Library and Archives Canada releases its latest podcast episode, “William Topley: Exposure on Ottawa”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, “William Topley: Exposure on Ottawa”.

The William James Topley photographic collection is one of the most important visual records of Canada. The photographs produced by the Topley Studio provide a vivid documentation of the political, social, cultural, economic, technological and architectural changes during the first fifty years of Canada after Confederation. The collection documents life in the Ottawa area—as well as people and events in other regions of the country—between 1868 and 1923.

In this episode, we speak with Library and Archives Canada Archivist, Emma Hamilton-Hobbs, about the Topley collection, which is one of the most widely consulted sources of late 19th– and early 20th-century photographs held at LAC.

To view images associated with this podcast, here’s a direct link to our Flickr album.

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

Guest curator: Vasanthi Pendakur

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC
, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.

“Wild” woman of Canada, 1784

A colourful print of a pale woman with blond hair dressed in a yellow dress with green edging, white apron and pink tights. She is also wearing a blue necklace and blue boots.

“Wild” woman of Canada from Mœurs et coutumes des sauvages du Canada, 1784 (MIKAN 3025442)

The images of Canada published by serious travel encyclopaedias are often surprising. This woman seems more European than Indigenous… just look at her blonde hair!

Tell us about yourself.

I love historical fiction. The more I’ve read, the more I’ve realized how much work goes into researching the setting and background of good books. It’s the same for exhibitions—a lot of research for small captions that pack in tons of information. Through various internships, I got to work on exhibits and books, where I researched or worked with historical objects that would be viewed by the public. Now having finished school, I’m lucky to continue doing this type of work. My work for LAC
allows me to research a wide variety of subjects and to learn how large public exhibitions are put together.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

Encyclopedias like the one that this print was pulled from were the only source of information that people back in Europe had of Canada. Written by voyageurs, traders or explorers, these books described First Nations peoples’ daily lives and customs, but in a dramatized fashion to appeal to society’s need for entertainment and instruction. Writers made sense of their discoveries through a European lens, often projecting their perfect societal qualities on First Nations communities. The accounts are mostly true, providing us with good sources of information, but they also carry an air of mythology that needs to be considered when studying these sources.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition.

Fashion plates were most popular during the 19th century, when printing advances allowed an explosion of magazines available to the public. The most well-known magazines include La Belle Assemblée; or Bell’s Court and fashionable magazine and Costumes Parisien from London and Paris. However, there were also Canadian magazines such as Glass of Fashion (linked with a company in New York) and Ladies’ Pictorial Weekly from Toronto. These different magazines show that while much of fashion and culture was still coming from Europe and the United States, Canadian publishers were trying to create their own editions that would cater specifically to Canadian readers. By including songs, poetry, theatre news, gossip about the nobility, and fashion plates, these magazines became the forerunners of today’s cultural and society magazines. LAC’s collection of fashion prints and magazines is a great source for reconstructing the Canadian popular culture of the time. The songs, poetry and gossip articles show us what Canadians were reading, to whom they were listening, and in whom they were interested.

The plates themselves are miniature works of art, created by designers and artists to showcase current fashions for an eager public (usually the middle and upper classes). Like the “wild” woman of Canada print, many of these prints were detached from their sources, and are now sold separately to collectors. However, some prints were printed completely separate from magazines, to be used more specifically for advertising. Prints like these are valuable not only for their artistic merit, but also for their documentary value. They are a great source for reconstructing what Canadians were wearing at the time, and they can be used to build exhibits, shows, costumes for living history museums, and all sorts of other historical projects.

A page of black-and-white drawings of women in different gowns including a tea gown, outer wear, and an evening gown.

Fashion page from Ladies’ Pictorial Weekly, February 1892 (AMICUS 7260082)

A colourful fashion plate depicting well-dressed men and women in front of Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls Fashion Plate, 1842. Stamped with “Property of Canada Steamship Lines” (MIKAN 2876853)


A colour photograph of a woman sitting down in an office looking directly at the camera.Vasanthi Pendakur has a Master of Arts in Public History from the University of Western Ontario. She completed an undergraduate internship with LAC in 2012, assisting with a project to digitize all personnel files of those killed in action during the Second World War. She has returned to LAC as an exhibitions assistant; her main duties are to provide exhibition support, such as copy-editing and content research, and to write and coordinate blogs. She is also a hostess at the Canadian Museum of History, and she provides expert advice on exhibit development and collections management for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind.

Further reading

Newly transcribed finding aids

To help users find material more easily, Library and Archives Canada has transcribed some paper-based finding aids that were previously available only in the Reference Room at 395 Wellington Street. Highlighted below are a few of the finding aids that are now available online. If you want to learn more about finding aids, see this three-part series, Discover finding aids!

