e011435434)

An article entitled “Japanese Oranges for Canadian Christmas,” which appeared in several Canadian newspapers, including The Granby Leader-Mail on December 30, 1927, described this phenomenon vividly:

“Rather more than four oranges for every man, woman and child in Canada or a total of 482,000 boxes of this fragrant fruit were landed at Pier “B-C” of the Canadian Pacific Railway at Vancouver in December, and were rushed through the prairie provinces and to the east of Canada for the Christmas trade. … [I]n all seven special trains were used to convey this huge consignment. The likelihood is therefore pretty strong that many of the oranges you may see hanging from Christmas trees or peeping out of Christmas stockings were grown in the Land of the Rising Sun. It i[s] further an indication of the great trade passing through the port of Vancouver.”

Photograph of a train at a pier, with a banner on a sign indicating that the train has a special shipment of Japanese oranges.

Japanese oranges at CPR Pier “B-C.” Photo: Leonard Frank (e011435433)

By the 1980s, consumers no longer saw mandarin oranges as rare, special-occasion luxuries. Advances in modern container shipping, as well as an influx of oranges from China and California, meant that the fruit was now available in greater quantities, at lower prices, and for longer stretches of time. Nevertheless, “Christmas oranges” still make their way into stockings, gift baskets and fruit bowls every holiday season.

Check out our Flickr album on Oranges!

Photograph of four boys in matching striped pyjamas hanging Christmas stockings on a fireplace mantle.

Young boys hanging up their stockings. Photo: Malak Karsh (e011177219)


Caitlin Webster is a senior archivist in the Reference Services Division at the Vancouver office of Library and Archives Canada.

2019 Indigenous acquisitions: books for kids!

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 Sarah Potts

Here are a few titles to add to the holiday wish lists of budding readers

At Library and Archives Canada, we love books! Around the holidays, we often share ideas about gifts for our loved ones. Choosing good reads for our kids (or children at heart) can be tricky. This librarian’s solution? Check out our recent acquisitions of works by Indigenous authors or featuring Indigenous stories. I hope this list inspires you to grow your young (and older) readers’ collections!

Colour photograph of four books placed in a stack.

A sample of the variety of books held in the Library and Archives Canada collection. Photo credit: Tom Thompson

For younger readers

Nokum Is My Teacher, by David Bouchard, illustrated by Allen Sapp, music by Northern Cree Singers. OCLC 1080218454

Nokum Is My Teacher tells the story of a conversation between a boy and his Nokum (grandmother) about why he should learn to read. His Nokum knows the power of reading, but she also reminds him to respect his traditional knowledge. The story is in English and Cree, and it comes with downloadable music.

Una Huna: What Is This?, by Susan Aglukark, illustrated by Amanda Sandland and Danny Christopher. OCLC 1122616081

Ukpik loves to go camping in the North! One day, a captain comes to trade with her father, and she worries that everything is going to change. Ukpik speaks with her grandmother, who reminds her that while some things change, her love for family and camping never will.

You Hold Me Up, by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Danielle Daniel. OCLC 973043772

You Hold Me Up teaches children and their guardians about the importance of empathy and why we should consider the feelings of others in our everyday actions. It will help your littlest ones to develop an understanding of respect and empathy.

Nibi’s Water Song, by Sunshine Tenasco, illustrated by Chief Lady Bird. OCLC 1080643036 (French translation by Hélène Rioux: Nibi a soif, très soif, OCLC 1083095552)

In a child-friendly way, Nibi explains why it is so important for everyone to have clean water. Through beautiful illustrations, an unlikely character—her hair—explains Nibi’s feelings and journey! As the communities learn to listen and communicate with each other, they come together to ensure that all Canadians have access to clean, healthy water.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox, by Danielle Daniel. OCLC 1022939643 (French translation: Parfois je suis un renard, OCLC 989789937)

A beautiful introduction to the Anishinaabe tradition of totem animals. Children explain in their own words why they feel connected to certain animals. For each chosen animal, there is an adorable illustrated image of the child as his or her totem animal.

A Children’s Guide to Arctic Butterflies, by Mia Pelletier, illustrated by Danny Christopher. OCLC 1004529871

If you thought that only polar bears and rabbits lived above the treeline, think again! Arctic butterflies are real, unlike mythical North American “house hippos.” This book is a fact-filled, beautifully illustrated journey into the world of the resilient butterflies of the North.

