Hidden histories

On the left, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] is in his traditional First Nation regalia on a horse. In the centre, Iggi and a girl engage in a “kunik,” a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide, holds a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

Cover page of the Nations to Nations e-book. Image: Charles-Olivier Desforges-Rioux, LAC

By Ryan Courchene

The archival and published collections held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are amazing, and so extensive that you will never be able to see them all. You can find hidden gems every single day just by looking, either online on LAC’s website, or in one of the several buildings with archival holdings across Canada.

I work in the Winnipeg office, which alone holds over 30,000 linear feet (nearly 9,150 metres) of archival records. On a business trip to Ottawa in 2016, I had the opportunity to shadow the reference service employees at 395 Wellington Street. While there, I noticed three catalogue drawers near the desk and inquired about what they contained.

Colour photograph from a hallway, through a glass wall with two doors, of a reference room.

The reference room at LAC in Ottawa, seen from the hallway. The catalogue drawers containing research cards with copies of photographs can be seen on the left of the room. Photo Credit: Tom Thompson

Colour photograph of four metal shelving units with eight pull-out drawers containing cards with copies of photographs and associated reference information.

Reference room catalogue drawers, organized by subject headings and geographical locations, containing research cards with copies of photographs held in the collections at LAC in Ottawa. Photo Credit: Tom Thompson

I was told that they held small cards with images in the collection that were copied from microfilm and microfiche. Intrigued, I decided to look at some of the cards on my lunch break. I soon discovered the “Birth of the West” collection, which contains hundreds of incredible photographs of Western Canada, with many focusing on Indigenous images by Ernest Brown. I learned that the images contained in the drawers were only card copies of the originals; the images themselves are small and of poor quality. From a researcher’s perspective, this can be both frustrating and helpful when conducting on-site research. As with this image of the moose, many photographs indexed in the card catalogues have never been digitized. In these situations, the cards provide immediate access to images without having to order the original material in off-site storage.

The photographs in this noteworthy collection are not only visually stunning but also remarkable for the wealth of historical information on Canada and the First Nations peoples of the West. Even though there are hundreds of images in the collection, one image really caught my eye. It tells a fascinating story that evolves every time I examine it.

Colour photograph of a cream-coloured catalogue card. The left half contains typed information in black organized into different categories. A copy of a black-and-white photograph turned sideways on the right side depicts a moose with a harness hitched to a travois. The moose stands in front of a teepee.

Catalogue card of a copy of a photograph of a young moose with a harness hitched to a travois and standing in front of a teepee, unknown location, ca. 1870–1910. Photo Credit: Tom Thompson

This photograph depicts a small home, which could belong to a Métis or First Nation family, blankets hung to dry, some cleared tree brush, a pot of food by the fire pit, a beautiful teepee, and of course a domesticated young moose with a harness hitched to a travois. The one item that I did not notice immediately, which is probably the most important part of the image, is the hand holding the rope attached to the moose. My grandfather used to tell me about how he cleared his own land so he could farm and raise cattle. Is this what was happening here? Or was something else going on? Each time I look at the image, a new story emerges that raises more questions.

Detail from a black-and-white photograph showing a person’s hand holding onto a rope.

Detail of the photograph of a young moose with a harness hitched to a travois and standing in front of a teepee, unknown location, ca. 1870–1910. Photo Credit: Tom Thompson

After seeing this image of the young moose, I wanted a copy for myself. Since I was working backwards, I had to find the image in the collection to see if it was already digitized, and if not, verify any restrictions on getting a copy. To my disappointment, I found that it was not digitized, and I decided not to push the request any further.

It was not until 2019 that I learned the Ernest Brown collection was being digitized by the We Are Here: Sharing Stories (WAHSS) initiative. The moose photograph is one of 126 images in an album entitled “Birth of the West.” Dating from ca. 1870–1910, the album consists of photographs taken in the Northwest Territories (now Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Nunavut) and British Columbia. In addition to fully digitizing and describing this album, the WAHSS team has digitized over 450,000 images, including photographic records, textual documents and maps, with the goal of providing free online access to primary sources, no travel required!

In October 2019, I was finally able to order a copy. It fills me with great joy to know that I have the first print from the digitized copy of this amazing image, which hangs in my office today.

Photograph of a black-and-white photograph with a thick white border mounted on a dark grey page in an album. The image depicts a moose with a harness hitched to a travois standing in front of a teepee.

Young moose with a harness hitched to a travois, unknown location, ca. 1870–1910. This photograph is on page 28 of the “Birth of the West” album. (e011303100-028)


Ryan Courchene is an archivist in the Indigenous Initiatives division at Library and Archives Canada.

Exploring Indigenous peoples’ histories in a multilingual e-book—Part 2

On the left, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] is in his traditional First Nation regalia on a horse. In the centre, Iggi and a girl engage in a “kunik,” a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide, holds a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

Cover page of the Nations to Nations e-book. Image: Charles-Olivier Desforges-Rioux, LAC

By Beth Greenhorn in collaboration with Tom Thompson

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) launched Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada to coincide with the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, 2021. The essays in this first edition of the interactive multilingual e-book featured a wide selection of archival and published material ranging from journals, maps, newspapers, artwork, photographs, sound and film recordings, and publications. Also included are biographies for each of the authors. Many recorded a personalized audio greeting for their biography page, some of which are spoken in their ancestral language. The essays are diverse and, in some cases, quite personal. Their stories challenge the dominant narrative. In addition to authors’ biographies, we included biographical statements by the translators in recognition of their expertise and contributions.

The Nations to Nations e-book was created as part of two Indigenous initiatives at LAC: We Are Here: Sharing Stories (WAHSS) and Listen, Hear Our Voices (LHOV). The essays were written by Heather Campbell (Inuk), Anna Heffernan (Nishnaabe), Karyne Holmes (Anishinaabekwe), Elizabeth Kawenaa Montour (Kanien’kehá:ka), William Benoit (Métis Nation) and Jennelle Doyle (Inuk) in LAC’s National Capital Region office. They were joined by Ryan Courchene (Métis-Anichinabe), from LAC’s regional office in Winnipeg, and Delia Chartrand (Métis Nation), Angela Code (Dene) and Samara mîkiwin Harp (nêhiyawak), archivists from the LHOV initiative.

