The Dinosaurs of St. George’s Island, Calgary

By Richard Howe

One day in the 1930s, a group of people were enjoying a beautiful day on the park grounds of central Calgary’s St. George’s Island. The group’s peaceful picnic was disturbed when a drunk man appeared and began to bother them. A park officer approached, and the man, sensing danger, ran away unsteadily. Pursued by the park officer, the intoxicated man just barely managed to navigate the park’s pathways. Then, suddenly, he stopped in shock, staring spellbound at the bright green dinosaur standing right in front of him. After a short pause, the man straightened up and turned around, heading directly for the park’s exit. As he exited the park, his strides were steady. The park officer abandoned his pursuit, deciding that the shock had sufficiently sobered the troublemaker.

If you have some doubts about this story, I don’t blame you, but The Calgary Daily Herald reported on the incident shortly after it was alleged to have occurred. And the part about dinosaurs on St. George’s Island, at least, is true. Back in the late 1930s, there were close to 20 different prehistoric creatures there, and by the 1970s, there were over 40. These life-sized concrete sculptures were part of the Natural History Park at the Calgary Zoo. All of them are gone now, except for one. By the time I was old enough to visit the zoo on St. George’s Island, I didn’t even know that the others had been there at all.

The story about the drunk man comes from the front page of the newspaper on August 28, 1937, in an article about the completion of the new “Dinosaur Gardens.” In the accompanying photo, three human figures gather around the feet of a giant brontosaurus sculpture, not even reaching the dinosaur’s knees. That dinosaur—120 tons, 10 metres high, 32 metres long—would quickly become known as “Dinny,” and over 80 years later, it is the sole surviving dinosaur sculpture still standing on St. George’s Island.

A large sculpture of a brontosaurus in front of some tall trees, with two children running toward it.

“Dinny” is the last dinosaur sculpture remaining on St. George’s Island (e010973614)

As a child growing up in Calgary in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I remember that Dinny held a special place in the hearts of many adult Calgarians. It was notable how often they spoke of their fond memories of visiting the zoo as children and of climbing Dinny as a rite of passage. The urban landscape changes quickly in Calgary. The preparations for the 1988 Olympics had recently transformed much of the city’s downtown. If being a dinosaur wasn’t enough, Dinny was special just because it was something from Calgary’s ever-vanishing past.

The suggestion for building a dinosaur park in Calgary is said to have come from zoo society member (and later zoo society president from 1959 to 1965) Lars Willumsen after he visited the dinosaur park in Tierpark Hagenbeck (Hagenbeck Zoo) in Hamburg, Germany, in 1934. The world’s very first dinosaur park had been built back in 1854, in Crystal Palace Park in London, England. A few other parks, like the one in Germany, had sprung up around the world in the decades since. One of the goals of these parks was to help the public to understand the emerging field of paleontology and its discoveries, and to provide this education in an entertaining way.

Work on Calgary’s Natural History Park started in 1935. Alberta had been especially hard hit by the economic problems of the 1930s, but despite a meagre budget, a determined group of people were able to make something that the city would be proud of for years to come. Sculptor Charles A. Beil, a well-known artist living in nearby Banff, was recruited to help design the first dinosaurs. He was aided by engineer Aarne Koskeleinen and sculptor John Kanerva, who helped to figure out the method of construction and ended up doing most of the physical work. Charles Mortram Sternberg, a paleontologist working for the National Museum of Canada (a precursor to the Canadian Museum of Nature), was provided by the federal government to consult and guide the project and to ensure that the representations were appropriate and accurate. Dr. Omer H. Patrick, founding president of the Calgary Zoological Society since 1929, spearheaded the project. When Dr. Patrick presented the park to the city, former prime minister R.B. Bennett was invited to give the dedication address. “It was his initiative, foresight and expenditure which made this thing possible,” Bennett said of Patrick. “He took the lead.”

A woman, child and man stand under a large model of a dinosaur, surrounded by trees. The group is looking toward another dinosaur model.

Tourists admire sculptures of dinosaurs on St. George’s Island in Calgary, Alberta, in 1961 (e010976082)

The park turned out to be a great success and a popular tourist attraction. In 1952, one of the first-ever CBC television news broadcasts featured a story on the Natural History Park. When Scottish paleontologist Dr. William Elgin Swinton visited the park in 1957, he told stories of British service members who brought back postcards from the dinosaur park after serving in Canada during the Second World War. It became local legend that Dinny was the most-photographed object in all of Calgary. Dinny was made the zoo’s official symbol in 1959 and even appeared on the cover of an issue of Maclean’s magazine the following year. Until 1967, when the Husky Tower (four years later renamed the Calgary Tower) was built, Dinny was probably Calgary’s best-known landmark.

Today, near where Dinny stands, a bronze plaque commemorates the Natural History Park and the people who worked to create it. The names of Patrick, Willumsen, Sternberg, Beil, Koskeleinen and Kanerva are listed as founders. The plaque was unveiled in 1974 in a small ceremony near the park’s entrance. Dr. Patrick had died in 1947, but the five other men, most of them in their eighties, attended the ceremony.

A man is in a garage or workshop, standing near three sculptures of prehistoric reptiles and holding a can of paint and a paintbrush in his hands.

John Kanerva with some of his creations. Published in The Albertan, November 14, 1956 (Jack De Lorme, “John Kanerva, dinosaur builder, Calgary, Alberta,” 1956-11 [CU1139955]. Courtesy of Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary)

It was John Kanerva’s name that was mentioned the most. After the park and dinosaurs were built, Kanerva had continued to work at the zoo, making new dinosaurs and maintaining the originals. They became his life’s work. “Yes, John did most of it,” Dr. Sternberg said at the ceremony. Kanerva’s long association with Calgary’s beloved dinosaurs—and especially his role as Dinny’s sculptor—had made him a minor local celebrity. Sitting in his wheelchair as the plaque was uncovered, the 91-year-old smoked a thin cigar. He was surrounded by his family, friends and former colleagues, who applauded as bagpipes played. Many had been pushing the city for years to honour Kanerva and the other men with a permanent landmark, and Alderman Tom Priddle, who unveiled the plaque, apologized for the delay.

In 1975, the Calgary Zoo announced an extensive 10-year redevelopment plan. As Calgary had grown, so had the zoo and its reputation. With the goal of improving living conditions for the zoo’s animals, the decision was made to make room on St. George’s Island for new and expanded animal habitats.

This would be the end for the Natural History Park. However, owing to its popularity and history at the zoo, a new Prehistoric Park was planned just north of St. George’s Island, on the other side of the Bow River. The original plan was to move many of the original dinosaurs to the new park, in addition to adding some new sculptures. By this time, many of the dinosaurs, including Dinny, were showing signs of age and in disrepair.

The new park opened in 1983. While most of the plans for the Prehistoric Park were fulfilled, the dinosaurs were not moved, and they were destroyed at some point. However, new sculptures were indeed added at the new location. They were made of fibreglass this time, which would be easier to maintain, and their depictions were more modern, more in line with the public’s perception of what dinosaurs looked like. The original dinosaurs would have been difficult and costly to move and repair. A tough economic climate during development of the park had made sacrifice a necessity in order to ensure its completion. The dinosaurs were subject to the same boom-to-bust economic cycle as every other resident of Calgary, and in their case, they fell victim to it.