Colour photograph of six books placed in a stack.

A sample of the variety of books held in the Library and Archives Canada collection. Photo credit: Tom Thompson

The Gathering, by Theresa Meuse-Dallien, illustrated by Arthur Stevens. OCLC 966404621

Alex has never attended a spiritual gathering (mawiomi) and is feeling overwhelmed. Once she begins meeting Elders, she becomes more at ease; eventually, and most importantly, she finds her voice in a talking circle.

Mokatek et l’étoile disparue, by Dave Jenniss, illustrated by Claudie Côté Bergeron. (In French) OCLC 1080217733

Each night, to fall asleep, Mokatek loves to speak with the stars. He really enjoys telling his stories to the best and brightest star in the sky, the North Star! One day, his favourite star disappears, and he has to find it. In this book, the youngest of readers join Mokatek on a journey with his animal friends to find the brightest star and bring it back home.

Dragonfly Kites, by Thomson Highway, illustrated by Julie Flett. OCLC 1055555884

Dragonfly Kites is the second book in a magical trilogy by iconic author and playwright Thomson Highway. This bilingual book (English and Cree) is about two brothers who fly their kites during the day, but fly at night in their dreams. The brothers remind us about the beauty of using our imaginations!

Colour photograph of four books placed in a stack.

A sample of the variety of books held in the Library and Archives Canada collection. Photo credit: Tom Thompson

For pre-teens and teens

A Two-Spirit Journey: the Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder, by Ma-Nee Chacaby with Mary Louisa Plummer. OCLC 927382779 (French translation by Sophie M. Lavoie: Un parcours bispirituel : récit d’une aînée ojibwé-crie lesbienne, OCLC 1035313410) (Content warning: homophobia and transphobia)

This selection is a story of resilience and self-discovery. Ma-Nee Chacaby brings you on a journey through her life with humour, kindness and a willingness to accept oneself.

Trickster Drift, by Eden Robinson. OCLC 1035334241 (Content warning: drug use)

In Trickster Drift, the second book in a planned trilogy, we follow Jared, who has a knack for attracting trouble and magic. He moves to Vancouver for high school and discovers that just because you leave the magic behind, the magic does not leave you, especially when you are the son of a Trickster!

Voices from the Skeena: an Illustrated Oral History, by Roy Henry Vickers and Robert Budd, illustrated by Roy Henry Vickers. OCLC 1107990291

Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good history book, and if the book has pictures, even better! Take a trip along the Skeena River to meet those who have known this river since time immemorial, and those who came after them. This is the perfect book for the budding West Coast historian.

I hope that I have inspired you to explore what is available from Indigenous authors and their worlds this holiday season!


Sarah Potts is an acquisitions librarian in the Legal Deposit section of the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

George Mully: moments in Indigenous communities

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 Annabelle Schattmann

George Mully (1926–1999) was an American playwright and documentary film director. He began as a playwright, working on off-Broadway shows, travelling productions, and operas in the United States and Europe. Mully had various roles, including stagehand, stage manager, lighting designer, and director; he even worked as a puppeteer. After marrying and settling down in England with his wife Ann, Mully pivoted his career from the stage to audiovisual production. He started his own educational production studio, writing, directing, and producing stories on subjects and issues he was passionate about. By 1979, the family had immigrated to Canada and settled in Ottawa.

The George Mully collection, held at Library and Archives Canada, consists of personal and professional documentary photographs taken in the later part of Mully’s career. The images demonstrate his varied interests, including international development, the environment, history and socio-cultural topics, music, and art. In Canada, Mully worked closely with the National Film Board and museums in the capital region, directing many documentary films. Acid from Heaven (1981), a documentary film about acid rain, is a notable work included in his collection.

Colour photograph of a young girl staring into the camera.

An Inuk girl with yellow sunglasses, a red jacket, and multicolour mittens. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218259)

Of particular interest to the We Are Here: Sharing Stories initiative is a series of 363 photographs taken between 1978 and 1988. They depict First Nations people and Inuit from across Canada, as well as Diné (Navajo) and Inde (Apache) from the United States. Mully’s images document how Indigenous people lived and worked in the late 1970s and 1980s. Most of the photographs show people going about their daily lives, often while performing an activity. Sometimes it is a traditional activity, such as hunting, gathering, creating art, and making crafts, or a contemporary activity such as working in a modern industry. Occasionally, Mully captures crossover between traditional and contemporary life.

