Louis Riel’s ill-fated Ottawa journey

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 Anna Heffernan

During his lifetime, Louis David Riel was a controversial figure—a leader of two uprisings, regarded as either a hero or a traitor—but today he is recognized for his contributions to the development of the Métis Nation, the province of Manitoba, and Canada. In 1992, he was named a founder of Manitoba, and in 2016, he was recognized as the province’s first leader. Since 2008, the third Monday in February has been celebrated as Louis Riel Day in Manitoba.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a rich selection of materials relating to Louis Riel and the movements he led. The We Are Here: Sharing Stories project digitizes Indigenous-related materials in LAC’s collections. One of our priorities is to digitize the documentary legacy of Riel to make it more accessible to Métis Nation communities and researchers. While Riel is one of Canada’s most famous historical figures, some aspects of his life story are less known.

Most Canadians will recall that Louis Riel led the Red River Resistance in 1869–1870. At this time, the Hudson’s Bay Company sold their rights to Rupert’s Land, granted to them by the British Crown, to the Dominion of Canada. Métis Nation and First Nations peoples who traditionally inhabited the area did not recognize the Hudson’s Bay Company’s claim to the land, and therefore saw this as an illegitimate sale. In response to the sale of their homelands, Louis Riel and his colleagues formed a provisional government, pictured below, at Fort Garry.

A black-and-white photograph of 14 men, arranged in three rows (the front two rows sitting and the back row standing), with Louis Riel seated in the centre.

Louis Riel (centre) with the councillors of the provisional government in 1870 (a012854)

However, not everyone supported Riel’s provisional government. A group of Ontario settlers were captured by the provisional government’s forces while preparing to attack Fort Garry. One of the group, Thomas Scott, was executed for insubordination on March 4, 1870. Despite this incident, negotiations with Canada continued, and Riel successfully negotiated the terms of Manitoba’s entry into Confederation. When the negotiations were complete, a military expedition was sent from Ontario to enforce Canadian control over Manitoba. Many in Ontario viewed Riel as a traitor and murderer for the execution of Thomas Scott. Fearing for his life, Riel fled to St. Paul, Minnesota.

One of the less-well-known stories of Louis Riel’s life is his ill-fated journey to Ottawa. In 1873, Riel was elected as the Member of Parliament for Provencher, Manitoba, and he was re-elected twice in 1874. Riel travelled to Ottawa to take his seat, but his foray into federal politics was to be short-lived. His attempt to sit in the House of Commons is documented in our collection by some interesting material. The first item is the test roll bearing his signature, pictured below, which every Member of Parliament signed upon taking the oath.

Page with six columns of signatures. Louis Riel’s signature is seen at bottom right.

Caption: Page from the House of Commons test roll signed by Louis Riel (e010771238)

Going to Ontario at this time was an enormous risk for Riel. After the execution of Thomas Scott, Ontarians reacted with anger—particularly Protestants, because Scott had been a member of the Orange Order, a Protestant fraternal organization. In response, the premier of Ontario offered a $5,000 reward for Riel’s capture, and a warrant was put out for his arrest. In Parliament, a motion to expel Riel was brought by Mackenzie Bowell, an Orangeman from Ontario. The motion passed, and Riel would not return to the House of Commons, despite being re-elected a third time. The second piece of material relating to Riel’s journey to the capital is the photograph below. Before leaving hastily, Riel had his photograph taken in Ottawa, inscribed with the caption “Louis Riel, MP.”

Sepia-tone vignette photograph of Louis Riel facing the camera, with handwritten inscription underneath reading “Louis Riel, MP.”

Caption: Studio portrait taken in Ottawa after Riel was elected as the Member of Parliament for Provencher, Manitoba (e003895129)

In 1875, Riel went into exile in the United States. From 1879, he lived in Montana Territory, where he married Marguerite Monet, dite Bellehumeur, in 1881. They had three children. He followed the buffalo hunt and worked as an agent, trader, woodcutter and later teacher. Riel returned to Canada, to Batoche in what is now Saskatchewan, in July 1884.

The test roll and the photograph of Riel in Ottawa are examples of how even some of the small items in our collection can illuminate moments in Canadian history. By researching and digitizing more of the Indigenous documentary heritage in our collections, we aim to share the stories not only of famous figures like Riel but also of many other Indigenous people in Canada.

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 content and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Anna Heffernan is an archivist/researcher for We Are Here: Sharing Stories, an initiative to digitize Indigenous content at Library and Archives Canada.

