Anne Heggtveit: A good night’s sleep brings Olympic gold

by Dalton Campbell

In 1960, Anne Heggtveit won Canada’s first Olympic gold in alpine skiing.

She was competing in the VIII Olympic Winter Games, in what is now Palisades Tahoe, California. In her first two races, the women’s giant slalom and the downhill, Anne had finished 12th. She said that the evening before the third race, the slalom, the other racers were out trying to familiarize themselves with the course, but she went back to her room to sleep. She thought that if she looked at the course that evening, she would become nervous and probably not sleep well. Her decision was the right one: she finished first, beating the silver medalist by more than 3 seconds, earning the gold in the slalom.

A young woman wearing a winter coat holding a medal in her left hand.

Anne Heggtveit with her Olympic gold medal in alpine skiing, 1960. The medal, at 55 mm in diameter, was one of the smallest awarded at the Winter Games. By comparison, since 2000, the smallest medal awarded at a Winter Olympics has been 85 mm in diameter. (a209759)

Following her extraordinary success at the Olympic Games, she surprised the sports world when she announced her retirement in March 1960. In an interview with the Globe and Mail later that year, she said that she would miss the sport and her friendships, but that she thought the years of preparation for the 1964 Olympics would be too much of an emotional strain. She discussed the importance of balancing confidence and recklessness when skiing. She also said, “When you stand at the top of that course, you can be scared stiff, you can feel you don’t care what happens to you, or you can suddenly feel the perfect mixture of emotions that can help you make a championship run.”

Her retirement, although a shock, was similar to that of her teammate Lucile Wheeler, who retired in 1958 after winning that season’s world slalom and downhill titles. In an interview in 2019 for The Canadian Encyclopedia, Anne described how Lucile had been a trailblazer, as one of the first Canadians to train in Europe. Anne learned from Lucile at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy, where Lucile earned a bronze in the downhill and Anne had three top-30 finishes.

Anne’s 1960 Olympic results also gave her the Fédération internationale de ski (FIS) [International Ski Federation] world gold medal and the gold in Alpine combined. At the time, the FIS did not hold separate championships in Olympic years; instead, it awarded medals based on the Olympic results. This was her second FIS Alpine combined title. She also won in 1959.

In 1960, Anne received the Lou Marsh Award as Canadian athlete of the year and was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Her win was voted Canadian sports story of the year. Her medal was one of only four medals earned by the Canadian team.

Anne had an early start in skiing. Her father, who immigrated to Canada from Norway as a young man, was Canada’s cross-country ski champion in 1934, but was unable to raise money to go to the 1936 Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Anne started skiing when she was two years of age and entered her first competition at five. From the age of 8, her goal was to win the Olympic gold medal.

She twice received the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada’s female athlete of the year (1959, 1960), was elected to the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame (1971), and was awarded the Order of Canada (1976). After her retirement, Anne married, started a family and taught skiing, among other pursuits. In 1988, she was an Olympic flag bearer at the Calgary Olympics.

Further research


Dalton Campbell is an archivist in the Science, Environment and Economy Section of the Private Archives Division.

What was really signed on Parliament Hill 40 years ago, on April 17, 1982?

By Natasha Dubois

There are many terms used to describe this particular moment in Canadian history: patriation of the Constitution, signing of the Constitution, signing of the Charter, and more. All of these terms are both correct and incomplete.

Yes, the Canadian Constitution was indeed patriated 40 years ago, in the sense that only Canada has the power to amend it now, not the United Kingdom. It was not signed, however, because it was a legislative act of the British Parliament. British and Canadian laws are proclaimed, not signed, by the head of state. As for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is not even a document, so it cannot be officially signed.

So what document was actually signed on April 17, 1982?

On that date, Queen Elizabeth II signed the Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982 (Schedule B of the Canada Act 1982, proclaimed by the United Kingdom a few weeks earlier), which gives Canada the power to amend its own constitution and includes, among other things, the wording of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A page of coloured calligraphy. The Canada Coat of Arms and a few signatures are at the top centre, with other signatures at the bottom centre.

Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982. Damaged slightly by rain during the signing ceremony, this version is informally known as the “raindrop” copy (e008125379)

So, then, what is the Charter?

 We often see posters of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with the Canada Coat of Arms and the signature of the prime minister, but if this is not an official document, then what is it?

A typewritten page in colour. The Canada Coat of Arms is at the top centre, and a drawing of the main Parliament Building is at the bottom centre. There is a signature in the bottom-right corner.

Poster published by the Government of Canada to promote the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (e010758222_s1-v8)

Contrary to popular belief, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not a document in and of itself. It is actually Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982 and was presented in poster format in 1985. This poster was never officially signed or proclaimed, since it is not a complete proclamation or legislative act. It is also missing the Great Seal of Canada, which must be affixed to all proclamations and certain official documents of Canada.

In 1985, after all of the provisions of Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982 came into force, the government wanted to promote its contents (that is, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms). To do so, it created posters that looked like an official document, with a stamped signature of the prime minister of the day, and distributed more than 250,000 copies to schools, libraries and public places across Canada. Today, the Charter poster can be downloaded (PDF format) or a printed version can be ordered (certificate or poster) from the Canadian Heritage website. Unfortunately, there is no official original version of this poster in the collections held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is available in 29 languages and seems to have served as a model for the creation of several other constitutions and charters of rights throughout the world. It has also inspired hundreds of works in Canadian literature, many of which have been acquired by LAC through legal deposit: legal treatises, theses and dissertations, professional journal articles, popular works and even children’s literature.

So, what was signed on April 17, 1982?

On March 29, 1982, the United Kingdom proclaimed the Canada Act 1982, Schedule B of which is the Constitution Act, 1982, which applies only to Canada. On April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II signed the proclamation bringing the Constitution Act, 1982 into force for Canada.

According to British and Canadian rules, before legislation comes into force, it must go through a number of steps. First, the bill must be introduced in both chambers of Parliament, where it is discussed and debated before being passed by each chamber. The act must then be proclaimed by the head of state, that is, through royal assent (the Queen’s or the Governor General’s signature). Following the adoption of the Canada Act 1982, the Government of Canada itself drafted the text for the Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982, which the Queen agreed to sign in Ottawa on April 17, 1982. As with all previous Canadian proclamations, the other signatories were the Registrar General of Canada and the Attorney General of Canada. The Prime Minister of Canada also signed the 1982 proclamation, although this was not essential for the document to be considered official.

In fact, the signing ceremony of April 17, 1982, was only the public display of the real political event occurring at the time: Canada’s acquisition of the last political power that it needed to become a truly sovereign state. Until then, only the British Parliament had the power to amend Canada’s Constitution, under the British North America Act of 1867.