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Administrative Records

  • Finding Aid 18-16—Volumes 2511-2647
    Created between 1868 and 1878, these records deal with the administrative expenses of the Frontier and Dominion Police and include some applications for the proposed Mounted Force for the North-West Territories.
  • Finding Aid 18-29—Accession 1985-86/574 boxes 1-32
    This accession consists of registry records pertaining to the administration of the RCMP for the years 1940 to 1970. One group of files concerns the organization, procedures and functions of the Force including headquarters, Criminal Investigation Branch, “S” Directorate, marine and aviation divisions as well as the various divisions across Canada. Another group of records deals with the communications system ranging from the use of car radios to telex equipment. Other subjects include the filing system, RCMP reserves, and management studies. Also included are nine service files for special constables and regular members.
  • Finding Aid 18-30—Accession 1985-86/612 boxes 1-42
    The files deal with the inter-departmental committee on the Marin Commission recommendations, study groups on police associations and sovereignty control, the RCMP College, the Museum, policing in the provinces, northern patrols, memorials and cairns as well as assistance to publishers. Created between 1939 and 1980, most of the files concern routine administrative matters such as personnel, training, courses, supplies, and the band.

Supreme Court Case Files

  • Finding Aid 125-3—Volumes 3009-4067, 4294-4295
    These case files contain the collection of records created by the appellants, the respondents, the Court’s staff and the Justices for all cases brought before the Court. The finding aid is a file list that indicates volume number, case number, name of appellant, name of respondent, and the year in which the case was filed by the Court. Over 6,000 additional file descriptions for 1980–1990 case files have been added to our database.

Canadian Hydrographic Service

  • Registry files—Finding Aid 139-1—Volumes 1-29
    These files were created between 1938 and 1965 and pertain to Canadian Notices to Mariners. The Canadian Hydrographic Service was under the jurisdiction of the Department of Mines and Resources (1936–1948) and the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys (1949–1966) at the time of the creation of these files. The content of these Notices to Mariners include changes made to hydrographic charts; correspondence concerning surveys conducted in different parts of the country; reports, various committees, hydrographic instruments and equipment, and liaison with international organizations on matters concerning oceanography; monthly reports from various vessels of the service, tidal station documentation, and current surveys.
  • Ships Logs—Finding Aid 139-1—Volumes 33-66 (MIKAN 181475)
    These files relate to ships’ logs of various vessels designated for hydrographic operations under the Marine Branch of the Department of Marine and Fisheries (1905–1910, 1922–1936), the Department of Naval Services (1910–1922), the Department of Mines and Resources (1936–1948), the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys (1949–1966) and the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources (1966–1967). The logs contain a diurnal record of activities and observations aboard these vessels. The earlier logs provide succinct four- to eight-line descriptions of weather conditions and ship maintenance. The information in the later logs, for the 1950s and 1960s, pertains to weather, ship maintenance activities, the day’s itinerary, the vessels’ compass course, periodic positions expressed in longitude and latitude, swell and wind conditions, barometric pressure, atmospheric temperature, and visibility. Few details of actual hydrographic work are recorded.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of February 2017

As of today, 404,164 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 6831 and last name McGee.

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.

Guest curator: Sara Chatfield

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.

Canada: Who Do We Think We Are?

Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month during 2017 as experts, from LAC, across Canada and even farther afield, provide additional insights on items from the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa between June 5, 2017, and March 1, 2018. Admission is free.

A page for Joliette, Quebec, from the first Census of Canada, 1871

Can you find the entry for Adolphe Perrault? Times change: Perrault made his living as a voyageur! As time passed, census data would feed social policy. Many programs by which Canadians define themselves are the result. Continue reading

New releases to the Open Data Portal

Library and Archives Canada is extracting the datasets of studies undertaken by federal departments from outdated storage devices, and preserving them. The studies covering a wide range of topics, such as the environment, health and immigration, are being made available on the Open Data portal. To learn more about the structure of the data, see our blog Open Data: Providing access to historical Government of Canada studies.

Here is a list of some of the new datasets available on the Open Data portal:

Prices and Incomes Commission Datasets

Thirsk Project

This file contains general time series labour force, unemployment and vacancy data collected to support a Prices and Incomes Commission study on the regional characteristics of inflation and unemployment. The data cover the time period between 1949 and 1971.

Lewis Project

The data pertain to general time series econometric data contributions to Prices and Incomes Commission studies into the validity of existing economic theories on wages and the allocation of labour. The data in most cases are monthly and cover the time period between 1935 and 1971.

Lazar Project

The data relate to general time series econometric data and social statistics concerning the state of Canada’s labour force. The data cover the time period between 1950 and 1970.

Scharfe Project

The dataset contains general time series econometric data contributing to a Prices and Incomes Commission study on inflation in the Canadian economy. The data cover the time period between 1961 and 1969.

Itinerant movements 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1975

These datasets contain yearly aircraft movement statistics in Canada. Itinerant movement is one in which the aircraft taking off or landing is known to be leaving or entering the airport tower control zone.

Canadian industrial organization

The data contain variables relating to the structure, conduct, and performance of manufacturing industries in Canada as well as to the American industries that are counterparts of the sample of Canadian industries. The data were collected and cover the time period from 1975 to 1976.

Expansion of the Montreal Rolling Mills Co.

