The 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge: a collaboration with The National Archives

A banner that changes from a black-and-white photograph of a battle scene on the left to a colour photograph of the Vimy Memorial on the right.Over the next month, Library and Archives Canada and The National Archives of the United Kingdom will be shining a light on the role that the Canadian contingent played in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of this First World War battle.

In a series of blog posts exploring the Battle of Vimy Ridge through our respective records, we will cover the following topics:

  • the composition of the Canadian Corps and the context leading up to Vimy
  • what happened during the battle itself
  • how the battle ended
  • memorialization following the battle
  • artistic representations of the battle

Look for the first blog in the series on April 3 and the final one on April 21.

During that same period, we will be continuing the series First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross Recipients, which looks at soldiers honoured for their actions during the battle.

From the Lowy Room: remnants of Spanish Jewry

By Michael Kent

As a librarian, people often question me about the value of the print book in the digital age. After all, many of the books in the collections I serve can be found in digital formats online. While it is true that even the oldest works in Library and Archives Canada’s collections are now accessible in a range of formats online, I maintain that the power of the physical items—and the stories behind them—go far beyond the mere content of the page.

One of the items that evokes this sentiment in a powerful way is the fragment of the 1491 Pentateuch, the Jewish canonical scriptures, from Spain.

This Bible, printed by Eliezer ibn Alantansi in Hijar, Spain, was the last dated Hebrew book printed in Spain before the Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492. While the age, the print quality, or the level of scholarship necessary to produce this book alone make it an important work in early printing, it is the story it tells about the expulsion of Spain’s Jews that makes it a powerful item to behold.

Sadly, refugee crises are not new. Currently, our world is in the midst of a global refugee crisis, a crisis we are able to observe almost first-hand due to the rise of social media. The modern world has allowed us to gain an important and humbling glimpse into the struggles of those living in refugee camps.

The breadth of media content, blogs, pictures and personal accounts will allow future generations of scholars to understand the struggles of contemporary refugees in a way previous generations of scholars could never have imagined. But what about past refugees—how do we try to understand the struggles of medieval refugees, their expectations, their former lives, their hopes for the future, and the devastation caused by their upheavals?

These questions represent a tremendous challenge for historians who wish to uncover the experiences of those in the past. History needs to be more than dates and the stories of the elites; the stories of the masses and the collective experiences we need to learn from are the important episodes that should be investigated.

This is where I return to the biblical fragment found in the Lowy collection. From a content-on-the-page perspective, does the Pentateuch represent anything more than a standard Rabbinic Bible, the type that could be downloaded for free? The simple answer is no. Looking outside the text, does this item provide insights into the lives of Spanish Jewry on the eve of expulsion? I believe the answer is a resounding yes.

A colour photograph of a yellowed, printed page written in Hebrew.

A leaf of the 1490 Hebrew Bible printed by Eliezer ben Avraham Alantansi (AMICUS 32329787)

I look at this page and see a community that saw itself as stable and with a future in Spain. In the early days of printing, a Bible like this would have been a major undertaking. The establishment of communal infrastructure in the form of a printing press, the investment in scholarship, and a major economic undertaking are, to me, evidence that Spain’s Jews saw themselves as secure and with a long and stable future in the Iberian Peninsula. I look at this page and see people who did not imagine the major upheaval and communal devastation that was less than two years away. In short, I see firsthand evidence of one of Medieval Europe’s largest refugee experiences.

As a librarian and curator, I strongly believe in the power of the physical book, a power that goes far beyond the content of the work. While e-books and websites ensure global access to a range of intellectual content, the humbling experience and historic evidence offered by the physical book are irreplaceable.


Michael Kent is the Curator of the Jacob M. Lowy collection

Images for British Columbia now on Flickr

British Columbia is Canada’s westernmost province—a mountainous area bordering the Pacific Ocean whose population is mainly centred in its southwestern corner. The province’s name was chosen in 1858 and New Westminster, a settlement on the mainland, became the capital. When the mainland and island colonies joined in 1866, the island city of Victoria was designated the capital instead. British Columbia joined the Canadian Confederation in 1871, making it the 6th province.

