Martha Louise Black: First Lady of the Yukon

By Katie Cholette

A signed and matted black-and-white photograph of a woman smiling, dated 1932.

Martha Louise Black, 1932. Photographer: Pierre Brunet (e011154526)

Hidden among the millions of items in the collection of Library and Archives Canada are a set of 10 floral postcards. Unassuming in size, and modest in subject matter, they were produced by an exceptional and adventurous woman named Martha Louise Black. Dubbed “First Lady of the Yukon,” and the second woman elected to Canada’s House of Commons, Martha Black was an astute businesswoman, an expert on the wildflowers of the Yukon and British Columbia, an author and lecturer, and the recipient of several honours. February 24, 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of her birth.

A colour reproduction of a plant with four purple flowers and one that has turned to seed. Centred at the bottom are the initials MLB and GB, and it is dated 1955.

“Pasque Flower” by Martha Louise Black. Photomechanical print, 1955. (e011154530)

When Martha was born in Chicago, Illinois, no one could have predicted what an exciting life she would lead. In 1898, at the age of 23, she left behind the comforts of her home in Chicago (and her first husband) to follow the Gold Rush to the Yukon. Financed by family money, Martha and her brother George crossed the Chilkoot Pass to the Yukon River. They continued to the Klondike where she staked gold mining claims. Her first stay in the Yukon lasted just over a year, but Martha had been bitten by the bug of the North. When she returned in 1901 she staked more claims, opened a successful sawmill and married her second husband, George Black. She would spend a large portion of the rest of her life living in the Yukon.

A colour reproduction of a plant with three yellow flowers with wide leafy bases. It is initialed MB and dated 1930.

“Cyprepedium, Large Yellow Lady Slipper” by Martha Louise Black. Photomechanical reproduction, 1955 (e011154531)

Martha and George built a life for themselves in the Yukon, where she raised three sons from her first marriage. George, a lawyer by profession, became the 7th Commissioner of the Yukon in 1912. Together, the Blacks played a central role in Dawson and later Whitehorse.

A colour reproduction showing a plant with small purple flowers and wide, deeply lobed leaves. It is initialed MB and dated 1930.

“Crane’s Bill – Wild Geranium” by Martha Louise Black. Photomechanical reproduction (e011154532)

Martha’s lifelong interest in botany flourished in the north. In 1909 she began collecting and pressing wildflowers, filling in the backgrounds with watercolour—a practice she called ‘artistic botany.’ Her works garnered praise, and over the next two summers she was commissioned to collect and mount wildflowers from the Rocky Mountains for exhibition at Canadian Pacific Railway stations and hotels. A series of her works were subsequently published as postcards, and she was made a fellow of the Royal
Geographical Society.

A colour reproduction showing a plant with long woody stems, closely clustered tiny pink flowers and small leaves. The print is initialed MB and dated 1920.

“Heather” by Martha Louise Black. Photomechanical reproduction (e011154538)

In 1935, at the age of 69, Martha was elected to the House of Commons. She served as Member of Parliament for the Yukon until 1940. In 1948 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her contributions to Yukon servicemen. Martha died in Whitehorse on October 31, 1957 at the age of 91.

Learn more about her life and work:

Written by Katie Cholette

Captain James Peters: War correspondent and photographer

Photography is now an integral part of our lives; our daily events are recorded whether they be monumental or mundane. From its beginnings in the 1830s, photography was used to chronicle the events of war. Early photographers struggled to capture the rapid action of combat as photographic equipment was unable to record movement. Consequently, early images of war were often staged recreations of the actual campaign. Generally, they depicted the less active aspects of war, such as portraits of soldiers, camp life, fortifications, artillery placements, and the battle sites before and after the action.

Captain James Peters recorded the dramatic events of the North-West Resistance as a photographer and a correspondent for the Quebec Morning Chronicle. The North-West Resistance was a five-month insurgency against the Canadian government, fought mainly by citizens of the Métis Nation and their First Nations allies. Peters was a pioneer in capturing the events on the battlefield.