In enacting the Canada Act 1982, the United Kingdom agreed that no subsequent act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom would have effect in Canada. This act was also the only British law to be written in both English and French since the Middle Ages.

The Constitution Act, 1982 (Schedule B of the Canada Act 1982) affirms the primacy of the Canadian Constitution over any other law and defines what constitutes the Canadian Constitution (Part VII). This act also sets out the procedures for amending the Canadian Constitution (Part IV), and contains sections on the rights of Indigenous peoples (Part II) and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Part I).

This is why the Charter is said to be enshrined in the Canadian Constitution. The Charter cannot be amended without amending the Constitution, because the Constitution Act, 1982 is an integral part of the Canadian Constitution (Part VII). The constitutional amendment procedures (Part V) would have to be used. This also explains why the Charter takes precedence over all other legislation in the country, because it is one of the components of the Constitution.

In conclusion, there is no single document that can be called the “Charter.” Multiple reproductions of the text that makes up the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are available free of charge. Even though LAC does not have the original poster of the Charter, it does preserve in its collections parchment facsimiles of all six of Canada’s constitutional documents: the Royal Proclamation (1763), the Quebec Act (1774), the Constitution Act (1791), the Act of Union (1840), the British North America Act (1867) and the Canada Act 1982. This collection of parchment copies of the documents was given to Canada by the United Kingdom after the signing of the Proclamation of the Constitution Act, 1982. Approximately 40 pages long, the Canada Act 1982 comes closest to being the original version of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In some ways, this constitutional text can be considered to be our national copy of the Charter.

Related resources


Natasha Dubois is an archivist in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Travel posters in the Marc Choko collection—a Co-Lab challenge

By Andrew Elliott

The Marc Choko collection of travel posters represents a fantastic cross-section of Canadian travel poster art during the period from 1900 to the 1950s. “One’s destination,” wrote Henry Miller, as he travelled through Greece in the 1930s, “is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” In fact, the entire Modernist movement of the era was about seeing old things in new ways. For railway companies, and later airlines, the posters helped market companies to as wide an audience as possible. While promoting their fast and efficient services, they also projected to travellers a stylish, romantic vision of travel to and within Canada.

Between 1900 and 1930, and particularly in the 1920s, there was a shift in the way people travelled. During this period, middle-class tourists rivalled immigrant travellers for space on trains. Tourism became a kind of mass culture theatrical experience, and as a result, leisure time was commodified. The publicity departments of both Canadian National Railways (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) developed close ties with Canadian (and American) artists to create poster art (and art for other types of marketing and publicity, including magazines and timetable booklets). In 1927, for example, CN commissioned members of the Group of Seven to create a 33-page scenic guide advertising the wild, natural and romantic beauty of Jasper National Park. (This guide, with a couple of digitized pages, can be found in the Museum Train Collection series of the Canadian National Railway Company fonds.) Neither the railway companies nor the artists operated in a vacuum; they were influenced by the travel and artistic movements that were spreading across the world in the early 20th century. There was a remarkable convergence: cars, trains, airplanes, zeppelins and ocean liners were all competing for customers. To sell their services, the various companies turned to posters that suggested, among other things, speed and experience.

The Marc Choko collection at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) features a collection of travel posters by various artists who were commissioned by transportation companies. The collection was donated to LAC in the early 1990s by Marc Choko, a professor emeritus with the School of Design at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Choko taught courses on design from 1977 to 2018 and has also published numerous books on design (website in French only), including Destination Québec; Une histoire illustrée du tourisme (2013), Canadian Pacific Posters 1883–1963 (2004) and Canadian Pacific; Creating a Brand, Building a Nation (2016).

Two of the best-known artists who created the posters were Peter Ewart and Roger Couillard. Ewart (1918–2001) was born in Kisbey, Saskatchewan, but grew up in Montréal. Upon completing his formal education, he studied art in Montréal, and later in New York. His paintings were exhibited by the Royal Academy (London, England), the Royal Canadian Academy, the Canadian National Exhibition and the Mid-Century Exposition of Canadian Painting. To learn more about Peter Ewart and his life and work, visit the comprehensive website petermaxwellewart.com.

In the late 1940s, Ewart helped to establish and then solidify a memorable advertising campaign for CPR as the “World’s Greatest Travel System.” His corporate commissions included a wide array of organizations and some events, such as Canadian Pacific Airlines, Bank of Montreal, Imperial Oil Company, B.C. Telephone Company, Calgary Winter Olympic Games, Ocean Cement and many more.

Some striking examples of Ewart’s work in the Choko collection include the following posters for CPR.

Moose in water with trees in the distance and a small company crest.

CPR poster “Hunt This Fall—Travel Canadian Pacific” (e000983752-v8) Credit: CRHA/Exporail, Canadian Pacific Railway Company Fonds

Large fish in water and a small company crest.

CPR poster “Full Information from Canadian Pacific—World’s Greatest Travel System” (e000983750-v8) Credit: CRHA/Exporail, Canadian Pacific Railway Company Fonds

The artist Roger Couillard (1910–1999) is also well represented in the Marc Choko collection. Couillard was born in Montréal and studied at the École des Beaux-arts de Montréal (School of Fine Arts in Montréal; EBAM). In 1935, the Institute of Foreign Travel organized a poster competition on the theme of “See Europe Next.” One of his posters was chosen and exhibited in Ogilvy’s department store in Montréal. Couillard opened a studio in the Drummond Building on the city’s St. Catherine Street in 1937. He later worked for the Quebec Ministry of Tourism from 1966 to 1975. (There is very little biographical information about Couillard available online. The information listed here was gleaned from a Canadian Design History/Theory course web page at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design. For further details about Couillard’s art, see Artnet.)

The following striking examples of Couillard’s work show his versatility. He was able to work for a variety of organizations, such as CPR, CN, Trans-Canada Air Lines and Canada Steamship Lines. The posters capture the essence of what travel represented for voyagers at the time.

An arrow points to the sky and has a telegram on it.

Canadian National Telegraphs, “Telegraph—When Speed Is a Factor” (e010780461-v8)

A plane flying above the message “Costs only 3¢ more to all parts of Canada.”

Trans-Canada Air Lines—Air Mail (e010780458-v8)

These less well-known artists are also represented in the Choko collection:

The collection contains some striking work by unknown artists as well. For example, one notable poster for CN has been reprinted for numerous postcards, yet the artist has not been identified. Can you help to identify this artist?