Did you know?

  • British Columbia’s majestic landscapes and interesting geological features are the result of a thick sheet of ice that covered the province during the ice age.
  • Paleoamericans arrived in the Pacific Northwest 12,000–20,000 years ago and the region has since seen the development of Aboriginal communities on the provincial coast, and in the richly diverse interior.
  • The introduction of the fur trade in the early 19th century and the discovery of gold along the Lower Fraser River in 1858 saw an increase in settlers and the establishment of permanent towns. The 20th century brought industrialization and the intense exploitation of natural resources. Consequently, environmental and natural resource preservation would become a priority for the province in the post-war period.
  • British Columbia is one of the most ethnically diverse provinces in the country, with the highest percentage of visible minorities, most notably from Asian and South-Asian descent.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey, VC

The Discover Blog returns to the First World War Centenary: Honouring Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients series, in which we profile each of Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day that the actions for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross took place. Today we present the story of Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey, an Irish-born Canadian VC recipient from Medicine Hat, Alberta.

A black-and-white portrait of an officer wearing a Sam Brown belt and looking directly at the viewer.

Captain Frederick M. Harvey, V.C., undated (MIKAN 3216613)

Harvey, born in Athboy, County Meath, Ireland, was one of three Irish rugby union internationals to have been awarded the Victoria Cross, and the only one to have been awarded the medal during the First World War. He settled in Medicine Hat, Alberta, in 1908 and enlisted on May 18, 1916 with the 13th Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles, transferring to Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) after arriving in France.

On March 27, 1917, Harvey’s troops advanced on the village of Guyencourt, France. As German machine gun fire inflicted heavy casualties, Harvey’s Victoria Cross citation recounts what occurred next:

At this critical moment, when the enemy showed no intention whatever of retiring and fire was still intense, Lt. Harvey, who was in command of the leading troop, ran forward well ahead of his men and dashed at the trench, still fully manned, jumped the wire, shot the machine gunner and captured the gun. His most courageous act undoubtedly had a decisive effect on the success of the operation (London Gazette, no.30122, June 8, 1917).

A black and white reproduction of a war diary entry showing the place, date, hour and a summary of events and information.

Extract from the Lord Strathcona’s Horse war diaries for March 27, 1917 (MIKAN 2004721)

Lieutenant Harvey was initially granted the Distinguished Service Order but was later awarded the Victoria Cross. He received the Military Cross for his role in the Lord Strathcona’s Horse advance on Moreuil Wood on March 30, 1918 and was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

Harvey remained with Lord Strathcona’s Horse and was promoted to Captain in 1923. He instructed in physical training at the Royal Military College of Canada from 1923 to 1927, was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1938, and, in 1939, was made Brigadier General. Harvey served as Honorary Colonel in Lord Strathcona’s Horse from 1958 to 1966. He died in August 1980 at age 91.

A black and white photograph of a man pining an award on another man’s pocket. Another man is reading the citation while a third man is carrying a case. In the background, rows of soldiers are standing at ease.

H.M. The King decorating Lieutenant Harvey L.S.H. with the Victoria Cross (MIKAN 3362384)

Library and Archives Canada holds the CEF service file for Lieutenant Frederick Maurice Watson Harvey.

Related Resources

Guest Curator: Tania Passafiume

Banner for the guest curator series. CANADA 150 is in red along the left side of the banner and then the bilingual text: Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? and under that text is Guest curator series.Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? is a new exhibition by Library and Archives Canada (LAC) marking the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. This exhibition is accompanied by a year-long blog series.

Join us every month in 2017! Experts from LAC, from across Canada and from other countries provide additional information about the exhibition. Each “guest curator” discusses one item, then adds another to the exhibition—virtually.

Be sure to visit Canada: Who Do We Think We Are? at 395 Wellington Street, Ottawa, from June 5, 2017, to March 1, 2018. Admission is free.


