Henry Ash and why internet connections are still underwater

By Vasanthi Pendakur

North and south map of the world showing telegraph lines across the Atlantic and overland.

Polar projections showing submarine cables and principal telegraph lines, 1883. Lines are shown in red. (e011211770)

Much of the world’s internet is still underwater. Despite satellite communications, despite wireless technology, the base connections for the internet are still undersea cables. Long cables crisscross the oceans and the continents to transmit the signals that bring internet to our devices. Telecommunication companies laid most of the existing cables, but recently tech giants have been building their own lines.

Undersea cables are expensive to build, and slow to plan, but they are still cheaper than satellites. Planning the laying of cables takes time. Routes are charted to avoid obstacles, tidal patterns, unstable formations and, for the actual laying, inclement weather. The cables are made on special machines that maintain tension. Building starts with a small wire, which is then wrapped in layers of copper, plastic, steel or tar for protection. The cables must be able to withstand damage from earthquakes, ships, and sea life. Sharks eating the internet is known to happen… and ships can accidentally cut cables.

Cables are then slowly loaded onto specially made ships; precautions are taken to ensure cables do not kink. Cables are then slowly laid down along the cable route. It can take weeks to lay a full length of cable properly, especially if there is bad weather.

The first experiments with submarine cables took place in the 1850s. Inventors, including Samuel Morse and Charles Wheatstone (pioneers in the invention of the electric telegraph), and Michael Faraday (a pioneer in the field of electromagnetism), were experimenting to find the best way of submerging wires (or cables) onto the seabed.

A formula of copper wires encased in layers of iron, india rubber, and gutta-percha (sap that served as thermoplastic insulation) was determined to be the best method. Confident in their experiments, Morse, Cyrus West Field, a financier, and Matthew Maury, an oceanographer, joined together to form the Atlantic Telegraph Company, with the goal of ordering and laying a cable across the Atlantic ocean. A test involving laying cables from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland in 1856 was successful.

The next attempt was the longer cable across the Atlantic, from Telegraph Field, Ireland, to Heart’s Content, Newfoundland. Problems with storms and breaking cables delayed the project, but the cable was finally connected in August 1858. An official message from Queen Victoria congratulating the company took 16 hours to arrive, but that still vastly reduced the delivery time in that period: ten days on a ship. The cable broke three weeks later, probably from improper handling and storage. A cable was successfully laid in 1866 by the SS Great Eastern.

Large ship seen from shore.

SS Great Eastern completing the laying of the second transatlantic telegraph cable, 1866. (c004484)

Cover of a souvenir book of the 1894 Mackay-Bennett Atlantic Cable.

Cover of a souvenir book depicting an 1894 cable expedition. (e004414208)

Many more cable expeditions followed, and the success of the 1866 expeditions led to the production of souvenir items depicting these events. LAC holds examples of this type of art in the Henry Ash Collection. Henry Ash was an amateur artist as well as a draftsman and designer from London, England, who also served as a general engineer assistant for the crew of the CS Faraday on occasion. He produced numerous pencil sketches of the voyages he took part in, some of which were turned into the souvenir book above. LAC holds Ash’s artwork from some of his expeditions.

Sketch of Bull Rock and Bull Rock Lighthouse, located off the southwest coast of Ireland, with boats fishing for mackerel.

View of the coast of Ireland at the start of the expedition. (e004414185)

Ash’s sketches are well shaded, detailed, and precisely labelled with the location and expedition. The landscape along the ocean coastline is shown in detailed greyscale. His drawings depict roads, coastlines, and the deep sea throughout the voyage, often showing the ship in the middle of the sea, surrounded by natural features. Ash turned his sketches from a later expedition into a souvenir book for the public. LAC’s collection shows the early history of the internet, as well as a process (cable laying) that, while lower-tech, is not much changed today.

Visit the Flickr album for more images of Henry Ash’s sketches.

Sketch of the entrance to St. John’s Harbour.

View of the entrance to St. John’s Harbour. (e004414154)

Other resources:

Submarine communications cable

How the Internet Travels Across Oceans

History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications


Vasanthi Pendakur is a project manager in the Online Content team at Library and Archives Canada.

Centuries of kinship—Exploring Métis identity through genealogy

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 Delia Chartrand

Examining the ancestry of my father, Maurice Emile William Chartrand, has brought me closer to my own Métis roots. I am what could be called “a modern Métis.” I did not grow up on my traditional territory, like my father did on his homestead near Inwood, Manitoba. Rather, I grew up in a small mining town in northern Manitoba. I did not grow up speaking my traditional language. Michif was not an option in our household as my father had long forgotten how to speak what he called “Bush French.”

I did listen to Métis fiddling music at family reunions and to my father’s colourful stories of growing up on the land, but there was not a huge year-round family presence, living as we did, isolated in the North. Over time, many Métis of newer generations have become a more geographically dispersed people, moving farther from our communities and territories. Sometimes I wonder if we are not merely revisiting our atavistic “coureurs des bois” traits, which I assume are built into the DNA of many of us.

A handwritten and typed document

A page of the scrip affidavit for Josephte Chartrand (e000011889)

Studying genealogy has been an important way for younger generations of Métis like me to rediscover their roots and the successive generations of ancestors, both Indigenous and European, who found each other and created a unique people who embraced aspects of both cultures. Prior to the formation of the Métis Nation in the late eighteenth century, patterns emerged in the immigration and migration of European settlers, as well as in the marriage and cohabitation trends amongst settlers and Indigenous cultures. These can be seen when tracing familial roots.

My particular family tree stems from various regions of France, such as Gironde and Picardie. These regions are recognized as common areas of origin for early New France settlers. For example, Jacques Lussier, who was baptized in 1620 in Rouen, Normandy, and Marie Guyon, who was baptized in 1624 in St. Jean de Mortagne, Perche, are among my ancestors.

In New France, long before the Métis Nation coalesced, military alliances with neighbouring First Nations became critical. Those relationships are reflected in my genealogy. The French and Huron initially had a symbiotic relationship by allying themselves against their long-standing opponents: the British Empire and the Iroquois Nations. Evidence of the threat of conflict between the Huron and Iroquois can be found in my genealogy. The passing of my 9th generation grandfather, Nicolas Arendanki, in 1649 is marked by the phrase “Huron tué par les Iroquois” [“Huron, killed by the Iroquois”]. Arendanki’s daughter, Catherine Anenontha/Annennontak would go on to marry French settler Jean Durand dit Lafortune in 1662. The lives of these ancestors demonstrate the conflict among First Nations in the region during the colony’s early years and affirm the practice of marriage between the Huron and French settlers. And while the children of these unions would have been of mixed descent, they were not considered to be Métis.

As French settlers moved farther into the interior of the continent, intermarriage with other First Nations peoples began to occur and tied to these marriages were different social and economic impacts. Marriage records support these findings. Diversity among marriages to women of different Indigenous groups can be found with much frequency among my ancestral grandparents who lived in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In my research, I noticed French men from Quebec marrying various Indigenous women, who were often designated by their first names followed only by a remark regarding their specific Indigenous group ties. Some of these historic terms are no longer in use.

A watercolour painting of two white buildings with a river in the foreground. There are two boats on the river.

St. Boniface, Red River Settlement by William Henry William Napier (c001065k)

In my family, the historical documents state that Laurent Cadotte, baptized in 1766 at Ste-Genevieve-de-Batiscan, Quebec, married Susanne Crise/Cree in St-Boniface, Manitoba; Etienne Boucher married Marie Siouse/Sioux; Pierre St-Germaine married Louise Montagnaise/Chipewyan; and Joseph Rocque married Amerindienne/Amerindian—no first name was given. This movement into the interior and the increased rate of intermarriage indicates many if not all of these individuals were involved in the fur trade. They likely depended on marriage and familial ties to Indigenous groups as a means to solidify their economic stability as they pursued hunting and trapping for furs.