Dinny was thankfully—and perhaps literally—spared the wrecking ball. In 1987, at the zoo’s urging, the sculpture was made a provincial historical resource, protecting it as an important historical work. Along with Dinny’s new designation, the sculpture received some attention that year to repair some of the damage incurred over many decades.

A black-and-white photograph of two children climbing up a large model dinosaur.

Children climb on Dinny the dinosaur at the Calgary Zoo, Alberta (e010973689)

In recent years, the Calgary Zoo has taken a renewed interest in Dinny. Structural work was completed in 2019, involving reinforcement of the neck and rear left leg. Surface restoration and repainting started in June 2021 and is set to be completed by the end of the summer.

There was a time when John Kanerva would repaint Dinny every few years, but I don’t know when the sculpture was last repainted. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dinny with a fresh coat of paint. I’m looking forward to it. Dinny was meant to transport people to the past, to millions of years ago. But for me, I’ll be reminded of a much more recent time. Seeing Dinny looking once again like the pride of the city will be like visiting a Calgary I had always heard about but never got to know.


Richard Howe is a digital imaging technician in the Digitization Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Reference services across borders

By Virtue Tran

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) serves a diverse clientele with diverse information needs. In Reference Services, we see many queries coming in from across the globe. Though service for this international community is essentially the same as for inquirers from Canada, responses should take account of the challenges associated with accessing the collection across borders. This blog provides a glimpse of who our international clients are, a sample of interesting questions we have received, and a look at some of the techniques our reference specialists use to facilitate access by this community.

Our clients

Our clients are from all over the world! In the years 2018 to 2020, requests came from the following countries and regions:

  • Africa: Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), Djibouti, Morocco, Tunisia
  • Americas: Brazil, Martinique, Trinidad and Tobago, United States
  • Asia: India, Japan, Taiwan
  • Europe: Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, United Kingdom
  • Middle East: Israel, United Arab Emirates
  • Oceania: Australia

The above list is only a small sample of the international locations from which we receive requests. Many inquirers are professors and students doing research on either a specific Canadian topic or one with a Canadian component (such as ethnic groups who have immigrated to Canada; government policies and the Canadian cultural scene). Students in information science who have an interest in LAC as an institution or in the state of librarianship and archives in Canada comprise a niche within this clientele.

Then there are archivists, librarians and genealogists. As this is part of their day-to-day jobs, these clients are experts in searching for information. They usually have tools of the trade that allow them to conduct more complex searches. Their questions are geared mainly toward finding information on behalf of their own clients or for internal work. Recent examples include the Direção-Geral do Livro, dos Arquivos e das Bibliotecas [national book, archives and libraries department] of Portugal and the Scottish Natural Heritage Library. Finally, inquiries from members of the public vary widely. They are often driven by curiosity, hobbies or research into family history.

Here are three examples of topics that have piqued the interest of our international clients:

From Martinique: Guadeloupe domestics in 1910–1911

Request for information regarding the Canadian immigration service during that period and biographies of various immigration public servants who worked on the file of Guadeloupe domestic workers. This is found mainly in books discussing the history of immigration legislation and the policies of Canada. At the time, the Department of the Interior was responsible for immigration. Because immigration of Black people was discouraged, as was the case for other ethnic groups, immigration officers would find ways to deport them under the Immigration Act of 1910.

Further sources:

LAC database: Immigrants to Canada, Porters and Domestics, 1899-1949

Calliste, A. (1991). Canada’s immigration policy and domestics from the Caribbean: The second domestic scheme. In S. Brickey and E. Comack (eds.), The social basis of law: Critical readings in the sociology of law (2nd ed., pp. 95–121). Halifax: Garamond Press.  OCLC 24743137   This chapter sources information from various archival documents available at LAC.

Kelley, N., and Michael, J.T. (2010). The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy. 2nd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.  OCLC 531018353 Chapter 4, “Industrialization, Immigration, and the Foundation of the Twentieth-Century Immigration Policy, 1896-1914,” pertains mainly to the discriminatory treatment of Asian immigrants under the section “Selective Admission Restrictions.” The discriminatory treatment of Black immigrants is also discussed, but to a lesser extent.

Macklin, A. (1992). Foreign domestic worker: Surrogate housewife or mail order servant. McGill Law Journal 37(3), 681–760.   ISSN: 0024-9041 — OCLC 768130032

Yarhi, E. (2016). Order-in-Council P.C. 1911-1324: the Proposed Ban on Black Immigration to Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada.

A typed page (Form B of the Immigration Act of 1910, used for deportations).

Form B – Order for deportation (C-10411 reel on Héritage).

From France: “Les Belles Mères” by La Bolduc

Request for information on the song “Les Belles Mères” by this famed folk musician. This song borrowed the “Red River Valley” melody as mentioned in an extensive biography published on our webpage. It is available on Virtual Gramophone along with other digitized songs by La Bolduc while materials such as books, articles and musical scores are searchable through our catalogue Aurora.

A colour picture of the label of the song “Les Belles Mères” with golden lettering on a navy disk.

Label of the song “Les Belles Mères” (published by the Compo Company Limited) (OCLC 1007640213).

From the United Kingdom: Stephen Leacock recordings

Request for a list of audio records of the writings of Stephen Leacock. Specifically, the requester wanted to know the names of those who were speaking in the recordings. LAC holds many audio recordings that can be located through our Aurora catalogue. Information about the readers is found within the bibliographical records, in the section on performers, in the notes or even in the title.

A black-and-white photograph of Christopher Plummer in a suit standing on the left with his arms crossed. A large framed painting of a woman in a dress holding a fan is hung on the right side.

The celebrated actor Christopher Plummer read and adapted Stephen Leacock’s writings. (a182414); for an example, see OCLC 3589995).

Accessing the collection: Options

It is standard practice to redirect clients who are not in the vicinity of Ottawa, Ontario, to institutions closer to their location in order for them to access relevant materials. However, when the materials cannot be located that way, three techniques are often used:

1. The Internet

The list of online resources is long, but here are a few that are heavily used by reference librarians. LAC maintains various resources that can serve as a starting point for research. They are accompanied by an explanatory page that provides a concise summary of the subject and, sometimes, a list of publications for further readings. Other helpful resources are the Government of Canada Publications portal and the Internet Archive’s Canadian Libraries collections, which host a massive amount of official publications, departmental libraries collections, and Canadiana, a staple for pre-1921 Canadian content.

2. Interlibrary loans

LAC does not offer an interlibrary loan (ILL) service. As a result, reference librarians count on local libraries that often provide this service to help connect clients with the publication they need. In the United States, many universities have Canadian holdings, and some public libraries will offer ILL with their Canadian counterparts. While the chances of finding a publication in institutions overseas diminish greatly, not all is lost. Specialized collections exist at universities with Canadian studies programs and within national libraries and museums, to name but a few. The fact that many international organizations are based in Europe should not be discounted. Those organizations often have libraries that collect Canadian content relevant to their work. While they are unlikely to lend out, they are generally open to the public and researchers.