This edition features the following First Nations languages and/or dialects: Anishinaabemowin, Anishinabemowin, Denesųłiné, Kanien’kéha, Mi’kmaq, nêhiyawêwin and Nishnaabemowin. Essays related to Inuit heritage are presented in Inuttut and Inuktitut. Additionally, the Inuit heritage content is presented in Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait (Roman orthography) and Inuktut Qaniujaaqpait (Inuktitut syllabics). The e-book presents audio recordings in Heritage Michif of select images in essays pertaining to the Métis Nation.

The development of this type of publication was complex. It presented technical and linguistic challenges that required creativity and flexibility. But the benefits of the Indigenous-led content outshine any of the complications. Given the space and time, the authors reclaimed records of relevance to their histories, offering fresh insights through their interpretations. The translators brought new meanings to the records, describing most, if not all, of them for the first time in First Nations languages, Inuktut and Michif.

Describing her experience while researching and writing her essay regarding manoominikewin (the wild rice harvest) of the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg (Mississauga Ojibwe), archivist Anna Heffernan wrote: “I hope that people from Hiawatha, Curve Lake, and the other Michi Saagiig communities will be happy and proud to see their ancestors in these photos, and to see them represented as Michi Saagiig and not just ‘Indians’.”

A page from the e-book with three black-and-white images of people demonstrating different stages of wild rice harvesting.

Page from “Manoominikewin: The Wild Rice Harvest, a Nishnaabe Tradition” by Anna Heffernan, translated into Nishnaabemowin by Maanii Taylor. Left image: Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg man tramping manoomin, Pimadashkodeyong (Rice Lake), Ontario, 1921 (e011303090); upper-right image: Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg woman winnowing manoomin, Pimadashkodeyong (Rice Lake), Ontario, 1921 (e011303089); lower-right image: silent film clips featuring Ojibway men and women from an unidentified community harvesting manoomin, Manitoba, 1920–1929 (MIKAN 192664)

Reflecting on her experience, archivist Heather Campbell described the positive impact of the process:

“So often when we see something written about our communities, it is not written from the perspective of someone who is from that community. To be asked to write about Inuit culture for the e-book was an honour. I was able to choose the theme of my article and was trusted to do the appropriate research. As someone from Nunatsiavut, to be given the opportunity to write about my own region, knowing other Nunatsiavummiut would see themselves reflected back, was so important to me.”

A page from the e-book that shows pages from a picture book, text written in Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait and English.

Page from “Inuktut Publications” by Heather Campbell, translated into Inuktut Qaliujaaqpait by Eileen Kilabuk-Weber, showing selected pages from Angutiup ânguanga / Anguti’s Amulet, 2010, written by the Central Coast of Labrador Archaeology Partnership, illustrated by Cynthia Colosimo and translated by Sophie Tuglavina (OCLC 651119106)

William Benoit, Internal Indigenous Advisor at LAC, wrote a number of shorter essays about Métis Nation language and heritage. While each text can be read on its own, collectively they provide insights into various aspects of Métis culture. In his words: “Although the Métis Nation represents the largest single Indigenous group in Canada, we are misunderstood or misrepresented in the broader national narrative. I appreciate the opportunity to share a few stories about my heritage.”

A page from the e-book with text in English on the left side and a lithograph of a snowy landscape with a man seated in a cariole (sled) pulled by three dogs in colourful coats. A man wearing a blanket and snowshoes is on the left in front of the dogs. A man holding a whip and wearing clothing associated with Métis culture (a long blue jacket, red leggings and an embellished hat) walks on the right-hand side of the sled.

Page from “Métis Carioles and Tuppies” by William Benoit, with a Michif audio recording by Métis Elder Verna De Montigny. Image depicting Hudson’s Bay Company governor travelling by dog cariole with a First Nations guide and a Métis Nation musher, Red River, 1825 (c001940k)

The creation of the Nations to Nations e-book has been a meaningful undertaking and positive learning experience. Two and a half years in development, the e-book has truly been a group effort involving the expertise and collaboration of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation authors, Indigenous language translators, and Indigenous advisors.

I am grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with so many amazing and dedicated individuals. A special “thank you” goes to the members of the Indigenous Advisory Circle, who offered their knowledge and guidance throughout the development of this publication.

As part of ongoing work to support Indigenous initiatives at LAC, we will feature the essays from Nations to Nations as blog posts. We are excited to introduce Ryan Courchene’s essay “Hidden Histories” as the first feature in this series.

Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada is free of charge and can be downloaded from Apple Books (iBooks format) or from LAC’s website (EPUB format). An online version can be viewed on a desktop, tablet or mobile web browser without requiring a plug-in.


Beth Greenhorn is a senior project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Tom Thompson is a multimedia production specialist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Exploring Indigenous peoples’ histories in a multilingual e-book—Part 1

By Beth Greenhorn in collaboration with Tom Thompson

On the left, Tatânga Mânî [Chief Walking Buffalo] [George McLean] is in his traditional First Nation regalia on a horse. In the centre, Iggi and a girl engage in a “kunik,” a traditional greeting in Inuit culture. On the right, Maxime Marion, a Métis guide, holds a rifle. In the background, there is a map of Upper and Lower Canada, and text from the Red River Settlement collection.

Cover page of the Nations to Nations e-book. Image: Charles-Olivier Desforges-Rioux, LAC

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) recently published an interactive multilingual e-book called Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada. This e-book grew out of two Indigenous documentary heritage initiatives, We Are Here: Sharing Stories and Listen, Hear Our Voices, and it features essays written by First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation colleagues at LAC. The process for creating this publication was unlike any work LAC had previously carried out.