A.P. Low and the Many Words of Love in Inuit Culture

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 Heather Campbell

Albert Peter Low was a geologist and explorer, whose expeditions to Quebec and Labrador from 1893 to 1895 assisted in the creation of their borders. Low mapped the interior of Labrador and discovered large iron deposits, which later lead to the development of the iron mine at what is now Labrador City. His mapping of Labrador influenced expeditions after him including that of Mina Hubbard in 1905.

Black-and-white portrait of a man standing in a photo studio.

Portrait of Albert Peter Low by William Topley, 1897. (a214276)

In 1903 and 1904, Low commanded two expeditions on the steamer Neptune up the west coast of Hudson Bay where he formally claimed possession of Southampton, Ellesmere, and adjacent islands for Canada. Low detailed his travels in Cruise of the Neptune (Report on the Dominion Government Expedition to Hudson Bay and the Arctic Islands on Board the D.G.S. Neptune 1903-1904). Much of his research was invaluable in the recording of Inuit culture in Quebec, Nunavut, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Albert Peter Low fonds includes photographs, proclamations, and journals, two from a prospecting trip along the east coast of Hudson Bay, now known as the Inuit region of Nunavik, Quebec and one notebook written between 1901 and 1907. The notebook records 40 pages of the many tenses and corresponding suffixes of the verb “to love” in Inuktitut. In the photo below, we see a notebook page starting with the basic form “him, her or it loves.” He moves on to record, in lesser detail, the variations of the verb “to teach.” At the end he lists other transitive verbs, passive verbs, and adverbs, many related to Christianity.

A handwritten page of a notebook, recording Inuktitut vocabulary for the word “love.”

A page from the notebook kept by Low during his expeditions along the coast of Hudson Bay. (e011304604)

In 1886, Low married Isabella Cunningham and they had three children. Sadly, their first son died as an infant in 1898, and their second son died at age 19 during the Spanish Flu epidemic. Only their daughter Estelle, born in 1901, survived to adulthood and looked after her ailing father until his death in 1942. In 1943, she donated his collection to the Public Archives of Canada, which included Inuit art, mainly hunting scenes rendered in ivory. The collection was transferred to the Museum of Man (Canadian Museum of History) in 1962. Most of the works are miniature ivories created by Harry Teseuke, leader of the Aivilingmiut and Captain Comer’s mate. Comer’s ship, Era, wintered in Fullerton Harbour (near Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut) in 1903–1904. Low likely consulted with Teseuke who may have enlisted others to assist with Low’s research.

Although this journal is an extensive study of the sentence structure and grammar of Inuktitut, it also sheds light on Inuit culture. You’ll notice that verbs have no masculine or feminine forms or gender pronouns. This relates to the practice of naming children, as traditional Inuit names are unisex. And this is tied to the somewhat intricate practice of creating sauniq (namesake) relationships. For example, if a boy was named after a deceased woman with children, those children would address the boy as “my mother” or “my little mother” to acknowledge that special relationship. Bonds are often formed between people who are not related. It’s a lovely way of creating a strong sense of belonging and strengthening interconnectedness within a community. Inuit believe some of the unique characteristics of someone who has passed can live on in their namesake. Of course, love is the tie that binds these concepts.

Black-and-white photo of a ship surrounded by snow and ice, with people next to it building a snow shelter.

The expedition ship Neptune in its winter quarters at Cape Fullerton, Hudson Bay, Northwest Territories. (a053569)

I can’t help but wonder what Low’s fascination was with this particular word. With varied interests including geology, botany, photography, and hockey, he leaves the impression of an educated man with a curious mind. Was it curiosity alone that fed his hunger to know the nature of Inuit love? Despite the study of Inuktitut words related to Christianity, he was familiar with the Inuit traditional practice of polygamy. In Cruise of the Neptune, Low defends the custom, calling it a mistake for missionaries to attempt to abolish the practice. All of this paints a picture of a liberal-minded man and an early ally of Inuit. No personal writing or correspondence by Low has survived. Therefore, we will never truly know what inspired his fascination with Inuit culture and its many expressions of love.

Black-and-white photo of a woman sewing skin boots, while a child plays with her braids.

Rosie Iggi, also called Niakrok (left), and Kablu (right). Kablu is sewing kamiks (boots), and Niakrok is playing with Kablu’s braids. Photograph by Richard Harrington, 1950. (a147246)

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 content and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Heather Campbell is a researcher for the We Are Here: Sharing Stories project at Library and Archives Canada.