Captain Peters and the “A” Battery of the Canadian Artillery left Quebec City on March 28, 1885 for the northwest. The “A” Battery was to provide artillery support for Major-General Frederick D. Middleton and the Canadian Militia. Peters would serve with Middleton at Fish Creek, Batoche and during the militia’s search for Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear). Continue reading

Prime Ministers’ Speeches

Are you interested in speeches made by Canadian prime ministers? Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a unique collection of resources to help you find speeches given by past prime ministers from the very beginning of our nationhood. LAC’s historical resources complement the Government of Canada resources which include more recent speeches.

The archived website, First Among Equals, contains a section devoted to select speeches made by past prime ministers. From the introduction page of this virtual exhibit, click the “Speeches” link from the left menu, which will take you to a page of speeches organized by topic. To view speeches given by a particular PM, click on “Profiles” in the left menu. Please note that this website is archived and will no longer be updated.

Among the sources originally used for putting together the First Among Equals website was LAC’s collection of speeches on microfiche, a reproduction of a collection of speeches held at the Library of Parliament. This collection is located in the 2nd floor reading room of LAC’s main building at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa. In addition to speeches given by PMs, this resource includes speeches delivered by other Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition from 1914 to 1993. Continue reading

Finding patents of invention held at Library and Archives Canada

The most important thing to know when searching for a patent of invention at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is the date range when the application was filed. Following are some search options and strategies for each time period.


The original patents of invention series includes applications that originated in present-day Ontario and Quebec dating back as far as 1824. Two publications, the Index of Inventors and Inventions for Canadian Patents, 1824–1872 and the List of Canadian Patents, from the Beginning of the Patent Office, June, 1824, to the 31st of August, 1872 serve as the finding aids for this series. LAC also holds pre-Confederation patent applications that were filed in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. These documents are individually described in finding aids that can be consulted onsite in Ottawa or via Reference Services.


The Canadian Patents, 1869–1919 database is searchable by patent title keyword, inventor or year filed. For example, the patent application for a hockey goal can be found by searching with the keyword “hockey.” The associated digitized documentation includes one drawing. Continue reading

The Persons Case, 1929

The Persons Case is a historic part of women’s fight for political equality in Canada. The case is significant for establishing that interpretation of the Canadian Constitution is adaptable to the changing needs of society and for determining that “qualified persons” in the British North America Act, 1867 (BNA Act, now known as the Constitution Act, 1867) includes women. This decision paved the way in Canada by asserting women’s rights to be active in political life.

The events leading to the Persons Case began in 1916 when Emily F. Murphy was appointed as the first female police magistrate in the British Empire. Undermining her authority, lawyers challenged her position as illegal on the grounds that a woman was not considered to be a person under the BNA Act, and therefore she was unable to act as magistrate. Although the Provincial Court of Alberta would confirm Murphy’s appointment by declaring women as “persons,” this decision was not proclaimed federally.

Over the next 10 years, the federal government faced pressure from women’s groups to appoint a female senator. The government declared the appointment of a women impossible according to the BNA Act, which specified only “qualified persons” could hold a senate position. Turning to the law, Murphy found that under section 60 of the Supreme Court Act, five interested persons are allowed to petition the government for interpretation on a constitutional point.

Murphy enlisted the help of Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney, and Irene Marryat

Parlby—now known as the “Famous Five”—who were engaged politically and championed equal rights for women.

A black-and-white photograph showing five women standing on either side of a man.

(Front row, L-R): Mrs. Muir Edwards, daughter-in-law of Henrietta Muir Edwards; Mrs. J.C. Kenwood, daughter of Judge Emily Murphy; Hon. Mackenzie King; Mrs. Nellie McClung. (Rear row, L-R): Senators Iva Campbell Fallis and Cairine Wilson. This photograph was taken at the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the five Alberta women whose efforts resulted in the Persons Case, which established the rights of women to hold public office in Canada. Photograph taken by Eugene M. Finn, National Film Board of Canada, June 11, 1938, Ottawa, Ontario. (MIKAN 3193154)

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Hiding in Plain Sight: Discovering the Métis Nation in the Collection of Library and Archives Canada

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.