The project team began with just two people: me and Tom Thompson, a multimedia production specialist. I was tasked with coordinating an e-book that would focus on Indigenous records held at LAC. We determined that an e-book was an excellent fit to showcase newly digitized content. An e-book offered the best platform to incorporate interactive material, such as audiovisual records. It also provided the capability to feature Indigenous languages and dialects.

Work began after the United Nations declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. With this in mind, we consulted with our Indigenous colleagues. The discussions were heartening.

Initially, we intended to feature archival content and other historical materials held at LAC that were created by Indigenous peoples in their ancestral languages. After several months of unsuccessful research, we realized that with the exception of a small number of documents, there was little content written in First Nations languages or Inuktut, the Inuit language. As for Michif, the language of the Métis Nation, there is no known documentation in the collection at LAC.

Faced with this reality, the e-book team needed a new strategy on how to create a publication that supports Indigenous languages when the bulk of published and archival records was created by settler society. Following several brainstorming discussions, the answer became clear and was surprisingly simple. Instead of focusing on historical records written in Indigenous languages, the authors would choose collection items in any media that they found meaningful and then discuss them in their essays. The essays would be translated into the Indigenous language represented by the people portrayed in each section. Content that was translated into an Indigenous language would be presented as the primary text, with English and French versions being secondary.

The title, Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada, was chosen by the authors and emphasizes the distinction of the different nations and the diversity of voices. By positioning the authors’ voices at the front and centre, the stories provide a richer understanding of the world through awareness of the Indigenous knowledge and perspectives.

Recognizing that many Indigenous communities have limited Internet connectivity, dynamic content has been embedded in the e-book wherever possible. This includes high-resolution images, podcast episodes, audio clips and film footage. An Internet connection is still required to download the e-book and to access some content, such as database records, blog articles and external links.

A map of North America with symbols placed across Canada.

Pre-contact map of North America without any geopolitical borders, with icons linking to author biographies and essays. Image: Eric Mineault, LAC

Following a recommendation from the Indigenous Advisory Circle at LAC, we hired Indigenous language experts and knowledge keepers to translate the essays and related texts in the e-book. Of all of the tasks involved in the creation of this e-book, finding qualified translators was one of the most rewarding, yet challenging, activities. Many of the languages are at risk and, in some cases, are critically endangered. While language revitalization work has begun in many communities to create standardized lexicons and dictionaries, there were many words in English with no equivalent in the Indigenous language. Quite often, the translators needed to consult with Elders in their communities to confirm terminology and to find a word or phrase that would convey the same meaning.

One of LAC’s biggest paradigm shifts was in presenting the Indigenous language as the principal content, and in offering English and French as supporting texts. In an effort to emphasize this shift, the authors chose words to describe places, proper names and descriptions in their ancestral languages. These words are accompanied by translations in English or French in parentheses, the first time they are introduced to the reader, and only the Indigenous words are used for all further references.

Nations to Nations: Indigenous Voices at Library and Archives Canada is free of charge and can be downloaded from Apple Books (iBooks format) or from LAC’s website (EPUB format). An online version can be viewed on a desktop, tablet or mobile web browser without requiring a plug-in.


Beth Greenhorn is a senior project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Tom Thompson is a multimedia production specialist in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

That sinking sensation: Leda clay in and near Ottawa

By Ellen Bond

In the 1970s, there were two shows I looked forward to every weekend: The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday (feel-good stories) and The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour (cartoons) on Saturday. It wasn’t the ACME dynamite or the crazy coyote that scared me on Saturday—it was the quicksand! Being stuck in cement-like mud sounded horrendous to me. So imagine my feelings when I learned that most of Ottawa is built over a massive amount of Leda clay, which can liquefy from ground tremors, forming a type of quicksand. Quicksand? Here in Ottawa? Not only in the desert of Wile E. Coyote? Yikes!

A colour map showing the area of land covered by the Champlain Sea

A map showing the former location of the Champlain Sea after the last period of glaciation (Wikipedia) Credit: Orbitale

The Champlain Sea and the formation of Leda clay

After the last ice age, the climate warmed and the snow and ice melted. Massive spillways, which carried melting glacial waters and looked like enormous rivers, moved the water away from the remaining glaciers and sometimes formed lakes. In the area now known as the Ottawa Valley, a vast inland shallow sea formed 15,000 years ago. Geologists named it the Champlain Sea. What is unique about this sea is the Leda clay that was deposited in areas of deeper water.

You may wonder what happened to the Champlain Sea and why these lands are not still underwater. There are two reasons: evaporation and the rebounding of land once freed from the incredible weight of a 1- to 3-kilometre deep glacier. The land previously under the glaciers in North America is still rebounding today, 15,000 years later!

Leda clay (also known as quick clay and Champlain Sea clay) was formed by sediment eroding from the earth and landing at the bottom of the sea. The Champlain Sea was full of both fresh water from the glacial melt and salt water from the ocean. When salt molecules combine with the clay molecules, it makes a stable clay. But if fresh water infiltrates the clay and washes away the salt, the clay becomes very unstable. An unstable clay molecule is prone to liquefying.

Why doesn’t Leda clay liquefy more often?

You may wonder why the Leda clay under Ottawa and the lands around the St. Lawrence River doesn’t liquefy all the time. For the most part, the clay is underneath the surface and away from fresh water, and so is very stable. However, earth tremors, whether natural (earthquakes, erosion) or human created (explosions, blasting, digging), can allow fresh water to seep into the Leda clay, removing the salt molecule. If that clay is on a hill or on the edge of a winding river, this leads to landslides.

Leda clay has been found responsible for over 250 landslides in Canada alone. In the Ottawa area, Leda clay was responsible for the Canadian Museum of Nature building’s tower sinking in 1915 and, more recently, holding up new developments in Ottawa South in 2021. It was also responsible, in part, for the Rideau Street sinkhole that appeared with train construction in downtown Ottawa in 2016.