Inuit Qimmiit (sled dogs)

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 Laura Johnston

Traditionally, qimmiit (sled dogs) were an important part of Inuit culture. They represented a way of life and a connection to the land. Qimmiit were especially useful in transportation, safety and hunting. Today, however, the relationship between Inuit and qimmiit has changed, in part because of permanent settlement and a massive decline in the qimmiit population. Qimmiit have become more of a symbol or a connection to the cultural past.

Black-and-white photo of a team of sled dogs pulling a sled across an expanse of snow.

Qimuksiqtut (dog team with more than one person), Kugluktuk, Nunavut (formerly Coppermine, Northwest Territories), 1949 (a129937)

A black-and-white photo of a sled dog jumping across an opening of water, while a man holds its reins.

Phillip Napacherkadiak and his Qimuksiqtuq (dog team with one driver), Taloyoak, Nunavut (formerly Spence Bay, Northwest Territories), 1949–1950 (a129590)

Before the snowmobile was introduced to the North in the 1960s, going by qimuksiqtuq (dog team) was the primary means of transportation to travel across the frozen land and sea. Even after the introduction of the snowmobile, some preferred qimmiit as a way to travel. In contrast to the noise of snowmobiles, travelling by qimuksiqtuq was more pleasant and peaceful.

A black-and-white photo of a sled dog resting on the snow.

Qimmiq (sled dog) resting during a trip from Moose Factory Island, Ontario, to Kuujjuarapik, (formerly Great Whale), Quebec, 1946 (e010692583)

Travelling by qimuksiqtuq offered other benefits, including safety and protection. On account of their acute senses, qimmiit were useful for their ability to find their way home, or even a temporary camp, if a traveller were caught in a blizzard or a whiteout. Qimmiit were also useful to Inuit for travelling safely over ice. They were better able to sense whether the ice was too thin, and were usually able to avoid such areas. Qimmiit could also spread out and disperse their weight when travelling over thinner ice, making it less likely for a sled to fall through. However, even if a qimmiq (a single dog) fell through the ice, not every dog—or the traveler—would necessarily be endangered.

A black-and-white photo of a man holding a sled dog. The sled dog is wearing booties.

Possibly Ulaajuk and his qimmiq, Taloyoak, Nunavut (formerly Spence Bay, Northwest Territories) (a114721)

Qimmiit offered safety to Inuit in another way: from the threat of polar bears. Polar bears can be aggressive toward humans; they can pose a real danger to Inuit communities, especially travellers. Qimmiit were ideal protection, as they could warn people about bears entering a camp. Even without training, qimmiit would instinctively fight off polar bears. Consequently, Inuit travellers were able to sleep in peace and without fear when out on the land.

A black-and-white photo of some people pulling a seal, which they have just hunted, out of a hole in the ice. A sled dog team is in the background.

From left to right, Aqaatsiaq, Ipeelie Inuksuk, Felix Alaralak and Uqaliq, and their qimuksiqtut (dog team), Iglulik, Nunavut (formerly Igloolik, Northwest Territories) (a146059)

In additional to protection and safety, qimmiit played an important role in assisting Inuit in seal hunting. Hunting has traditionally been a defining element of Inuit life and culture. While the dogs were not necessarily trained to hunt, Inuit relied on the keen sense of smell of qimmiit to sniff out the locations of breathing holes and seals.

A black-and-white photo of a man with a dog.

Unidentified Inuk with his qimmiq, Kugluktuk, Nunavut (formerly Coppermine, Northwest Territories) (a146586)

Transportation, safety and assistance in hunting were all ways that qimmiit traditionally aided life in the Arctic. However, the enforced settlement of Inuit into permanent communities, and the dog slaughter during the 1950s and 1960s, resulted in a massive decline in the dog population. For more information on the slaughter, visit the Qikiqtani Truth Commission. In August 2011, the Quebec government offered an official apology for the negative effects on Inuit society of the mass slaughter of sled dogs in Nunavik (northern Quebec). This decline across the North created a profound shift in the relationship of Inuit with qimmiit. Today, qimmiit are mainly used for racing, which is a demanding and challenging sport. Dog racing has since become a celebrated new tradition in many Inuit communities.

A colour photo of two men with a team of sled dogs pulling a sled up a hill.

Qimuksiqtut at “Innukshuk” historical site, located either on the Foxe Peninsula, Baffin Island or Inukshuk Point (also spelled Enukso Point), Nunavut, 1958–1966. Photo by Charles Gimpel (e011211980)

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 content and supports communities in the preservation of Indigenous language recordings.