3. Copy services

Copy services are always an option. LAC can provide copies of documents, images, etc., in various formats, including digital, which can be requested in PDF or JPEG format. Most institutions will also offer this service for a fee, but figuring out which institutions hold a copy is the hard part. This is when reference books, bibliographies and union catalogues come in handy. A dated resource will still offer valuable insight for determining the correctness of the references provided and identifying the institutions that used to hold copies. These tidbits of information are useful for tracing back publications, especially older materials that are oftentimes discarded when they no longer meet the needs of users.

With skills, perseverance and a little bit of serendipity, LAC’s Reference Services will connect you with our Canadian heritage. So don’t be shy about sending in your queries to Ask us a Question; we will be happy to assist you in your research!


Virtue Tran is a reference librarian in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

A colonial governor’s creative math

By Forrest Pass

This article contains historical language and content that some may consider offensive, such as language used to refer to racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Please see our historical language advisory for more information.

On July 20, 2021, British Columbia marks 150 years of provincehood. This photograph of Victoria unintentionally tells an often forgotten story about the new province-to-be on the eve of its entry into Confederation. In the background, across the Inner Harbour, we see a colonial frontier capital with the old government buildings, nicknamed “the Birdcages,” to the right and the warehouses and wharves of the commercial district to the left.

A black-and-white photograph of villages on either side of a harbour, with a large ship on the water. There are forests behind each village.

View of Victoria Harbour, about 1870, by Frederick Dally. (c023418)

The foreground provides a different perspective. The buildings are the lək̓ʷəŋən (Lekwungen) village at p’álәc’әs (Songhees Point). The lək̓ʷəŋən people have lived in what is now Greater Victoria since time immemorial. Although he may not have intended it, photographer Frederick Dally captured an important truth: “British Columbia” in 1871 was, in fact, a series of First Nations and Métis Nation communities with a very small European settler one.

This fact influenced British Columbia’s entry into Confederation in unexpected ways. Documents in the collection at Library and Archives Canada record the British Columbia negotiators’ efforts to use the large First Nations population in the colony to their own advantage while simultaneously dispossessing those same Nations of their traditional territories and resources.

Vancouver Island had become a British colony in 1849. Nine years later, the discovery of gold in the Fraser River brought some 30,000 fortune seekers to the nearby mainland and prompted the organization of a second colony, British Columbia.

By the late 1860s, however, the gold rush had ended. The island and mainland colonies were united in 1866 as a cost-saving measure, and the settler population of united British Columbia dropped to about 10,000. Having spent a fortune on wagon roads and other construction projects, the government was almost bankrupt. The Canadian government sensed an opportunity and orchestrated the appointment of Sir Anthony Musgrave as British Columbia’s governor in 1869. Musgrave had served as Governor of Newfoundland and although he had failed to unite that colony with Canada, his commitment to Confederation was well known.

A watercolour painting of two trees with a body of water and a mountain in the background

“View from the Morning House, Government House, Victoria,” watercolour by Frances Musgrave, about 1870. Frances’ brother, Governor Sir Anthony Musgrave, may have enjoyed a similar view when writing his dispatches on British Columbia’s proposed entry into Confederation. (c028380k)

On arriving in Victoria, Musgrave wrote to the British Colonial Secretary about the prospects of Confederation with Canada. Cost was a major obstacle. Governing a large but sparsely colonized territory was expensive and the annual federal subsidy of eighty cents per resident that all provinces received would be “insignificant” in British Columbia’s case.

Two pages with handwriting in black ink.

Letter from Sir Anthony Musgrave to Lord Granville, British Colonial Secretary, describing the obstacles to Confederation, October 30, 1869: “The machinery of government is unavoidably expensive from the great cost of living which is at least twice as much as in Canada…” (RG7 G21 Vol 8 File 25a Pt 1, Heritage).

Insignificant, that is, unless Musgrave could justify a larger population estimate. This involved some creative math. In an 1870 letter to the Governor General of Canada, Sir John Young (later Lord Lisgar), Musgrave showed his work. British Columbia relied heavily on imported goods, so Musgrave divided the colony’s annual customs revenue (about $350,000, or $7.2 million today) by the per capita customs revenue of the eastern provinces ($2.75, or $56.51 today). By this calculation, British Columbia had a population of 120,000 rather than 10,000 for setting its annual subsidy and its representation in the Parliament of Canada.

To bolster his argument, Musgrave pointed to the First Nations population. After all, he noted, First Nations people in British Columbia were “consumers” and paid customs duties just as settlers did. Including First Nations people brought the real population closer to Musgrave’s creative calculation.

Remarkably, Canada’s negotiators agreed in principle, though the draft Terms of Union reduced the population estimate to 60,000. Nevertheless, when the Parliament of Canada debated the British Columbia agreement in March 1871, the opposition howled that by including First Nations people the Terms violated the principle of representation by population. “We have never given representation under our system to Indians,” complained Liberal leader Alexander Mackenzie. Similarly, David Mills, an Ontario MP, argued that First Nations people were not part of “the social bond, and could not stand on the same footing as the white population.”

But Musgrave never suggested that First Nations people should “stand on the same footing” as settlers. He did not believe that they should vote nor that they should benefit from that larger annual subsidy. In this sense, his formula was similar to the infamous clause in the Constitution of the United States that counted each enslaved person as three fifths of a person when calculating a state’s representation in Congress. Just as the three-fifths compromise used the enslaved population to increase the political influence of slaveholders, Musgrave’s formula increased British Columbia’s national influence without acknowledging the existing rights, title and sovereignty of the Indigenous majority.

Despite opposition objections, British Columbia became Canada’s sixth province on July 20, 1871. The correspondence on the subject in the Governor General’s records at Library and Archives Canada concludes with an official copy of the Terms of Union—a rare original printing of this important constitutional document. In his cover letter, the Colonial Secretary, Lord Kimberley, wished Canada and British Columbia “a career of progress and prosperity worthy of their great natural fertility and resources.”

Two pages, one with black ink handwriting and one typed with two long columns.

An original printing of the British Columbia Terms of Union, with the Colonial Secretary’s cover letter to the Governor General of Canada (RG7 G21 Vol 8 File 25a Pt 1, Heritage)

First Nations people would not share much in that “progress and prosperity.” Under the Terms of Union, Canada agreed to follow “a policy as liberal as that hitherto pursued” when dealing with First Nations. This was a cruel joke, as neither pre- nor post-Confederation policy was particularly “liberal.” Except for the Douglas Treaties, a series of controversial land purchases around Victoria in the 1850s, the colonial governments of British Columbia had signed no treaties with First Nations. After Confederation, federal and provincial policy would result in the marginalization of First Nations and the Métis Nation in their own territories and communities. For example, the lək̓ʷəŋən residents at p’álәc’әs would move to another village site in 1911, to make way for the growing settler city. First Nations people were integral to Musgrave’s population formula, which had helped to convince British Columbia settlers to support Confederation with Canada. However, the province’s entry into Confederation was no cause for celebration for most Indigenous people in the region, an important point to remember as we observe the 150th anniversary.


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

From the Lowy Room: a productive quarantine

By Michael Kent

Like many people, I had frustrated moments in spring 2020 when we entered lockdown. Quarantining away from family and friends, and having regular life come to a standstill, is an exceptionally draining experience. One way that I kept busy—and my spirits up—was by getting to some work projects that I had always wanted to tackle but that were constantly delayed due to other priorities.