The landslide disaster at Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette

Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette is in the area formerly covered by the melt waters from the Champlain Sea. The village is northeast of Ottawa, in Quebec, and marked by an orange star in the map of the Champlain Sea above.

Disaster struck in the middle of the night in Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette on April 26, 1908, when a riverbank of the frozen Lièvre River gave way. Fresh water had infiltrated the Leda clay molecules, making them unstable, and the riverbanks collapsed, propelling a wave of mud, ice and ice-filled water across the river and into the town. Thirty-four people lost their lives and at least twelve homes were destroyed.

A river with tree stumps on the left side and homes on the right side.

Looking up Lièvre River from Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette, Quebec (a040044-v6)

Water moves in a straight line until it meets resistance. In this historical photo of the area, the water in the river is flowing towards the riverbank (blue arrow), and it was here that the riverbank gave way. Labelled in green you can see the stumps left behind following the clearcutting of trees along the bank. Without the layer of trees to protect the bank, the entire area was prone to eroding quicker than before the cut. Some of the village of Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette can be seen across the river from where the landslide occurred. At this time, there is no island in the middle of the river, and there are houses close to the river on the town side. Comparing this image to ones after the slide, there is a stark difference. Look for changes to this scene in some of the photos that follow, especially house placement.

A river cutting through a hilly landscape with houses along the river.

Southeast view of the Lièvre River Valley and Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette (a044070-v8)

Another old photo from the LAC collection shows the river flowing away from the viewer. Look closely, and you can see where the earth gave way and the island formed in the middle of the river after the landslide.

A river with hills in the background. There is a small island in the river and a bridge farther upstream.

Former town site of Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette, Lièvre River, Quebec. Photo looks upstream. (a020267)

In the photo above, the river is flowing towards the viewer, and you can see the bridge crossing the river, north of town. A red arrow points to where the riverbank gave way during the landslide. A new island formed in the middle of the river from the sediment and material moved in the slide. The other change is that there is now a clearing where the town site had been—people rebuilt the town further away from the river.

A white cross on the edge of a ridge. The land below the ridge is considerably lower than the ridge.

A white cross stands on the edge of where the land gave way in 1908, leaving a scar on the land still visible today. Photo credit: Ellen Bond

The colour photo above was taken recently, and you can see the area affected (where the land gave way along the ridge), the island formed from the slide and a memorial white cross on the hill.

A river bend with water flowing towards the shoreline of the bend.

A recent photograph of the area affected by the landslide. Photo credit: Ellen Bond

The above photo looks downstream at the slide location. The slide area is shown in yellow, and you can see the ridge above. On the left, you can see the edge of the island that formed after the slide.

A large rock with a metal plaque describing the event and the names of the victims. The rock is across from the slide location. There is a bench nearby overlooking the memorial and the landslide site.

A memorial across the river from the slide location. Photo credit: Ellen Bond

Inscription on plaque reads: Memorial On April 26th 1908 around 3:30 am, the village was brutally awakened by a loud grumbling noise. A 1200 foot long by 500 feet deep piece of land on the west side of the river suddenly slipped in the river, sweeping in a mass of water, ice and clay, houses, buildings and 34 victims. Ten (10) of the thirty four (34) victims were never found.

A memorial plaque located near the landslide area. It describes the event and lists the names of the victims. Photo credit: Ellen Bond

Although this landslide occurred over 110 years ago, the effects can be still seen and felt today. In the middle of the night, due to no fault of their own, 34 people lost their lives tragically and unexpectedly. Their names, in each family group, were

  • Alexina, Amanda, Adélard and William Charron-Lamoureux,
  • Cléophas Deslauriers, Célina, Damien, Wilfrid, Albert, Lucien, Béatrice and Alice Deslauriers-Paquin
  • Émélie, Florimond and Alias Desjardins-Gravelle
  • Émélie, Daniel, Eddy, Arthur, Angus and Henri Lapointe Labelle,
  • Rose-Anna, Camille, David, Emma, Rose and Albert Larivière-Charron,
  • Alexina, Arsidas, Wilfrid, Florida and Anna Murray-Légaré
  • Georges Morrissette
  • Adélard Murray

The power of the earth is incredibly strong, and those that inhabit the planet are sometimes the unfortunate recipients of its fury. It happens in regions affected by hurricanes. It happens where two of the Earth’s plates meet and are moving in different directions. It happens where Leda clay has formed. As humans, we cannot control this power. In Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette, the people have adapted to the Leda clay by moving their houses away from the river. Unfortunately, lives were lost learning this lesson. RIP to all of the victims and their families.

A recent photo of the slide area.

Looking across the river to the slide location. The ridge is visible as is the island. Photo credit: Ellen Bond

Additional Resources


Ellen Bond is a project assistant with  the Online Content team at Library and Archives Canada.

 

 

Improving your online experience: What to expect at LAC’s new online home

By Andrea Eidinger

Here at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), we take user feedback very seriously. Over the years, one point has come through loud and clear: our existing website is not meeting the needs of the public. This is why we are proud to announce that we will be launching a completely new website later this summer—library-archives.canada.ca. In this blog post, I will go over what LAC’s new web presence will involve and how these changes will impact your experience.

New website

So, what does this mean in practical terms? We spent a lot of time gathering feedback from members of the public, expert researchers and members of our staff to make our website user-centric. This involved creating several working groups as well as user-testing different possibilities for the new website. We also incorporated the latest research on how people actually use websites.

A major part of this work has been to ensure that all our users can easily find and understand the information on our website. Two very important components of the new website are consistent web navigation and plain language. All our new web content is organized in the same way so that users always know where to go, and the language has been simplified to make it clearer and easy to understand, no matter your skill level.