Temples of Today by John Vanderpant, ca. 1934

Black-and-white photo of a grain elevator with tall, circular towers in front of a taller rectangular building.

“Temples of Today” by John Vanderpant, ca. 1934. (MIKAN 3784205)

Photographer John Vanderpant saw Canada’s grain elevators as temples. They were part of his utopian vision for the country, based on a faith in trade and industry. For him, industry would define the nation’s future.


Tell us about yourself

I knew I wanted to be a conservator since I was 13 years old. At this time, my uncle had married a wonderful woman named Janice. She was a fine art conservator, hence she treated paintings, works of art on paper, and photographs. I was very influenced by her, and it led me to work in her private lab as I was studying at university. It provided me with experience before I even started my graduate classes in conservation. When I graduated, there was no employment in Canada, and my aunt had closed her lab and was traveling that particular year. I ended up going to the George Eastman House on a whim. It was supposed to be just for three months. Instead I stayed there three years and three months! It was when I became passionate about photography, particularly historical processes. My hands were often black due to all the silver nitrate I was playing with! And now, I see my aunt’s name on a report or two, as she had actually interned here at LAC many years before me.

Is there anything else about this item that you feel Canadians should know?

LAC’s collection of photographs is really diverse. You can always find a variety of processes and images. For this exhibition, I favor Temples of Today by John Vanderpant. I am a photograph conservator, so often I look beyond the image, looking deeper at the materials and how the photograph was made, or if anything has been altered. Many times, not to be distracted by the image itself, I turn the photograph around, so that the image is upside down, making it less distracting, so that I can concentrate on the material and not the image before me. But for this item, all I had to do was lean down and look at the surface of the photograph in raking light. That is when light is falling across the surface and I am almost at eye level with the surface. It is at this point you can really “see” an object; all the handling dents and deformities are really pronounced. When you do that with this item you see cat paw prints! We actually think that the cat walked one way, turned around and walked back! The photograph was already mounted on the paper support when the cat had walked on it. This is noted as one of the prints lies on both the photograph and the support. Perhaps Vanderpant had a cat who would visit him in the studio? I really enjoy finding these hidden secrets. I did try to remove or at least reduce the paw prints, but they appear to be stuck within the emulsion. So I could not do much as for treatment, and the paw prints remain.

A photo on a table with a bright light raking over it reveals a cat’s paw prints.

Viewing Temples of Today under raking light reveals a cat’s paw prints. Photo taken by Tom Thompson.

Tell us about another related item that you would like to add to the exhibition

A photograph that I enjoy showing people is a daguerreotype from July 1858. The daguerreotype has captured the Molson Brewery in Montréal, after a fire. It is a half plate in good condition. The image is sombre as the fire has left nothing. In the centre of this emptiness stands a man with a seated female to the left with a small child, who moved as the image was taken and is blurry. It is a moving image, as you can imagine that the daguerreotypist had to be physically there, at this moment to document this period of time. A few years ago, this item was going on exhibition; therefore I was fortunate enough to be able to open the daguerreotype package (the original sealing tape had been previously removed), to examine the plate. Upon removal of the brass mat, I immediately noticed in the upper left corner, a finger mark. This was hidden behind the brass mat. This fingerprint could be from the daguerreotypist, who is, at this moment still unknown. It could have been accidently placed there as he or she was developing the plate or placing it into the daguerreotype package. For me it is a sign of the mysterious past—a bridge, a connector between these people in the image and to the person behind the camera who is not visible and us, the current viewer.

 The corner of a daguerreotype showing a fingerprint on the edge of the plate. The plate depicts a closeup of the Molson Brewery after a fire. A woman with a baby is sitting at the bottom edge.

