The “ghost” Colonel…and other “spooky” portraits in Library and Archives Canada’s collection

One of the most beautiful and rare oil paintings in Library and Archives Canada’s collection is this portrait of Colonel John Hale (1728–1806). After returning to England as a hero of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (1759), Hale had this portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792), a famous portrait artist, who is also renowned for his experiments with paint materials and for his stubborn attitude towards the use of one particular colour.

Portrait of Colonel John Hale, circa 1763-1764.

Portrait of Colonel John Hale, circa 1763-1764. Source

In the portrait, the lapels of Hale’s uniform are edged in black in honour of the death of General James Wolfe (1727–1759), a reminder of the most recent and significant battle in Colonel Hale’s career. The unusually pale colour of Hale’s face and hands fits well with this serious subject matter. It also seems appropriate for a portrait of a man who lived a long time ago — as modern viewers might expect, Hale appears to be a ghost out of the past.

But Hale’s otherworldly appearance is really a complete accident. To create a flesh colour for faces and hands, Reynolds mixed white pigment with carmine, a dark red pigment made from crushed South American beetles. Unfortunately, early carmine was “fugitive” — it disappeared quickly when exposed to light. This is especially true when, as in this portrait, carmine is mixed with white. White is a colour pigment that is less able to protect carmine from light exposure. Carmine fades away, and white is the main colour that remains behind.

Even within Reynolds’ lifetime, the pale faces in many of his early portraits were noticed. Yet Reynolds is famous for refusing to use vermilion, the more stable but less natural shade of red. He is said to have responded to the suggestion by looking at his own hand and saying: “I can see no vermilion in flesh.”

For more “spooky” portraits, visit our Flickr album.

Your ancestors and the War of 1812

During the War of 1812, many French Canadians fought under the command of Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry in the Canadian Voltigeurs, a light infantry unit. The Voltigeurs’ main battle exploit was the Battle of the Châteauguay, which was fought on October 26, 1813, when some 1,700 Canadians helped drive back more than 3,000 Americans, preventing a major attack on Montréal.

Here are a few avenues for research that will help you determine whether your ancestors were among the Voltigeurs:

Library and Archives Canada has many documents on military service, including documents related to the War of 1812. Drafted mainly in English, these include muster rolls and paylists, along with land claims and petitions scattered throughout the collection. However, there are no military service files for specific individuals, unlike what is available for the First World War.

The starting point for your research is to find a contract of service, which all Lower Canada militiamen had to sign before a notary. This was the case for Joseph Auclair (1794-1861), who took part in the Capture of Detroit and in the Battle of the Châteauguay. This document provides physical details and the name of the regiment and of the commanding officer. The Notarial Records blog article explains how to find this key document.

Certificate of enlistment of Joseph Auclair by Jean-Baptiste-René Hertel de Rouville, captain, Canadian Voltigeurs unit, drafted before the notary Charles Pratte, December 27, 1812, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

Certificate of enlistment of Joseph Auclair by Jean-Baptiste-René Hertel de Rouville, captain, Canadian Voltigeurs unit, drafted before the notary Charles Pratte, December 27, 1812, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

You can also find references to medals awarded to veterans of the War of 1812 in our Medals, Honours and Awards database. With a bit of patience, you will be able to locate the name of your ancestor on paylists, also called Nominal Rolls and Paylists. Many militiamen were also granted land. These grants, announced in The Quebec Gazette, were confirmed by land patents, which can be found in our Lower Canada Land Petitions database.

Lastly, to save you time, it is very important to read the search help pages carefully to find out how documents are organized.

Samuel de Champlain’s General Maps of New France

In the fall of 1612, Samuel de Champlain had an engraving of his first detailed map of New France made in Paris. The map contained new geographic information, based on his own explorations from 1603 onward. The site of Montreal is clearly identified. Using information obtained from Aboriginal peoples, he was able to include previously uncharted areas, such as Lake Ontario and Niagara Falls. He also made use of other maps to depict certain regions, including Newfoundland. Although the engraving was made in 1612, the map was not published until the following year as an appendix to Voyages, Champlain’s 1613 account of his journeys.

Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain Saint Tongois cappitaine ordinaire pour le roy en la marine. Faict len 1612.

Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse faictte par le sieur de Champlain Saint Tongois cappitaine ordinaire pour le roy en la marine. Faict len 1612.(e010764733)

While back in France in the summer of 1613, Champlain had an engraving made of a second version of a general map that he had begun the previous year, which he also published in his 1613 book. In that map, he incorporated his most recent geographic findings, including the Ottawa River, which he was the first to depict. His depiction of Hudson Bay was deliberately inspired by a map of Henry Hudson’s voyages.  

Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse en son vray meridiein. Faictte par le Sr Champlain, Cappine. por le Roy en la marine – 1613.

Carte geographique de la Nouvelle Franse en son vray meridiein. Faictte par le Sr Champlain, Cappine. por le Roy en la marine – 1613. (e010764734)

An incomplete general map by Champlain also exists. The engraving was made in 1616, although the map was never published. The only known copy is held by the John Carter Brown Library.

