Empire Marketing Board

By Judith Enright

More than 800 posters and poster designs were produced by the Empire Marketing Board (EMB) in the early part of the 20th century. Library and Archives Canada is custodian to 379 of these posters which represent a unique sampling from this bold and beautiful British marketing campaign.

Started in 1926 by Secretary of State for the Colonies Leopold Amery, the Board’s mandate was straightforward—to encourage and promote trade without tariffs between Great Britain and her colonies, and to lead the British population away from the purchase of foreign goods and support buying and consuming all things British.

A colour print showing two men sawing a tree trunk on the left and three men planting trees on the right, with the caption, “Timber in Canada.”

Timber in Canada (MIKAN 2845125)

Colour print of a metal crane and two men loading a trailer, with the caption “Our Steel for Australia”

Our Steel for Australia (MIKAN 2845006)

Through newspaper advertising campaigns, pamphlets, hand bills, films, radio programs, and poster displays, the EMB set out to achieve its goal of “Bringing the Empire Alive” to Britain and its colonies. For its poster displays, the EMB commissioned some of the most reputable and notable artists and designers of the time, including Manitoba-born poster artist Austin Cooper.

A black-and-white photo of a man in an evening suit standing beside a poster on the wall.

Photo of Austin Cooper by Sydney Carter (MIKAN 3245241)

Using bold lettering and vibrant colours, the EMB posters were meant to be dynamic and eye-catching. Some of the posters were also gender-specific, depicting men as “Empire builders” and women as consumers. In Britain, the posters were placed on specially designed billboards and in shop windows in over 450 towns and cities. In the colonies, where the advertising campaign was less aggressive, posters could be found on the walls of many high-traffic areas such as stores and factories. Although some posters were meant to be seen as a single image, other posters were designed to tell their story through a sequence of three to five images, an approach often compared to reading a comic strip.

A colour print of a grocery store with signs advertising that many of the products are Canadian. In the front of the store, a woman is having a discussion with the grocer. The poster has the caption, “The Wise Shopkeeper and the Good Housewife.”

The Wise Shopkeeper and the Good Housewife (MIKAN 2844979)

A colour print of a woman wearing a long dress and holding a cup of tea, standing beside a side table with a tea tray, with the caption, “Drinking Empire-Grown Tea.”

Drinking Empire-Grown Tea (MIKAN 2844932)

The posters held by Library and Archives Canada were received between 1926 and 1933 and form a sub-series of the Canadian Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce fonds. The majority of these posters are dedicated to Canadian themes and goods, however products from other colonies are represented as well.

A colour print of a man walking in front of a well-lit grocery store with advertisements for Empire products. Men and women are going in and out the shop.

Far-left panel of the advertisement, “John Bull, Sons and Daughters” (MIKAN 2845188)

A colour print of men loading wooden barrels on a boat, with the caption, “Canadian Apples for the United Kingdom.”

Canadian Apples for the United Kingdom (MIKAN 2844965)

In 1932, Ottawa hosted the British Empire Economic Conference held to discuss the economic repercussions of the Great Depression. It was here that the practice of “Imperial Preference” was inaugurated, resulting in restricted tariffs within the British Empire and raised tariffs for countries outside the Empire. As a consequence, the Board was no longer necessary and was dissolved in 1933.

A colour print of a tiger and underneath is the caption, “Buy Singapore Pineapples in Tins.”

Buy Singapore Pineapples in Tins (MIKAN 2845035)

A colour print showing the crests of India, South Africa and Canada, with the caption, “Smoke Empire Tobacco.”

Smoke Empire Tobacco (MIKAN 2844917)

To view these posters, visit the Flickr set or explore the Empire Marketing Board by looking through the lower-level descriptions.


Judith Enright is an archival assistant in the Aboriginal and Social Affairs Section of the Private Archives Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

2 thoughts on “Empire Marketing Board

  1. Pingback: Canadian History Roundup – Week of July 24, 2016 | Unwritten Histories

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