A detail of a corner of a daguerreotype showing a fingerprint on the edge of the plate. Photo taken by Jennie Woodley. (MIKAN 3192967)

Black-and-white image of rubble in the foreground with a damaged building in the background. A woman with a baby sits in the middle to left of a standing man.¬

Full image of the Molson family brewery after the fire of 1858. (MIKAN 3192967)

On this theme of animals and photography, I would like to include the “Decadog,” as we call it at the Preservation Centre. This is a perfect example of an animal being an animal. It is a nitrate panorama negative of 7th Draft, “C” Battery, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery (RCHA). These were the units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and the Royal Air Force who trained at various camps in Ontario; here it was in Kingston. It was taken between 1914 and 1918. The nitrate negative was discovered when my colleagues Carla Klück and Louise Perrault were scanning the nitrate panorama collection in 2011. At first glance this long negative, which is 200 mm high x 1060 mm wide, is another documented proof of military troops from the turn of the century. On closer examination, a dog appears in the foreground. But not just any dog—a dog with eleven legs! Viewers are always confused when they notice this unusual aspect. Someone has previously outlined in black ink on the negative (which appears white on the positive print), ten of the legs (hence the name Decadog), omitting the second last paw on the left. You may be asking—how did this dog exist in Kingston? Easy enough answer is that the photograph was taken by a panoramic camera also known as a Cirkut. The Cirkut is a rotating camera that would capture a panoramic scene by pivoting horizontally while a roll of film moved across the film plane. At just the right moment, the dog must have walked as the camera was rotating from left to right. Consequently, the slow capture could capture the slow movement of the dog walking across the plane of view. To prove that this Decadog is a “normal” four-legged friend, I have included an additional nitrate panorama from our collection. This time it is from the 8th Draft “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF, Petawawa Camp on June 1916. From his face markings, we think that this is the same dog in both nitrate panoramas.

Black-and-white panorama shot of two rows of uniformed soldiers between two wheeled cannons. The Decadog is in front of the group. Barracks can be seen in the background.

7th Draft, “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF group photo with the Decadog by Andrew Merrilees. (MIKAN 4474227)

Black-and-white panorama shot of three and a half rows of uniformed soldiers in front of trees and tents. A soldier in the centre of the front row holds a dog on his lap.

8th Draft, “C” Battery, RCHA, CEF Petawawa Camp with a dog in the centre by Andrew Merrilees. (MIKAN 4473482)

Biography

Colour photograph of a woman looking at the viewer.

Credit Tom Thompson

Tania Passafiume has been the Head Conservator of Photographic Materials for Library and Archives Canada since 2005. After graduating from Queen’s University with a Master’s in Art Conservation (specializing in photographs, works on paper and book conservation), she moved to Rochester, New York. It was in Rochester at the George Eastman House where she remained for over three years, first participating in the Certificate Program in Photographic Preservation and Archival Practice and then as a Fellow in the first cycle of the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation. For the following three years, Tania was an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, in Photographic Conservation at the Art Institute of Chicago. Tania has also worked in the following institutions and private labs: Jana Conservation, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, National Archives of Canada, City of Vancouver Archives, and Canadian Centre for Architecture. With the Canadian Conservation Institute she has published “Silver Gelatin Paper Sample Sets,” which is based on her George Eastman House thesis. Also stemming from this was research on Hippolyte Bayard, a topic on which she is currently working with the Centre de recherché sur la conservation des collections (CRCC), Paris. More recently, she spearheaded a LAC project with the Cultural Affairs Department of the City of Paris/Atelier de Restauration et de Conservation des Photographies de la Ville de Paris (ARCP) in a collaboration to create the first English-French visual glossary of photo conservation terms in enhanced eBook format called Lingua Franca: A Common Language for Conservators of Photographic Materials which will soon be available for free on iTunes.

Railway accident records at Library and Archives Canada

By Rebecca Murray

In recent years, large-scale railway derailments and collisions have caught our attention and have become questions of public safety, but this is not a new chapter in Canadian transportation history. Rail accidents dot the history of railways in Canada and have shaped the lives of many Canadians.

A black and white photograph of a partially derailed train in a train yard. Snow covers the ground and a city can be seen in the background.

Cars off track at Strachan Avenue, Toronto, December 19, 1916. Photograph taken by John Boyd (PA-070106)

Have you witnessed a railway accident? Was a family member or friend involved in a railway accident? Do you have an interest in railway history in a specific region or for a specific railway company? These are just some of the many reasons that researchers consult Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) Reference Services regarding railway accident records.