Laura Johnston, from the School of Art and Culture at Carleton University, is an undergraduate practicum student in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

The Story of the Canadian National Land Settlement Association

By Andrew Elliott

A century ago, on June 6, 1919, the Canadian National Railway Company (CN) was born. Its incorporation consolidated private and public railway systems into one public organization. The intention was for the new rail company to provide stable rail service to all parts of Canada. There are many aspects to the history of CN, and the vast and rich archival collection (nearly 16,000 containers of archival material, in the Canadian National Railways fonds) at Library and Archives Canada reflects this sprawl. The fonds, like the company itself, resembles a many-headed hydra. The myriad company functions reflected the perceived need for the company to be all things to all people.

To this archivist, one very interesting sub-section of CN was The Office of the Director of Colonization and Agriculture. For much of its existence from the early 1919 until 1963, this department was run by T.P. Devlin. In 1925, the Canadian Department of Citizenship and Immigration enacted regulations that remained in effect until 1951. These regulations stated that, where possible, immigrant land settlers from continental Europe should deposit money in trust with a government-approved land settlement agency.

Thus the Canadian National Land Settlement Association (CNLSA) was established on March 9, 1925, as part of CN’s program to promote immigration and land settlement in Canada. This both increased rail traffic and assisted the railway in disposing of some of its land grants. Over 27,000 immigrants were assisted by the CNLSA. Land was located and money released to immigrants to purchase land, equipment and livestock. This continued until 1963. As both the Colonization and Agriculture Department and the CNLSA were closely associated in this work, the CNLSA being virtually part of the Department, the records are often intermingled. It is also worth noting that the CNLSA competed with the Canadian Pacific Railway’s own association, the Canadian Colonization Association, which operated from 1923 onwards. Further information about this organization can be found at the Glenbow Museum and Archives.

Much of the administrative and operational records created by the Office of the Director of Colonization and Agriculture (and the CNLSA) help document CN’s efforts to obtain settlers, their placement on the land and their progress. These include reports, policy and correspondence files, files concerning individuals and organizations (usually identified by ethnic origins), community progress reports, settlement proposals, shipping files, relations with various governments, and copies of annual reports and other publications. Of particular interest are the specific immigrant files, which include an application questionnaire indicating the nationality, language, religion, age and family members; identification card; record of service for families, including name of the shipping line and ship used for passage to Canada; receipts; documentation of location of settlement in Canada; and various correspondence. In the 1920s and 1930s, many immigrants brought over to Canada were from Eastern Europe or Ukraine.

Since these records first arrived at LAC back in the 1960s, the way to search the collection has been through a 194-page paper finding aid (FA 30-39). Work is underway to make this finding aid available electronically. Additional efforts are underway to digitize portions of this vast collection (several hundred boxes of textual records, photographs, maps and technical drawings) in order to make it more accessible to researchers.

There are numerous CNLSA photographic reports, found in a sub-series attached to the main CN photograph collection. Additional records can be found here, in a new sub-series attached to the Department of Colonization and Agriculture series that document the settlement of immigrant families, particularly in Western Canada in the 1920s and 1930s. Many reports provide lists with interesting information, such as the following List of Immigrants Settled in Western Canada in 1934-35.

Typed list indicating the names, origins and location of settlement for some families directed by the Western offices.

List from report entitled Brief notes on the settlement of some of the families directed by the Western offices during the years 1934 and 1935, (e011000601)

Many European immigrants heading for farms in Western Canada stopped at the Winnipeg immigration sheds attached to the CN railway station, as seen in the photograph below.

Black and white photograph of a group of immigrants who had arrived at Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Immigrants from Central Europe arriving in Winnipeg, Manitoba. 1920s (c036148)

The CNLSA reports are invaluable resources for researchers who would wish to find out more about their ancestors and about farm settlement patterns. Since the censuses for the 1930s have not yet been released, the information provided in the CNSLA reports will be, for some years to come, the only information available as to where the immigrants came from and where they settled. Here are a few examples:

Page from an album with two black and white photographs; one of a family standing in front of a house surrounded by farmland, and the other a close-up of the same scene. Page also includes typed information about the family’s identity and their immigration details.

The Kretchnear family and farm. A German settlement. (e011000044)

Page from an album with two black and white photographs; one showing a family standing in front of a house and the other showing a team of horses pulling a plough. Photos are captioned with typed text.