The changing political structures of the nineteenth-century fur trade led to successive generations of mixed heritage families who no longer identified with either an exclusively European or Indigenous cultural framework, but who instead developed their own sense of cultural expression through a coalescence of cultures. This collective of people were referred to as the Métis Nation.

While Métis identity is often linked to certain families of dual descent within Red River, it is important to recognize that there are communities located outside the settlement. One such settlement is St. Laurent, a location on Lake Manitoba in the southwestern part of the province. My family traces its more recent genealogy to St. Laurent. By the late 1820s, those Métis who lived in semi-permanent settlements in that area were uniquely involved in various subsistence patterns, such as fishing and salt production, as a result of the demand for provisions coming from other established posts around them.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the St. Laurent region in Manitoba was permanently settled by four Métis families: the Chartrands, the Pangmans, the Lavallées and the Sayers. The Chartrand and Lavallée surnames are particularly significant to me. The matrilineal line of my father’s genealogy stems from Marie Rose Germaine Lavallée, baptized in St. Laurent in 1918, or Granny as I knew her. The patrilineal line stems from Joseph Gedeon Harvey Chartrand, baptized in 1907 in St. Laurent. Although we never met, I’m told he went by Harvey.

Colour photograph of a man and a young girl smiling at the camera with a white camper and a car in the background.

A contemporary example of Métis kinship. The author is pictured with her father, Maurice Chartrand, circa late 1990s.

There are many variants comprised within the cultural term “Métis.” I wanted to provide a closer look at the development of just one of the unique Métis communities in southern Manitoba. By examining eleven generations in the family tree of my father, Maurice Emile William Chartrand, we can connect to the personal stories of seventeenth-century French immigrants to New France, through to the European traders who migrated into the interior. A specific focus on the marriages occurring over the last four centuries shows the gradual development of just one example of interconnected Métis heritage.

Personally, I like to think about all the grandparents who came before me. How they shared their distinct cultural perspectives and teachings with one another in order to create new communities and unique identities for their children. And I smile a little knowing my parents did the same for me, a self-professed modern Métis.

If you are interested in learning more about your family’s story or your Indigenous identity, you can find more information on Library and Archives Canada’s genealogy pages.

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.


Delia Chartrand is an archivist for the Listen, Hear Our Voices project at Library and Archives Canada.

Molly Lamb Bobak, Canada’s first female official war artist overseas: A Co-Lab challenge

By Krista Cooke

Black-and-white photograph taken from the side showing a smiling woman in uniform sitting on a pier with a drawing tablet and pencil in hand. In the background, a young blond child is standing, and sailboats are docked nearby

War artist Lieutenant Molly Lamb, Canadian Women’s Army Corps, sketching at Volendam, Netherlands, September 1945 (a115762)

Molly Lamb Bobak, the first female official war artist overseas, is arguably the Second World War painter who best captured Canadian women’s experiences of military life. In 1942, Molly Lamb (later Bobak) was fresh out of art school in Vancouver. The talented young painter promptly joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) as a draftswoman—dreaming of one day becoming an official war artist.

Canada’s war art program, established during the First World War, resulted in a vast collection of artworks. Molly Lamb Bobak, who contributed to the Canadian War Records of the Second World War, was exceptional. She was Canada’s first female official war artist overseas. Works from her lifetime of painting and drawing are held at numerous institutions across Canada, including Library and Archives Canada (LAC), where a large collection of her works resides. One of the most compelling pieces, her wartime diary, is now more accessible: it has been digitized and can be transcribed through the collaboration tool Co-Lab.

Shortly after enlisting, Molly Lamb Bobak began writing a unique diary, which provides an invaluable record of the CWAC’s role in the war effort. Titled simply W110278, after her service number, it is a personal and insightful handwritten account of the everyday events of army life, accompanied by her drawings. Covering the period from November 1942 to June 1945, the diary contains 226 illustrated pages and almost 50 single sheet sketches interleaved among its pages.

A hand-drawn newspaper-style page with a column of text and illustrations of a woman in a military uniform and a diner scene. The titles “W110278” (Molly Lamb Bobak’s service number) and “Girl Takes Drastic Step!” are written at the top

Molly Lamb Bobak’s handwritten diary, amplified with colourful sketches (e006078933)

A hand-drawn page with text and illustrations of two women in military uniforms, women posing for images, women eating at a restaurant, a small pink pig, and women marching. The title reads, “Life Begins as Second Lieutenant!”

Another example from Molly Lamb Bobak’s handwritten diary (e011161136)

The diary’s first page (top) captures the humorous tone and unique approach of the diary, which is written in newspaper style, with the pages resembling big-city broadsheets. The first headline reads “Girl Takes Drastic Step! ‘You’re in the Army now’ as Medical Test Okayed.” What follows are handwritten news bulletins with amusing anecdotes and vibrant illustrations, revealing women’s experiences in Second World War army life. These comprise a personal daily record of Lamb Bobak’s time in the CWAC. She worked serving in canteens before being sent on basic training in Alberta, eventually being promoted to Lieutenant in the Canadian Army Historical Section, in 1945. Throughout her years of service in Canada, she captured the world around her, later using many of these sketches as studies for her paintings.

Three years after enlisting, Molly Lamb Bobak achieved her ultimate goal when she became the first woman to be sent overseas as an official war artist. She recorded her excitement in her diary, writing “Lamb’s Fate Revealed…To Be First Woman War Artist!” Despite her talent, Lamb Bobak’s appointment as an official war artist was far from a foregone conclusion. Women’s perspectives had not been a priority for the program. As she later recalled, “[B]eing the first female war artist, with 9 men [in my group] . . . was sort of a great thing to have happened to me . . . because I know the Army didn’t want women [artists], in those days.” She credited family friend and Group of Seven painter A.Y. Jackson with her success. Indeed, he had written on her behalf to the director of the National Gallery of Canada, who was involved in the war art program, stating “If she had half a chance, she could go places.” And go places she did!

A black-and-white photograph, taken from the side, of a woman painting at an easel, holding a paintbrush and palette

Molly Lamb Bobak paints #1 Static Base Laundry (shown completed below) (a188549)

A colourful painting depicting a building and women (some in uniform) in a line, with rolling hills and trees in the background. This painting is the completed version of the painting on which Bobak is working in the photograph above

#1 Static Base Laundry, a painting now in the collections of the Canadian War Museum Canadian War Museum 19710261-1617

After the ceasefire in 1945, the military sent Molly Lamb Bobak to England, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. As one of almost 30 Canadian official war artists working during the Second World War, Lamb Bobak created works that are unique because of their focus on servicewomen. Roughly 50,000 Canadian women enlisted in the military during the Second World War, but their experiences were not generally of interest to male war artists or administrators of the war art program, who tended to focus on battlefield scenes and servicemen. As a CWAC herself, Molly Lamb Bobak had unparalleled access to her subjects and was able to capture the daily experiences of being a servicewoman. She later explained that “[T]he whole structure of army life is agreeable to a painter… and everywhere you turn there is something terrific to paint…. one could spend hours … drawing the C.W.A.C.s checking in and out, the new recruits, the fatigue girls in their overalls, the orderly officer.” During her time overseas, she produced dozens of paintings that today are part of the Beaverbrook Collection of War Art at the Canadian War Museum. Together with the material at Library and Archives Canada, it is possible to build a rich portrait of Molly Lamb Bobak’s military experiences and of her life as a painter. Following the war, she married fellow official war artist Bruno Bobak. Their assignment to a shared studio space in London, U.K., began a romance that lasted until their deaths (Molly Lamb Bobak died in 2014, and Bruno Bobak died in 2012). Their shared archival collection is housed at Library and Archives Canada.