Colour photograph of four men sitting on wooden chairs surrounded by microphones and facing each other, singing and drumming.

Four unidentified First Nations drummers performing under a tent. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218157)

Mully’s interest in human rights is evident in a series of photographs taken in July 1979, when the Indian women’s rights march arrived in Ottawa. The march, led by Maliseet women Sandra Lovelace and Caroline Ennis, protested inequality and discrimination faced by First Nations women who lost their Indian status upon marrying non-status men. Bill C-31 amended the Indian Act in June 1985 by removing the relevant provisions and reinstating status for those affected, among other changes. The revisions to the Act have been critiqued for not adequately addressing the issue.

Colour photograph of a person sitting on green grass behind a sign that reads “Save our sisters.”

Unknown individual sitting on the lawn of Parliament Hill in Ottawa with a protest sign. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218140)

It is not initially clear why Mully captured particular images or what purpose they might have served. Some photographs might have been taken in preparation for a possible documentary or as part of research on a future project. The names of the people depicted, the locations, and the dates of the photographs are unknown; none of the images has a detailed caption, and few textual records accompany the collection. As such, a selection of over 300 photographs will be part of an upcoming Co-Lab challenge and Flickr album. If you recognize someone or a location, or know when an event took place, please go to the George Mully Co-Lab challenge and tag the photographs! Tagging the images with names, locations, and dates will allow others to find images of family members and their communities, and ensure that the people and places are remembered. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, and for your assistance in this endeavour.

Colour photograph of a man in dark blue clothing wearing sunglasses and sitting on a wooden bench carving a vase.

Unidentified Inuk artist at an arts event, working on a ceramic vase with an abstract design. Photo Credit: George Mully (e011218140)

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.


Annabelle Schattmann is an archival assistant for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

 

John Colin Forbes and Kenneth Keith Forbes, a lineage of official portraitists!

By Geneviève Couture

The careers of painters John Colin Forbes (1846–1925) and his son Kenneth Keith Forbes (1892–1980) clearly illustrate how particular prime ministers were their muses and patrons. Between them, the two portraitists painted seven Canadian prime ministers, two governors general, five chief justices of the Supreme Court, 11 speakers of the House of Commons and 14 speakers of the Senate. These artists also painted a king and queen of England on behalf of the Canadian government. Over a period of more than 90 years, the Forbeses helped to build an artistic and visual heritage depicting the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the Canadian government.

John Colin Forbes

John Colin Forbes was born in Toronto in 1846. In the 1860s, he studied painting in Paris and London before returning to Canada. He was a founding member of the Ontario Society of Artists (1872) and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (1880).

Forbes was quickly recognized as a portraitist and received numerous commissions. He painted Lord Dufferin and the Marquess of Lansdowne, both governors general of Canada. Between 1878 and 1893, he created portraits of Sir John A. Macdonald, Alexander Mackenzie, Sir Charles Tupper and Wilfrid Laurier. None of these were official portraits, but Tupper’s is in the Parliament of Canada, while Macdonald’s and one of Laurier’s are in the National Gallery of Canada. Forbes was also commissioned to produce four official portraits of speakers of the House of Commons and six official portraits of speakers of the Senate.

The artist had a special relationship with Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who called Forbes a “friend.” He painted Laurier for the first time in 1885, based on a photo taken around 1882 by William Topley’s studio in Ottawa.

Black-and-white photo of a seated man in a suit.

Wilfrid Laurier, MP. Topley Studio, 1882. (a013133-v8)

The second painting of Laurier by Forbes was presented to the Prime Minister by his friends and Liberal Party supporters on May 15, 1902. In his speech to the House of Commons, Laurier stated, “It is with a very sincere heart indeed that both in my own name and in the name of my wife, I accept from the unknown friends […] this memento which is the work of a great Canadian artist.”

Lamenting that Forbes was at the time practicing his art in the United States, Laurier added:

Unfortunately Canada, which is still a young country, has not afforded to artists all the help it might have given in the past. I trust that in the future Canadian artists and talents will receive more encouragement from the Canadian people that they received hitherto. For my part, it is with some regret, I acknowledge that perhaps the Government might have done more than it has for the encouragement of native, artistic talent.