German Romanian Settlement, the Mehle Family, 1928. (e011000523)

Page from an album with two black and white photographs; one showing a family standing in front of a house and the other showing a view of farmland. The photos are captioned with typed text.

Swiss Settlement, The Buff family in British Columbia, 1937 (e011000585)

Page from an album with two black and white photographs. One showing a team of horses pulling a plough, and the other shows a man standing with his team of horses. The photos are captioned with typed text.

Yugosalvian Setttlement, The Silobodec family in Saskatchewan, 1937 (e011000581)

Many of these photographic reports were recently digitized. There are plans in the coming years for a crowdsourcing project with LAC’s Co-Lab. As you can see, the CNLSA archival records are a treasure trove of information, particularly for Western Canadian farm settlement, and we are now only just starting to get a handle on what kind of information is available. Stay tuned for further updates.


Andrew Elliott is an archivist with the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Pigeons now on Flickr

The pigeon family is large and consists of approximately 300 species. Only three species now breed in Canada.

A black-and-white photograph of a little girl (Ann MacDonald) standing next to a door looking at a pigeon on the sidewalk.

Ann MacDonald with a pigeon in front of a building [e010966947]

The bird commonly referred to as a “pigeon” is the rock dove, or rock pigeon. It lives in cities and towns and on farmland. The mourning dove lives in open groves and woods. The band-tailed pigeon also inhabits open woods. A fourth species, the passenger pigeon, was hunted into extinction at the end of the 19th century.

A watercolour painting of large nets set up in the woods to catch passenger pigeons.

Passenger Pigeon Net, St. Anne’s, Lower Canada [C-012539k]

Love them or hate them, pigeons were considered companions in ancient times, and they were the first birds to be domesticated. During the First World War and the Second World War, pigeons were used to carry messages for the military.

A black-and-white photograph of a carrier pigeon held in a bush pilot’s hands.

Carrier pigeon used for emergency communication by bush pilots [e006079072]

A black-and-white photograph of two soldiers in a trench watering their carrier pigeons in a portable carrier with a canteen.

Canadian pigeon carriers watering the birds in captured German trenches on Hill 70, Lens, France [PA-001686]

Visit the Flickr album now!

Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development records: Estate files

By Rebecca Murray

When researching First Nations genealogy, estate files can be a valuable source of information. Estate files are held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) in the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) fonds, known as RG10.

What are estate files?

The Department, now known as Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada and Indigenous Services Canada, continues to administer “the estates of deceased Indians” as per the Indian Act. The contents of estate files vary. These forms record vital information on the deceased, summaries of land and personal assets, summaries of debts, and vital information on heirs and next of kin.

The types of information found in these files can be very useful when conducting genealogical research. Before you begin researching, record the information you already have in a pedigree or family chart, both of which are available on our website. You can use any information you find in the estate files to fill in the blanks.

How do I identify estate files held at LAC?

The file title by the name of the deceased individual identifies estate titles held at LAC. Below are a few examples of complete references to estate files in our holdings:

RG10, 1996-97/816, box 91, file “Estate of Clifford Leonard – Kamloops,” 1928–1948.

RG10, volume 11266, file 37-2-8, “ESTATE NELSON, JOB,” 1928–1929.

2017-00390-5, box 4, file 411/37-2-179-48, part 1, “Estates – P. Meneweking – Spanish River,” 1946–1967.

These examples show the different title formats used by estate files. Researchers can search by family name, with or without the given name (first name). Sometimes the band name is included.

The department formerly known as DIAND has used various file classification systems throughout its history. The following file numbers indicate that a file is classified as an estate file:

Modified Duplex Numeric System (1950s–1980s): 37-2
Thousand Series: 16000
Block Numeric System: E5090

Aside from file classifications, this type of research is one of the few cases where searching by the name of an individual is the best method for identifying a relevant file. It is best to begin your search in our archival database, Archives Search. If you are unable to identify a file for an individual described in our database, do not worry. Many files are not described at the file level in our database.

To identify these files, try another search with keywords “estate” AND the name of the band or agency of the deceased individual. For example, complete a keyword search for “estate” AND “Sudbury” in two separate fields and submit. A long list of results can be filtered by hierarchical level on the left-hand side of the page; in this case, choose Accession.