One such endeavour, related to my own professional development, was to learn more about the key early reference material in my field, Judaic librarianship. We are very fortunate in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection to have several volumes of Early Modern Hebrew bibliographic literature. These books birthed the fields of Hebrew bibliography and the history of Jewish books. While I invariably use far more modern reference material, the legacy of these works influences my job on a daily basis. I was excited to be able to finally delve into the early history of my profession.

A colour photo of book with different coloured spines on a wooden shelf. The books have small white pieces of paper sticking out of their tops.

Some of the early Hebrew bibliographic reference material in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. Photo: Michael Kent

While doing research at home during lockdown, I was surprised to discover that one of the books I was investigating had its own quarantine story. The volume is Shem ha-Gedolim (1774) by Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (he was also known as the Ḥida). Our collection is fortunate enough to have a first edition. This work, whose title translates as “Names of the Great Ones,” is a bibliography of Jewish scholars and their contributions to Hebrew literature. In authoring this book, Azulai became one of the fathers of Jewish bibliographic scholarship.

Azulai was born in Jerusalem in 1724. He was descended from a family of prominent rabbis with roots in Spain before that country expelled its Jewish population. As a scholar, he was known to treat his interest in religious and mystical subjects with strong intellectual curiosity. He would write many books, ranging across topics of Jewish law, history and folklore, as well as his own diary and travel logs. In all, he authored over 120 works, 50 of which were published during his lifetime. In addition to his scholarship, Azulai served as an emissary of the Jewish community of the land of Israel, visiting communities in Italy, Germany, Holland, France and England, as well as throughout North Africa. During his travels, he would visit public and private libraries, keenly interested in rare manuscripts and early printed books. The research he conducted at these libraries would serve as the basis for Shem ha-Gedolim.

A colour photograph of a page of a book, written in Hebrew.

The copy of the first edition of Shem ha-Gedolim in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. Photo: Michael Kent

These travels give us the quarantine story. In 1774, on a fundraising mission, Azulai arrived in the port of Livorno, Italy. Upon disembarking from the ship, he was forced to stay in a quarantine camp for 40 days. This was a standard requirement for visitors to the city because of the fear of epidemics. He spent his time in the camp writing the book Shem ha-Gedolim. Upon his release, he worked with members of the local Jewish community to have the work published. While travelling through Italy, he would remain active in the process of publishing the volume, through receiving and editing proofs.

Learning that Rabbi Azulai was able to write a book during quarantine certainly makes me feel humble about my own accomplishments during our COVID-19 lockdowns. I certainly enjoyed the serendipity of discovering this quarantine story while filling my pandemic downtime. This opportunity for investigation has definitely given me a new appreciation for the origins of my field.


Michael Kent is curator of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection at Library and Archives Canada.

Arthur Lismer’s children’s art classes: a Co-Lab challenge

By Brianna Fitzgerald

As COVID-19 restrictions have suspended in-person children’s programming, the rush of energy, noise and creativity often found on early weekend mornings at art galleries across the country now seems like a distant memory. Since art classes and workshops have moved online to adapt to these times, we are in a period of great innovation in the sphere of children’s art education, meeting new challenges in engaging children’s creativity in a virtual space. This is not the first time that there has been a major shift in the way that children’s art education is delivered. In the 1930s, Group of Seven painter Arthur Lismer (1885–1969) attempted to radically shift how Canada thought about art education and to transform the art gallery from a formal space into a vibrant community space.

When I came across images of Lismer’s children’s art classes in the Ronny Jaques fonds in the Library and Archives Canada collection, I felt a rush of memories of my own childhood spent in art classes and the frenzied excitement of little hands and young minds at work making things. Before finding these images, I was unaware of the large role that being an art educator played in Lismer’s life, and his tireless efforts to popularize and emphasize the importance of art education. I was also unaware of how closely his model of education in the 1930s matched what I grew up with decades later. Children’s art classes in Canada grew in popularity across the country in the 1930s, and much of the growth was due to Lismer’s hard work and innovation.

A black-and-white photograph of a girl with dark braids and a light apron kneeling on the floor and holding a paintbrush in her right hand. The bottom of a framed painting can be seen behind her.

Girl with paintbrush at Arthur Lismer’s children’s art classes in Toronto (e010958789)

In 1929, when Lismer was appointed supervisor of education at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the Art Gallery of Ontario), he began implementing many programs in line with his desire to democratize art, make it accessible to the average person and turn the gallery into a community space. Lismer’s first successful program was gallery tours for schools, which became part of the curriculum for some grades in the Toronto Board of Education. Lismer then launched Saturday morning children’s art classes. Teachers and principals from local schools would nominate their best art students to be invited to take part in the classes at the Art Gallery of Toronto. There was no tuition for these classes, only a small fee for material costs, and students had the chance to earn a scholarship for a junior course at the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University).

With roughly 300 students attending the classes each week, the gallery was a lively place on Saturday mornings. Children were allowed to work freely and encouraged to explore their ideas and creative impulses. Children took part not only in painting and drawing, but also in clay sculpting, creating costumes, and acting in pageants. The classes were held within the galleries themselves, with children spreading out across the floor to work in various media, always in the presence of great works of art hung on the gallery’s walls. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, exhibitions of work from children in the Saturday morning classes were a regular feature on the gallery’s calendar.

A black-and-white photograph of children kneeling in the middle of the floor in a gallery, surrounded by paper and art supplies. A teacher stands near the middle of the room, assisting a student. The walls are hung with framed paintings, and an adjacent gallery is visible behind four dark columns. The scene is full of energy as the children build paper houses.

Children participating in Lismer’s children’s art classes (e010980053)

The Saturday classes would eventually result in the opening of the Art Centre at the Art Gallery of Toronto, which would facilitate education activities for the gallery. The Art Centre allowed for smaller classes and more direct interaction with each child, and it expanded the possibilities of Lismer’s vision. After several successful years of running the program at the Art Centre, Lismer was invited to undertake a lecture tour across the country to talk about Canadian art and the children’s art classes. Lismer had already been giving talks for teachers in Toronto to teach them about art and his own methods, hoping it would find its way into their lessons. With the lecture tour, Lismer had the chance to change how art was taught across the country.

The Art Gallery of Toronto was not Lismer’s first or last venture into children’s art education. Lismer ran Saturday morning classes at the Victoria School of Art and Design (now the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) in Halifax in 1917, where he was the principal at the time. Following his tenure in Toronto and his cross-Canada lecture tour, Lismer became the educational supervisor at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1940. He once again established an Art Centre and education programming, as he had done in Toronto. Lismer continued to be involved with the Art Centre in Montréal, even after his retirement in 1967, until his death in 1969 at age 83.

A black-and-white photograph of six boys sitting on chairs in a gallery. Each boy has a second chair in front of him being used as a drawing easel. Two framed paintings can be seen on the wall in the background, and there are newspapers scattered on the floor.

Boys painting in Lismer’s children’s art classes (e010980075)

There are over a hundred images available to view online from these children’s art classes, which depict the wide variety of activities that Lismer developed for his education programming. These photographs give us a delightful peek at the classes some 80 years later. They welcome us to familiar scenes of children sprawled out on gallery floors, gathering art materials, painting at makeshift easels or sculpting in clay over tables well wrapped with newspaper. Although art classes for kids look and sound different during the pandemic, we can all look forward to having noise, mess and excitement take over gallery spaces on weekend mornings once again.