Finally, regretting not having children to whom he could bequeath the painting, Laurier made this wish: “Someday I hope it will be in a national museum, not with a view of remembering me to posterity, but for the glory of Mr. Forbes, the artist who painted it.” A few years later, in 1906, Laurier himself gave the painting to the National Gallery of Canada.

A royal commission

His special relationship with Prime Minister Laurier earned Forbes his most prestigious commission: a painting of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra. He was the first Canadian painter to have a sitting with a British monarch, and official portraits of Edward VII would adorn the House of Commons.

The correspondence between Forbes and Laurier on this matter, which is part of the Sir Wilfrid Laurier fonds at Library and Archives Canada, indicates that Forbes had requested the commission from Laurier, with whom he had previously discussed it.

Black-and-white photo of a typed page.

Letter from John Colin Forbes to Wilfrid Laurier dated April 14, 1904, requesting the commission to paint the King and Queen on behalf of the Canadian government. (Wilfrid Laurier fonds, MG26 G 1(A), Vol. 312, page 84516, microfilm C-810)

Laurier agreed after he received a petition in support that was signed by 92 of the 214 members of Parliament.

A black-and-white image of a scanned page from microfilm.

The first of three pages of the petition, from members of the House of Commons to Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, to commission painter John Colin Forbes to paint a portrait of the King for the House of Commons. (Wilfrid Laurier fonds, MG26 G 1(A), Vol. 312, page 84518, microfilm C-810)

Laurier forwarded the request to the Governor General, Lord Minto, who helped arrange access to the royals for Forbes.

A black-and-white image of a scanned page from microfilm.

Letter from Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier to Governor General Lord Minto, recommending that John Colin Forbes be commissioned to do the painting, and that steps be taken to that effect with the King. (Wilfrid Laurier Fonds, MG26 G 1(A), Vol. 326, page 87632, microfilm C-813)

The sitting was granted, and Forbes travelled to England to paint the portraits. Unfortunately, the paintings were destroyed in the Parliament fire in 1916, less than 12 years after their creation. Forbes’s four official portraits of the speakers of the House of Commons and six official portraits of the speakers of the Senate survived the fire.

Black-and-white photo of a burning building.

The eastern part of Centre Block in flames, Ottawa, 1916. (a052822-v8)

Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier: inspiring portraits

Two portraits of prime ministers painted by Forbes inspired their successors. In a Winnipeg Free Press article published on March 20, 1965, journalist Peter C. Newman reported that, depending on their political allegiance, new prime ministers had either Sir John A. Macdonald’s or Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s portrait installed in their East Block office in Ottawa. This practice changed under Lester B. Pearson, when the Prime Minister asked for both paintings in his office.

Photographs taken by Duncan Cameron (recently discussed in a blog post about news photographers and prime ministers) confirm that John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Elliott Trudeau had paintings by Forbes in their offices. Paul Martin’s office was decorated with the first painting of Laurier by Forbes from 1885.

Black-and-white photo of a man taking a photograph of a photographer who is photographing him.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau taking a photograph with news journalist Duncan Cameron’s camera, June 28, 1968. Photo: Duncan Cameron (a175919)

Kenneth Keith Forbes

The son of John Colin Forbes, Kenneth Keith Forbes, also became a famous portraitist. Born in Toronto in 1892, he began drawing at the age of four under his father’s tutelage. Between 1908 and 1913, he studied art in England and Scotland. When the First World War started in 1914, the younger Forbes joined the British army as an ordinary soldier. He fought in France, where he was injured and gassed. Forbes was promoted to captain, and in 1918 he was transferred to the Canadian Army (specifically, the Canadian War Records Office) as a war artist. He painted scenes of battles as well as portraits of Canadian officers, including Brigadier General D. Draper.

Library and Archives Canada holds the recently digitized military file of Kenneth Keith Forbes.

Oil painting by Kenneth Keith Forbes from 1918. The scene shows the defence of Sanctuary Wood by the Canadian military near Ypres, Belgium, in 1916.

The Defence of Sanctuary Wood (1916), by Kenneth Keith Forbes, 1918. (e010751163-v8)

Official portraitist

A few years later, Forbes returned to Toronto; continuing in the family tradition, he focused mainly on portraits.

Among other things, he painted the official portraits of seven speakers of the House of Commons, eight speakers of the Senate and five chief justices of the Supreme Court.