We invite you to use our Co-Lab tool to transcribe, tag, translate and describe digitized records from our collection, such as Molly Lamb Bobak’s wartime diary.


Krista Cooke is a curator with the Exhibitions team at Library and Archives Canada. This blog post draws from an earlier version written by Carolyn Cook, formerly of LAC.

CIL: The story of a brand

By François Larivée

The CIL name is a commercial brand that immediately evokes something in the collective consciousness, namely paint. However, for those who explore the history behind this well-known brand, it probably comes as a surprise to learn that CIL’s origins are in the manufacturing of explosives and munitions.

Black-and-white photograph showing a large rectangular billboard anchored to an embankment and featuring an advertisement for CIL. The ad looks like a painting, with a house at each end, in a suburban landscape. Between the two houses, the oval CIL logo is visible, with the words “Peintures” in the top left and “Paints” in the bottom right.

CIL advertising billboard on Monkland Boulevard, Ville LaSalle, Quebec, circa 1950 (a069072)

Explosive beginnings

The origins of CIL can be traced back to 1862, before Confederation. That year, the Hamilton Powder Company was formed in Hamilton, Ontario. The company specialized in the production of black powder, which was then used as an explosive for a variety of purposes, particularly for railway construction, a booming industry at the time.

The Hamilton Powder Company’s activities culminated in 1877, when it was awarded a major contract to participate in the construction of the national railway linking Eastern Canada and British Columbia. (This railway was famously a condition set by British Columbia for joining Confederation.) The black powder produced by the company was then used to enable the railway’s perilous crossing of the Rocky Mountains in 1884 and 1885.

Following its expansion, the Hamilton Powder Company moved its head office to Montréal. It was also near Montréal, in Belœil, that from 1878 onward, the company developed what would become its main explosives production site.

In 1910, it merged with six other Canadian companies, most of which also specialized in the production of explosives. Together, they formed a new company: the Canadian Explosives Company (CXL). Although explosives remained the bulk of the company’s production, new activities were added, including the manufacture of chemical products and munitions.

One of the companies involved in the merger, the Dominion Cartridge Company, already specialized in the manufacture of munitions, particularly rifle cartridges (used mainly for hunting). It was founded in Brownsburg, Quebec, in 1886 by two Americans—Arthur Howard and Thomas Brainerd—and Canadian John Abbott, who would later become the country’s third prime minister. In 2017, Library and Archives Canada acquired a significant portion of CIL’s archival holdings relating to its Brownsburg plant.

World wars and munitions

During the first half of the 20th century, the company produced more and more munitions. Indeed, as a consequence of the two world wars, the demand for military ammunition in particular increased sharply.

As early as 1915, the Dominion Arsenal (responsible for the production of military ammunition in Canada) could not meet the demand on its own. The Canadian government therefore sought the help of Dominion Cartridge, then one of the largest private companies in this sector. The company thus obtained major contracts to produce military ammunition.

Order-in-Council approved and signed on May 4, 1915, by the Privy Council Office on the recommendation of the Department of Militia and Defence. It authorizes the establishment of a contract with the Dominion Cartridge Company Limited of Montréal for the production of 100 million .303 Mark VII munitions, according to the specifications of the British War Office, at $36 per thousand pounds.

Privy Council Office Order-in-Council approving a contract with the Dominion Cartridge Company for the production of munitions, May 1915 (e010916133)

To reflect the gradual diversification of its operations, the company changed its name to Canadian Industries Limited (CIL) in 1927.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, CIL further increased its production of munitions. In 1939, in partnership with the Crown, it established a subsidiary company dedicated exclusively to this sector of activity, Defence Industries Limited (DIL). The Crown owned the factories and equipment, but it delegated the management of operations to CIL. The Crown also provided CIL with the funds to operate the plants, although it did not purchase their production.

Given the considerable ammunition requirements of the Allied forces, DIL expanded rapidly. It opened many factories: in Ontario, in Pickering (Ajax), Windsor, Nobel and Cornwall; in Quebec, in Montréal, Brownsburg, Verdun, Saint-Paul-l’Hermite (Cherrier plant), Sainte-Thérèse (Bouchard plant), Belœil and Shawinigan; and in Manitoba, in Winnipeg.

Some occupied huge sites, turning DIL into one of the largest industrial complexes of the time. In 1943, at the peak of its activity, it employed more than 32,000 people, the vast majority of whom were women.

Black-and-white photograph of a female employee wearing a white uniform and cap, holding a projectile for presentation to the Honourable C.D. Howe. Behind them, several projectiles of different sizes are displayed on a table. In the background, a few civilians and military personnel are standing on a platform behind a lectern.

Edna Poirier, an employee of Defence Industries Limited, presents the Honourable C.D. Howe with the hundred-millionth projectile manufactured in the Cherrier plant, Saint-Paul-l’Hermite, Quebec, September 1944 (e000762462)

Black-and-white photograph showing employees in front of factory buildings, moving away from what appears to be a locker building. Most are seen from behind; others are facing the camera or talking to each other. In the background are a few train carriages.

Workers leaving the Cherrier plant of Defence Industries Limited to take the train, Saint-Paul-l’Hermite, Quebec, June 1944 (e000762822)

New products and a centennial

After the Second World War, CIL gradually reduced its production of munitions, which it abandoned definitively in 1976 to concentrate on chemical and synthetic products, agricultural fertilizers, and paints. It then began to invest a large part of its operating budget into the research and development of new products. Its central research laboratory, which was established in 1916 near the Belœil plant, grew in size, as evidenced by a large part of CIL’s archival holdings held at Library and Archives Canada.

The development of the explosives factory and laboratory in the Belœil region led to the creation of a brand-new town in 1917: McMasterville, named after William McMaster, first chairman of the Canadian Explosives Company in 1910.

Black-and-white photograph of a worker wearing protective equipment and a visor, pouring a white liquid from a machine. The liquid flows out as a uniform band into a cylinder that the worker holds in his right hand. Some smoke rises from the liquid.

Worker pouring liquid nylon from an autoclave, Canadian Industries Limited, Kingston, Ontario, circa 1960 (e011051701)

Black-and-white photograph of a worker filling a bag by holding it under the spout of a machine. A stack of empty bags sits next to him. The bags read “CIL Fertilizer.”

Bagging of chemical fertilizer at the Canadian Industries Limited plant, Halifax, Nova Scotia, circa 1960 (e010996324)

Although CIL was diversifying its operations, the production of explosives remained the company’s main driver of growth and profitability. These explosives were used in many major ventures, including mining projects in Sudbury, Elliot Lake, Thompson, Matagami and Murdochville, and hydroelectric projects in Manicouagan, Niagara and Churchill Falls. They were also used in the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Trans-Canada Highway.

To mark its centennial in 1962, the company had a major building constructed in downtown Montréal: the CIL House (now the Telus Tower). The work was carried out between 1960 and 1962 and is a testament to CIL’s growth.

Around the same time, the company bought a heritage house in Old Montréal, which it restored and named the CIL Centennial House initially, then the Del Vecchio House (in honour of the man who had it built). The company periodically exhibited collection pieces there from its weapons and ammunition museum in Brownsburg.

The company faded, but the brand endures

In 1981, CIL moved its head office from Montréal to Toronto. Its central research laboratory was moved from McMasterville to Mississauga. The McMasterville explosives factory remained in operation, despite the many workplace accidents—some fatal—that happened there. It gradually reduced its production before closing for good in 2000.

However, CIL’s heyday had long since passed. From 1988 onward, the company had just been a subsidiary of the British chemical company ICI (which was itself acquired by the Dutch company AkzoNobel in 2008).