This is where the Co-Lab challenge comes in! The challenge in Co-Lab is not only to tag and describe the posters, but also to identify some of the artists. Check out the Travel Poster Co-Lab Challenge to see more posters in the Marc Choko collection.


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

Norman Kwong: “I always want to be the winner”

By Dalton Campbell

In 1948, Norman Kwong stepped onto the field with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League (CFL) for the first time. The 18-year-old rookie, and eventual Hall of Famer, was the league’s first Chinese-Canadian player.

A colour studio photograph of a football player in uniform, holding his helmet in the crook of his left arm.

Norman Kwong (1929–2016), photo from August 1957 (e002505702-v6)

Norman (born Lim Kwong Yew) was born in Calgary in 1929, the fifth of six children. His parents, Charles Lim and Lily Lee, operated a grocery store. They had immigrated to Canada from Guangdong, China, several years before Norman was born. His obituary in the Edmonton Journal stated that in the 1920s, there were fewer than 5,000 Chinese Canadians in Alberta. The vast majority were men, in large part because the racist and discriminatory “head tax” kept most men from bringing their wives and children to Canada. Norman’s mother was one of only five married Chinese women in Calgary. In 1923, the government passed the Chinese Immigration Act (commonly known as the “Chinese Exclusion Act”), effectively ending immigration from China. In 1947, the year before Norman began his professional football career, the Act was lifted, and Chinese Canadians gained the right to vote.

A black-and white-photograph of downtown Calgary, looking down at an intersection, with streetcars, cars and people visible on the streets and sidewalks.

8th Avenue, Calgary, Alberta, 1937 (e010862070-v8)

In 1950, Norman was traded from Calgary to Edmonton, where he spent the rest of his career. He led the CFL in rushing three times (1951, 1955 and 1956), rushed for over 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons, and set numerous league and team records. He was a four-time CFL West All-Star (1951, 1953, 1955 and 1956), was twice named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian (1955 and 1956), and received the Lionel Conacher Award as the outstanding Canadian male athlete (1955). In 13 seasons, he played in seven Grey Cup games, winning the championship four times (1948, 1954, 1955 and 1956). He was named to the CFL Hall of Fame in 1969, to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1975, and as one of the top 50 players in CFL history (by TSN) in 2006.

His Edmonton Journal obituary quotes him as saying, “Sports is life, only it’s distilled into a shorter time. It’s clear-cut. Everything’s out in the open. There’s no way to hide. There’s always a winner and a loser. And I guess that appeals to my competitive nature. Of course, I always want to be the winner.”

Norman retired at the age of 30. He married Mary Lee and entered post-football life, working primarily in commercial real estate. In the 1980s, he returned to sports as an executive with the Calgary Stampeders and was part of the original ownership group of the Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League. When the Flames won the Stanley Cup in 1989, he became one of only five people to have won both the Grey Cup and the Stanley Cup as a player, manager or executive.

A colour image of a coat of arms. The shield in the centre has three footballs lined up diagonally from the upper left to lower right. There are two dragons, one standing on each side of the shield. The motto reads, “Strive to Excel.”

Coat of Arms of Norman Lim Kwong, courtesy of the Canadian Heraldic Authority (Office of the Secretary to the Governor General). The green and gold are the Edmonton team colours, and the horizontal stripes represent the 10-yard lines from a football field. The horse represents his first team, Calgary. The rose represents his wife, Mary, an avid gardener. The dragons represent his Chinese heritage, and the dragons’ hindquarters are representative of the Albertosaurus dinosaur.

Norman Kwong was the National Chair of the Canadian Consultative Council on Multiculturalism (1979–80) and Honorary Chair of the Easter Seals Campaign in Calgary (1982–84). He was named to the Order of Canada (1988) and later served as the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta (2005–10). The Calgary Flames named a bursary for medical students in his honour. He died in Calgary in 2016.

For further research


Dalton Campbell is an archivist in the Science, Environment and Economy Section of the Private Archives Division.

Acadian heritage: the landscape of Grand-Pré

By Valerie Casbourn

Nova Scotia Heritage Day 2022 celebrates the Landscape of Grand-Pré UNESCO World Heritage Site. Acadian settlers to Grand-Pré built a system of dykes to transform the tidal marshland into farmland, creating an Acadian agricultural settlement that flourished from 1682 to 1755. The Grand-Pré landscape is rich in agricultural tradition and an important place of memory for Acadians. A variety of archival and published records related to Grand-Pré may be found in Library and Archives Canada’s collections.

Acadian roots in Nova Scotia

France first established a settlement in Mi’kma’ki, the lands of the Mi’kmaw people, in 1604. The French called the region Acadie (Acadia in English). The Mi’kmaq greeted and helped the early settlers. The Mi’kmaq and the French traded with each other and established an alliance that was renewed annually.

A marsh and a wooden dyke at Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia.

Grand-Pré dyke with Cape Blomidon in distance, Nova Scotia. Canada, Dept. of Mines and Technical Surveys, 1926 (a020116)

In 1682, Acadians moved from Port Royal, near the Bay of Fundy, to the shores of the Minas Basin, an area known as “Les Mines.” Grand-Pré, which means big meadow in French, was established there and became a thriving settlement. The Acadians built wooden dykes with sluices, called “aboiteaux,” and transformed the tidal marshland into rich agricultural land. They grew crops, planted orchards and raised livestock. The Sieur de Dièreville travelled in Acadia in 1699 and published his observations.

It is necessary, in order to raise grains, to drain the marshes, which the sea at high tide overflows with its waters; and which they the (Acadians) call the lowlands. […] It is not easy to stay the course of the sea; the Acadians, nevertheless, accomplish the task by means of strong dykes, which they call aboteaux; and this is how they make them: They set up five or six rows of large trees, quite entire, at the places by which the sea enters the marshes, and between the rows they lay other trees lengthwise, one upon another, and they fill all the empty spaces so well with soft clay, well packed, that the water can no longer pass through. They fit in the middle of these works a flood-gate (un esseau) in such a manner that it allows, at low tide, the marsh-water to flow out by its own pressure, and prevents the water of the sea from entering. (Account by the Sieur de Dièreville, translated in John Frederic Herbin, The History of Grand-Pré, OCLC number 1016223920, 1911, p. 32)

 

The wooden structure of an old dyke at the edge of a field.

Showing old face, Grand-Pré dyke, Nova Scotia. Canada, Dept. of Mines and Technical Surveys, 1926 (a020117)

In 1713, France ceded Acadia to the British under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht. The British called the region the colony of Nova Scotia. There was no treaty or agreement between the British and the Mi’kmaq at that time. In 1755, the colonial administration of Nova Scotia demanded the Acadians swear an unconditional oath of allegiance to the British Crown. The Acadians refused because they wished to maintain a policy of neutrality. The British authorities then ordered the deportation of Acadians, beginning the Grand Dérangement (Great Upheaval).