Who Are the Métis?

The Métis Nation emerged as a distinct people during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. They are the second largest of the three Indigenous peoples of Canada and are the descendants of First Nations peoples and Europeans involved in the fur trade.

Métis communities are found widely in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Northwest Territories, with a smaller number in British Columbia, Ontario, Minnesota, Montana and North Dakota.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a great variety of archival documents pertaining to the Métis Nation (including textual records, photographs, artwork, maps, stamps and sound recordings); however, finding these records can be a challenge.

Challenges in Researching Métis Content in the Art and Photographic Collections

While there are easily identifiable portraits of well-known leaders and politicians, including these portraits of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, images depicting less famous Métis are difficult to find. Original titles betray historical weaknesses when it comes to describing Métis content.

In many cases, the Métis have gone unrecognized or were mistaken for European or First Nations groups—such as the people in this photograph entitled “Chippewa Indians with Red River Carts at Dufferin.”

Black and white photograph of a man, on the left, wearing European clothing and standing in front of a Red River cart, and a group of First Nations men, women and children wearing First Nations-style clothing and standing in front of another Red River cart, on the right.

Chippewa Indians with Red River Carts at [Fort] Dufferin” Manitoba, 1873 (MIKAN 3368366)

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Prison Portraits by Jean-Joseph Girouard

Jean-Joseph Girouard (1794–1855) was a notary, an amateur artist, and a member of the Parti Patriote in Lower Canada during the first part of the 19th century. The Parti Patriote was a political party that sought political reform and rallied for French Canadian cultural heritage, rights and interests. The 1837–1838 Rebellion led by the Parti Patriote was a pivotal moment along the road to nationhood for pre-Confederation Canada.

Girouard was incarcerated twice for his role in the Rebellion. He maintained a notarial office and, unexpectedly, an artist’s studio while imprisoned in Montreal. Girouard created portraits of many of his fellow Patriote prisoners using drawing paper and pencils supplied to him by a supporter. The majority of these unique and rare drawings are now part of the holdings at Library and Archives Canada (LAC).

A pencil sketch of Jean-Joseph Girouard in profile, sitting in a chair and drawing on paper with a pencil.

Jean-Joseph Girouard, self-portrait in prison, Montreal, ca. 1837–1838 (c133430)

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The New Westminster Salmonbellies, Vancouver Lacrosse Club and professional lacrosse in the early 1900s

By Dalton Campbell

In 1909, the New Westminster Salmonbellies and the Vancouver Lacrosse Club (VLC) started playing in the two-team professional British Columbia Lacrosse Association (BCLA).

A trading card with a colour print of a man wearing a plain green sweater with a red collar. It is captioned: “Bones Allen, Vancouver Team.”

Angus “Bones” Allen, midfielder/forward, played six seasons with the Vancouver Lacrosse Club. He is one of the few players to have won the Stanley Cup and the Minto Cup. (MIKAN 2963049)

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Library and Archives Canada releases its latest podcast episode, “Rising from the Ashes”

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is releasing its latest podcast episode, “Rising from the Ashes.”

On February 3, 1916 at 8:37 p.m., the alarm was raised on Parliament Hill that a fire had broken out in the Centre Block. By the next morning, the building had been reduced to a smoking ruin, encrusted in ice. The exact cause of the fire was never determined.

With Canada fully immersed in the First World War and the 50th anniversary of Confederation rapidly approaching, it was imperative that parliament be rebuilt immediately to engender a sense of enduring strength and continuity in the hearts and minds of Canadians. In this episode Johanna Mizgala, curator for the House of Commons, takes us back to that chilling night in Canada’s history. She also discusses the bold vision of the architects charged with the task of rebuilding parliament.

Subscribe to our podcast episodes using RSS or iTunes, or just tune in at Podcast–Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.

Centre Block: Rising from the Ashes

On February 3, 1916 at 8:37 p.m., the alarm was raised on Parliament Hill that a fire had broken out in the Centre Block. By the next morning, the building had been reduced to a smoking ruin, encrusted in ice. The exact cause of the fire was never determined.