By Lucie Paquet, Senior Archivist

In 1900, Montréal was an industrialized city, with numerous industrial sites. One of the largest was the Dominion Bridge Company (R5607), which built bridge and road superstructures. Another firm, the Montreal Rolling Mills Co., converted iron and steel into many different construction materials. Each of this company’s workshops was specialized. The machinery in the factories was increasingly ingenious, powerful and fast. Blacksmith artisans had been replaced by salaried workers serving machines. Employing huge engines with hydraulic conveyor belts, these labourers worked the furnaces, moved the boilers, heated and poured the molten iron into the moulds, shaped the iron, hammered it, and cut it. They struggled in the machinery’s intense heat, smoke, noise, dust and gas.

A black-and-white drawing showing an industrial complex in 1900.

Drawing of the Montreal Rolling Mills Co., from its letterhead, 1900, vol. 278, file 1 (MIKAN 4932178)

The workers produced nails, screws, bolts, saws, axes, pipes, horseshoes, railway track and a variety of items for agriculture, transportation and construction.

Colour images showing the cover and two pages of the 1908 product catalogue.

Catalogue cover and product list, 1908, vol. 252, file 3 (MIKAN 4932171)

Sales rose for the Montreal Rolling Mills Co., with consequences. The company’s growth affected how the workplace was organized, urban working conditions, and social relationships between employers and employees.

Black-and-white photograph of a labourer working on a bar of hot iron.

Photograph of a labourer working on a bar of hot iron, from the brochure entitled “The 25th Milestone, A Brief History of Stelco,” page 21, vol. 274, file 1 (MIKAN 4932172)

Continue reading

The Montreal Rolling Mills Co.: laying the groundwork for the steel industry

By Lucie Paquet, Senior Archivist

As the second half of the 19th century began, Quebec was entering a period of industrial growth. Montréal, located on one of the largest canal networks in North America, became a strategic industrial centre. The expansion of its seaport, the extension of the Lachine Canal, and the use of water power attracted many investors. Seizing the opportunity, businessmen established a wide range of factories, including foundries, to process raw materials. The Montreal Rolling Mills Co., which specialized in making steel products, became one of the city’s most prosperous firms.

Black-and-white drawing showing an industrial complex in 1868.

Drawing of the Montreal Rolling Mills Co., taken from its letterhead, 1868, vol. 274, file 14 (MIKAN 4932176)

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has seven metres of documents produced by the Montreal Rolling Mills Co., stored in the Steel Company of Canada Limited archives (R15513). In 1910, this company, created by the merger of five major steel firms (Montreal Rolling Mills Co., Hamilton Steel and Iron Company, Canada Screw Company, Canada Bolt and Nut Co., and Dominion Wire Manufacturing Co.), established its headquarters in Hamilton, Ontario. Property titles, sales contracts, insurance contracts, financial statements and other documents for the management and day-to-day business of the company were archived in Hamilton until they were transferred to LAC in 2006. Most of them are textual records and technical drawings. There are few photographs, but this absence may be offset by the archives of the Dominion Bridge Company, also held by LAC.

Among the most important Montreal Rolling Mills Co. documents are account books, shareholder lists and transactions, minutes of meetings, correspondence between merchants, financial statements, and contracts for the purchase of land and buildings located along the Lachine Canal. The documents make it possible to analyze in detail the industrial changes that took place in Montréal in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

On May 8, 1868, the year after Confederation, several Montréal hardware merchants met in the offices of Morland, Watson & Company to form a new company: the Montreal Rolling Mills Co.

Colour image showing the cover of a minute book of directors’ meetings and two pages of text from a meeting held in 1870.

Cover page of a minute book and text from a meeting of company directors and shareholders in 1870, vol. 101, file 1 (MIKAN 4932158)

Continue reading

Tips for aviation accident research, part 2

By Mathieu Sabourin

In our previous blog post on civilian aviation accidents, we covered the main search principles for finding files on this topic in our archives. We showed you that records could generally be found in four record groups:

  • Department of National Defence fonds: R112 (1923–1936)
  • Department of Transport fonds: R184 (1936–1984)
  • Canadian Aviation Safety Board fonds: R13086 (1984–1989)
  • Transportation Safety Board of Canada fonds: R1009 (1990–present)

Let’s take a look at the characteristics of the first two record groups so you can better focus your searches.

Department of National Defence fonds

After the First World War, the Royal Canadian Air Force served as a civilian airline for the government and was therefore responsible for investigating aircraft accidents. The Civil Aviation Branch was created for this purpose in 1923.

At the time, the Department used a subject-block numeric classification system. Blocks 1021 and 1100 (all the files starting with these numbers) were reserved for aviation accident records. For example:

Screenshot of the results of an archives search. A big red arrow indicates the reference to Block 1021.

Example of a file from Block 1021.

Continue reading

Glenn Gould podcast images now on Flickr

Colour photograph of a very well used wooden chair.

Gould’s folding piano chair (MIKAN 4111968)

Thirty-four years after his death, Glenn Gould’s extensive catalogue of recordings, and the bold artistic vision behind them continue to resonate with music fans the world over. His irreverent interpretations of piano repertoire and perplexing idiosyncrasies have become the stuff of legend.

Visit the Flickr album!