Starting your railway accident research

First, gather as much information as you can about the rail accident prior to contacting or visiting LAC. The exact date and location are extremely important, as are details such as individuals involved and if possible, type of accident (e.g. public crossing, derailment, crash). If you are missing some of these details, consult newspapers on microfilm or online before undertaking your search with LAC’s online tools. Accident records are usually organized chronologically by date, so the date is key for you to start your research with the correct institution.

LAC holds rail accident records for investigations that began in 1990 or earlier, whereas the Transportation Safety Board maintains an online database for investigations from 1991 to the present.

Records at LAC

Railway accident records can be found in various series of the Canadian Transport Commission fonds (RG46) depending on the time period and type of accident.

I suggest relying on the following search strategies and finding aids to begin your research:

Finding Aid # Format Time Period How to Use the Finding Aid
46-21 Collection Search 1838–1987 Use the following search string to generate a file list: RG46-C-II-1 46-21 accident. Limit the results to the Archives tab and then filter by date or add a location keyword, i.e. Toronto.
46-10 Online Finding Aid 46-10 1904–1949, 1964–1972 The finding aid is arranged alphabetically and then chronologically by railway company. Each report varies in content, but often references accidents.
46-55 Online Finding Aid 46-55 1900–1992 Accidents at public crossings arranged alphabetically by geographic subdivision
46-58 Online Finding Aid 46-58 1982–1983 Chronological
46-59 Online Finding Aid 46-59 1984 Chronological

There are also additional resources online and onsite at Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington St., Ottawa. You can use Collection Search to do general keyword searches with terms like “rail” AND “accident” (or “derailment” or “collision”) and use the left menu to sort all results by date, or you can limit your results to a specific decade.

If you follow the steps described above and still can’t find what you’re looking for, don’t despair! Reference Services staff are always just a call or click away. You are also welcome to visit in person. No matter how you contact us, we are happy to help researchers with their questions.


Rebecca Murray is a reference archivist in the Reference Services Division of Library and Archives Canada.

Images for Clowns now on Flickr

A colour postcard showing a clown at the barber shop getting his hair and beard trimmed by two other clowns.

May you keep up your Heart under all trials this festive Season (MIKAN 4428002)

Whether you love them or hate them, clowns have appeared in various shapes and sizes throughout history and have ties to ancient Greek burlesque, Roman stage shows, and Chinese Imperial Courts. Ever evolving, the clown during the Middle Ages in Europe took on the form of the court jester or fool, amusing patrons and nobles alike, and getting away with impertinence, so long as the master was amused. Adorned with tassels, bells, pointed hats, colourful wardrobe, and wielding a mock sceptre, jesters or fools provided social commentary and comic relief in a court.

The clown eventually returned to the Western stage. In England, France, Italy and Germany clowns provided additional commentary to a performance—standing outside of the main drama, but commenting and provoking the audience. Minor differences in culture were apparent—in England clowns were used as comic foils and relief; in France they were romantic but sad individuals; while in Italy, a clown was a tragic figure with a breaking heart but providing mirth; and finally, in Germany clowns were dressed in bright colours with large footwear and white expressionless faces. Sound familiar?

The resurgence of travelling entertainment shows or circuses during the 18th and 19th centuries saw the venerable clown follow suit providing laughter and diversion between events. As circuses arrived in North America from Europe, the clown was present and quickly took a firm foothold on Canadian society and entertainment. During the early 20th century, many traveling circuses crossed Canada entertaining audiences from small to large cities featuring many performers, acrobats, and animal acts with clowns firmly sandwiched between events delighting crowds with their antics and eliciting laughter.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Block review reaches 25 million pages!

Library and Archives Canada’s Block Review project has just reached another important milestone—25 million pages opened. Since 2010, the project’s goal is to make previously-restricted archival Canadian government records available to the public. The Block Review Team takes a sample from each group of records and assesses the risks involved in sharing them. Since the project started, many Canadian historical records have been opened including those relating to Canada’s 1967 Centennial celebrations, along with early trade and foreign affairs records.

Of particular interest is the recent release of the first group of records from the Department of the Environment dating from 1969 to 1972. These records originate from the department’s Environmental Management Service and the Lands Directorate as well as registry material from the Policy Planning and Research Service. Over 300,000 pages are now open, with a focus on water pollution in the Great Lakes in the late 1960s, solid waste issues confronting municipal governments, and Canada’s relationship with NATO on environmental issues. These records would be of particular interest to researchers studying Canada’s early environmental knowledge and advocacy.

The Exchequer Court of Canada fonds

By Johanne Noël

Exchequer Court of Canada created in 1875

The Exchequer Court and the Supreme Court of Canada were created by the same legislation: the Supreme and Exchequer Courts Act. The Exchequer Court was in existence from 1875 until 1971, the year the Federal Court was created.

Since the Exchequer Court had fewer cases, they were heard by justices of the Supreme Court. These justices travelled across Canada for this purpose on a rotating basis from 1875 to 1887. In 1887, the Exchequer Court became a separate court; its first judge, the Honourable George Wheelock Burbidge, wrote the rules of procedure.

Black-and-white photo of a man with a moustache, wearing a suit and a white shirt.

George Wheelock Burbidge, September 1891. Photo: William James Topley (MIKAN 3213416)

Cases heard before the Exchequer Court

Cases argued before the Exchequer Court included actions brought against the federal government, such as claims arising from accidents involving civilian or military government vehicles. But the government could also initiate lawsuits in the Court, such as expropriations or measures related to intellectual property infringement (patents, industrial drawings and trademarks), as well as disputes between the different levels of government. The Exchequer Court also heard appeals from the admiralty courts and appeals related to maritime law, taxes and citizenship.

Records in the Exchequer Court fonds

The vast majority of records in the Exchequer Court fonds at Library and Archives Canada are files related to cases. Other documents include special work of the Court, correspondence, minutes of hearings, various records and dockets.

Dockets

The Registrar of the Court kept a large record book, know as the docket record, in which he recorded cases in chronological order. For each case, he entered the number, the names of the plaintiff and the defendant, and the names of their respective solicitors. Throughout the proceedings, he listed the documents filed with the Court, the date they were filed and the cost of registration. A docket record could contain many cases and be up to 10 centimetres thick.

Cover of an album, bound in leather and worn corded velvet, on which is written: “Docket Record. Exchequer Court of Canada. 8435-12544. August 27, 1927–August 5, 1930”.

Cover of a docket record (MIKAN 4628412)

Continue reading

Images for Alberta now on Flickr

Alberta is the most westerly of Canada’s three Prairie provinces, sharing borders with British Columbia to the west and Saskatchewan to the east. Paleoamericans first settled in the area at least 10,000 years ago, differentiating over time to become First Nations groups. The Hudson’s Bay Company controlled the area from 1670 to 1870, when the territory was acquired by the newly formed Canadian government. In 1905, Alberta joined Canadian Confederation as the country’s ninth province.

A black-and-white photograph showing a woman and child walking down a wooden platform along a train.

People walking along platform at train station in Ponoka, Alberta (MIKAN 3303597)

Western Canada experienced major growth during the 20th century. Settlers travelled from other provinces and from Europe to farm the land of the Prairies and to populate its cities. Alberta welcomed settlers of many different backgrounds, and became the third most diverse province in the country. The population boom helped spur the economy, but the Great Depression and Dust Bowl slowed its progress… at least, until the discovery of oil in 1947.

Did you know?

  • About 100 million years ago, not only was Alberta part of the Western Interior Seaway, it was also home to dinosaurs! Specimens from at least 38 different types of dinosaurs have been discovered in the province.
  • A long-time rivalry has existed between Alberta’s two major cities, Edmonton (the capital) and Calgary (the larger of the two). There have been many areas of contention, but by far the most important these days is… you guessed it—sports!

Visit the Flickr album now!