If you recognize someone, a location in the museum or a piece of art in the Arthur Lismer children’s art classes Co-Lab challenge, please tag the photograph!


Brianna Fitzgerald is a Digital Imaging Technician in the Digital Operations and Preservation Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Lights on portrait photography

by Francois Deslauriers

I have always been captivated by portrait photography and the way it goes behind the camera. When I was young, photographs of artists, album covers featuring my favorite bands, and portraits of authors on the dust jackets of books fascinated me. I feel this way even now, when I view portraits of historical figures in the Library and Archives Canada collection on which the digitization team has the opportunity to work. When looking at these images, I ask myself: “How did the photographer arrive at this result? And what brings depth to a portrait?” It’s not just luck. It’s all in the lighting!

Of course, there are several other important aspects to the making of an image: the composition, the shot, the choice of lens, and more. Lighting techniques in portrait photography, as well as in filmmaking, including today’s cinema, have a very solid foundation dating back to the 17th century in the works of the painter Rembrandt. One of the most frequently used lighting technique in modern photography has been named after the Great Master: Rembrandt lighting.

Let’s take a look at this technique and its origins.

The Rembrandt lighting technique owes its name to the Great Master who often used this method in his own portraits. The scenes and portraits he painted often represent scenes lit by light sources such as windows or candles.

Black-and-white photo of a young woman in a white lace dress, facing the camera.

Éva Gauthier, 1906. Photo: William James Topley (a193008)

At its most basic level, Rembrandt lighting is usually done with a single light source placed at about 45 degrees from the subject and slightly higher than eye level. The concept is to create an inverted triangle of light on the subject’s cheek on the shadow side. This is very flattering, as it creates lighting that “shapes” the subject’s face and can be controlled. As viewers’ eyes are generally drawn to bright areas of an image, this technique allows the photographer to highlight a profile of the subject, in particular through distinct bright areas of light, while at the same time creating an opposite side in the shadows. (See also: Chiaroscuro) This can be used to the advantage of the subject in order to highlight and emphasize features with bright areas and conceal others by keeping them in the shadows. The contrast thus created between the bright side and the shadow side also brings dimension, atmosphere and drama to the photograph, and therefore gives greater impact to the image.

Black-and-white photo of a man in a dark suit, facing the camera.

Mr. Norman Watt, 1905. Topley Studio (e011169853)

Colour photograph of a woman with glasses looking towards the camera. Beakers and bottles containing liquids are in the foreground.

Portrait of Deborah Zamble, 2002. Susan King (e006610232) Copyright: Susan King.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman holding a cigarette.

Joan Crawford, actress. Photo credit: Yousuf Karsh (a212246)

It is important that the viewer’s attention be on the eyes of the subject. This is achieved by creating a catch-light in both eyes. What are “catch-lights,” you may ask? These are the small white dots that appear in the subject’s eyes when the reflection from the light source hits the eyeballs. In a portrait, the position of the light is key. The light source is usually positioned high enough to create that light triangle, and low enough to create catch-lights in the eyes. The viewer’s attention is thus drawn to the eyes, which seem to sparkle.

A black-and-white photograph of a man with his hands clasped together in front of him.

Albert Einstein, 1948. Photo credit: Yousuf Karsh. (A212510 )

A black-and-white photograph of a boy in a suit.

Sir Charles Hibbert Tupper, 1870. Photo credit: William James Topley. (a025346)

The beauty of technology is that today we have powerful light sources, such as flashes or LED light panels, which are daylight color balanced and portable. These light sources are certainly much more convenient than candles!

Rembrandt lighting is a simple, effective and flattering method of lighting for a wide variety of subjects. If you are attentive, you will be able to see it in many portrait photographs found in the collection, even in your favorite movies and television series.


Francois Deslauriers is a digital imaging technician in the Digital Operations and Preservation division at Library and Archives Canada.

Etiquette, courtesy, good manners and polite society: Retrospective publications at Library and Archives Canada

By Euphrasie Mujawamungu

No one who searches through the LAC collection leaves empty-handed. Thirsty for knowledge, LAC’s etiquette collection attracted my attention. My excitement was so strong that I prepared as though I was setting out on a long journey to a destination I like to call “etiquette books published in Canada before 1953.”

We carry the genes of our ancestors with us and we enjoy the benefits of the trails they blazed for us by removing the obstacles that made their daily lives difficult. What’s more, we inherited their know-how and their courtesy.

In fact, etiquette seems like a way to build an orderly, caring and cared-for society. Codes of etiquette allow people to gather for events, joyful or sad, and spend time together in harmony with everyone somehow following the same set of rules. Contact and coexistence with peoples of different cultures have also influenced etiquette on all sides. As such, etiquette textbooks and schools specializing in this area gradually expanded their field of expertise as encounters between different civilizations grew.

The etiquette collection is rich and highly diverse. Far from being outdated, it holds promising interest for many. The works in the collection offer writers or filmmakers possible inspiration for scripts set in an era of interest. For some comedians, retrospective publications provide fodder for skits highlighting the contrast between the customs of modern times and yesteryear. For them, this documentation is vital! Even students researching lifestyles in different eras will find what they are looking for.

Black-and-white photo of people in formal attire seated around a long oval table. The table features place settings and decorative centrepieces.

A group of people demonstrating their good manners (a029856)

What it is exactly?

The terms etiquette and manners differ in that the etiquette is defined as a series of codes that create the conditions for good manners. Etiquette is quite exhaustive and covers all aspects of human life. It applies to behaviours, gestures and expressions both spoken and unspoken.

Many books have been written about etiquette, although the word may not necessarily appear on the title pages. Nevertheless, the following terms or keywords allude to the model practices expected in polite society: courtesy; the art of living; the art of dressing; good manners; the art of presentation; the art of correspondence; home economics; table manners; and politeness in the areas of transportation, leisure, travel and more.

Scope

Good manners are not the focus of publications alone. The once numerous specialized schools often catered to wealthy, elite young women. Finishing schools provided a full range of etiquette training.

Some careers also require employees to graduate from specialized schools, such as schools of protocol or butler schools.

The LAC collection

Vintage publications on etiquette are a treasure trove of information. Among other things, they teach us about the transformations that our society has witnessed. For example, a textbook on good conduct for teenagers informs us about what parents, teachers and society as a whole expected of young people of their generation. Some books describe dress codes. For example, at one time, women were not supposed to go out without a hat, especially to church. Men, however, had to remove their hats in church.

Developments in etiquette

Over time, certain social practices or rules change or fall by the wayside to meet new needs or to adapt to new realities. Etiquette has also adapted to changes in the work world, such as industrialization and the arrival of the female workforce. As communication and correspondence tools evolved, codes of conduct emerged for typed correspondence, the art of speaking by telephone and more.

Sociologists interested in the evolution of society, customs, relationships between men and women, or the role of young people and children in the family are sure to find material for their research. Moreover, when historians describe a major historical figure, they highlight the person’s habits, style of dress, achievements, and the etiquette of the time. Some well-known individuals led a morally questionable existence, while others were more virtuous. Sometimes, what was once considered immoral is no longer so.

Black-and-white photo of a woman setting the kitchen table.