But to complete the story, in 2012, the American company PPG purchased AkzoNobel’s coatings and paint production division, thereby acquiring the well-known CIL paint brand, which still exists today.

Related resources


François Larivée is an archivist in the Science, Environment and Economy Section of the Archives Branch.

How the death of one prime minister inspired Canadian art on an unusually grand scale

A head and shoulders portrait of former Canadian prime minister Sir John Sparrow Thompson

Sir John Sparrow David Thompson by Bonne de Bock, c. 1895 (e000000122)

Canadians were shocked and saddened when Canada’s fourth prime minister, Sir John Sparrow David Thompson (1845–1894), died suddenly during a formal lunch in the United Kingdom, at Windsor Castle. They were honoured when Queen Victoria laid the funerary wreath upon “her dead premier’s” casket with her own hands.

This was a period of shared national mourning. The unexpected nature of the death, combined with the extended, high-profile pomp and splendour of the funerary proceedings—on both sides of the Atlantic—made it the major Canadian news story of the day. Much of the coverage took on an imperial-nationalistic tone.

Head and shoulders photograph of Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith

Portraits of Artists from Archives Of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

One Canadian artist, Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith (1846–1923) was inspired to capture the sentiment through a timely and ambitious program of commemorative public art.

Bell-Smith planned and prepared a series of three monumental canvases, which he intended to sell to the Canadian government. Ultimately, Bell-Smith hoped the series would be displayed in perpetuity, either at the National Gallery of Canada or on Parliament Hill.

In each of the three paintings that make up the series, the artist chose to portray one important homage to the dead prime minister. The first, Queen Victoria’s Tribute to Her Dead Canadian Premier, which is known as “The Tribute,” is set at Windsor Castle and centres around Queen Victoria’s official act of laying the wreath on Thompson’s casket.

A portrait of those attending the mass held at Windsor Castle for former prime minister Sir John Thompson. Queen Victoria lays a wreath on Thompson’s casket while prominent guests and members of her court look on

Queen Victoria’s Tribute to her Dead Canadian Premier, by Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, 1896, (c141808k)

The second, The Arrival of the Blenheim at Halifax, known as “The Arrival,” portrays solemnities held on the deck of Queen Victoria’s “fastest warship,” the HMS Blenheim. The Blenheim was chosen to convey Thompson’s body back to Canada, with highest honours. The ship’s sides were painted black and its gangway draped in black cloth.

A photograph of an original oil painting which shows the deck of the HMS Blenheim upon its arrival in Halifax with former prime minister Thompson’s remains.

The Arrival of the Blenheim at Halifax, photograph of the original 1895 painting, c. 1902, by Cunningham Studios, (e011213232)

Unfortunately, the only remaining record of this painting is a black and white photograph. The original was destroyed in the Parliament Hill fire of 1916.

The third, and final, painting in the series, The State Funeral of Sir John Thompson at Halifax, known as “The State Funeral,” portrays Thompson’s Canadian state funeral, which was held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on January 3, 1896.

A painting of the state funeral of Sir John Thompson, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, featuring portraits of many of those attending

The State Funeral of Sir John Thompson at Halifax, by Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith, 1897, Library and Archives Canada (c147277k)

Bell-Smith’s paintings don’t portray Thompson himself: instead they provide accurate portraits of the former prime minister’s most prominent mourners. While these include British royalty (Queen Victoria granted Bell-Smith a life sitting) and court personalities (the queen’s “loyal Indian servant,” Mohammed Abdul Karim (1863–1909), often referred to as “Abdul,” features prominently in the first canvas), the cast is primarily made up of politicians and prominent citizens in Halifax and Ottawa—those with the power to eventually buy the works for the people of Canada.

Detail shows Mohammed Abdul Karim

Detail of “Abdul,” from “The Tribute” (c141808k)

 

Detail shows politicians and prominent citizens of the day

Detail of mourners , from “The State Funeral”, (c141808k)

Unfortunately, Bell Smith’s very attempts to connect the paintings to potential patrons may have led to the failure of his commemoration.

By the time the works were finished, the government had changed hands. As Eva Major-Marothy, former chief curator and senior art archivist at Library and Archives Canada, has written in her important study on the series: “The new Liberal government was not interested in acquiring portraits of its opponents or paintings of activities that glorified them.”

The aesthetic quality of the works may also have been a determining factor. The composition of “the State Funeral” appears especially clunky and forced, perhaps due to Bell-Smith’s overzealous attempts to include every important sitter. In some cases, the size of the figures is exaggerated. In most cases the positions are as unnatural as if the portraits had been cut and pasted from another source. At the time, the then-curator of the National Gallery of Canada felt “unable to recommend their purchase….”

In the end, the entire series fell into obscurity, and two of the paintings were presumed lost for a number of years. But what really happened to each of Bell-Smith’s monumental canvases?

“The Tribute” was purchased by the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Toronto in about 1914 and donated to the then National Archives sometime before 1931. It was lost in the archives and discovered again much later, during an inventory of large rolled up items. The canvas had been badly damaged, but Library and Archives Canada’s team of conservators was able to restore it expertly… it remains an example of an extraordinary conservation effort.

“The Arrival” was purchased by a senator whose portrait figures prominently in it. After his death, his widow donated the work to the National Gallery, but it was transferred to the Railway Room, on Parliament Hill, where it was destroyed in the fire.

“The State Funeral,” the third and last painting in Bell-Smith’s series, was never sold and remained in the artist’s family. It was donated to Library and Archives Canada by the artist’s descendants in 1997.

Today, the two remaining paintings—reunited in Library and Archives Canada’s collection—provide us with a fascinating insight into the history of public commemoration in Canada.

For further information, see Eva Major-Marothy, The Wrong Commemoration: Frederic Marlett Bell-Smith’s Paintings of the State Funeral of Sir John Thompson, in Public Art in Canada, Toronto (2009).

Igor Gouzenko and the Start of the Cold War

By Daniel German

The “hot war” that was the Second World War officially ended on September 2, 1945, with the surrender of Japan. Three days later, on the evening of September 5, the Cold War—or at least public knowledge of what would come to be known as the Cold War—began. On that day, a junior officer at the Embassy of the Soviet Union in Ottawa, carrying assorted documents he had removed from the embassy, attempted to defect to Canada.

The man in question, Igor Sergeyevich Gouzenko, was more than simply a junior diplomat: he was actually a member of the Glavnoye razvedyvatel’noye upravleniye (GRU), the Soviet military’s foreign military-intelligence agency. His main duties as part of the Soviet legation in Ottawa included encrypting and decrypting messages for the GRU head in Ottawa, Colonel Nikolai Zabotin, who, under the guise of being the Soviet military attaché, operated a string of agents in Canada who gathered intelligence for the Soviet Union.

Gouzenko had found out that he was to be returned to the Soviet Union, and feared the possible consequences. He therefore decided to defect, gathering documents that he hoped would show Canadian authorities his value as a source of information on Soviet intelligence activities. Unfortunately for his nerves, and those of his wife, the initial stages of this defection possessed far too much of the farce mixed with melodrama to befit the intelligence he wished to share.

During the 24 hours following his departure from the embassy, Gouzenko bounced from pillar to post, as he attempted to tell his story to the news media, the police and the government. At every turn, he seems to have been stymied. People thought that he was making things up, that someone else should deal with him, or simply that acknowledging him would cause too many problems with the Soviets.

A colour photograph of a brown brick low-rise apartment building, with a white door.

Photograph of the apartment building where Igor Gouzenko lived with his wife in 1945. Photo credit: LAC

The evening of the September 6, 1945, started much on the same note. At first, Gouzenko and his wife hid in their apartment, frightened because they could get no one to take them seriously. Their concerns were heightened when they spotted two men keeping the apartment building under surveillance, and someone knocked on their door and called out. Gouzenko recognized the voice as belonging to another Soviet officer. The Gouzenkos then approached a neighbouring apartment, occupied by a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and his family, and sought refuge there. The RCAF member offered to go out on his bicycle and seek police help.