Forbes also painted the portraits of prime ministers Robert Borden, R.B. Bennett and John Diefenbaker. The first portrait of R.B. Bennett painted in 1938 by Forbes was offered to the Prime Minister by members of Parliament, senators and Conservative Party members upon his retirement from politics. It is now in the New Brunswick Museum, where Bennett bequeathed it.

Forbes then painted the official portrait of Sir Robert Borden for the House of Commons. The painting was commissioned by the Speaker of the House, Gaspard Fauteux, whose portrait Forbes had painted the previous year. The aim was to complete the collection of official portraits representing Canada’s prime ministers in the House of Commons. This painting was unveiled in Parliament on June 11, 1947, 10 years after Borden’s death, along with a portrait of William Lyon Mackenzie King, with President Harry Truman of the United States in attendance.

In his diary, Mackenzie King explains why he suggested that his portrait and that of Borden, both prime ministers in the major wars, be unveiled at the same ceremony.

A black-and-white image of a typewritten page of William Lyon Mackenzie King’s diary dated May 19, 1947.

Excerpt from the May 19, 1947, entry in William Lyon Mackenzie King’s diary, explaining how he came to suggest that his portrait and that of Borden, both prime ministers in the major wars, be unveiled at the same ceremony. (William Lyon Mackenzie King fonds, MG26 J 13, May 19, 1947)

A decade later, Forbes painted two portraits of John Diefenbaker. The first was given to Diefenbaker by members of his Cabinet and hung in the prime minister’s official residence at 24 Sussex Drive, and later in Stornoway, the official residence of the leader of the opposition. The second portrait of Diefenbaker was commissioned by freemasons from Washington and is now in Arlington, Virginia.

In 1962, Forbes painted the official portrait of R.B. Bennett for the House of Commons. The commission came close to 25 years after his earlier painting, and 15 years after Bennett’s death. It was requested by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and the Speaker of the House of Commons, Roland Michener. Once again, the aim was to fill in gaps in the collection of official portraits of Canada’s prime ministers in the House of Commons.

Conclusion

The careers of portraitists John Colin Forbes and Kenneth Keith Forbes reveal the sometimes unsuspected links between the arts and politics. The father and son clearly benefited from their good relationships with parliamentarians, particularly prime ministers, receiving many highly prestigious commissions.

Prime ministers also benefited from the work of artists like the Forbeses, whose paintings helped to commemorate and glorify the men who held the country’s highest political positions and inspired their successors. As we have seen, political affiliation was not at issue in requests to the father-and-son artists to contribute to this commemorative undertaking by painting portraits of prime ministers in office and their predecessors. The Forbes portraitists helped to establish the role of prime ministers in the country’s political memory.

Moreover, the talent for painting portraits did not end with John Colin Forbes and Kenneth Keith Forbes. The latter married Jean Mary Edgell, who was also a painter, and their daughter, Laura June McCormack (1921–1961), painted some portraits now in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, notably one of Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine.

For additional information about portraits of prime ministers, read Andrew Kear’s thesis, Governing Likenesses: The Production History of the Official Portraits of Canadian Prime Ministers, 1889–2002.


Geneviève Couture is an archivist with the Prime Minister Papers project in the Science and Governance Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

The reactions of the “Third Group” to the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism

By Deniz Çevik

2019 marks the 50th anniversary of Canada’s Official Languages Act, a legislative milestone in Canadian history that granted English and French equal status as official languages of the Government of Canada. We recently published a blog article about what our archival holdings reveal about the history of the Act, as well as about the evolution of bilingualism in Canada.

The Official Languages Act was built upon the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism. This Commission was created in 1963 by the government of Lester B. Pearson “to inquire into and report upon the existing state of bilingualism and biculturalism in Canada.” Co‑chaired by André Laurendeau and A. Davidson Dunton, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism held several public hearings across Canada over the next two years.

The Commission’s Preliminary Report in 1965 underlined the cultural and linguistic duality of Canadian society. Often referred as the B&B Commission, one of its B’s, bilingualism, was considered practical as most people functioned in one of those languages. The other B, however, raised controversy. Was Canada bicultural or multicultural? Communities whose members descended from neither English nor French peoples did not enthusiastically embrace the idea of an equal partnership between the “two founding peoples” and their cultures.

A black and white photograph of eight men wearing black and gray suits smiling towards the camera in a boardroom with white walls.