Woman setting the table, 1945 (e010862357)

Some finds in the collection

Mille questions d’étiquette discutées, résolues et classées. M. Sauvalle. Montréal: Éditions Beauchemin, 1907. OCLC 300069021

This encyclopedic-style book covers a range of topics and provides a list of questions and answers about good manners in different situations.

For example, concerning illness:

[Translation] Question—What is the correct way to show concern for close friends who are ill with a mild but contagious sickness?

Answer—Many people with a mild but contagious sickness close their door to their good friends. [In this way,] friends are not exposed to catching the sickness: in this case, their friends should be thoughtful enough to slip their card under the door or in the box […]

Other handbooks are more moralistic.

Traits caractéristiques d’une mauvaise éducation, ou actions et discours contraires à la politesse, et désignés comme tels par les moralistes tant anciens que modernes. L. Gaultier. Quebec: Librairie de W. Cowan et fils, 1839. OCLC 49023922

This collection contains 555 examples of character traits that are contrary to politeness and good manners, and explains what a sensible young person should not do (in terms of clothing, cleanliness, conversations and contact with others).

Finally, people say that some fashions and lifestyles never fade. I like to say that good ideas are timeless. The following publication discusses the art of receiving guests.

Manuel de l’étiquette courante parmi la bonne société canadienne-française. Evelyn Bolduc. [Ottawa]: [1937?]. OCLC 1015541211

[Translation] For the hostess expecting dinner guests […]

We will now turn our attention to the menu that the hostess will have created based on locally available resources and the season. In November, for example, game will be easier to find than it would be in April; grapes are tastier and better than strawberries; and oysters are abundant.

During this season, the following dishes might be served: oysters, consommé, fish (not a crustacean since oysters are already on the menu), a first course, a roast; hopefully not a roast of chicken or turkey every time; salad, a dessert of fruit ice cream or jelly. Coffee is usually served in the living room.

Eating local and seasonal products: a lifestyle choice that nutritionists recommend even today! It also conforms to our responsible consumption principles.

The following pre-1953 publications on etiquette are also in the LAC collection:

How to Arrange a Public Dinner. Walter Gardner Frisby. Toronto, Ryerson Press [1938]. Series: The New Dominion Books, [no. 6]. OCLC 42308995

Etiquette in Canada: The Blue Book of Canadian Social Usage. Gertrude Pringle. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1932. OCLC 5322767

Manners. Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1914. OCLC: 222701034

Good Table Manners. Narcissa Burwell. [Toronto: Reader Mail, Ltd., 193-?]. Series: Home Service Booklets, 118. OCLC 1007367401

Every publication is unique and the information they contain is invaluable. Some stylists and fashion designers, vintage and contemporary, say they found their niche through the inspiration they discovered in books from a bygone era or in the styles and manners of their grandparents. The same applies to various other occupations.

In any case, the publications discussed in this article are somehow irresistible. They are absolute page-turners!


Euphrasie Mujawamungu is a retrospective acquisitions librarian with the acquisitions team in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

An “Epidemic” of Fake News a Century Ago

By Forrest Pass

Vaccines work. Yet vaccination opponents have long questioned their effectiveness, in spite of overwhelming evidence. A century-old pamphlet in Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collection illustrates how unreliable sources, deliberate misinformation and outrageous conspiracy theories have been used to promote vaccine hesitancy. Reading historical anti-vaccination propaganda with a critical eye can serve as an “inoculation” against misinformation today.

In 1920 as in 2021, epidemic disease was very much on Canadians’ minds. As health authorities and the public worked to contain final flare-ups of the devastating Spanish flu pandemic, they also faced the worrisome resurgence of familiar diseases. In 1919, Ontario experienced a smallpox epidemic, perhaps introduced by returning soldiers or cross-border travellers; by August, the disease had spread westward, appearing among itinerant farm workers in the hops fields of the Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver. To stop the spread, British Columbia’s provincial medical officer of health, Dr. Henry Esson Young, enlisted the help of school boards to vaccinate all schoolchildren, except those exempted for reasons of conscience.

Young faced opposition from what he considered “a very active and clamorous minority.” In April 1920, vaccination opponents formed the People’s Anti-Vaccination and Medical Freedom League of British Columbia. The league’s secretary-treasurer, Ada Muir, argued that mandatory vaccination, even during a public health emergency, was a violation of personal liberty. Its objections dismissed by the provincial government, the league complained to the British Colonial Office and published Muir’s correspondence in a small pamphlet. British authorities forwarded the complaint to Ottawa, as public health was an internal Canadian matter. At the time, the Governor General’s office was a main line of communication between the British and Canadian governments. Thus, a rare—and well-travelled—copy of the pamphlet made its way into the records of the Office of the Governor General of Canada fonds at LAC.

Title page of a pamphlet, published in 1920, entitled Correspondence relating to An Appeal to the Imperial Authorities by The People’s Anti-Vaccination and Medical Freedom League of B.C. to secure judicial recognition of the fact that under Constitutional Law every freeman owns his own body and has reasonable right to attend to its welfare.

Title page of Correspondence relating to An Appeal to the Imperial Authorities by the People’s Anti-Vaccination and Medical Freedom League of B.C., 1920

Foreshadowing the arguments of present-day vaccination opponents, Muir questioned the purity of the smallpox vaccine and warned of serious side effects. She cited newspaper reports of people who had become sick after vaccination or similar treatments. However, the original sources do not agree with Muir’s interpretations. For example, she blamed medical malpractice for the recent deaths of a Vancouver streetcar driver and his young son, but the story in the Vancouver Daily World made no such accusation: the two had died of diphtheria, a once-common disease now controlled by vaccination.

A newspaper clipping from the Vancouver Daily World, June 29, 1920. The headline reads, “Father and son die following diphtheria: Late Mark W. Freure was popular B.C.E.R. motorman.”

Obituary for a father and son who died of diphtheria, Vancouver Daily World, June 29, 1920, p. 11 (OCLC 20377751)

In describing the smallpox vaccine’s most frightening alleged side effect, Muir should have looked before she shared, for she relied on the discredited research of a 19-century British doctor, Charles Creighton. Creighton believed that the smallpox vaccine caused syphilis, and pointed to an increase in syphilis deaths after the United Kingdom enacted mandatory vaccination in 1853. However, the two diseases are not related. Thirty years before Muir penned her pamphlet, experts had pointed out that new reporting policies, not vaccinations, explained Creighton’s supposed syphilis “spike”; public health officials had begun to record syphilis as the cause of deaths that they had previously attributed to unknown “other causes.” That this change coincided with mandatory vaccination was just that: a coincidence.

Mistrust of medical experts led Muir to imagine conspiracies worthy of the dark corners of the COVID-era Internet. According to Muir, a secretive guild of evil doctors controlled once-democratic British Columbia and deliberately infected children with terrible diseases to satisfy their perverted curiosity. “The human race,” Muir ranted in the pamphlet, “has degenerated into a mere stockyard for the practice of the licensed medical monopoly.” Doctors, she alleged, were an “alien element” whose loyalty to their own profession overrode community safety.