Finally, our website is dynamic. Our goal was to create a website that lives and breathes. Gone are the days of web pages being posted and then never touched again. Part of renewing our web presence is a commitment to continually update the website with new material and make improvements based on user feedback. We are also taking what is called an “iterative approach.” Essentially, we will start with a scaled-back version of the new website. This will be a launching pad for us. Our work will build on this initial version to develop the new website.

Screenshot of the Rare Book Collection webpage on the LAC website.

An example of the new template for subject guides for the new LAC website.

New structure

One of the biggest changes users will notice is the look and feel of the website. To make the information on the website more easily accessible to the public, we have developed a new structure for the website based on tasks, topics and themes that align with our users’ needs. In other words, we looked closely at how members of the public were using our existing website and what they were looking for (tasks). We then grouped those tasks into broad categories (topics). Finally, we grouped these topics into themes.

These themes are the basis for the website’s new structure and align with the Government of Canada’s design system. This system provides a more practical, consistent and reliable online experience for people who access Government of Canada digital services.

The first theme, Corporate, contains all of the institutional information relating to LAC. This includes information about our mandates, policies, initiatives and partners. This is where you will also find information about transparency at LAC and be able to read reports and plans about our activities.

The second theme, Services, is self-explanatory. It is where users can access our services or complete a task related to one of our programs. Under this theme, users will find information on how to visit us, how to order material, how to apply for ISBN numbers, how to make an ATIP request, and more. Also under this theme is information about the various services that we offer for gallery, library, archives and museum (GLAM) professionals, publishers, public servants, and Indigenous communities and individuals. This section will also contain information about our different funding programs.

Finally, there is the Collection theme. Our goal in rethinking how we present the Collection theme was to build user autonomy and discovery. This section will be home to all kinds of materials that will help Canadians access the documentary heritage under LAC’s care. In this section, you will find our databases, guides on researching various topics, publications, and podcast episodes, as well as a basic introduction to research. This section also includes many of LAC’s more interactive features, such as Co-Lab, our transcription program.

New navigation

One of the biggest challenge that users faced on our website was finding the information they were looking for. This was a problem particularly for material included under the Collection theme. Often, users would travel down rabbit holes and never be able to find their way back again. We have corrected this problem with a completely new navigational system based on tables. The new navigational table will include all pages listed by topic, sub-topic and type. For example, a web page on the First World War personnel files we have available would be appear as follows:

First World War Personnel Files – Military History – First World War (1914-1919) – subject guide

Even more important: this table will be filterable and searchable. This means users can easily see all of the resources that we have on a particular topic and find their way back without difficulty.

New content

The last exciting change to tell you about is the new content on our website. The existing site is enormous: it consists of 7,000 pages. Much of the information it contains is no longer up to current web and historical standards. We also know that many of the pages are hard to read, especially for beginners, and sometimes confusing. In preparation for our new website, we have systematically reviewed every single one of those 7,000 pages. Anything outdated or no longer up to current standards was archived (and will be available to the public), and the rest of the pages were reworked. All of the information on LAC’s new website is presented in plain language and is therefore clear and easy to understand. We hope this approach will attract an entire new wave of users interested in learning about Canada’s documentary heritage.

Since there is so much content, we focused on preparing material for the three most popular and most consulted topics for the launch: genealogy and family history, Indigenous history, and military history. Please note that, in the weeks and months ahead, we will add more material to these and other topics. We will be updating our material regularly in response to user feedback and to reflect the latest available information.

We’re so excited to show you all of the new material we’ve been working on! So, while this does mean that your URLs will change, we’re hoping that these changes will make your online experience at LAC a more positive one. Since this work is only beginning, the best is yet to come!

We look forward to your feedback. Please send us your comments and thoughts when we go live.


Andrea Eidinger is a team lead in the Online Experience Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Terry Fox– A Legacy of Hope

By Kelly Anne Griffin

Terrance Stanley Fox was born on July 28, 1958, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The family would eventually settle in Port Coquitlam, B.C., in 1968. As he was growing up, his family and friends described him as competitive and driven, someone who displayed a passion for sports and who excelled at both long-distance running and basketball. Little did they know he would go on to become a Canadian hero who would leave the world a better place than he found it.

In 1977, at the age of 18, Terry Fox was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, in his right leg. Tragically, this would result in amputation just above the knee. He went on to endure sixteen months of chemotherapy. During those grueling months, he was deeply affected by all the suffering and hardship he experienced and also witnessed in the others around him in the hospital receiving treatment for his horrible disease. At the time, cancer research was still in its infancy, and he knew there was much to be done for those affected by cancer. This led him to come up with the idea to run from coast to coast in what he coined the Marathon of Hope. His goal was to help inform Canadians of the battle cancer patients faced and to raise money for a cure.

A drawn image of a man with a prosthetic leg, running. The words Marathon of Hope, Terry Fox, Marathon de l’espoir and the number 30 are written.

The stamp issued by Canada Post in 1982 to commemorate Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. (s003769k) Copyright: Canada Post Corporation

On April 12, 1980, Terry Fox dipped his prosthetic leg in the Atlantic Ocean and officially began the Marathon of Hope. The idea came to him after reading about Dick Traum, an amputee who had run the New York City Marathon. This gave Fox, a dedicated athlete, the idea to run across Canada to raise awareness and funds for cancer research.

What happened over the course of the next 143 days was truly inspirational. At the onset, there was little media attention, but that had changed by the time he reached Ontario. By then, the Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division, had caught wind, as had the media and some prominent journalists. Events were held across the province, and saw Fox meeting with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and a host of celebrities. With fierce determination, and averaging 42 kilometres a day, he united and captivated Canadians in a way that had not been seen before and has not been seen since. On September 1, 1980, with the cancer having spread to his lungs, he was forced to end his cross-country journey after completing a remarkable 5,373 kilometres, from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, to Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Despite not being able to keep running, on February 1, 1981, Terry Fox realized his goal of raising $1 for every Canadian. On June 28, 1981, after a long and courageous battle, Terry Fox passed away. His legacy is enshrined in the hearts and minds of Canadians. The Marathon of Hope so touched Canadians that many wrote to the federal government speaking of how connected they felt to Fox and asking that the government find ways to keep his memory alive.