Research staff of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, 1965. (e011166427)

In his speech to the Senate on March 3, 1964, Senator Paul Yuzyk, who would later be referred as the “father of multiculturalism,” raised his concerns about the exclusion of other ethnic groups from the cultural duality.

First of all, the word “bicultural,” which I could not find in any dictionary, is a misnomer. In reality Canada never was bicultural; the Indians and Eskimos have been with us throughout our history; the British group is multicultural—English, Scots, Irish, Welsh; and with the settling of other ethnic groups, which now make up almost one-third of the population, Canada has become multicultural in fact… If biculturalism were carried to its logical conclusion—a virtual two-nation co-existence—then all Canadians would be required to become either English or French. This is an impossibility, and I believe that is not the desired objective of our people.

Painting of a stamp design with a turquoise background and a large orange maple leaf that contains a white flower-like design. The painting says “Unity in Canada/Unité au Canada,” and “English–French Biculturalism/Anglais–Français Bi-culturalisme.”

Unity in Canada English–French biculturalism (e001217565)

Yuzyk was not the only voice that spoke up against biculturalism. Library and Archives Canada holds archival fonds, such as Jaroslav Bohdan Rudnyckyj fonds, that document how the Commission’s studies and recommendations were received among people of other ethnic backgrounds.

Various congresses and conferences were held across Canada following the publishing of the Commission’s Final Report and Royal Assent to the Official Languages Act in 1969. The Manitoba Mosaic Congress and Canada: Multicultural were two of these conferences. A booklet in the Rudnyckyj fonds, published after a public conference held at University of Toronto in 1970, provides insight into how other ethnic communities viewed the fourth volume of the Commission’s Report. The public debate around biculturalism showed that the participants envisioned a multicultural Canada instead of a bicultural one.

The President of the Ukrainian Canadian University Students’ Union (SUSK), Bohdan Krawchenko, presented a paper at the SUSK Congress of 1973 that showed how the Commission’s two concepts, bilingualism and biculturalism, were perceived differently.

At one extreme, we can think of a country as a homogeneous ethnic group; at the other end, we can think of a country as multi-national. Canada as a multicultural nation falls somewhere in the center. There are many Canadian languages; there are, however, only two working languages, English and French. Canada is not bicultural, it never was, and it never will be. Besides being offensive on moral grounds, as is any effort to regulate cultural norms, a bicultural definition of Canada does not square with reality. Canada is multicultural, as we would expect discussions on the Canadian constitution to recognize.

Discussions about biculturalism were gradually replaced by multiculturalism, which was adopted as policy in 1971 by the government of Pierre E. Trudeau.


Deniz Çevik is a student archivist in the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Top 5 topics addressed by our Reference Librarians

By Emily Dingwall

At Library and Archives Canada (LAC), reference librarians respond to requests on a wide variety of interesting topics from clients. This blog post outlines five types of reference questions librarians frequently handle and suggests resources to consult on these subjects.

The cover page from Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada with the title “Public Accounts of Canada, for the Fiscal Year ended 30th June, 1884.”

“Public Accounts of Canada” report found in Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1885, Vol. 1, No. 1. (OCLC 1007491677, image from Canadiana)

  1. Federal government documents

Annual departmental reports. Clients are often seeking annual departmental reports. Annual reports from Confederation in 1867 to 1925 are printed in the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada. Learn more about the Sessional Papers of the Dominion of Canada, 1867 to 1925. If you are in Ottawa, you can access the Sessional Papers at LAC by requesting them from staff in the 2nd floor reference room. They are also available through these websites:

Departmental reports post–1925 are published separately from other government documents in the Sessional Papers. You can request 1925–1930 annual reports from LAC staff or through the Internet Archive.

After 1930, search our library catalogue Aurora for annual reports by the name of the department as it was known  during that period.

Beginning with 1995, you can find annual reports at the Government of Canada’s Departmental Results Reports. For more recent years, you can search the specific government department website.

Parliamentary documents. We also receive many questions on searching parliamentary debates, journals and committee materials of the House of Commons and the Senate, such as for a speech made by a prime minister in the House. You can find these documents online:

A typewritten page with two columns of text, separated by a crest. The text on the left is in English and the text on the right is in French.

Front page of the Canada Gazette, Part II, Vol. 137, No. 23, November 5, 2003. (OCLC 1082716964, image from Canada Gazette)

  1. Legislative Research

Librarians frequently receive questions about legislation in print or legislation that can be found online through Justice Laws.