The British expelled over 2,000 Acadians from their homes in the Grand-Pré region and sent them to other English colonies. Many did not survive the poor conditions on board the ships. Some Acadians escaped the deportations and were supported and sheltered by the Mi’kmaq. After the deportation, a group known as the New England Planters settled in the fertile lands at Grand-Pré. They learned to maintain the dykes and farm the land, along with later immigrants to the area. Some Acadians eventually returned and settled in other parts of what are now the Maritime provinces and Quebec.

Acadian archival records

Library and Archives Canada holds records about Acadia in the Fonds des Colonies (MG1), which has copies and transcriptions of selected records from the French colonial period. “Série C11D. Correspondance générale; Acadie” (MG1-C11D) (Series C11D. General correspondence; Acadia) contains copies of correspondence, instructions and other records related to Acadia.

Our Acadian genealogy and family history web page describes various records that are useful for those seeking information about Acadian ancestors. Parish records are particularly helpful; the 18th-century Grand-Pré parish church was Saint-Charles-des-Mines. The Fonds de la paroisse catholique Saint-Charles-des-Mines (MG9-B8-12) (Catholic parish of Saint-Charles-des-Mines fonds) has transcriptions of baptism, marriage and burial records dated between 1707 and 1749. You can access digitized copies on the Héritage Canadiana website (microfilm reel C-1869).

Finding Aid 300: Other census and related documents (1640 to 1945) is a comprehensive guide to early censuses and related records. The section for Acadia (1671 to 1763) has a list of census returns for different areas, with links to digitized copies of many of the records.

Handwritten transcriptions of households with details on family members and their ages, as well as on the amount of farm animals, land and guns owned.

Start of Les Mines section, Acadian census for 1693 (Reel C-2572, Image 82; MG1-G1 volume 466 page 79)

Memory and commemoration

Grand-Pré remained an important place in the memory of Acadians. In the early 1900s, John Frederic Herbin published several books and poems about Acadian history and culture, with a focus on Grand-Pré. In 1907, Herbin bought the land where the original Saint-Charles-des-Mines church had stood and established Grand-Pré Park as a memorial to Acadians. The Dominion Atlantic Railway purchased the land in 1917 and took over the park’s maintenance. The Société mutuelle de l’Assomption took official title to the church site in 1921 and built the Memorial Church there the following year.

The Acadian Memorial Church under construction, with people gathered in front for a dedication ceremony.

Dedication ceremony for the Acadian Memorial Church being built in the Dominion Atlantic Railway Park at Grand-Pré, August 16, 1922. Canada, Patent and Copyright Office (a031296)

Grand-Pré was designated a National Historic Site in 1955. In 1957, the Government of Canada acquired Grand-Pré Memorial Park with the understanding “that the park and the chapel were held by the government in perpetuity and that their historic character was maintained.” (Cabinet Conclusion “National Historic parks; acquisition of Grand Pre Memorial Park” 1957-01-14, RG2 volume 1892)

Three tourists standing beside Evangeline’s well, in front of the Acadian Memorial Church.

At Evangeline’s Well, Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia. National Film Board of Canada, July 1953 (e010949154-v8)

The Canadian Parks Service fonds (RG84) includes records about Grand-Pré. To consult file descriptions, try a search for keywords like “RG84 Grand-Pré” and select “Collections and Fonds (Archives Search)” in the LAC Collection Search tool. To access digitized copies of these files, note the microfilm reel number in the file description (e.g. T-11310) and then search for that reel number on Héritage Canadiana.

In 1995, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada added a second designation to commemorate the national significance of the Grand-Pré Rural Historic District. The significance of this cultural landscape was further recognized in 2012 when the Landscape of Grand-Pré became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Grand-Pré continues to be at the heart of Acadian cultural memory.


Valerie Casbourn is an archivist in the Reference Services Division at the Halifax office of Library and Archives Canada.

Are you missing out on the joy of podcasts?

A screenshot of the podcast page of the Library and Archives Canada.

There is a podcast for everyone on the LAC website

Podcasts have been around for many years, but in case you are not aware, here is some information.  Podcasts are sometimes described as internet radio that you can listen to on demand. They are series of episodes released online in the form of individual digital media files. Once downloaded, podcast episodes can be listened to anytime, anywhere. One of the reasons that podcasts are so popular is the variety in style, form and content that they offer listeners. They can act as informal think tanks, offer a space for storytelling, keep us informed about current events, delve into niche topics, and expose us to a myriad of new ideas.

A black-and-white photograph of a crowd of people around a white aircraft.

The rollout of the first Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow in Malton, Ontario, October 4, 1957. The people in the crowd give a sense of the size of the aircraft. (e999912501)

In the case of our own podcast, Discover Library and Archives Canada, the medium acts as a gateway to Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC’s) rich and extensive collection. In the podcast, we explore a wide range of topics related to Canada’s documentary heritage. Whether we’re discussing an early pannotype with a Photo Conservator,  delving into the controversial story of the Avro Arrow or spotlighting the remarkable life of Tom Longboat, our podcast informs, surprises and entertains.

Our dedicated team of podcasters labours over each podcast episode. With such abundant archival and bibliographic collections to pull inspiration from, selecting topics for upcoming episodes can be quite the task. However, through brainstorming sessions, research and meeting with experts, the team is able to choose topics that it feels listeners will find fascinating.

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

A pannotype of an unknown sitter, in a paper case (e011200812_s15-v8)

Next, discussions with the experts are recorded, and then the behind-the-scenes magic begins. Our multimedia production specialists spend hours editing the material in order to select conversational gems from the recordings and stitch them together into a cohesive, streamlined whole. Multiply that by two—because in order for all Canadians to enjoy the podcast, we produce French and English versions of each episode.

To date, we have released 67 full length podcast episodes and 5 shorter ones in our Treasures Revealed  series and our listeners seem thrilled. The popularity of the episodes consistently places LAC’s podcast in the top rankings of its category on iTunes. The breadth of topics covered in our podcast, and the depth of knowledge shared by the subject experts we interview, allow Discover Library and Archives Canada to make a valuable contribution to the international landscape of podcasting.

If you haven’t listened to it yet, it’s time to check it out. Listen to episodes in the car, while doing dishes, alone or with friends. Discover Library and Archives Canada is the perfect cure for boredom and will draw you into the fascinating world of Canada’s cultural heritage as it can be found in our wonderful collection.