His legacy lives on with Canadians today. Since 1980, the annual Terry Fox Run, organized by the Terry Fox Foundation, has raised more than $850 million dollars. It has made an incalculable difference in cancer research in Canada and has given hope to millions affected by the disease. Over the years, Terry Fox’s impact has reached well beyond Canada. It has grown to include millions of participants in more than 60 countries. It is the world’s largest one-day fundraising event for cancer research.

A rectangle frame in which can be seen a photograph of a man placing a ribboned medal on another man, whose head is tilted downwards. In the upper right-hand corner, there is a postal stamp featuring a drawing of a man running and a postmark that reads “Day of issue, Jour d’émission, Ottawa Canada, 82-04-13.”

A postal cover of Terry Fox receiving the Companion of the Order of Canada medal, issued by Canada Post in April 1982. (e001218739) Copyright: Canada Post Corporation

A promotional poster with a black background featuring a red-and-white piggy bank out of which a daffodil grows. The following wording appears on the poster: “April is Cancer Month”; “give generously”; and “Canadian Cancer Society.”

A poster issued by the Canadian Cancer Society to promote Cancer Month (April). Terry Fox’s impact on cancer research and the annual Terry Fox run have deeply touched the lives of Canadians affected by cancer. (e010779335-v8) Copyright: Canadian Cancer Society

Fox is remembered as a Canadian hero for his efforts. For his dedication to the cause and his bringing together of Canadians, he was named a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1980, the youngest person ever to receive this honour. Also in 1980, he received the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s top athlete. In both 1980 and 1981, the Canadian Press named him Canadian Newsmaker of the Year. His legacy is honoured all across Canada by way of monuments, statues and sculptures, as well as buildings, roads and parks named in his honour.

Additional resources:


Kelly Anne Griffin is an Archival Assistant with Specialized Media and Description in the Government Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

My great-grandfather’s Vimy Memorial visit: fact or fiction?

By Rebecca Murray

As a reference archivist, I absolutely love receiving questions from researchers that tap into their family histories. One such story—very close to home—arrived in my inbox on the morning of April 9, 2020, when my father sent his annual reminder to our extended family of his grandfather’s attendance at the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial in 1936. My father and I had visited this memorial near Arras, France, on a foggy day in November 2010.

A white stone structure with carved human figures against a foggy sky.

A view of the Vimy Memorial near Arras, France, 2010. Photo: Rebecca Murray

As family members chimed in with expressions of interest, I was intrigued—why, out of all of the senior military officials in Canada, did my great-grandfather attend the unveiling? Might I find more information about his visit to the Vimy Memorial in archival records held at Library and Archives Canada?

Before I discuss my search, I should provide some context. My great-grandfather, Thomas Caleb Phillips, was a Captain Engineer in the Royal Canadian Navy during the interwar period. A family anecdote told me that he was at the unveiling of the memorial alongside the “band from Skeena,” one of the ships that he had helped to design.

A screenshot of Collection Search on the Library and Archives Canada website, using the search term “vimy memorial.”

The author’s keyword search in Collection Search

I began with some keyword searches in Collection Search, relying on various combinations including, but not limited to, Vimy unveiling, Vimy memorial, Vimy monument, Vimy Skeena, Vimy Phillips. I did not expect to find any records that included Phillips in the title, but for the sake of a diligent search, I decided to include his name. I was focused on archival records, so I filtered my results by the Archives tab and then by date (1930s) and type of document (textual). When presented with long lists of results, I further filtered by year (1936), since this was the year of the unveiling and the period that I thought most likely to include records relevant to my research.

I then compiled a list of potentially relevant files, most of them from the Department of External Affairs fonds (RG25), with a smattering from other government records and private fonds. Here are three examples:

  • RG25 volume 400 file Ex7/65 part 8 “Vimy Memorial Unveiling Ceremony,” 1936
  • RG25 volume 1778 file 1936-184 parts 1–3 “UNVEILING OF VIMY MEMORIAL,” 1934–38
  • RG24 volume 11907 file AE 30-2-2 [Superintendent, Esquimalt] – HMCS SKEENA – Movements 1932–37

These three files listed above were among 19 textual files that I identified for consultation. My research strategy is usually to identify somewhere between 5 and 10 files for preliminary review, but due to limited time for on-site work with records this past winter, I decided to “go big” before “going home.”

I reviewed all of the files, keeping my eyes open for the name Thomas Caleb Phillips (or T.C. Phillips) and any references to a “band from Skeena.”

And I found nothing!

No reference to Phillips’s attendance.

And no indication that the HMCS SKEENA or an associated musical ensemble was even at the event.

This was, of course, very disappointing. And yet, something similar probably happens every day as researchers wade through pages of textual documents, sift through contact sheets of images, and scour lists, reports and other records to confirm family anecdotes like the one that my father had shared with me.

I am not saying this to be discouraging, nor am I saying that these anecdotes are untrue. But what can be done when information, or lack thereof, contradicts family lore?

I have been working in Reference Services for eight years now; I believe that in that time, I have fine-tuned my research skills, learned how to think outside the box, and can read between the lines when doing archival research. Yet I too have come up against this obstacle.

Archival research, especially with government records, requires a patient, diligent approach. It also takes willingness on the part of researchers to continually learn from their findings and incorporate those learnings back into their research. For example, I chose to focus on textual records because I was not sure whether I would be able to identify T.C. Phillips in a photograph, especially in negative format. I also chose to start with a set of facts that I myself had not double-checked, nor had I conducted secondary research before starting my primary research.