Unsurprisingly, Muir’s supporting sources for this conspiracy theory were scanty. The best she could do was to quote a “Dr. Lockhart” of “Dorchester St. Hospital, Montreal” who had supposedly admitted in 1902 that doctors swore never to testify against their colleagues in court. A Dr. F.A.L. Lockhart had indeed worked at the Montreal Maternity Hospital on Dorchester Street in 1902, but I have not found a reliable source for Muir’s quotation. I specify “reliable source” because the quotation did appear in two letters to newspapers, first in Winnipeg in 1907 and again in Vancouver some seven years after the pamphlet appeared. In both cases, the writer was Alan Muir, Ada Muir’s husband and fellow vaccination opponent.

The outcome of the 1920 smallpox outbreak directly contradicted Ada Muir’s conclusion that vaccination offered no protection against disease. Dr. Young reported that the vaccination opponents’ misinformation campaign had had “very little effect”: in six months, over 80 percent of British Columbia schoolchildren had been vaccinated. After identifying 576 cases of smallpox in 1920, the province reported only 137 cases in 1921, a decrease of over 75 percent. Muir interpreted the small number of cases in Vancouver as proof that the outbreak was a “scare” and that vaccination was unnecessary. The facts support the opposite conclusion: a swift vaccination campaign had flattened the curve.

The success of this local effort foreshadowed a coordinated global smallpox vaccination campaign after the Second World War. In 1977, the World Health Organization declared smallpox eradicated; this was the first eradication of a disease in human history.

Muir continued her anti-vaccination advocacy into the 1930s, but it became a secondary interest. Astrology was her new passion, and in a 1930 letter to the Vancouver Sun, she argued that a horoscope was as useful a medical tool as a serum or a vaccine. She denied, as Creighton had, that viruses and bacteria cause disease, believing instead that dirt itself was the culprit. It is hard to tell which bias affected which judgment: did Muir’s unusual ideas about health and sickness lead her to question medical expertise, or was she ready to embrace strange new theories because she already mistrusted medical science?

A newspaper clipping of a letter to the editor of the Vancouver Sun, November 27, 1930. The title reads, “Astrology Urged as Aid to Physicians and Surgeons.”

Muir recommends medical astrology, Vancouver Sun, November 27, 1930, p. 6 (OCLC 1081083578)

Errors, sensationalism and discredited theories make the propaganda of Ada Muir and the People’s Anti-Vaccination and Medical Freedom League of B.C. easy to dismiss. Yet today’s slick social media memes and viral videos spread similar anti-vaccination messages. Considering the source, looking for supporting evidence, checking whether others agree, asking the experts, and considering your biases are all useful skills in evaluating medical information, whatever the era.


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

From the Lowy Room: Acquisitions in the age of COVID

By Michael Kent

Like most Canadians, my work environment has changed significantly due to COVID-19. While adapting to new protocols and working from home have transformed how I do my job, I am quite thankful that many of my tasks and goals are still accomplishable, though slightly modified. I would like to share one recent experience that I doubt would have occurred without the pandemic.

I started the COVID lockdown in March 2020 with grand goals of getting fit, taking online classes and starting new hobbies. It did not take long for these plans to give way to spending entirely too much time online. Like many people, I quickly found myself engaging in online shopping. With little else to do in my downtime, I was able to spend time searching through Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace, and Facebook buy-and-sell groups. Being the book lover that I am, I was able to track down many books that I had long been looking for.

One day I came across a free copy of the book A Descriptive Catalogue of the Bension Collection of Sephardic Manuscripts and Texts by Saul Aranov. This volume is a catalogue of a collection of Hebrew manuscripts held by the University of Alberta. I was very excited to find this book, as I had been looking for it for some time. While this text is obviously related to my work as a Judaica librarian, I was also interested in it because Aranov had previously worked for the National Library of Canada on the Jacob M. Lowy Collection, which is now my responsibility.

I sent a message expressing my interest to the woman who was giving the book away. As coincidence would have it, she remembered me from the time I spoke about the Lowy Collection to her seniors group. We quickly arranged a time for me to come and get the volume. To my surprise, she then messaged me that her husband had a Talmud that once belonged to the former Chief Rabbi of Eastern Silesia. She asked if I would be interested in seeing it, and of course I answered yes.

A couple of days later, I went to the couple’s home. While my role at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has involved going into many people’s homes to look at rare books, this was my first such outing in the age of COVID. We all wore masks, and they had placed the Hebrew volumes for me on their large dining-room table, allowing us to keep distanced. I was very impressed with the items before me. The Talmud that the wife had messaged me about was volumes from the Berlin edition of the Babylonian Talmud published in the 1860s. I was very excited to see these volumes, as they come from a very important period in the printing of the Talmud, which is both a topic of interest for me and an area of specialization for the Lowy Collection. The couple also showed me several other items belonging to the Rabbi, including Jewish civil codes and commentaries on Hebrew scripture.

A colour photograph of aged hardcover books on a book truck, in front of a glass book cabinet.

Some of the recently donated volumes in the Jacob M. Lowy Room. Photo: Michael Kent

Of the various volumes in their collection, my favourite is Bet Aharon ṿe-hosafot, an 1880 work by Abraham David ben Judah Leib Lawat. This work builds on an earlier work, the Toledot Aharon (1583) by Aaron of Pesaro. These works provide a form of index to the Talmud, linking the Talmudic legal discourse to the sources in Hebrew Scripture. I am familiar with the Toledot Aharon since I have consulted it in the past while studying the Talmud, and I have always been proud of our first edition in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. Despite my familiarity with this work, I did not know about the Bet Aharon ṿe-hosafot. It is a thrilling part of librarianship to always be learning about new things!

A colour photograph of a page written in Hebrew.

The Bet Aharon ṿe-hosafot that is now part of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. Photo: Michael Kent

I was thrilled when the couple generously offered to donate the books they were showing me to the Jacob M. Lowy Collection, which was a process that also required modification during COVID. After some discussion, we settled on how LAC would physically receive the donation. The donor drove the books to our public facility at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. He remained in his vehicle while a member of our circulation team removed them from the trunk. The books then went into one of the storage rooms in the building, to remain in quarantine to avoid possible COVID exposure. After the quarantine period had passed, the books were taken to one of our conservators for mould inspection before we could add them to the Lowy Collection. After this inspection, I brought the books to the Jacob M. Lowy Room. This experience was without a doubt the lengthiest period of time it ever took me to bring a donation from our front door to the collection area! While it was certainly a modification to our usual methods, I was thrilled that in spite of COVID, we were still able to preserve these remarkable volumes.

When I started filling some of my free time during lockdown with online shopping, I never imagined it would lead me to acquire a collection of rare Hebrew books for LAC. While the process required some adjustment because of the pandemic, I am proud of our ability to continue to acquire and preserve history.


Michael Kent is curator of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection at Library and Archives Canada.

 

Donald Nelson Baird and the 1945–46 Parliamentary Flag Design Committee

By James Bone

From Confederation through to the Great Canadian Flag Debate of 1964, the quest to give visual identification to the Canadian nation through an official flag was an elusive one. At various times the Union flag of the United Kingdom and the Canadian Red Ensign stood in unofficially for Canada, but attempts to create our own flag never bore fruit. Prime Minister Mackenzie King made an attempt between 1924–31 and there were periods of renewed interest during the Second World War, however these invariably fizzled due to partisan differences in Parliament. At the end of the War, Mackenzie King again sought a solution to the problem. In November 1945, his government struck a joint House of Commons and Senate committee to consider and report upon finding a suitable and distinct flag for Canada. To achieve this task, the Committee announced its intention to accept design submissions from the public.

Flag Design Submissions

To say that the Committee was inundated with potential designs would be an understatement. By the submission deadline, the official count was 2,695 and many more continued to arrive. The Committee’s records, which include a sampling of correspondence thanking people for their submissions, reveal that among those to submit design proposals were people such as the artist David Milne and Dominion Archivist Gustave Lanctôt. There were also designs received from children, veterans and Canadians of all sorts. To facilitate discussion, voting and the elimination of designs, the Committee created a process to count and classify the elements found in each submission. Prominent elements were maple leaves, beavers, the Union Jack and the fleur-de-lys.

During its mandate, the Committee also received and kept correspondence from the public. Some Canadians supported the process to find a suitable national flag, while others felt that any new flag would dishonour the memory of the recent Second World War dead. Likewise, some correspondents felt it would be unacceptable to include any element of French identity, while others pushed for a flag that reflected both the British and the French heritages of Canada.

Donald Nelson Baird’s Submission

One submission to the Committee arrived by way of Dorothy Baird of Truro, Nova Scotia, on behalf of her younger brother, Donald Nelson Baird (1920–2001). Originally from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, Donald had suffered the effects of polio as a child and had only limited use of his arms, hands and legs. Despite this hardship, he learned to draw and paint with watercolours and would soon find himself at the centre of a national debate on the future of the Canadian flag.

A black-and-white photograph of a man looking towards the camera with a flag design in the background.

Donald Nelson Baird, Abbass Studio Limited, 1946 (Mikan no. 5082349)

Baird’s design was not overly complex. As described in the Committee minutes, it was simply a “Canadian Red Ensign with a maple leaf in autumn golden colour replacing the Coat-of-Arms on the fly.” The design was submitted as a small watercolour painting on paper and, like all submissions, received an identifying number from the Committee.

A flag design with the Union Jack in the left-hand top corner and a gold maple leaf on the right with a red background.

Donald Nelson Baird’s flag design, 1946, watercolour on paper (e011213692)

The design appealed to many members of the Committee, which had received several similar designs. However, given its prominent use of the Union Jack, its red field, and the lack of a French symbol, this appeal was far from unanimous.

Committee Deliberations

In the first quarter of 1946, the Committee deliberated over the many designs it had received in order to make a final selection. Votes were conducted periodically to eliminate certain submissions from the competition. By May 17, 1946, only five designs remained in competition and soon thereafter that number was whittled down to just two: Baird’s design and the Ligue du drapeau national’s design, the latter of which did not include a Union Jack.

The main proponent in the Committee for Baird’s design was R.W. Gladstone, Member of Parliament for Wellington South (Ontario). In the expectation that the Committee would select Baird’s design, Gladstone wrote to Dorothy Baird asking for a suitable photograph of Donald for publicity purposes. The letter also reveals that many similar designs had been received and that, of these, Donald’s seemed the most suitable and typified what Gladstone believed to be the desire of most Committee members. As discussed below, the final design proposed by the Committee for consideration by Parliament was modified slightly from Baird’s and officially was a product of the Committee itself, with no reference to Baird in its reports or minutes. Gladstone’s letter to Dorothy Baird is thus the best available evidence to show that it was indeed Baird’s design selected by the Committee.

A typed page with a crest and House of Commons written at the top.

Correspondence from R.W. Gladstone, MP for Wellington South (Ontario), to Dorothy Baird (Mikan 5082237)

A typed page with R.W. Gladstone’s signature at the bottom.

Correspondence from R.W. Gladstone, MP for Wellington South (Ontario), to Dorothy Baird (Mikan 5082237)

With just two designs remaining in competition, Gladstone then moved to have Baird’s design designated the new Flag of Canada. Deliberations stalled and a separate subcommittee was formed to study the question of whether or not a symbol other than the Union Jack could be used that would satisfy the majority of the Committee. Newspapers began running pieces about the new flag, with most Anglophone papers supporting Baird’s design, while Francophone newspapers such as La Presse supported the design by the Ligue du drapeau national. Cartoonist Bob Chambers, in an editorial cartoon for the Halifax Chronicle Herald, depicted Baird being lifted into the history books by Betsy Ross, the apocryphal designer of one of the first American flags. Baird’s name was also included in the November 1946 supplement to the biographical dictionary periodical Who’s Who.

On July 10, 1946, the subcommittee returned and reported that no alternate symbol could be found. Two members of the Committee remained opposed to Baird’s design as it both included a Union Jack and lacked any element of French Canadian heritage. By the time the Committee reconvened the following evening, the subcommittee had negotiated a compromise that the golden maple leaf would be “in a bordered background of white.” According to the minutes, this was to represent the French presence in Canada. This small modification was, in essence, the only change made to Baird’s original submission. This altered design was put to the Committee and passed in a vote of 22 to 1—thus making it their non-unanimous recommendation for the new flag. The Committee then prepared a final report for both houses of Parliament and recommended the appropriation of funds for the Secretary of State to produce prototypes of the new flag. Artist Frances Gage painted small prototypes, one of which is at the Canadian Museum of History, and an unknown number of full-sized prototypes were made and used for publicity photographs.

A colour photograph of two women holding a flag on a rooftop.

Flag prototype photograph, Weekend Magazine, 1946, photographer Louis Jacques (Mikan 5082300)

Outcome and legacy

Despite all the work that went into the Committee and its selection process, the final report was never presented to Parliament. Prime Minister Mackenzie King was reportedly in favour of the design but, out of consideration for national unity, it was more politic to quietly forget about the episode by invoking the fact that the Committee’s final vote had not quite been unanimous. As Baird’s name was not associated with the design in the Committee minutes and with the final design having been technically the creation of the Committee, his work was largely unknown as having been its inspiration and was soon forgotten outside of his family and community. Like most of the designs for which the Committee had a return address, Baird’s work was returned to his sister Dorothy and was kept by the family. For the next two decades, Dorothy frequently wrote to members of the provincial and federal governments when the question of a national flag resurfaced, urging them to reconsider Donald’s design. The last attempt was made in April 1964, when a sympathetic Member of Parliament, Robert Muir, informed Dorothy that Donald’s design would certainly find no favour with the government, as Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson had promised that the new national flag of Canada would be without the Union Jack.

This author speculates that had Baird’s design been adopted for a national flag in 1946, it likely would not have lasted through the period of renewed interest in establishing a more distinct national identity that came about in the 1960s and that produced the current National Flag of Canada. Nonetheless, Baird’s design and the work of the 1945–46 flag design committee most certainly help to illustrate aspects of the national mood towards Canadian identity in this perhaps lesser-known event in our history. Today, reproductions of Baird’s design can sometimes be found in specialty flag stores, though probably few know its whole story.

Library and Archives Canada has recently acquired the Donald Nelson Baird fonds, which features the original watercolour flag design, correspondence from the Committee and members of the public, newspaper clippings about Baird, and family photographs.

A man standing outside, facing the camera wearing jeans and a red plaid shirt holding the corner of a flag.

Author James Bone with Baird’s flag at Dominion City Brewing, Ottawa, June 2019, copyright James Bone.


James Bone is a philatelic and art archivist with the Private Specialized Media team at Library and Archives Canada.