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

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

Related resources

Proud to be peculiar: The little-known story of the Archives Museum

By Geneviève Morin

One ordinary June day in 2011, an unordinary mystery landed on the desks of Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) documentary art archivists. A small bronze statuette of James Wolfe by sculptor Vernon March had just been found at the Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa, carefully wrapped and secretly left unattended. The only clue was a note in which the anonymous author expressed regret at having stolen the statuette “in an act of foolishness” while visiting the Archives in the 1950s. Now in the twilight of his life, he was endeavouring to make amends…

The archivists familiar with the history of LAC’s non-textual collections immediately got to work: research was undertaken, paperwork was retrieved, and provenance was confirmed. The bronze likeness of General Wolfe had indeed been added to the Archives’ holdings in 1914! The statuette was gratefully retrieved and eventually transferred to its new current home, the Canadian Museum of History.

However, the question remains… Why would archives ever have collected that sort of sculpture in the first place? Do archives not typically stick to two-dimensional material like textual documents, photographs, maps and drawings? To be sure, even though many Canadians are aware that LAC and its predecessor institutions (the National Archives of Canada, the National Library of Canada and the Public Archives of Canada) have acquired non-textual material for over 130 years, few are familiar with the reason why our holdings were—and, in some cases, still are—so eclectic.

The bold ambition of Arthur Doughty

Simply put, the diversity of our past and present holdings is in large part owed to Canada’s second Dominion Archivist, Arthur Doughty. His ambition, as he explained in the Archives’ 1925 Catalogue of Pictures, was nothing short of making the institution “… a national department of history, where are preserved sources of every kind having value for the study of the history of Canada.” This was a substantial mandate, to say the least…

Black-and-white photograph of a man with a mustache wearing a dark suit and boots. He is sitting in a wood chair and reading a book beside a wood desk covered in papers. There are large plants, a wall with many framed images and a fireplace mantel in the background. General Wolfe’s leather campaign chair leans against the wall to the man’s right.

Dr. Arthur G. Doughty, Dominion Archivist, c. 1920, Pittaway Studio. (c051653)

Doughty’s vision caused a considerable increase in the types of material acquired by the Archives after his appointment, in 1904. The gargantuan Duberger model of Québec, pictured below, transferred from the British War Office in 1908, is one of the most striking examples of this change in acquisition practices.

Black-and-white photograph of a large room with display tables running along the sides and lights hanging from the ceiling. In the background, there is a large model of a city.

Grey Room, Public Archives of Canada, Sussex Street, after 1926. (a066642) (The model was built at Québec by draftsman Jean-Baptiste Duberger and Royal Engineer John By between 1806 and 1808. Today, the model is in the custody of Parks Canada.)

Over the years, the Archives became responsible for taking in thousands of diverse items, which included artefacts such as:

  • the red tunic worn by Isaac Brock at the time of his death during the Battle of Queenston Heights;
  • James Wolfe’s leather campaign chair (pictured above in Doughty’s office, left-hand side);
  • a war club said to have been used in the War of 1812 and several other weapons;
  • Indigenous eyewear, weapons and clothing;
  • mirrors, chandeliers and various pieces of furniture;
  • the nation’s most extensive collections of coins, tokens, paper money, medals and decorations;
  • and quirkier curiosities, such as a wooden potato pounder believed to have been used in the kitchen of Sir John Johnson, and an elaborate set of brass sleigh-bells having once belonged to Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne.

In short, nothing seemed to be off limits for the Archives, as long as it could teach Canadians something about their history.

Black-and-white photograph of a wood cabinet with a mirror. On top of the cabinet is an elaborately decorated mantel clock. There are two candelabras in the shape of cranes standing on turtles’ backs on either side of the cabinet.

Raingo Frères mantel clock on display at the Public Archives building, date unknown. (a066643)

A must-see for locals and visitors alike

Deemed “A Treasure-House for the Canadian Historian” by Saturday Night Magazine in 1910, the Archives came to develop a hugely successful museum program providing space for Canadians to immerse themselves in displays that combined publications, textual records, and varying forms of specialized media, such as maps, photographs, paintings, engravings, and three-dimensional artefacts. Coincidentally, the infamous Wolfe statuette can be seen in just such a display in the photograph below, taken around 1926, co-starring with Benjamin West’s painting The Death of General Wolfe in the Archives’ Northcliffe Room.

Black-and-white photo of a room with book cases and display cabinets. In the background, there are windows and plants.

The Northcliffe Room in the Public Archives Building, Sussex Street. Ottawa, Ont., ca. 1926-1930. (a137713). The Vernon March statuette of Wolfe can be seen on top of the display case below the large painting on the right wall.

Housed in various spaces that included three custom-built rooms on the ground floor of the Archives building at 330 Sussex Street, the permanent exhibits were regularly supplemented by special displays marking commemorative events, the intake of significant acquisitions, or the visit of important guests. Space was tight, but under the guidance of Doughty and curators Mr. Weber and A.E.H. Petrie, nearly every usable surface was considered an opportunity to showcase the collection—even hallways and Doughty’s own office.

Black-and-white photograph of a large room with display cabinets, a statue, flags, plants, framed images, chairs and a throne.

Minto Room, Public Archives of Canada, arranged for a reception for delegates attending the Imperial Conference – Ottawa, August 1932. (c000029) The sovereign’s throne [centre-right] was housed at the Archives Museum when not in use at the Senate of Canada.

Black-and-white photograph of a long narrow room. There are two hanging lights in the middle of the room, and posters are plastered on each wall.

War Posters Room, Public Archives Building, Sussex Street, c. 1944 (a066638). We still find thumbtack holes in some of the war posters in LAC’s collections. Conservation and exhibition practices have greatly evolved since the days of the War Posters Room!

As a result, the Archives Museum hosted countless groups of schoolchildren, scholars, history enthusiasts and visiting dignitaries. The popular attraction was even graced by Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1951. The royal couple enjoyed the experience so much that, as Archives officials proudly reported, “[by] the time the party had signed the visitor’s book and left for Government House, a much longer period had elapsed than had been arranged for in the official programme.”

Black-and-white photograph of four men and one woman looking at items in a glass display cabinet. One man is pointing at a document in the cabinet.

“Their Royal Highnesses the Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburg in the Public Archives, accompanied by the Hon. F. Gordon Bradley, Secretary of State (left).” Report of the Public Archives for the year 1951.