In 1632, Champlain published his last major map of New France, which was included in his final book, Les Voyages de la Nouvelle France occidentale, dicte Canada. He had been living in France for nearly three years, having been driven out of Quebec by the Kirke brothers in 1629. This updated map contains little new information verified by Champlain himself, as his own explorations came to an end in 1616. He based the revised version on the invaluable information conveyed to him by others, chief among them Étienne Brûlé. Nevertheless, this map represents an important milestone in the history of North American cartography and was widely used by other mapmakers. There are two versions of this map. Among the differences between them are the representation of Bras d’Or Lake or a chain of mountains on Cape Breton Island. Both versions of the map are held by Library and Archives Canada. The first can be seen here:

Carte de la Nouvelle France, augmentée depuis la derniere, servant a la navigation faicte en son vray meridien, 1632.

Carte de la Nouvelle France, augmentée depuis la derniere, servant a la navigation faicte en son vray meridien, 1632. (e010771375)

Suggested reading to learn more about this subject: Conrad E. Heidenreich and Edward H. Dahl, “Samuel de Champlain’s Cartography, 1603-32”, in Raymonde Litalien and Denis Vaugeois, eds., Champlain: The Birth of French America. Sillery: Les éditions du Septentrion; and Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004, pp. 312-332.

How anonymous or little-known portrait sitters tell the Canadian story

No names are recorded on this 1913 photograph of an Ontario boys’ band.

Boy’s Brass Band Community Movement Pembroke, circa 1913.

Boy’s Brass Band Community Movement Pembroke, circa 1913. Source

Although the leader, “Bandmaster Wheeler,” is identified in a second photograph of this same group, we have found little information about him or the group of boys that he taught.

Bandmaster Wheeler and Boy’s Brass Band Community Movement Pembroke, circa 1913

Bandmaster Wheeler and Boy’s Brass Band Community Movement Pembroke, circa 1913 Source

A surprising number of portraits in Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collection are anonymous or little–known men, women and children. We may never know the identity of these people or discover more about their lives, yet these portraits are as important to LAC’s collection as portraits of well-known people.

These boys’ band photographs document an interesting social movement at the beginning of the 20th century. Community organizations concerned about the morals and manners of their children sponsored bands for young boys. Participation in these bands was seen as a way of learning community service and developing local and national pride.

Viewed together, these photographs illustrate this idea. We know that the first photograph was taken slightly earlier because the boys wear suits rather than band uniforms. Local records of the time show that they were still raising money through performances to earn their uniforms. The second photograph shows the group in uniform — the reward for learning this lesson in personal responsibility and hard work.

These group photographs probably helped to cement the band’s unity and team spirit. Membership in this band looks as though it might have been a lot of fun too, judging by Bandmaster Wheeler’s slightly loosened tie in one photograph, and the jaunty angle of his hat in the other. Wheeler is an interesting figure, being an early Black bandmaster in small-town Ontario. LAC holds few portraits of Black Canadians from this period. Wheeler’s presence in these photographs provides us with an important record.

We continue to research the identity of unknown portrait sitters. If you can help, please contact us.

To view other examples of anonymous or little-known sitters in LAC’s portrait collection, visit our Flickr Album.

Margie Gillis Dance Foundation Archival Holding at Library and Archives Canada

Did you know that, since 2010, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has held the Margie Gillis Dance Foundation’s audiovisual, administrative and promotional materials?

Dance performance advertisement featuring Margie Gillis.

Dance performance advertisement featuring Margie Gillis.
© Margie Gillis Dance Foundation. Credit: Michael Slobodian

The Foundation itself chose LAC to preserve its documentary heritage as a result of a 2008 analysis report that strongly urged the Foundation to ensure the long-term preservation of its documentary heritage in a Canadian archive.

LAC has more than 1,100 photographs illustrating the career of this internationally acclaimed Canadian contemporary dancer and choreographer. The collection features photographs by nationally and internationally renowned photographers and artists, including Annie Leibovitz, Lois Greenfield, Cylla Von Tiedemann, Michael Slobodian and Jack Udashkin.

Black and white artistic dance photo of Margie Gillis

Black and white artistic dance photo of Margie Gillis.
© Margie Gillis Dance Foundation. Credit: Annie Leibovitz

The archival holding also includes about 750 hours of audiovisual materials. This unique collection of recordings shows Margie Gillis’s choreographic and artistic work from the beginning of her career to today. Her dance performances in Canada, the United States and around the world are thus preserved for posterity, along with her choreography labs and rehearsal sessions, and a large number of media interviews and reports.

In addition, the textual records, brochures and multiple posters in a variety of formats provide an overview of the activities carried out by the Foundation, which was created in 1981. The Foundation’s primary mission is to support, protect and promote the artistic vision of Margie Gillis, a pioneer and an innovator in contemporary dance.

All the materials in the holding are accessible. However, they may not be reproduced or used without the Foundation’s consent.

The fonds can be consulted online.

For more information about Margie Gillis and her dance foundation, please consult the Foundation’s website.