You can trace legislation through these main sources:

  • The Statutes of Canada include all acts and amendments to laws passed during each session of Parliament.
  • The Revised Statutes of Canada (R.S.C.) are consolidations of the Statutes of Canada incorporating amendments and acts that have been added since the last revision. The R.S.C have been published for the years 1886, 1906, 1927, 1952, 1970, and 1985.

The Statutes of Canada and the Revised Statutes of Canada are available in print format in our reference collection at LAC, as well as at many public and academic libraries. They are also accessible through the legal database LLMC Digital, which can be searched onsite at LAC.

To learn more about the Statutes and researching legislation, see the blog post Tracing Historical Legislation.

You can find official regulations and statutory instruments in Part II of the Canada Gazette, the official newspaper of the Government of Canada. Published in three parts, the Canada Gazette is searchable by keyword at these sites:

To learn more about the three parts of the Canada Gazette please see Canada Gazette publications.

Readings of bills, such as the First and Third readings, can be found by searching the library catalogue Aurora.

LEGISinfo, the Library of Parliament’s research tool, provides information on all bills considered by the Senate and the House of Commons since the start of the 37th Parliament in 2001.

An image of a four-column newspaper, Courrier canadien.

Courrier canadien, March 11, 1900. (OCLC 109270836)

  1. Newspaper Research

Librarians often assist clients in searching newspapers for information such as local histories, articles on individuals, or references to a past royal visit to Canada.

We hold newspapers in print and microfilm formats, which can be found through the Aurora library catalogue. We also subscribe to several newspaper databases.

The Geographical microform list names all the newspapers that we hold on microfilm (click on the OCLC number), as well as newspapers available online. The list is organized by province/territory, then alphabetically by location.

Major newspaper titles such as Le Devoir, the Montreal Gazette, and the Ottawa Citizen are available in our self-service microform reading room.

These newspaper databases can be accessed on the public workstations in our reference room: The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Paper of Record and Newspaper Archive.

Online newspaper resources include:

The cover page of “Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War.”

Cover page of Colonel C.P. Stacey’s Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Volume I: Six Years of War: The Army in Canada, Britain and the Pacific. (OCLC 317352934, image from Government of Canada publications)

  1. Military History Research

Librarians receive military history questions from clients looking for published histories of specific regiments/units, recruitment statistics per year, and locations of Canadian units in Europe during World War II.

Resources for military history research include:

An image of a Grand Trunk Railway timetable from 1922.

Timetable of the Ontario lines of the Grand Trunk Railway from 1922. (e011297622)

  1. Railway Histories

Many clients contact Reference Services about railway history research. Examples of questions we receive include the histories of specific train stations, the histories of railway companies (Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian National Railways, Grand Trunk, etc.), and routes of particular railway lines.

We hold railway maps, as well as passenger and employee timetables in print format that can be located by searching Aurora. Many timetables are part of the Merrilees Transportation Collection, which contains about 5,000 publications including books, trade literature, technical manuals, timetables, broadsides, periodicals and pamphlets.

An Ontario railway historian has made rail timetables available on Charles Cooper’s Railway Pages.

Canadian Pacific Railway timetables from 1930–1985 are available through the Chung Collection at the University of British Columbia Library.

These are two excellent print publications to consult on railway history:

  • Andreae, C., & Matthews, G. Lines of Country: An Atlas of Railway and Waterway History in Canada. Erin, Ont.: Boston Mills Press, 1997. This publication is a comprehensive outline of railway and waterway history in Canada and includes maps of railways in Canada from early days to the present. It can be accessed in our reference room.
  • Ballantyne, B., and Bytown Railway Society. Canadian Railway Station Guide. Ottawa: Bytown Railway Society, 1998. This publication lists stations, plans and pictures.

 I hope that these resources will help you with your research on these subjects. Of course feel free to ask us a question on any topic, and a reference librarian will be happy to assist you!


Emily Dingwall is a Reference Librarian in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Sheet Music from Canada’s Past: The Great War

By Emilie Gin

Did you know that you can view, download and print digitized versions of sheet music from LAC’s collection? A portion of the collection—including pieces from the First World War—has been digitized and can be accessed online from LAC’s library catalogue, Aurora. Here’s how to search special collections using Aurora.