One of the results, 2017-00390-5 “Estate Files of the Sudbury District Office,” 1900–1983, is an example of a set of 18 boxes of records comprised almost exclusively of estate files, with no descriptions at the file level. In these instances, check the Finding Aid section for information on how to access a file list. In this case, the finding aid (or file list) is not linked to the description, but it can be consulted in person at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa, or you can write to us and ask that we check it for a specific name. Doing this extra step beyond the keyword search for the deceased individual’s name, and including your work in your written request, can help Reference Services staff triage and treat your request more efficiently.

How do I access estate files held at LAC?

You will find that access is restricted to most estate files held at LAC for privacy reasons. Please make an access request online. Some early files are open. Of those, some are available on digitized microfilm, for example: RG10, volume 2918, file 186,900, “CARADOC AGENCY – ESTATE OF THE LATE DOLLY NICHOLAS OF THE ONEIDA BAND,” 1897–1898.

If an open file is not available online, please request the original for Retrievals and Consultation.

A white page with black handwritten text.

The first of two pages of a letter from RG10, volume 2918, file 186,900 (e007575915)

A second white page with black handwritten text.

The second of two pages of a letter from RG10, volume 2918, file 186,900 (e007575916)

This information should help you to identify and access estate files held at LAC. To ask a question about estate files or on any other topic, please write to us!

________________________________________________

Rebecca Murray is an archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Squirrels now on Flickr

There are twenty-two squirrel species found across Canada in every province and territory. Six species live in trees while the other sixteen live on the ground.

A colour print depicting a Hudson’s Bay squirrel and a Chickaree Red squirrel foraging for food amongst trees branches.

Hudson’s Bay Squirrel, Chickaree Red Squirrel [e002291722]


A black-and-white photograph of a squirrel with a butternut in its mouth exiting a building from an open window.

Squirrel stealing a butternut from a pantry, Ottawa, Ontario [PA-133432]

Views on theses rodents vary. Some people consider them pests as they damage gardens and crops; others point to their role in forest regeneration as forgotten seed caches may germinate in spring.

A black-and-white photograph of a girl and a squirrel on her left shoulder.

Rose Sobkow with a squirrel on her shoulder [e011177232]


A black-and-white photograph of two girls standing next to a tree in winter. One of the girls feeds a squirrel clinging to the trunk.

Two girls feeding a black squirrel [PA-070989]

Visit the Flickr album now!

New podcast! Check out our latest episode, “Francis Mackey and the Halifax Explosion”

Our latest podcast episode is now available. Check out “Francis Mackey and the Halifax Explosion.”

A black and white photo of smoke rising over the Halifax harbour

A large smoke plume after the collision between the ships Mont Blanc and Imo, resulting in the Mont Blanc exploding in the Halifax Harbour (PA-138907)

On the morning of December 6th, 1917, Pilot Francis Mackey was guiding the French ship Mont Blanc into the Bedford Basin when, at the narrowest point of the harbour, it collided with the Norwegian ship Imo. The Mont Blanc, laden down with high explosives, caught fire and, about 20 minutes later, exploded.

The blast, which was the greatest man-made explosion until the invention of the first atomic bombs, levelled the Richmond district of Halifax, parts of Dartmouth, and wiped out the Mi’kmaq community of Turtle Grove.

On today’s episode, we talk with retired teacher and author Janet Maybee. Her book Aftershock: The Halifax Explosion and the Persecution of Pilot Francis Mackey attempts to clear Mackey’s name and restore honour to the Mackey family.

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 bac.balados-podcasts.lac@canada.ca.

The Grey Fox: Legendary train robber and prison escapee Bill Miner

By Caitlin Webster

Nicknamed “The Grey Fox” and “The Gentleman Bandit,” Bill Miner was a legendary criminal on both sides of the Canada–U.S. border. Although he committed dozens of robberies and escaped from multiple prisons, many saw him as a generous folk hero who targeted exploitative corporations only. Library and Archives Canada holds many documents, publications, sound and video recordings, and other materials relating to Miner, and hundreds of these documents are now available on our website as a Co-Lab crowdsourcing challenge.

Newspaper page showing text, an illustration of two armed men on horseback approaching a train, a portrait of the author, and photographs of Bill Miner, Shorty Dunn and Lewis Colquhoun.

Article in The Province newspaper on January 18, 1958: “Bill Miner – last of the train robbers” (e011201062-019-v8)

 

Born Ezra Allan Miner on December 27, 1846, Miner began his criminal career as a teenager, stealing horses and robbing merchants in northern California. He later moved on to burglarizing homes and robbing stagecoaches in California and Colorado, where he and his accomplices often took away thousands of dollars in cash, gold dust, bonds and other goods. His polite, conversational manner during robberies earned him the nickname The Gentleman Bandit. Law enforcement eventually caught up with Miner, and despite multiple escape attempts, he spent decades behind bars in San Quentin State Prison.