Following the departure of the helpful neighbour, the comedy of errors proceeded apace. Initially, it seemed that the appeal from the RCAF member had borne fruit, as two officers from the Ottawa Police arrived and interviewed Gouzenko, who informed them that he had secret information of great value and that the Soviets would do anything to get it back. Perhaps attempting to appease Gouzenko, who by then may have been frantic, the officers informed him that they would keep an eye on the building all night and that, should any problem arise, the Gouzenkos need only turn off the light in the bathroom of the RCAF family’s apartment and help would soon arrive. The officers then left, leaving the Gouzenkos hiding in their neighbour’s apartment.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman and a man with a hood covering his face, looking at a book entitled The Fall of a Titan bearing an image of Joseph Stalin along with the name of the author, Igor Gouzenko, on the cover.

Igor Gouzenko on television holding his book The Fall of a Titan. (a129625)

Just before midnight, the apartment building’s nervous occupants became aware that someone had broken into the Gouzenkos’ apartment, and the intruder could be heard moving about. When the police arrived, they found four representatives from the Soviet Embassy in the Gouzenkos’ apartment, including one who was identified as Second Secretary at the embassy (actually the Canadian head of the Naródnyy Komissariát Vnútrennikh Del (NKVD) [the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs], otherwise known as Soviet Internal Security). He was accompanied by the assistant military attaché and two junior figures, one of whom was also a member of the NKVD. The four claimed that they had permission to be there, but had greater difficulty explaining why, if they were there with the Gouzenkos’ knowledge, they had broken the lock on the door in order to enter. Although the Soviets were asked to remain in order to answer questions, they left soon after a more senior officer of the city police arrived to investigate what now seemed to be a much more serious affair.

The next morning, the city police escorted Igor Gouzenko to the offices of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), where Gouzenko shared his story and handed over the documents he had abstracted from the embassy. Now sensitized to the import of Gouzenko’s testimony, the RCMP studied his documents very carefully.

Unbeknownst to Gouzenko, his actions on September 6 had already been brought to the attention of the highest levels of the Canadian government, although had he known the original opinion of the Prime Minister (W.L.M. King) regarding the affair, he would not have been so sanguine. According to a personal note found with Mr. King’s diary, King was informed on the morning of the September 6 that Gouzenko wanted to defect and hand over his documents. King, on his part, decided that taking in the defector would cause too many problems and in any case thought that the claims of a Soviet spy service operating in Canada were no doubt overblown. When told that Gouzenko was distraught and might commit suicide, the Prime Minister directed that a member of Canadian security should watch the Gouzenkos’ apartment and that, if Gouzenko committed suicide, the matter should be left to the local police, but that the secret documents should be secured by the government.

This approach by the government was blown open by the events of that night and the documents Gouzenko shown to the RCMP the next day. Confronted with the information contained therein, the Prime Minister and the security services of Canada, Great Britain, and the United States were shocked at the extent and depth of Soviet espionage activities.

A 1946 Royal Commission of Inquiry into the affair named names, including those of scientists, soldiers, bureaucrats and politicians. By the end of the public inquiry, citizens of the Western Alliance were stunned to find prominent scientists, and even a member of Parliament, named as having betrayed Canada. It was the end of the peaceable kingdom’s hopes for postwar tranquillity and amity among the wartime allies, as relations between the Soviet Union and the West chilled—cooling down into the Cold War.

A red plaque with gold writing featuring the Arms of Canada in the top left corner.

A photograph of the plaque commemorating Igor Gouzenko and providing information on the Gouzenko Affair. Photo credit: LAC


Daniel German is a senior archivist in the Government Archives Division of Library and Archives Canada.

Japanese Canadian internment: Over 40,000 pages and 180 photographs digitized by the DigiLab

By Gabrielle Nishiguchi

The DigiLab has hosted many projects since its launch in 2017, two of which were carried out by Landscapes of Injustice. Landscapes of Injustice is a major, seven-year humanities and social justice project led by the University of Victoria, joined to date by fifteen cultural, academic and federal partners, including Library and Archives Canada. The purpose of this project is to research and make known the history of the dispossession—the forced sale of Japanese-Canadian-owned property made legal by Order in Council 1943-0469 (19 January 1943) during the Second World War.

In total, over 40,000 pages of textual material and over 180 photographs were digitized by the two researchers with Landscapes of Injustice. Some of the documents are now available online for all to consult, including photographs relating to the internment of Japanese Canadians.

Photographs relating to Japanese Canadian internment

These photographs are from three albums of photographs taken during inspection tours of Japanese Canadian internment camps in 1943 and 1945. The first two albums contain images of camps in the interior of British Columbia taken by Jack Long of the National Film Board of Canada Still Photography Division.

The third album contains twenty-seven images taken by Ernest L. Maag, International Committee of the Red Cross Delegate in Canada, in 1943. Among the Maag images are photographs illustrating the winter hardship of Japanese Canadian internment life. One photograph shows the International Red Cross delegate stuck in a heavy snowdrift during his 1943 camp inspection tour.

Another image shows snow shovelled against the shiplap walls of the internment shacks. There is tar paper on the outer walls for protection against the elements.

Three men and a car in a snowstorm: (from left to right) one man standing at the rear of the car, a second man bent over the back right tire, and a third man going towards the car to assist.

Picture No. 26 [The International Red Cross delegate stuck in a heavy snowdrift during his 1943 camp inspection tour] Credit: Ernest L. Maag (e999900382-u)

From right to left: Children in front of shiplap shacks with snow shovelled against walls. Internee in distance walking down makeshift “street.” Tar paper, to protect the shacks from the elements, is visible on the shack walls.

Picture No. 5 [Snow shovelled against the shiplap walls of internment shacks. Notice the tar paper on the outer walls of the shacks for protection against the elements. Credit: Ernest L. Maag] (e999900386-u)

All photographs digitized during the project are available in Collection Search under the key words “Photographs relating to Japanese-Canadian internment.”

A defective and prejudicial logic

It should be noted that the Long photographs were commissioned by the Canadian government during the Second World War to create the false impression that some 20,000 Japanese Canadians, whom it had forcibly interned in 1942, were being especially well treated and were, in fact, enjoying their lives in internment camps.

Bureaucrats employed the defective and prejudicial logic that there was an equivalence between Canadians of Japanese ethnic origin—75% of whom were Canadian citizens by birth or naturalization—and ethnic Japanese in Imperial Japan. The rationale behind this discriminatory belief was that, if these photographs were seen by the Government of Japan, they might secure favourable treatment for Canadian soldiers held captive by the Axis Japanese.

Original captions

The original captions reflect the purpose of the photographs and were a product of 1940s thinking. Internees are not referred to as Canadians. They are all “Japanese” or, in one offensive case, “Japs.” Non-Japanese are “whites,” “Occidentals” or “other racial groups.” The names added to the captions are for non-Japanese persons.

Euphemisms are employed, such as “space-saving” and “snug” for cramped, “evacuees” for internees, “repatriation” for deportation, “cottages” for internment shacks, and “settlements” and “housing centres” for the actual camps. There are “orderly rows of houses” and “tidy valleys.” The point is often made that the internees are being treated the same as other Canadians: “In camp hospitals, babies are born as in any other hospital. This happy mother chats with Dr. Burnett, director of the hospital” and “At the end of the school term Japanese evacuee students have a graduation banquet just as any other students in Canada would. Settlements are unguarded, and evacuees may visit between them, or go out for sports.”