Sheet Music from Canada’s Past provides a rich opportunity to dive deeper into the sounds and lyrics that punctuated the Canadian experience of the First World War or “the Great War.” Canadians at home and those fighting abroad found comfort, courage and a sense of patriotism in music.

What is sheet music?

Sheet music typically refers to individual popular music pieces that were printed on one or more folding sheets of paper. Both professional composers and amateur songwriters published and distributed sheet music for sale. These musical scores were unbound and inexpensive for publishers to produce and relatively affordable for consumers as well.

Sheet music played an important role in the musical lives of Canadians. While some upper class households of the early 20th century had phonographs or gramophones to play recorded music, many could not afford these new technologies. For many, the only way to enjoy music was to hear it live, either at a concert hall or by playing music themselves using sheet music.

Music and the national narrative

While music functioned as entertainment and a form of catharsis during the complicated and tumultuous time of the Great War, it was also a medium ripe for the promotion of a government-approved national narrative.

A colour drawing of a soldier with a rifle standing in front of the British flag, a war medal and a portrait of a H.W. Ellerton in uniform.

Cover art for “The Khaki Lads” (OCLC 25442742)

The War Measures Act of 1914 required that all publications (including sheet music and other forms of media such as novels and posters) be approved by the Department of Militia and Defence. Although it is difficult to assess the true impact of music and its messages, sheet music does gives us a window into the everyday life of Canadians during the First World War.

Canadian identity—The Maple Leaf and Britannia

Expressions of Canadian patriotism and allegiance to Britain were extremely prevalent themes in published sheet music during the First World War. This is no surprise—these types of pieces boosted morale by supporting a national narrative of unity through patriotism among soldiers and those at home. They instilled courage and reminded soldiers in the fray of their duty and purpose. These pieces presented a narrative of Canadian identity that was nearly exclusively Anglophone and still fervently tied to Britain.

A colour drawing of a soldier holding a rifle, with a green maple leaf in the background.

Cover art for “They Heard the Call of the Motherland (The Men of the Maple Leaf)” by Edward W. Miller (OCLC 123910582)

Following Canada’s involvement in important battles such as Vimy Ridge, the Somme and Passchendale, the First World War marked an important shift in Canada’s self-awareness from a colony to a nation. However, the Conscription Crisis of 1917 brought up significant and important questions about Canada’s ties to Britain, as well as about the relationship between French and Anglophone Canadians.

A black and white image where the words The King Will Be Proud of Canada are surrounded in a wreath of leaves and a beaver.

Cover art for “The King Will Be Proud of Canada: Canadian Military Song” by S.G. Smith and Frank Eborall (OCLC 123910650)

Here are a few examples of patriotic sheet music that can be downloaded from LAC’s collection:

Everyone’s doing their bit: The home front

Music was an important part of everyday life on the home front. Volunteerism was an especially common message found in popular sheet music. Knitting garments for soldiers, donating money, buying war bonds or volunteering for nursing efforts were all suggested activities that would contribute to the war effort. Pieces such as “He’s Doing His Bit, Are You?” reinforced citizens’ duties to Canada and the Crown, stating “If we cannot do the fighting—we can pay.”

A colour drawing of a soldier dressed in a tan uniform holding a rifle above his head.

Cover art for “He’s Doing His Bit, Are You? If We Cannot Do the Fighting—We Can Pay” by W. St.J. Miller (OCLC 1007491809)

Here are a few pieces that illustrate messages encountered by Canadians on the home front:

The Duality of Music in Wartime

Sheet music occupied somewhat of a double life in public consciousness in wartime. Acting as both entertainment and a form of governmental subliminal messaging, it is difficult to ascertain exactly how Canadians might have felt about popular music. Music likely offered a welcome break from atrocities and troubling news from the front, however there is no denying that sheet music publishers published materials that supported a government-approved national narrative.

An colour image comprised of a large ship, a dove, a woman welcoming the ship and a portrait of S. M. Hallam.

Cover art for “When Jack Comes Back” by Gordon V. Thompson (OCLC 1007593602)

Nevertheless, this note found on the cover illustration for the piece “The Canadian War Song: When Jack Comes Back,” by Gordon V. Thompson, surely rang true for many Canadians during the First World War:

                “We all need good music these war days. It makes the wheels of life turn smoothly and helps to dry the tears.”

To learn more about Canadian sheet music, check out our podcast “Between the Sheets”.


Emilie Gin is a student acquisitions librarian working in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.