I made presumptions about the period and the type of record to focus on, and my great-grandfather’s relative importance, which led me to a narrow scope for my research. Would I need to backtrack? Expand the scope of my research? Query different fonds? Might I be better served by an item in the published holdings? Or what about a document unrelated to the unveiling of the memorial but relevant to Phillips’s transatlantic crossing? There are a lot of different avenues of research that I could choose to follow, so the next step is to decide on my approach: forward or backward? Published or archival? It is
not easy, it is not simple, and frankly if it were, would it be as much fun?

An expanse of green grass showing a white stone memorial in the distance, a grey stone sign with the engraved word VIMY and maple leaf symbols. The Canadian and French flags are on the right, against a foggy sky.

A view of the Vimy Memorial near Arras, France, 2010. Photo: Rebecca Murray

For me, this search was never about proving my great-grandfather’s attendance—I do not doubt the general accuracy of the family anecdote—but it would have been nice to find a document that told just a bit more. A document that helped make a small but valuable connection across close to 100 years of Canadian history. Something concrete to share when my father tells the story again next year. So I will keep searching!

For more information about the Canadian National Vimy Memorial:


Rebecca Murray is a Senior Reference Archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

From modest beginnings

By Forrest Pass

For an institution that conserves so many treaties, charters and proclamations, Library and Archives Canada’s own founding document is a modest one. On June 20, 1872—150 years ago—the federal cabinet appointed Douglas Brymner as “senior second-class clerk” responsible for a newly approved “Public Archives Service” within the Department of Agriculture. The handwritten order-in-council might look unassuming, but it marked the beginning of a century and a half of collecting and caring for Canadian documentary heritage.

The decision to establish a national archive was the result of a petition circulated in 1871 by the Quebec Literary and Historical Society. The petitioners lamented the “very disadvantageous position” of Canadian historians when it came to accessing historical documents and proposed a national repository. The government agreed in principle, but it could not offer any immediate funding. The project would have to wait until the next fiscal year.

A handwritten page that reads: “On a Memorandum dated 18th June 1872, from the Hon: the Minister of Agriculture, recommending that Mr Douglas Brymner, aged 42 years be added to the Staff of the Department of Agriculture as a Senior Record Class Clerk at a Salary of $1200.00 per annum – and he further recommends that during the present year the Salary of Mr Brymner be paid partly from the vote of Parliament for the collecting of Public Archives to the amount of $600 – as he proposes to employ Mr Brymner on the …”

A certified copy of Order-in-Council 1872-0712, dated June 20, 1872, approving Douglas Brymner’s appointment as a senior second-class clerk, responsible for both the Public Archives and “getting of information on Agriculture” (e011408984-001)

Douglas Brymner, a Montréal journalist, was not an obvious choice to be the country’s first archivist. He had an interest in history but was not active in historical circles. However, Brymner was not hired solely as an archivist; at first, he was to split his time between archival projects and “a preliminary enquiry for the getting of information on Agriculture.” Investigating the state of Canadian crops and livestock was as pressing a task as organizing a national archive, and Brymner, a former farmer as well as a journalist, seemed qualified to do both.

A man with a beard wearing a white shirt and a black jacket.

Douglas Brymner, the first Dominion Archivist, in an oil portrait by his son, artist William Brymner, 1886 (e008299814-v6)

Whatever the intention, Brymner soon found that building the archives was a full-time commitment. As he later recalled, “the work had to be begun ab ovo, not a single document of any description being in the room set apart for the custody of the Archives.” Within weeks, he was on the road, rummaging through courthouse attics, legislature basements and the dusty papers of prominent settler families.

This collection strategy reflected both the new archives’ limited mandate and the new archivist’s own concept of Canadian history. Before 1903, the archives did not collect recent government records. Instead, Brymner looked for documents of the pre-Confederation past, focusing on settler history, especially its political and military aspects. Although his reports indicated a passing interest in “Indian affairs” as an aspect of colonial policy, Brymner’s archives recorded Indigenous experiences or voices only incidentally, if at all.

His colonial focus led the archivist to prioritize the transcription of Canadian historical records in British and French archives, continuing the work that the Quebec Literary and Historical Society had quietly pursued for decades. Brymner travelled to London to investigate relevant collections there, while the Quebec historian Hospice-Anthelme Verreau did the same in Paris.

These were ambitious projects for the archives’ limited resources. In its first year, the new archives’ budget was a meagre $4,000 (about $94,000 in 2022 dollars). For office and storage space, Brymner’s chief, the deputy minister of Agriculture, had to haggle with the Post Office Department for the use of three rooms in the basement of the West Block on Parliament Hill.

A large stone building with towers, behind a dirt road and a wrought-iron and stone fence.

The West Block on Parliament Hill from Wellington Street, as it appeared when the Dominion Archives took up residence in the basement. The northwest wing of the building, including its imposing tower, was not completed until 1879. William Topley Studio photograph, about 1872 (a012386-v6)

Underfunding led to embarrassment. In 1880, Gilbert-Anselme Girouard, a New Brunswick Member of Parliament, suggested that Brymner hire the Acadian historian Pascal Poirier to transcribe Acadian parish records. However, on receiving Brymner’s reply, Girouard regretted that he could not possibly recommend Poirier or any other competent copyist for the paltry amount that the archives were prepared to pay.

More startling was the archives’ willingness to contemplate using what today would be considered child labour to cut costs. In 1878, F.J. Dore, Canadian Agent-General in London, sought permission from the British Museum, on Brymner’s behalf, to transcribe the papers of Sir Frederick Haldimand, the Governor of Quebec during the American Revolutionary War. Dore regretfully informed Brymner that the museum prohibited anyone under the age of 21 from working in its building. “Otherwise,” Dore wrote, “a number of Juvenile copyists might have been got to do the work at a much cheaper rate than the one quoted.” At the time, teenaged copying clerks were common in England and Canada alike. Nevertheless, the idea of using young, inexperienced copyists to save money underlines the early archives’ budgetary woes.