There are descriptions such as “cheerful,” “modern,” “a fine place,” “well-equipped,” “well-stocked,” “clean,” and “as perfect as possible.” In one image of the women’s ward of the hospital at the New Denver, B.C., camp hospital, the caption writer senses “there is no doubt about the good feeling behind these smiles.” In this case, the ribboned ornament that the internee patient has pinned in her hair is perhaps evidence that the photograph was staged.

From left to right: Hospitalized woman (internee) in bed. Nurse standing on the right.

In the women’s ward of the hospital at New Denver, there is no doubt about the good feeling behind these smiles. [The photographer appears to have posed the internee patient. Notice the ribboned ornament she has clipped on the back of her head.] (e999900300-u)

Yet even though the Long photographs have been artfully and professionally staged, there is still no mistaking the posed, self-conscious smiles of people who are detained in internment camps.

When one bureaucrat in Canada’s Department of External Affairs saw Long’s images, he wrote on the file pocket: “These are excellent photographs.” However, the written comments of another bureaucrat, Arthur Redpath Menzies, dated April 26, 1943, appearing just below his colleague’s leave us with a stark reminder of the reality of the situation not revealed by the photographs themselves: “Understand from some who have been there that this spot is actually pretty grim — very cold — no work except sawing wood . . . in fact not a very pleasant spot — for Canadian citizens where only offence is their colour.” Menzies went on to become Canada’s Head of Mission in Japan in 1950 and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the People’s Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976.

View of a small town surrounded by mountains. In the foreground are multiple buildings, and in the background on the left are rows of smaller houses.

Evacuee homes in Lemon Creek, B.C., are built with enough space in between for comfort and a garden. Each cottage accommodates one family. [Internee shacks in the Lemon Creek, B.C., internment camp] Credit: Jack Long (e999900291-u)

A man is standing in front of a large, tilted shelving unit filled with Japanese characters used in a printing press.

Some of the thousands of Japanese typeface characters used for The New Canadian, a newspaper that was published every week in Kaslo, B.C. The offices are now in Winnipeg, Manitoba. [The New Canadian began publishing in 1939, in Vancouver. It was an English-language newspaper founded to be the voice of the Canadian-born Nisei (second-generation Japanese Canadians). After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the internment of some 20,000 Japanese Canadians, it resumed publishing in the Kaslo, B.C., internment camp. A Japanese-language section was added to better serve the Issei, or first-generation Japanese Canadians. In 1945, the paper moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, and subsequently, in 1949, to Toronto, Ontario, where it continued publishing until 2001.] Credit: Jack Long (e999900358-u)

Three women, one of whom is a nurse, are standing around a kitchen island on which there are trays, dishes and bottles of milk. Utensils are hanging from the rack that runs down the middle of the unit.

The very modern kitchen of the Greenwood camp hospital. [Hospital kitchen at the Greenwood, B.C., internment camp] Credit: Jack Long (e999900255-u)

The original captions for these photographs expose vestiges of Canada’s colonial past. Library and Archives Canada continues to provide relevant context as a way of presenting a fuller and more equitable picture of our nation’s history. This is work of value. For, as written on the Landscapes of Injustice website: “A society’s willingness to discuss the shameful episodes of its history provides a powerful gauge of democracy.”

If you have an idea for a project like this one, please email the DigiLab with an overview of your project.

Related LAC sources

Textual documents

Case files

Related links


Gabrielle Nishiguchi is a government records archivist in the Society, Employment, Indigenous and Governmental Affairs Section, Archives Branch, at Library and Archives Canada.

Textiles made in Canada: the archives of the Dominion Textile Company

By Jennifer Anderson and Dalton Campbell

Archives can reveal the details of Canadians’ everyday work lives, suggest to contemporary researchers what earlier generations experienced in the workplace, and show how the Canadian economy has changed over time. A case in point: the extensive photographs in the collections of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) related to the production and marketing of Canadian-made textiles. Many of these photographs have been digitized and are available through the LAC collection search.

A colour photograph of five packages of Texmade sheets, in different colours and styles.

A promotional photograph for Texmade products, a Dominion Textile brand (e011201409)

For generations, the Dominion Textile Company was synonymous with Canadian-made cotton textiles. Established in 1905 through a merger of four independent textile firms, Dominion Textile originally operated 11 mills, producing primarily griege cotton and finished cotton cloth for Canadian markets. As the company consolidated its position, it began to expand its reach in the textile industry and across the country. The firm’s headquarters were in Montréal, Quebec.

When the first textile companies were founded, the majority of Canadians were making their own clothing. According to Serge Gaudreau, the textile industry, like the railroad, was a visible symbol of Canada’s modernity at the beginning of the 20th century, a complex industry that combined human labour with machinery. Facing competition from the United States and the United Kingdom, Canadian companies were given tax breaks under Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s National Policy, allowing the Canadian textile mills to make headway in the competitive 1870s market.

In the textile industry, race/ethnicity, gender and class had relevance. As was commonplace in the Quebec manufacturing sector in those days, the workforce that carried the industry into the new era was largely Francophone and Irish, with English-speaking managers. The cotton itself would likely have been sourced in the United States, and the photographs do include some American mills.

Textile mills in Canada relied on a very high percentage of female workers, as Gail Cuthbert Brandt has shown in Through the Mill: Girls and Women in the Quebec Cotton Textile Industry, 1881–1951 and Joy Parr in The Gender of Breadwinners: Women, Men and Change in Two Industrial Towns, 1880–1950.

A black-and-white photograph showing men and women posed in a factory with large machines in the foreground.

Seven male and three female factory workers posed behind machinery, ca. 1895, Magog, Quebec (e011213545)

Dominion Textile maintained its own archives before transferring the documents to LAC. The archival fonds includes a rich collection of photographs, textual records and audiovisual recordings documenting the work life and community of employees, the architecture of mills in diverse locations, the process of textile fabrication, and the finished products. Like many company towns, the cotton mills organized sports teams, whose legacy lives on in the archives.

A black-and-white matted photograph of a soccer team, with the players in striped jerseys and the coaches in suits.

Montmorency Association Football Club soccer league champions, 1915, Montmorency, Quebec (e011213574)

The collection contains the administrative and operational records of the parent company as well as minute books and financial records of 62 other firms associated with Dominion Textile. These firms include the original four predecessor companies that merged in 1905, subsidiary companies and the independent textile companies acquired by Dominion Textile as it expanded to become Canada’s largest textile firm.

For some fabric companies, the Dominion Textile merger was a necessity. Montmorency Cotton Mills, established in 1898, produced a variety of products (grey cloth, hosiery yarns, towelling, sheeting and flannels) for domestic and international markets. The company was forced into the merger in part because of the effects on international trade caused by the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The Montmorency mills remained operational well into the 1980s. The archival photographs at LAC illustrate the mill’s longevity and the powerful waterfall that produced energy for its operations.

A black-and-white aerial photograph showing a factory beside a river, with a large waterfall in the background.

Dominion Textile Limited, 1925, Montmorency, Quebec (e011213592)

In 1929, as part of a larger acquisition, Dominion Textile also acquired what would be called the Sherbrooke Cotton Company. The acquisition included the stock of the Sherbrooke Housing Company, which sought to build a model city for the mill’s employees. The plant, retooled to manufacture synthetic fibres in 1935, continued to operate until the 1990s.

A page from a binder featuring a colour aerial photograph of a factory in a town, near a river, with statistics printed below the photograph.

Sherbrooke Fabrics, ca. 1980, Sherbrooke, Quebec (e011213596)

Penman Manufacturing Company, first incorporated in 1882, dates back to 1868, when its first knitted goods factory opened. Under John Penman, the company became the largest knitting firm in Canada when it assumed control of six smaller knitting mills in Port Dover, Paris and other towns in Ontario and Quebec.

In 1906, the company was acquired by Dominion Textile and reorganized under the name Penmans Limited. The company continued to expand, producing hosiery, underwear and other knitted goods.

A page from a binder featuring a colour aerial photograph of a factory with a chimney near the centre, surrounded by trees and a town, with statistics below the photograph.

Penmans plant, ca. 1980, Paris, Ontario (e011213581)

The Dominion Textile photographs depict mills in towns and cities across central and eastern Canada, representing the close proximity between factory buildings and the local community and workforce. They are complemented by archival material in other collections at LAC.

The material also shows changes to technology as well as health and safety protections in the workplace, and it reflects the industry’s evolution.

A black-and-white photograph of two women standing and operating devices in a laboratory, with machinery and a large window in the background, and pipes and fluorescent lighting overhead.

Testing laboratory, ca. 1945, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia (e011213547)

A black-and-white photograph of a man wearing jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt monitoring a spooling machine.

A worker monitors a spooling machine at Long Sault Fabrics, 1984 (e011213534)

The archival collection also includes textual records related to the negotiation of the 1987 free trade agreement with the United States, and the expected impact on the textile industry.

The collection shows that the marketing of Canadian-made fashion was also about cultural diplomacy and international trade. Over the years, economic pressures, market competition and difficult work conditions often led to restructuring and downsizing, which met resistance from the workforce. The collection includes images related to strikes and labour unrest at the textile mills.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of people marching in the street, carrying a banner that reads “Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Textile, CSD [Centrale des syndicats démocratiques], Usine de Montmorency” [Textile workers, CSD (Congress of Democratic Trade Unions), Montmorency factory].

Protesters in labour dispute, ca. 1970 (e011213559)

The fonds also includes vibrant promotional imagery and moving images featuring the finished products, which made Dominion Textile quite literally a household name in Canada.

A colour photograph of two women wearing patterned cotton dresses, jackets and headscarves, walking on a runway.

Fashion show, 1986 (e011201412)

We look forward to seeing how researchers will incorporate the recently digitized photographs into new projects on the importance of the textile industry in Canada and further explore the breadth of the resources preserved at LAC. If Reference Services can be of assistance, please reach out to us.

To see more images related to the Dominion Textile Company and textile manufacturing, visit our Flickr album.

Here are some other sources at LAC:

Hamilton Cotton Company fonds

Lennard and Sons Ltd. fonds

Mercury-Chipman Knit Ltd. fonds

Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union: Textile Division fonds

Jacob Lawrence Cohen fonds

Madeleine Parent and Kent Rowley fonds

Margot Trevelyan fonds

Royal Commission on the Textile Industry

Department of Industry records


Jennifer Anderson was an archivist in the Reference Services Division, and Dalton Campbell is an archivist in the Science, Environment and Economy Section, at Library and Archives Canada. The authors wish to thank Kerry O’Neill for her contributions to this blog.

Working while parenting isn’t new, most of us are just out of practice

By Krista Cooke

A black-and-white photograph of two women seated on benches in a log cabin. They are working at a large weaving frame while a small child rocks a baby in a cradle nearby.

Two women work at a weaving frame while a nearby child amuses the baby, Cap à l’Aigle, Quebec, ca. 1910 (a040744)

“Pandemic parenting” has been causing stress for families around the globe, above and beyond the strain of living in a global health crisis. This period has been tough, even for those lucky enough to be able to take a leave of absence or access emergency funding sources. For emergency workers, single parents, those living in tight spaces, those in poverty, or families dealing with domestic violence or mental health issues, the stress of pandemic parenting is acute. For others, like me, having both parents working at home with young children to care for, home-school, clean up after, feed and entertain, the past few months have not been easy either.

By turns hilarious and tragic, the blogosphere is filled to bursting with home videos and personal reflections about parenting during COVID-19. As a mother, I have been learning from other parents: creating new routines, being grateful for our family’s good fortune, and taking one day at a time. As a historian, I have been looking to the past for insights, studying the women captured in photographs from Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collections. How did families do this in the past? How did we get here? What will happen next? Employment numbers early in the pandemic showed Canadian women losing jobs twice as fast as men, and more recently Statistics Canada recorded job numbers bouncing back much more quickly for men than for women. Online speculation is running rampant about how this epidemic will impact women in the workplaces of the future. How can we “Lean In” (as influential American author Sheryl Sandberg advocated) without child care, when many of us are spending our days with a laptop in one hand and a handful of colouring sheets in the other?

Generations of Canadian women have been intimately acquainted with the work/child care balancing act. Before the age of industrialization, most women juggled child-rearing responsibilities with home-based work (both paid and unpaid), contributing as they could to the family economy. Indigenous communities cared for children collectively while young mothers worked at clothing or food production. Early settler women earned money from home by taking farm products or handicrafts to market, sewing for pay, or taking in laundry. Fathers worked long hours on the land, in growing urban centres, or away from home in seasonal jobs while mothers managed as best they could with children at their heels. Early marriage and large families were the norm (according to Statistics Canada surveys, in the mid-1800s, the average Canadian family had six children). Children were expected to contribute early by helping with farm and housework, by taking care of younger siblings, and often by leaving school at a young age to help pay the bills.

A black-and-white photograph of a factory interior with four women working in a production line on a fish-canning machine. Two of the women have babies strapped to their back with wraps. There is a young child in a stroller behind the women.

Japanese women work in a fish cannery with their Japanese-Canadian babies strapped to their backs, Steveston, B.C., 1913 (Vancouver Public Library 2071)

Industrialization brought mass manufacturing and new opportunities for women to earn wages. Urban working-class women joined the male factory workforce, mainly in jobs related to textiles and food processing. The number of women workers grew through the 1800s; by 1901, they accounted for 13 percent of the Canadian workforce. Some women, whose families could afford it, worked only before they married or after their children had grown, reverting to home-based work like needlework to earn money while their children were young. For women who needed to keep their factory jobs, child care fell to the extended family. Many mothers left small children behind while they worked, in the care of elderly family members or older siblings. Some women brought their children with them when they did not have other options. The Japanese women shown above, part of the first generation of immigrants from Japan, would not have had grandmothers or elderly aunts in Canada to provide child care.

A black-and-white photograph of a mother waving goodbye to her two small children. The children are holding the hands of a daycare worker. The day nursery appears to be in a fenced yard in a residential neighbourhood. There is a swing set in the background.

Mrs. Jack Wright, a munitions worker, waves goodbye to her children at a day nursery, Toronto, 1943 (e000761764)

The two world wars (1914–1918 and 1939–1945) ensured new visibility for women in the workforce, as middle-class women joined working-class women in previously male-dominated fields. The fight for women’s right to vote and the opening of Canadian universities to women in the early part of the century had gradually increased the presence of women in the workforce, a trend that accelerated during the war years. Teaching, nursing and secretarial jobs were soon staffed mainly by young or unmarried women, and small numbers of women broke into other fields such as journalism, medicine and science. The Second World War created a massive need for labour, as men joined the military and the economy geared up for wartime. Women were urgently needed to fill jobs, so employers and governments were forced to address the issue of child care, in order to free mothers to join the wartime workforce in large numbers. Between 1939 and 1942, the number of women in the workforce doubled, with women accounting for one third of Canadian workers. The Canadian government responded by establishing a wartime day nursery program to help working mothers, in eight industrial cities across the country. A 1943 film, Before They Are Six, held in the collections at LAC and available online through the National Film Board’s website, promoted the day nursery program. Historian Lisa Pasolli found that these nurseries cared for just over 4,000 children between 1942 and 1946, mainly in Ontario and Quebec where most heavy industry was located. Another 2,500 children were part of the hot lunch and after-school care programs. Mrs. Jack Wright, pictured above, has become Canada’s most famous wartime working mother, featured in a series of Wartime Information Board images held at LAC. In the photos, Wright balances her war work with the responsibilities of feeding her family and raising her children with the help of the day nursery program. Most Canadian women, however, did not have access to day nurseries, and they continued to juggle informal child-care arrangements or paid work from home.

The end of the Second World War brought an end to the day nursery program. Newspaper and magazine articles urged middle-class working mothers back into their homes to make way for men returning from military service. The unusual wartime circumstances that had made child care a federal priority had ended, and widespread availability of government-sponsored daycares would not come again for decades. Throughout the 1950s, child care split regionally, often along class lines. Historian Larry Prochner’s research on child care found that professionally educated nursery school teachers cared for the children of wealthier households, while many child-care centres followed older patterns, providing crèche services as a stopgap solution for lower-income families. The 1966 Canada Assistance Plan again brought some federal attention and consistency to daycares, with government recognition of the rapidly growing number of working women.

A father spoons food into the mouth of his child, who is seated in a high chair in the kitchen. The father’s mouth is open, as he mimics his baby.

Magazine photo featuring a father overseeing a baby’s mealtime, Star Weekly, 1960 (e010692838)

The women’s movements of the 1960s (what some have dubbed the “Second Wave” of feminism) saw women increasingly taking their place in the workforce, with numbers of working women growing to match wartime levels. As the number of working mothers has grown, household duties and child care have become a shared responsibility. Fathers, once expected to “man” the barbecue and lawnmower on weekends, are increasingly involved in child rearing, cooking and cleaning. The man in the Star Weekly magazine spread above may have been newsworthy in 1960, but most modern fathers are fully versed in the joys of baby mush. Although Canadian men spend less time on housework than women (according to Statistics Canada, 1.5 hours less per day on average), today’s fathers are much more likely than Baby Boomer dads to take charge of parenting. The 1950s-style nuclear family with a working husband and stay-at-home mother is in the minority. According to the same Statistics Canada report, almost 60 percent of Canadian families have two income earners, up from under 40 percent in 1976, and single-parent households have almost doubled during the same period. Double-income households, single parenting, co-parenting and other family models hinge on reliable child care. With most Canadian families consisting of two full-time wage earners, daycares, schools, summer camps and after-school programs have become essential to the smooth running of most households. Department of Manpower and Immigration photographs at LAC include dozens of images of daycares and nursery schools and show the increasing importance of early childhood education. The conversation about their importance to the Canadian economy is also likely to increase in the eventual wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A colour photograph of the backs of two small children seated at a table in a cluttered room. The children are pretending to work on handmade cardboard computers while talking on plastic telephones.

Two small children “work from home,” Gatineau, Quebec, March 2020

Families facing a long summer without day camps and worrying about a new school year filled with uncertainty are asking questions about how long “pandemic parenting” is sustainable. Only time will tell if the gap between female and male employment will continue grow as the pandemic wears on and families are forced to choose which wage earner will stay home with children. A recent survey by Statistics Canada looks at how families are coping during the pandemic, in order to identify how to help those most in need. As with so many things during COVID-19, child-care solutions seem to be as individual as a family’s circumstances. I myself have no answers, except to reflect that this constant juggling of family and work responsibilities is not new. Communal child rearing, the rapid mobilization of wartime day nurseries to meet the needs of a nation in crisis, increasing parenting responsibilities for fathers, employers’ openness to flextime, and the availability of new technologies like telework are all possible models to take with us into this summer and beyond.


Krista Cooke is a curator in the Exhibitions team at Library and Archives Canada.

The liberation of the Netherlands (1944–1945)

By Sarah Bellefleur Bondu

This year, 2020, is the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The cruel conflict lasted for six long years; it included battles, military offensives, restrictions and rationing for Europeans and North Americans alike, not to mention the heartbreak suffered by families who lost loved ones at the front. The war, from 1939 to 1945, also featured co-operation, goodwill and solidarity between the Allied forces and civilians who were enduring harsh conditions. The vital contribution of the Canadian Forces to the liberation of the Netherlands in 1944–1945 is a shining example of this spirit of caring.

On May 10, 1940, Germany attacked the Netherlands. A few days later, Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina and members of the Dutch government fled the country, which soon fell to the Nazi forces. The Netherlands remained under oppressive occupation for four years.

Flooded village with rooftops and a church steeple protruding from the waters.

The dikes blown up by the Germans flooded a large part of the northern Netherlands. This photograph, taken from an aircraft on May 31, 1945, shows a small flooded village where a church steeple and rooftops provide refuge for seagulls. (a175772)

Launch of operations in the Netherlands

In September 1944, several weeks after their invasion of Normandy, the Allies launched operations against the German forces still holding the line in northwestern Europe. Many key positions, including a number of bridges that crossed major Dutch waterways, were taken by the Allied forces during Operation Market Garden. However, German troops still held the banks of the Scheldt River, which crosses the Netherlands and connects the port city of Antwerp in Belgium to the North Sea. This canal was vital for the Allies to access key seaports and resupply their troops.

The Battle of the Scheldt

In October 1944, Allied forces seized first the northern and then the southern banks of the Scheldt. On November 8, they successfully stormed the German stronghold on Walcheren Island.

n the winter of 1944–1945, the Allies carefully planned their next campaign, which could potentially end the war in Europe. However, the Dutch had almost run out of resources under German occupation; this was the tragic Hunger Winter. With food reserves depleted in the Netherlands, thousands of civilians died.

Operation Veritable was launched on February 8, 1945. Its objective was to help Allied troops continue their advance, cross Germany’s borders, push the enemy back across the Rhine and breach the famous Siegfried Line.

The campaign in northwestern Europe: final phase

As they gradually advanced through the Netherlands, the Allied forces liberated occupied towns one after the other. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division was responsible for ending the Nazi occupation of the northeastern Netherlands, including the cities of Almelo (April 5), Zutphen (April 8), Deventer (April 12), Arnhem (April 12–16) and Groningen (April 16), as well as the German coast. Elsewhere in the country, the 1st Canadian Army Corps pushed the remaining Germans out of the western Netherlands, north of the Meuse, and liberated the city of Apeldoorn (April 17).

During these operations, the Allies were concerned that the Germans would destroy the dikes and that the high waters of the spring would flood Dutch cities. They were also aware that civilians faced starvation because of supply problems. On April 28, they entered into negotiations with the Germans, who accepted their proposal two days later. As a result, thousands of tons of food and coal were transported by plane, ship and truck to the Dutch people.

Several people unload food crates from the back of a military truck. Many crates are stacked in the foreground.

Dutch civilians load a truck with Canadian-supplied food following an agreement between the Germans, the Dutch and the Allies on providing food to the Dutch people, May 3, 1945. (a134417)

On May 5, 1945, the German forces occupying the Netherlands surrendered; the whole country was officially liberated. After enduring years of hardship, the Dutch people gave the warmest welcome possible to the Canadians when they arrived. The Dutch celebrated across the country as the occupation ended. Two days after the liberation of the Netherlands, the Second World War in Europe was officially over.

Crowd of Dutch civilians celebrating the liberation of Utrecht by the Canadian Army, May 7, 1945. (a134376)

Since then, many of the Canadian soldiers who helped to liberate the Netherlands returned to attend commemorative ceremonies and maintained close ties with the Dutch people they had met. Library and Archives Canada holds an extensive collection of archival material documenting the events of 1945 and the relationship between Canada and the Netherlands to the present day.

Several children standing in front of headstones, holding bouquets of daffodils.

Young children preparing to place flowers on the headstones of graves of Canadian soldiers in the Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery, 1957. (e011176651)

Other resources


Sarah Bellefleur Bondu is an archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.