When Miner was finally released in 1901, it was to an unfamiliar 20th-century American West. After trying his hand as an oyster farmer, he soon returned to a life of crime. As stagecoaches had been replaced by ever-expanding railroads, Miner turned to train robbery. He tried and failed twice to rob express trains in Oregon, and escaped across the border to settle in Princeton, British Columbia. There he established himself as a cattle trader and ranch hand, using the alias George Edwards. Known for his generosity, Miner was well liked in the small town.

By 1904, Miner had recruited new accomplices and was ready to target another train, this time in Canada. On September 10, along with partners Jake Terry and Shorty Dunn, The Grey Fox robbed a Canadian Pacific Railway train at Mission Junction, B.C. After taking thousands of dollars in cash, gold, bonds and securities, the bandits evaded capture for over a year and a half. Then on May 8, 1906, Miner, Dunn and a new accomplice named Louis Colquhoun held up a CPR train at Ducks (now Monte Creek), near Kamloops. However, this job was an abject disaster. The take was only $15.50, the men were forced to flee on foot, and they were captured five days later. Yet with his popularity in the area and the anti-CPR sentiment at the time, crowds of supporters greeted Miner as the Royal North-West Mounted Police brought him in to Kamloops.

On June 1, 1906, all three men were tried and convicted, and the next day Miner began his life sentence at the B.C. Penitentiary in New Westminster. During his stay, Miner expressed no remorse, reportedly telling the visiting Reverend A.D.E. Owen, “I am what I am, and I have done what I have done, but I can look God and man in the face unashamed.” The same clergyman observed how Miner charmed fellow inmates and penitentiary staff, and warned the acting warden, “Old Bill is a man who is well worth watching.”

Two photographs of Bill Miner showing a front view and a profile view. They show Miner with his hair closely cut, and his mustache shaved.

Mug shot photographs of a shaven and shorn Bill Miner at the beginning of his sentence at the B.C. Penitentiary (e011201061-128-v8)

Form with physical description and criminal conviction details.

B.C. Penitentiary intake form for Bill Miner (e011201060-009-v8)

 

The warning was prophetic, as Miner escaped from the penitentiary on August 8, 1907. Guards and police searched the surrounding area, and then the wider Vancouver region, with no success. Rumours spread that he had received outside help to escape, in exchange for the return of bonds and securities he had stolen in the 1904 CPR robbery. In addition, newspapers reported high levels of public sympathy for Miner, with many expressing their wish that he never be recaptured.

Map on blue background, labelled to show general locations of penitentiary, asylum, and surrounding streets, park, and the Fraser River. Annotations indicate location of fence where Miner escaped, as well as other details of the local area.

Blueprint of B.C. Penitentiary site, showing location where Bill Miner escaped, as well as the surrounding area (e011201060-179-v8)

Poster showing photograph of Bill Miner, announcing a $500 reward for his recapture, listing details as to his escape, and describing his physical characteristics.

Reward notice for the recapture of Bill Miner, sent to police departments, publications and private detective agencies (e011201060-210-v8)

In the end, Miner returned to the United States and lived in Colorado until his money ran out. In 1911, he robbed a train in Georgia. He and his accomplices were caught within days, and at 64 years old, Miner was sentenced to 20 years in prison. After escaping in 1911 and 1912, Miner died in prison on September 2, 1913.

Library and Archives Canada holdings include records from the B.C. Penitentiary that provide fascinating details on Bill Miner and his escape from the prison. These documents are now available as a Co-Lab challenge, and include intake forms and mug shots of Miner, reports of prison officials, newspaper clippings, and letters from individuals claiming to have spotted The Grey Fox, even years after his death. Co-Lab is a crowdsourcing tool that invites the public to contribute transcription, translation, tags and description text. The public contributions then become metadata to improve our search tools and enhance everyone’s experience of the historical record.

 


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

 

 

In their own words: Inmate publications of the British Columbia Penitentiary

By Olivia Cocking

In March 1951, inmates at the British Columbia Penitentiary in New Westminster, B.C. published the first edition of the penitentiary’s bimonthly magazine, Transition. Prison administrators promoted penal publications such as Transition during the 1950s and 1960s as part of a broader initiative to remodel the correctional system around a model of rehabilitation rather than punishment. With subscriptions offered for external readers at the rate of $1 annually, the editorial staff of Transition worked not only to keep inmates abreast of daily life at the penitentiary but also to establish a “feeling of understanding and faith” between prisoners and broader society.