By the mid-1960s, the Museum’s popularity was growing by leaps and bounds. Unfortunately, as Mr. Petrie observed in 1960, this level of success did have its adverse effects: “One guard seems to be insufficient for the three rooms [as there have been] petty thefts and minor vandalism to collection items.” Security was struggling to keep up with growing crowds; perhaps these were the conditions in which the Wolfe statuette came to its unfortunate disappearance?

The unavoidable unsustainability

Ultimately, Doughty’s well-intentioned ambition could not keep going in this manner. After nearly 60 years of existence, the Museum had accumulated such a large three-dimensional collection that the Archives building was bursting at the seams. Space had become so tight that, in 1965, the exhibition spaces occupying the Sussex building had to be moved to temporary lodgings at the Daly Building, near the Château Laurier; so did the surplus artifacts that had until then been stored at the Loeb Building, on Besserer Street.

Black-and-white photograph of two buildings. On the left side of the image, there are blurry people and cars. In the foreground, power lines can be seen.

G.T.R. Hotel [Chateau Laurier] and Ria [Daly] Building. William James Topley, after 1911. (a009116) The federal government bought and began occupying the Daly Building, a commercial building, in 1921.

Appraisal of the Museum’s conundrum by both the Massey Commission of 1951 and the Glassco Commission of 1963 provided the necessary weight to the argument for downsizing. While the Archives had gone beyond their traditional role at a time when “no alternative was available,” it was obvious that being the national archives and a museum all at once was impossible and no longer necessary. The time had come to share the burden of responsibility with other existing institutions.

New building, reduced holdings

In 1967, the National Library and National Archives of Canada moved to new quarters, at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. While this modern, custom-designed building did include exhibition spaces, the displays of days past would not be replicated there; rather, focus would be dedicated to the wealth of resources found in the library and archives holdings.

The years surrounding the move were therefore occupied with the redistribution of the Museum’s collection. Most of the three-dimensional artefacts were transferred to the upcoming Museum of Man (now known as the Canadian Museum of History), while war trophies and military artefacts remained behind at the Sussex location to continue on as part of Canada’s War Museum. Approximately 16,000 coins and other monetary items were sent to the Bank of Canada, and the Archives’ philatelic holdings were taken in by the Post Office Department. The Archives retained its holdings of some 6,000 military, commemorative and ecclesiastical medals and tokens; these, along with the extensive collection of paintings, remained part of the Public Archives holdings of documentary art and objects. Mr. Petrie stayed on as Curator of Museum and Numismatics, showing groups around exhibits and paintings on display and conducting tours of the new building’s impressive decorative and architectural features.

A continuing legacy

As Library and Archives Canada evolves into the 21st century, the spirit of Doughty’s ambition and the legacy of the Archives Museum live on through a distinctly Canadian approach to archives. Bred out of collecting and caring for over 100 years’ worth of government records, private papers and non-textual “sources of every kind,” this approach has generated the eclectic array of expertise that remains with LAC’s professionals to this day. Most importantly, it has ensured that a diverse trove of documentary heritage continues to intrigue, inform and impress Canadians and visitors alike, even though security and access conditions have become just a bit tighter since the days of the Wolfe statuette affair.


Geneviève Morin is a Senior Archivist for Documentary Art, Objects and Photography, Government Archives Division.

Of Portraits and Places: The Gabor Szilasi Fonds

By Jill Delaney

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to announce a major acquisition of Gabor Szilasi’s photographs, representing his lifetime of work (1954–2016), including approximately 80,000 negatives and forty-one prints. This acquisition will make it possible to preserve his legacy and to provide access for Canadians and international researchers to the breadth and depth of this extraordinary photographer’s career and vision. The Gabor Szilasi fonds now includes early images from Hungary, the negatives from all his personal Canadian projects, and the photographs taken on visits back to Hungary and travels to other countries, including Italy, Poland, France and the United States.

Gabor Szilasi was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1928. His mother was a violinist with the Symphony of Budapest, and he grew up in a home and a society interested in music, art and culture (Gabor himself was a clarinetist in an amateur orchestra in Montréal for several years). Tragically, his mother died in a concentration camp, and his two siblings died of illness during the Second World War.

Hungary has a reputation for producing great photographers, including André Kertesz, Brassaï, Lászlō Moholy-Nagy and Robert Capa. However, the path to becoming a photographer was not straightforward for Szilasi. He enrolled in medical school in 1948, but tried to flee the new communist regime in 1949. He was imprisoned for five months, and barred from further university study and professional work. While he found manual labour and piece work after his release, Szilasi spent many hours at the Alliance Française (an international network of French language and cultural centres), which gave him access to a library featuring many books on photography. He bought his first camera in 1952 and began to shoot photographs around the city and while on holiday, as well as photographs of his family and friends. These early images show the influence of those Hungarian photographers, but also that of the Italian neo-realist cinema that he loved, and demonstrate his interest in photographing ‘ordinary’ people.

A black-and-white photograph of three women in bathing suits posing for the camera. They are standing on a dock by water.

At Lake Balaton, Hungary. c. 1954–1956. Photo: Gabor Szilasi (e011435661)

Szilasi’s second attempt to flee Hungary came shortly after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The LAC fonds includes the negatives for the photographs he shot in Budapest during those chaotic days, including photographs taken when the Soviet military moved in to quell the protests. He fled to Austria days later. His father followed shortly after, smuggling the negatives out in the diaper of a friend’s baby.

A black-and-white photograph of a crowd of people surrounding a fallen monument. There are men standing on the monument, looking down.

Crowd on top of Stalin monument October 28, 1956 – Hungarian Revolution. Photo: Gabor Szilasi (e011313448)

Upon Gabor Szilasi and his father landing as refugees in Halifax in 1957, Gabor was sent directly to a sanatorium for treatment of tuberculosis. During the next year, he spent his time in convalescence learning French and English, and poring over photographs and photo stories in magazines such as Life, Paris Match and Saturday Night. His father, Sandor Szilasi, found work in forestry. Once in good health, Gabor also found work and began to take photographs again, meeting various Quebec photographers, who encouraged his interest. In August 1958, he won his first Canadian award, the 20th Annual Newspaper National Snapshot Award for a photograph he had taken in Budapest.

By January 1959, Szilasi had found his first job in photography, working as a darkroom technician in the Service de Ciné-photographie du Québec, in Montréal (which later became the Office du film du Québec (OFQ)). He was quickly promoted to photographer, and his assignments led to extensive travel within the province.

He also continued with his study of the work of other photographers, creating an impressive personal library on the subject. During this period, he was influenced by photographers such as Paul Strand and Walker Evans, whose works portraying ‘everyday people’ were key in the development of the social documentary form of the mid-20th century. In his travels for the OFQ, and under the influence of these photographers, Szilasi found himself drawn to the vernacular of the province, the people and places of rural Quebec, a culture and a way of life unfamiliar to his urbane upbringing in Budapest.

In the early 1970s, he took on his first job as a photography instructor, at the Cégep du Vieux Montréal (1971–1979). He later taught at Concordia University (1980–1995). During this time, Szilasi began to work on his own in these regions, creating a series of remarkable portraits and views that would earn him national and international recognition. Armed with his 4×5 camera and tripod, his curiosity (he has referred to himself as ‘nosy’), and his affability and gentle charm, he gained entry into the homes and businesses of the local inhabitants, in communities such as Île aux Coudres, Charlevoix and Lotbinière. This work caught the attention of the Canadian photography community and the archivists at the Public Archives of Canada (which later became Library and Archives Canada). The Public Archives of Canada acquired a selection of 51 of these prints, in 1975 and 1982.

A man standing in a doorway, his left arm akimbo. He is wearing a ball cap and suspenders, and is smiling towards the camera. Flowers and a Quebec flag surround the door.

Louis-Philippe Yergeau. 1977. Photo: Gabor Szilasi (e011435658)

The portraits are carefully composed and perceptive environmental portraits of people he met over the course of several years. The elements that surround his subjects act as a kind of vernacular iconography, narrating their lives and illuminating their place in the cultural and social life of rural Quebec as it was undergoing rapid change. Later photography trips in the 1970s focussed on documenting the places themselves, such as Abitibi-Témiskamingue and Rouyn-Noranda, revealing Szilasi’s other abiding interest: architectural photography.

A black-and-white photograph of a white building with two sets of stairs leading to the entrance on a street corner. Written on the building in four places are the words “Taverne du Coin.” There is a stop sign near the building.

Taverne du Coin. Rouyn, Quebec. 1979. Photo: Gabor Szilasi (e010692454)

These two themes—portraiture and architecture—have dominated his long and prolific career. LAC acquired a selection of his Sainte-Catherine Street storefront photographs in 1983, a project he began in 1979. The views, taken along the length of the street, allow the viewer to consider the history of the buildings and of the street, from the original facades of the 19th and early 20th centuries through the subsequent layering of new signage, new siding, or other embellishments and renovations. Szilasi’s recognition of the constant change that pervades and shapes our modern culture has driven much of his work.

A black-and-white photograph of a building whose façade is white and dark. The words “Molly McGuire’s Pub” (with a small shamrock) are written. There are two men and a car in the foreground.

Molly McGuire’s Pub, 2204 Ste. Catherine Street West, Montreal. 1977. Photo: Gabor Szilasi (e010692455)

The Szilasi fonds includes prints and negatives from two other architectural projects. In his Intersections project, the photographer expands, literally, on his storefront images of Montréal by creating expansive views of characteristic intersections in the city. Using a banquet camera to widen the view, he makes the buildings appear as isolated islands surrounded by pavement and automobile traffic, thus creating a sombre reflection on the North American city.

A black-and-white photograph of a tall factory building located at an intersection. There is a bridge on the right-hand side linking the building to a roadway. Cars are parked in a row on the left-hand side.

Angle St. Laurent and Van Horne. Montréal, 1981. Photo: Gabor Szilasi (e010692453)

In Gabor’s LUX project, the photographs focus on the quality of light as much as the architecture, while documenting the visual language and motifs of consumer culture. Szilasi ventured out into the summer dusk with his camera to capture the unique neon signs of Montréal’s retail businesses at just that magical moment between day and night, when the sky seems to glow with the same intensity as the neon signs, infusing the images with a sense of delight and intimacy.

A colour photograph of a lit-up restaurant sign. The sign is on a brick building with large arches. The words “Frites Dorées” and images of a hamburger, a poutine and a hotdog can be seen on the sign.

LUX: Frites Dorées. Montréal. c. 1982–1985. Photo: Gabor Szilasi (e011435666)

The fonds also reveals the multifaceted and evolving nature of Szilasi’s portraiture over time. The photographer has played with many different approaches and cameras throughout his career to explore the notion of portraiture itself. The negatives include his early street photography in Budapest, the rural environmental portraits, his portrait diptychs of the late 1970s, the closely cropped collaborative portraits shot with a Polaroid 55 camera starting in 1992, and his self-portraiture project with the clients of Les Impatients in Montréal in 2003–2004.

In between all of these important projects, Szilasi was also constantly documenting the arts scene, the artists and writers of Montréal, as well as various Montrealers, through works such as his unforgettable portrait of a car salesman at the Auto Show in 1973. He has also recorded the diversity of his adopted city, from his street photography of his fellow citizens during Saint-Jean-Baptiste celebrations in 1970, to a documentation project on the citizens of the immigrant-rich Saint-Michel neighbourhood starting in 1996.

A black-and-white photograph of a man in a suit wearing a white carnation on his lapel leaning on the hood of a 1970s-model car. The man has his arms crossed, and he is smiling at the camera.

Ford/Mercury salesman at Salon d’automobile, Place Bonaventure, Montréal, Quebec. 1973. Photo: Gabor Szilasi (e011435663)

These negatives showcase Szilasi’s deep involvement with both the photographic and artistic communities in Montréal. Like most photographers, he carried his camera with him almost all the time. This resulted in a loose, but extensive, body of work documenting his friends as well as many other photographers, artists, writers, and musicians. His photographs of the innumerable vernissages he attended beginning in 1960 were the subject of a major exhibition (Gabor Szilasi: The Art World in Montréal, 1960–1980) held in 2017 at the McCord Museum, in Montréal. Other lesser known images in the collection come from his many commissions, including for Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts (photographs taken in Giverny, France), as well as from his various trips back to Budapest and his travels to other locales during his long career.

A black-and-white photograph of a tall old building with advertising featuring the Canada Dry logo, a woman with blond hair and a woman’s legs in high heel shoes. There are bushes in the front of the building, and people are moving about.

Budapest (Canada Dry). Budapest, Hungary, 1995. Photo: Gabor Szilasi (e011435665)

A black-and-white photograph of a man, in a striped buttoned-up shirt and dark trousers, looking towards the camera. He is sitting backwards on a rolling chair beside a desk, on which a lamp, papers and books can be seen.

Sam Tata in his apartment in Ville Saint-Laurent, Montréal, Quebec. June 1988. Photo: Gabor Szilasi (e011435660)

A black-and-white photograph of a man in a buttoned-up shirt, with a sweater over his shoulders. The man is standing behind a medium-format view camera.

Photographer Gabor Szilasi photographing in Sam Tata’s apartment]. Ville Saint-Laurent, 1979. Photo: Sam Tata (e010977793)

Lastly, LAC has also acquired a number of prints of Szilasi’s self-portraits in the most recent accrual. These photographs vary from an early casual image clicked with the camera held at arms length, to an enigmatic portrait taken in the heat of a Cocoa Beach, Florida, motel room, with his wife and daughter in a doorway behind him, and a more recent photograph (2014) of himself in a mirror surrounded by hundreds of his beloved photography books.

A colour photograph of Gabor Szilasi looking towards the camera, through a mirror, surrounded by shelves of books

Self-portrait, Westmount, Quebec. 2014. Photo: Gabor Szilasi (e011435667)

These images are further evidence of Szilasi’s commitment to experimentation with the medium to which he was first exposed in the library of the Alliance Française in Budapest. The negatives and prints in the LAC fonds provide a wealth of images exploring the people and places that became his home and his community in Montréal and Quebec.

Other LAC resources:

Jill Delaney is a Lead Archivist, Photography, in the Specialized Media Section of the Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Breaking ground: 150 years of federal infrastructure in British Columbia – Lower Mainland Region: Customs Examining Warehouse

By Caitlin Webster

British Columbia joined Canada 150 years ago, and in the years that followed, federal infrastructure expanded throughout the province. This infrastructure is well documented throughout Library and Archives Canada’s collections. This eight part blog series highlights some of those buildings, services and programs, as well as their impact on B.C.’s many distinct regions.

While many locals and tourists can spot the distinctive clock tower of Vancouver’s former post office at Hastings and Granville, few step around the corner to see the classically inspired architecture of the Customs Examining Warehouse on Howe Street.

Black-and-white photograph of the exterior of the Customs Examining Warehouse in Vancouver, B.C. There is a wooden sidewalk in the foreground, and horse-drawn carts are delivering goods to the building entrance.

Examining [or Customs] Warehouse, Vancouver, B.C. (a046650-v8)

In the boom years leading up to the First World War, increasing trade led to the need for more substantial customs warehouse facilities in cities across Canada. In 1908, the federal government approved the purchase of a Vancouver warehouse site for $75,000. Located on the traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, the building served as an annex to the post office. It is one of four federally owned buildings on the site.

Document outlining the decision to purchase land to build an examining warehouse in Vancouver. The document is signed by Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier.

1908 Order in Council to purchase a site for an examining warehouse in Vancouver (e010701436 )

As one of eight new customs houses built across the country, the Vancouver warehouse shared many design elements with counterparts in Montréal, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Port Arthur. Public Works Chief Architect and his team selected a classically inspired façade with a rusticated stone base, rectangular windows, a heavy cornice at the roofline, and ornamental brick pilasters to give the appearance of supporting columns. Constructed from 1911 to 1913, the building was also one of the first structures in Vancouver to use modern steel framing and reinforced concrete floors.

Black-and-white photograph showing the construction of the Customs Examining Warehouse in Vancouver. The lower section has a stone exterior, and the upper section has a steel structure and unfinished brickwork.

The Examining [or Customs] Warehouse [under construction], Vancouver, August 5, 1912 (a046662-v8 )

In 1983, the federal government formally recognized the Customs Examining Warehouse as a heritage structure, along with the adjoining Post Office, Winch Building and Federal Building. The Department of Public Works then began an ambitious conservation project, connecting all four buildings with a glass atrium. Completed in time for Expo 86, the complex is now known as Sinclair Centre, in honour of politician and businessperson James Sinclair (1908–1984). Sinclair Centre currently houses several federal government offices and many retail shops and businesses.

This marks the end of our series highlighting early infrastructure in British Columbia. While federal infrastructure projects varied according to the needs of the diverse geographical areas of B.C., increasing settlement was often the impetus for these expanded federal services. This settlement and accompanying federal infrastructure led to significant and continuing impacts on local First Nations and Métis communities. It also changed the landscape of towns, cities and rural areas across the province. Explore Library and Archives Canada’s extensive collections to discover more about how B.C. has transformed over the 150 years since joining Confederation.


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

Breaking ground: 150 years of federal infrastructure in British Columbia – Vancouver Island Region: Dominion Astrophysical Laboratory

By Caitlin Webster

British Columbia joined Canada 150 years ago, and in the years that followed, federal infrastructure expanded throughout the province. This infrastructure is well documented throughout Library and Archives Canada’s collections. This eight part blog series highlights some of those buildings, services and programs, as well as their impact on B.C.’s many distinct regions.

While astronomical research predates Confederation, federal investments in the field began in earnest in the early 20th century. After the construction of an observatory in Ottawa in 1905, astronomer John Stanley Plaskett began advocating for a state-of-the-art reflecting telescope. This led to the construction of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in Saanich near Victoria, British Columbia. The observatory in B.C. was once the world’s largest telescope facility.

The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory is located in the traditional territories of the Xwsepsum (Esquimalt), Songhees, Tsartlip, Pauquachin, Tsawout, Tseycum and Malahat Nations. Their ancestors were signatories of the Douglas treaties of the 1850s, also known as the Fort Victoria treaties. Differences between the treaty text and the oral histories of the First Nations signatories have led to continuing debate as to whether the treaties were land sales or peace agreements.

Land clearing and construction at the site began in 1914 and continued despite the challenges posed by the First World War.

Black-and-white photograph of a group of men posing with a team of horses attached to a wagon carrying part of a telescope.

Hauling 9.5-ton polar axis to the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, circa 1916–1917 (a149324-v8)

Work on the observatory sparked interest internationally as well as locally. The site became a tourist destination as residents visited to observe the progress and attend the official opening in 1918.

Black-and-white photograph of a large group of people inside the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory for its opening ceremony. The group is gathered in front of the telescope and on the viewing platform.

Opening ceremony of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory; view of the telescope (a149323-v8)

With the world’s largest operational telescope at their disposal, Plaskett and his fellow astronomers wasted no time in beginning an ambitious observation program. Specializing in binary stars and later focusing their sights on the Milky Way, the team made extensive contributions in the study of astronomy. Successive teams have continued this vital work, and today the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory is one of two observatories managed by the Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre.

Black-and-white photograph of the exterior of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.

Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (a032169-v6)

The observatory engaged with the public and continues to do so. In the 1920s and 1930s, observatory staff contributed to ongoing local newspaper columns and radio broadcasts on astronomical topics of the day. Today, the charitable organization Friends of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory promotes public outreach activities at the observatory and the Centre of the Universe visitors centre.


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