Yet for all these challenges, Brymner accomplished much in his first decade as archivist. Transcriptions from England began to arrive in the early 1880s. By 1884, the archives’ catalogued holdings filled some 1,300 volumes, with thousands of pages awaiting indexing and binding. Transcription projects in European archives would continue well into the 20th century.

A typed and handwritten form, signed by William Blackwood. There is a stamp in the right-hand corner, and writing in red over the left side of the page.

A shipping receipt for “one case of Archives,” likely one of the first batches of Haldimand transcriptions, 1881 (e011408984-001)

Among original documents, Brymner’s “first major archival acquisition” was a large accession of records from the Halifax Citadel. Primarily military in focus, the records touched on many aspects of early colonial history. Brymner acquired these in 1873, after negotiations with the British War Office.

Even before the Halifax records arrived, however, a small donation anticipated the institution’s eventual role as a library as well as an archive. In the summer of 1872, Brymner had visited the Séminaire de Québec, a 200-year-old religious community and college. The Séminaire was not interested in transferring its own rich archives to Ottawa, but Brymner did come away with a small consolation prize: a set of the Séminaire’s student newspaper, L’Abeille (“The Bee”), which occasionally featured transcribed historical documents.

Bound in red leather and buckram, this set of L’Abeille remains in the collection at Library and Archives Canada to this day. Several issues bear the embossed stamp of the “Dominion Archives – Library,” undoubtedly from Brymner’s day. A volume of a revived edition of L’Abeille, published between 1877 and 1881, is inscribed to the “Archives of Canada” by a director of the Séminaire, evidence of Brymner’s ongoing relationship with the donor.

Five books bound in red leather, with white paper flags sticking out of the top. The books are in a wooden book cart.

The Dominion Archives’ set of L’Abeille (“The Bee”). Brymner received the three slim volumes on the left in 1872, his first documented acquisition. The volume on the far right was donated to the archives in 1885 (OCLC 300305563) Photo Credit: Forrest Pass

A typed page of L’Abeille, Vol. 1, Petit Séminaire de Quebec, December 11, 1849, No. 12.

The front page of an 1848 issue of L’Abeille (“The Bee”), featuring a transcribed letter from François de Laval, the first Bishop of Quebec, dated 1690 (OCLC 300305563) Photo Credit: Forrest Pass

Douglas Brymner could only have imagined how the collection he started would grow over the following century and a half. Under his successor, Sir Arthur Doughty, the “Dominion Archives” evolved into the Public Archives of Canada, with a broad mandate to collect government records and private manuscripts, as well as maps, artwork and photographs. Before the creation of a national history museum, the Public Archives also collected artifacts and maintained a museum. The National Library of Canada, founded in 1953, complemented the work of the archives by collecting and preserving published documentary heritage. In 2004, the two institutions merged to form Library and Archives Canada. Today, collections at Library and Archives Canada include over 20 million books, 250 linear kilometres of archival records, over 30 million photographs and nearly half a million works of art.

The Library and Archives Canada of today is a far cry from a part-time archivist working in a cramped basement on Parliament Hill, making the most of his modest resources and as busy as, well, a bee!


Forrest Pass is a curator with the Exhibitions team at Library and Archives Canada.

Women in the war: the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in the Department of National Defence’s archives

By Rebecca Murray

March 2022 marked the 80th anniversary of the incorporation of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) into the Canadian Army. The CWAC was first formed in the summer of 1941 as an auxiliary organization. Like their compatriots in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service, CWAC members served across Canada and around the world during the Second World War. You can read more about the formation and history of the CWAC in my colleague’s post.

Building on lessons learned from indexing navy photographs from caption lists (see Women in the War: The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service), I turned my attention to compiling a listing of photographs of servicewomen in army photographs.

I started with the Army Numerical sub-sub-series (1941–46), which consists of 110 photo albums and negatives, arranged in sequential order based on when the photos were registered by Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit staff. This sub-sub-series is probably the best resource at Library and Archives Canada for researchers looking for primary source graphic material of the Canadian Active Service Force (the overseas component of the Canadian Army) for this period.

All 110 of the albums, along with the majority of corresponding caption lists, have been digitized and made available through Collection Search. You will find available caption lists linked in the Record Information – Details tab of the album description, in the Finding aid field. These digitized albums and caption lists allowed me to continue the indexing project during pandemic lockdown.

A screen capture of a record display from Collection Search.

A Collection Search record display with the Finding aid field expanded and circled

Working exclusively with caption lists to index images was a challenge because captions do not always describe or identify all individuals in an image. Yet, when looking directly at an image, one can usually quickly ascertain if there are any servicewomen pictured. Further research, such as consulting a caption list or other collection resource material, can help to identify those individuals or provide additional context.

Here is an example from the ongoing indexing work using digitized album R112 volume 42827 “Army Numerical 22542-23813 – Sicily – Album 62 of 110,” (August 6–20, 1943).

A page from a photo album with 11 black-and-white photographs and handwritten notations.

Page 14 of Album 62 showing Canadian nursing sisters and other medical staff in Sicily in August 1943 (e011213504)

I identified 13 images in the album that include servicewomen and noted these in a table using the negative numbers, the caption provided on the page, the date of the photograph and the photographer’s name.Then I looked at the caption list in Finding aid 24-513P-ARMY to see if it included any additional information about the servicewomen in these specific images. The caption list identifies servicewomen by name for 9 of the 13 images that I identified.

Typewritten negative numbers on the left with corresponding captions, including the names of nursing sisters, on the right.

Captions for photographs 22807 to 22813, from page 8 of Finding aid 24-513P-ARMY

A total of 2,723 photographs of servicewomen have been identified from this sub-sub-series.

The work continues, but in the meantime I invite you to check out the numerical albums yourself. You can filter the list of 110 albums by date or add a keyword (such as United Kingdom or Northwest Europe) to sort by location and review thousands of digitized images from home. If you are interested in helping to identify servicewomen in photographs held at Library and Archives Canada, check out our Co-Lab challenge.


Rebecca Murray is a Senior Reference Archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.