Cover illustration showing an old-fashioned train engine and caboose, a railway station with a sign reading “Agassiz,” and a handcart containing mailbags labelled “BCP”

Front cover of the May–June 1961 issue of Transition magazine (e011311001)

Staffed by an editorial team of inmates and published at B.C. Penitentiary’s own print shop, Transition offered the penitentiary’s residents a chance to voice their views on a wide variety of subjects. Issues of the magazine featured editorials, articles of fiction and critical commentary, as well as coverage of prison sports and entertainment. Recurring columns included one on advice by a Dr. Larrup Loogan, called “What’s Your Beef?” and a section on prison affairs aimed primarily at the inmates, titled “The Inmate Speaks.” Holiday issues of Transition offered a particularly touching perspective, featuring seasonal greetings from inmates to friends and family, as well as reflections on the experience of the holiday season from inside the penitentiary. As one writer in the November–December 1959 issue noted poignantly, “high walls have a way of casting thick shadows across the laughter of a Christmas meant to be bright.”

Cover illustration with text “Merry Xmas,” showing two children in pyjamas facing a fireplace where Christmas stockings are hanging from the mantle.

Front cover of the November–December 1960 issue of Transition magazine (e011311002)

Publications like Transition often faced challenges in balancing the goal of providing an authentic outlet for inmates to express their views within the constraints of administrative censorship. However, given the realities of censorship, one of the most striking features of Transition is the frequency and depth of the critical analyses of criminal justice issues. Columnists discussed policy debates and offered personal perspectives on the effectiveness of Canadian strategies for prisoner rehabilitation. In Transition’s January–February 1959 issue, one columnist contended that Canadian efforts at rehabilitation had failed to live up to their goals, arguing that Canadian penitentiaries did “little but instill in the majority of inmates either a conscious or an unconscious desire to get even with society.” However, not all articles were equally disparaging. For example, a feature in the May–June 1961 issue detailed the positive contributions of B.C. Penitentiary’s blacksmith shop: “The inmate tradesmen in the BCP blacksmith shop are performing a public service that could be performed in no other way and by no one else. This is a fact in which these men can justifiably take pride.”

Cover illustration showing a man sitting at a desk writing a letter with his right hand and holding his head in his left hand, which also holds a lit cigarette.

Front cover of the September–October 1957 issue of Transition magazine  (e011311003)

Drug use and its treatment by the criminal justice system represented another frequent topic of debate among Transition’s columnists. The January–February 1959 issue features two contrasting opinions on the criminalization of drugs. One columnist argued that “the addict is a person who is mentally and morally incompetent” who could not be parted from his criminal tendencies by the legalization of drugs. The other contended that the social problems created by drug use lie in its criminalization, and not in the addicts themselves. As a result, he advocated the legalization of drugs as a government cost-saving measure and a remedy to the culture of criminality surrounding drugs.

Inmate columnists did not restrict their commentary to criminal justice issues. For example, the opening editorial of the 1961 Christmas edition sketches a pointed critique of voter apathy in Canadian elections. The editorial analysis presented by the columnists is especially effective when they highlight the eagerness with which their otherwise disenfranchised fellow inmates participate in Inmates Council elections. As they note, “Possibly they could set an example for the citizens and send forth emissaries to use a little rehabilitation on them.”

Back cover illustration showing a hand holding a cup containing signposts with various messages, such as “What Is A Convict?”, “Inside Looking Out”, “Rehabilitation?”, and “100 Year Failure!” A subscription form is included below the illustration.

Back cover of the January–February 1959 issue of Transition magazine (e011311004)

The vibrant discussion of criminal justice issues found in the pages of Transition reflects a broader debate taking place among policymakers during this period over how to best create an environment for the successful rehabilitation of inmates. This contentious atmosphere placed increasing strain on relationships of prison administrators and the penal press. By the mid-1960s, administrative, financial, and distribution support for penal publications decreased and censorship escalated, marking the decline of a Canadian penal press that catered to an external audience on any significant scale. As a result, issues of Transition published at the height of the magazine’s circulation during the 1950s and 1960s represent an invaluable resource, providing a unique look into the intellectual lives of inmates and an original perspective on criminal justice issues.


Olivia Cocking works at Library and Archives Canada’s Vancouver public service point as part of the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP).