Canada’s Earliest Printers

By Meaghan Scanlon

As you walk through the exhibition Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada, you will see two items from Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC’s) Rare Book Collection. One is a short medical pamphlet published in Quebec in 1785 that explains the symptoms and treatment of a disease thought to have been a form of syphilis. The other is a proclamation on the subject of French fishing rights, issued by the Governor of Newfoundland in 1822.

A colour photograph of a book open to the title page. It reads: Direction pour la guerison du mal de la Baie St Paul. A Quebec : Chez Guillaume Brown, au milieu de la grande cote. M, DCC, LXXXV.

Title page of Direction pour la guerison du mal de la Baie St Paul. Printed by Guillaume (William) Brown at Quebec City in 1785 (AMICUS 10851364)

These two publications may not appear to have much in common. In fact, though, they share an interesting historical connection: both are the work of the first printers in their respective provinces. William Brown, publisher of Direction pour la guerison du mal de la Baie St Paul [A guide to treating the Baie St Paul malady], and his partner, Thomas Gilmore, became the first printers in the province of Quebec when they set up shop at Quebec City in 1764. John Ryan, who produced the Newfoundland broadside, holds the distinction of having been the first printer in two separate provinces. Ryan and his partner, William Lewis, were already in business in Saint John when the province of New Brunswick was created in 1784. Ryan then relocated to St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 1806, and opened the island’s first press.

A black-and-white document proclaiming the rights of French fishermen under the Treaty of Paris, which confirmed the rights laid out in the Treaty of Utrecht, to fish in the waters off Newfoundland without hindrance or harassment by British subjects. The proclamation directs officers and magistrates to prevent British subjects from obstructing the French fishery, and gives warnings about potential actions to be taken against those British fishermen who refuse to comply.

By His Excellency Sir Charles Hamilton … a proclamation. Printed by John Ryan at St. John’s, Newfoundland, ca. 1822 (AMICUS 45262655)

Johann Gutenberg introduced printing to Europe in the middle of the 15th century, completing his famous Bible in Mainz, Germany, around 1454. By 1500, Gutenberg’s innovation had been adopted widely in Europe. European colonists then transported printing technology to the Americas. It was not until 1751—almost 300 years post-Gutenberg—that the first press reached Canada. This alone seems to us like an incredibly lengthy interval, accustomed as we are to rapid changes in technology. But it actually took close to another 150 years for printing to spread to all regions of the country. Through holdings like these items printed by William Brown and John Ryan, LAC’s Rare Book Collection documents the long and fascinating history of how printing made its way across Canada.

A colour reproduction of the cover page of a newspaper. The newsprint is creased near the top and sepia-tinged.

The Halifax Gazette, no. 1 (March 23, 1752). Printed by John Bushell (AMICUS 7589124)

This history begins with John Bushell, Canada’s first printer. In 1751, Bushell moved from Boston, Massachusetts, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. There, he published the country’s first newspaper, The Halifax Gazette, on March 23, 1752. As previously noted, Quebec and New Brunswick got their first presses in 1764 and 1784, respectively. By the end of the 18th century, printers had come to Prince Edward Island and Ontario, where Louis Roy established the first press in Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) in 1792. After John Ryan’s arrival in Newfoundland in 1806, there were presses in all of the eastern provinces. Many early eastern Canadian printers, including Ryan and Prince Edward Island’s first printer, James Robertson, were Loyalists—Americans who left the United States during the American Revolutionary War out of loyalty to the British monarchy.

The advent of printing in Western Canada and the North occurred before the close of the 19th century. In both Alberta and Manitoba, the first printers were missionaries who produced Indigenous language translations of Christian religious texts. Using a makeshift press and type he had cast himself, Methodist minister James Evans started printing in Cree syllabics at Rossville, Manitoba, in 1840. The Oblate priest Émile Grouard brought the first press to Alberta when he settled at Lac La Biche in 1876. In 1878, Grouard completed the province’s first book, entitled Histoire sainte en Montagnais (“Montagnais” was the term non-Indigenous people used for the Dene language). That same year, Saskatchewan’s first printer, Scottish-born Patrick Gammie Laurie, began publishing his newspaper, the Saskatchewan Herald (AMICUS 4970721), in Battleford. Laurie had walked to Battleford from Winnipeg—a distance of about 1000 kilometres!—leading an ox cart that carried his press.

The Fraser River gold rush lured prospectors to the west coast in 1858. A demand for printed news accompanied this influx of people, resulting in the establishment of British Columbia’s first five newspapers, all in Victoria. One of the five was The British Colonist (AMICUS 7670749), founded by the future premier of British Columbia, Amor de Cosmos. Gold also spurred the introduction of the press to Canada’s northern territories. During the Klondike gold rush in 1898, printer G.B. Swinehart left Juneau, Alaska, with the intention of starting a newspaper in Dawson City, Yukon. Swinehart’s journey stalled at Caribou Crossing due to the weather, so he published a single issue there while he waited. This paper, the Caribou Sun (AMICUS 7502915) for May 16, 1898, is the first document known to have been printed in Canada’s North.

A black-and-white photograph of a group of men standing in front of a log building with a sign that reads The Yukon Sun.

Office of G.B. Swinehart’s paper, renamed The Yukon Sun, at Dawson City, 1899. (MIKAN 3299688)

LAC’s published collection holds a lot of early Canadian printed material, including over 500 items printed in Canada before 1800. This is a significant number, but the collection still has many gaps. It is always exciting for LAC staff when we come across imprints that aren’t already in the collection because documents printed by Canada’s first printers tend to be very rare. The two publications featured in the Premiere exhibition are good examples. Only about five copies of Direction pour la guerison du mal de la Baie St Paul survive today. The John Ryan broadside was previously unrecorded, meaning that no other copies are known to exist.

If you’re in the Ottawa area, check out Premiere: New Acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada to see these rare early Canadian imprints in person, along with new acquisitions from other parts of LAC’s collection. The exhibition runs at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa until December 3, 2018. Admission is free!

Additional resources


Meaghan Scanlon is Senior Special Collections Librarian in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

William Hew Clark-Kennedy, VC

By Andrew Horrall

William Hew Clark-Kennedy was born in Dunskey, Scotland, on March 3, 1880, and began working for the Standard Life Assurance Company at age 16. He served with a British cavalry regiment in the South African War before moving to Canada in 1902 to work in Standard Life’s Montreal office. There he met and married Katherine “Kate” Reford.

Clark-Kennedy joined the 13th Battalion, Royal Highlanders of Canada, at Valcartier, Quebec, on September 23, 1914, and arrived in France the following February. On April 24, 1915, an artillery shell landed near where he and two other men were standing. Clark-Kennedy’s companions were killed instantly, while he was buried by earth and mud. Clark-Kennedy’s comrades believed that he also had died and that his body had been either obliterated or buried. They reported that he had been killed in action. But Clark-Kennedy had suffered only minor injuries, and without anyone noticing, he dug himself out and resumed fighting. It took a couple of days to sort out the error and for Clark-Kennedy to cable his family and tell them he was fine.

A black-and-white photograph of an officer standing in front of a building wearing his officer’s cap and carrying a walking stick in his right hand.

Lieutenant-Colonel Clark-Kennedy, VC, OC, 24th Battalion. Photograph taken January 1919 (a003909)

Clark-Kennedy was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions while commanding the 24th Battalion on August 27 and 28, 1918, during the Battle of Arras. An excerpt from the London Gazette shows his exceptional bravery: “from the outset the brigade, of which the 24th Battalion was a central unit, came under very heavy shell and machine-gun fire, suffering many casualties, especially amongst leaders. Units became partially disorganised and the advance was checked. Appreciating the vital importance to the brigade front of a lead by the centre and undismayed by annihilating fire, Lieutenant-Colonel Clark-Kennedy, by sheer personality and initiative, inspired his men and led them forward. On several occasions, he set an outstanding example by leading parties straight at the machine-gun nests which were holding up the advance and overcame these obstacles. By controlling the direction of neighbouring units and collecting men who had lost their leaders, he rendered valuable services in strengthening the line, and enabled the whole brigade front to move forward.”

Clark-Kennedy showed equal courage the following day, despite a very serious gunshot wound to his right knee. The citation for his Victoria Cross ends with the declaration that “it is impossible to overestimate the results achieved by the valour and leadership of this officer.” (London Gazette, no. 31067, December 14, 1918)

In addition to the Victoria Cross, Clark-Kennedy was mentioned in despatches four times, received the Distinguished Service Order twice, was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George, and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

A black-and-white photograph of two officers standing in front of a car in which a driver is seated. They both wear officers’ caps and greatcoats.

Lieutenant-Colonel W.H. Clark-Kennedy (right), VC, CMG, DSO and Bar, and Brigadier-General J.H. MacBrien, DSO and Bar, CB (a006743)

After the war, Clark-Kennedy returned to Canada and his job at Standard Life, and eventually became the firm’s director. He died in Montreal on October 25, 1961. Clark-Kennedy’s Victoria Cross is held by his family. Library and Archives Canada holds his service file.

Sources

“Officer, feared dead, continued to fight,” The Globe and Mail, October 27, 1961, p. 31.

“Lt.-Col. Clark-Kennedy VC, dies here in 83rd year,” Montreal Gazette, October 27, 1961, p. 4.


Andrew Horrall is a senior archivist in the Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Charles Smith Rutherford, VC

By Ashley Dunk

Today in Library and Archives Canada’s blog series on Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we remember Charles Smith Rutherford, who earned his Victoria Cross one hundred years ago today for his heroic actions on the battlefield.

A black-and-white photograph of a military officer standing with a cane.

Lieutenant Charles S. Rutherford, VC, ca. 1914–1919 (a006703)

Born on January 9, 1892, in Colborne, Ontario, Rutherford was a farmer before the war. On March 2, 1916, he enlisted in Toronto, Ontario, joining the 83rd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a private. He arrived in France on June 10, 1916. Rutherford was a decorated soldier, earning the Military Medal on February 23, 1918, and the Military Cross on January 11, 1919. He was promoted to Lieutenant on April 28, 1918.

On August 26, 1918, while serving in the 5th Battle of the Scarpe, near Monchy, France, Rutherford was in command of an assault party. Finding himself noticeably ahead of his men, he observed an enemy party standing outside a pillbox. With his revolver, Rutherford beckoned them to come to him. Instead, they waved for him to approach. Through skillful bluffing, he convinced the enemy soldiers that they were surrounded. The party of 45 men, which included two officers and three machine guns, surrendered to him.

A black-and-white photograph of three people standing and posing for a photograph: a woman in a fur coat, a military officer with a cane, and a soldier with a cane and beret.

Lt. C.S. Rutherford, VC (centre), ca. 1914–1919 (a006705)

After capturing the party, he persuaded one of the enemy officers to stop a nearby machine gun from firing, which then allowed Rutherford’s men to advance to his position.

Beyond the pillbox, Rutherford saw that some of his assault party was held up by heavy machine-gun fire from another pillbox. With the support of the rest of his party, he attacked the pillbox with a Lewis gun section, successfully capturing an additional 35 prisoners and their machine guns. His leadership enabled his assault party to continue its advance.

As reported in the London Gazette two months later:

The bold and gallant action of this officer contributed very materially to the capture of the main objective and was a wonderful inspiration to all ranks in pressing home the attack on a very strong position.

London Gazette, No. 31012, November 12, 1918

On March 20, 1919, Rutherford was discharged through general demobilization.

He died in Ottawa, Ontario, on June 11, 1989, at the age of 97.

A black-and-white photograph of a military officer in a ceremonial uniform.

Captain Charles S. Rutherford, VC, Sergeant-at-Arms, Ontario Legislature, 1937 (a053785)

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant Charles Smith Rutherford.


Ashley Dunk is a project assistant in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Images of Rugby now on Flickr

A black-and-white photograph of two rugby teams in a scrum for the ball. Two referees watch the play unfold.

Second rugby game at Godalming between Seaford and Witley, England [MIKAN 3385967]

British settlers and military personnel most likely introduced rugby to Canada during the early 1800s. Play and competition seemed to be informal until 1864 when F. Barlow Cumberland and Fred A. Bethune at Trinity College, Toronto, codified rules for Canada. The first Canadian match under these rules was held in Montréal between English regimental officers and civilians from McGill University.

A black-and-white photograph of injured rugby players. One player sits on a chair and has a head injury treated. A second player lies on the ground covered by a blanket. Spectators stand close to the players on the sideline.

Spectators and injured players on the sideline at the rugby football match between Canadians of Seaford and Witley, Godalming, England [MIKAN 3385975]

A black-and-white photograph of the McGill University rugby team, 1884-1885. James Naismith sits with his teammates (far-left of the second row of four).

McGill rugby team, 1884-1885 season (seated 2nd row, far left, James Naismith), Montréal, Quebec [MIKAN 3650079]

Provincial rugby clubs formed across the country where interprovincial play occurred and eventually international competition. Naturally, it was Canada (McGill University) versus the United States (Harvard University) in 1874!

A black-and-white photograph of the Senior University Rugby Team, Ontario. The members stand in a row at an angle with their left hands on their hips, and their right hands on the right shoulder of the person in front of them.

Senior university rugby team, Ontario [MIKAN 3715584]

The 20th century saw a continued growth of the sport as international teams visited Canada to play matches. Canada also sent teams to countries overseas such as Japan, England, Ireland, Argentina, and Australia. An important development of the game is the emergence of women participating in the sport. Starting in the early 1980s, clubs formed to play locally and internationally. There are over 30 women’s clubs across the country.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Researching early census records

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to announce the launch of an expanded version of one of our most popular research guides: Finding Aid 300: Other census and related documents (1640 to 1945).

This tool is a comprehensive guide to early census and related records found at LAC, with references mainly dating from 1640 to the 1800s. There are also some records from the 1900s, including Newfoundland and Labrador from 1921 to 1945.

New to this version of Finding Aid 300 are links to digitized images of most of the documents. Researchers can access numerous digitized records relating to Acadia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia.

We also invite you to visit our updated Censuses page, which includes links to our databases of census returns (1825 to 1921) and other resources.

What lies beneath the fig tree: Solomon Ibn Gabirol and the search for wisdom

Web banner with the words: Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada showing a small picture of an otter fishing on the rightBy Dr. Guy Berthiaume

There is a legend that a jealous poet murdered Solomon Ibn Gabirol, the 11th- century Jewish poet and philosopher, and buried him under a fig tree. The fruit of that tree was so sweet and so plentiful, the people of the town where the tree was located decided to dig it up and uncover the source of its richness. The legend finishes with the discovery of Gabirol’s remains beneath the tree, lending a truly poetic explanation of the tree’s abundant nature, one Gabirol himself might well have appreciated.

Legend aside, Gabirol was an important philosopher and the author of over 100 poetical works. His writings contain a fascinating blend of Jewish, Islamic, Neoplatonic, Pythagorean, Biblical, mystical and philosophical sources, bearing out Gabirol’s advice that we should “seek wisdom with the avidity with which thou wouldst search for hidden treasures, for it is more precious than gold and silver.” This sage instruction is taken from Mivachar Ha-Peninim, or Choice of Pearls, the most recent addition to Library and Archives Canada’s collection of incunabula, acquired with the generous donation of Ruth and Arnon Miller.

While incunabulum is actually a five-star Latin word for “cradle,” it has come to mean any book, pamphlet or broadside printed before the year 1501. In fact, before this term came into popular use, such books were known as “fifteeners,” which, while descriptive, lacks a certain syntactical mystique! But whichever way you choose to describe them, incunabula are compelling artifacts, both for their contents, and for their beauty as objects in and of themselves. Choice of Pearls is no exception.

Gabirol had a wide following in both Islamic and Christian circles, and this collection of proverbs, moral reflections and maxims was probably the equivalent of a New York Times bestseller in its day. Choice of Pearls feels surprisingly modern, with a relevance that applies as much today as it did in the 11th century. The book is studded with insights and observations such as these:  “Wisdom lying dormant is like an unproductive treasure”; “Man without wisdom is like a house without a foundation”; and the surprisingly prescient “Truth establishes all things; falsehood overthrows them,” which takes on a special meaning in this age of “post-truth”.

Although the text was originally written in Arabic by a Jewish philosopher who has been compared to Plato, its wisdom and wit was popular with both Jewish and Arab readers of the time. This demonstrates something I have long believed, that poetry and philosophy have a unique ability to transcend boundaries, and that libraries, by sharing works across cultures, can do the same.

The book is also significant because its publisher, Soncino Press, is one of the oldest and most influential printers in the history of Jewish books. Based in Northern Italy, Joshua Soncino set up one of the world’s first Hebrew printing presses in 1484.

A colour photograph of an open book with Hebrew writing.

Mivachar Ha-Peninim by Solomon Ibn Gabirol, 1484 (AMICUS 45283149)

Choice of Pearls was purchased at auction from the Valmadonna Trust Library, which was the world’s largest private collection of rare Judaica. It now joins its fellow incunabula in Library and Archives Canada’s Jacob M. Lowy Collection. The Collection, amassed over a lifetime, contains over 3,000 old and rare books printed between the 15th and 20th centuries in Hebrew, Latin, Yiddish and other languages. Highlights include first and early editions of the Talmud, 34 incunabula, and over 120 Bibles in many languages, including Inuktitut.


Dr. Guy Berthiaume is the Librarian and Archivist of Canada.

Images of Lunch now on Flickr

Lunch is the second meal of the day. People in Canada typically eat it around noon, or midway through their workday.

A black-and-white photograph of three women sitting in a rowboat next to oars, and coiled rope, eating lunch.

Shipyard workers having lunch in a rowboat on a Victory ship while it is stationed in the Burrard drydocks, Vancouver, British Columbia [MIKAN 3197925]

A black-and-white photograph of two men sitting in a tunnel, covered in dust, wearing mining safety equipment eating lunch.

Brothers Cecil and Charlie Roberts eating lunch about 2.5 miles out under the Atlantic and 800 feet below the ocean floor [MIKAN 3587286]

Meal times are ingrained in societies and seem logical and natural. However, during the 17th and 18th centuries in Canada a longer and more regimented workday was established. As a consequence, people working further from home pushed dinnertime into the evening, creating a longer period of time between breakfast and dinner. The lunchtime meal came along to fill the gap, and lasts to this day.

A black-and-white photograph of a large factory dining area seating hundreds of women wearing factory uniforms, seated for their lunchtime meal.

Women’s Lunch Room. British Munitions Supply Co. Ltd., Verdun, Quebec [MIKAN 3370956]

A black-and-white photograph of actor Lucia Carroll and two cast members sitting outside eating lunch on the film set of “Captain In the Clouds”.

Cast and crew of the film “Captain of the clouds” eating lunch. North Bay, Ontario [MIKAN 4325104]

Canadians typically bring something light and portable to eat at the lunchtime break.

Visit the Flickr album now!

New podcast! Check out our latest episode, “Canada’s Canoe Archive”

Colour oil painting of a birchbark canoe, in profile, moving through calm water in front of a bare rock cliff. Eight men are paddling the canoe while a man in a black hat and a woman in a pale blue hat sit in the middle. A red flag is partly unfurled at the stern of the canoe. The bow and stern of the canoe are painted white with colourful designs added.

Our latest podcast episode is now available. Check out “Canada’s Canoe Archive.”

For many Canadians, paddling in a canoe serves as a refuge from our hectic day-to-day lives, and as a means of reconnecting with nature, family and friends. But thousands of years before European settlers arrived in what we now call Canada, the lakes and rivers served as vital trade routes for the Indigenous peoples here, with the canoe at the heart of that experience. In this episode, we pay a visit to the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ontario, and get a behind-the-scenes tour of its incredible canoe collection. Curator Jeremy Ward takes us through this storied collection of iconic watercraft.

To view images associated with this podcast, here’s a direct link to our Flickr album.

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

For more information, please contact us at bac.balados-podcasts.lac@canada.ca.

Sergeant Robert Spall, VC

In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day that they performed valiant actions for which they were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today we commemorate Sergeant Robert Spall, whose valiant actions and self-sacrifice on August 12 and 13, 1918 earned him the Victoria Cross.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier.

Sergeant Robert Spall, VC, undated. Source: Wikimedia

Born in Ealing, Essex, England on March 5, 1890, Spall immigrated to Canada with his parents and settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was a customs broker before the war and was a member of the Active Militia. On July 28, 1915, Spall enlisted in Winnipeg, joining the 90th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). He arrived in France with the Winnipeg Rifles on February 13, 1916 at age 26. Later, the 90th Battalion would be absorbed by the 11th Reserve Battalion to provide reinforcements to the Canadian Corps. Eventually, Spall ended up in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI).

On August 12, 1918, German shells rained down on the PPCLI, the 116th Canadian Battalion, and the 42nd Canadian Battalion, keeping them in their respective trenches. Their objective was handed down at noon; in conjunction with the 42nd Battalion, PPCLI was to push the Germans out of Parvillers from the south. The plan was to move up to posts south of Parvillers held by the 9th Canadian Infantry and use them as jumping off points, while simultaneously bombing the trenches of the old German front line system and the trenches leading into Parvillers.

However, when the Company arrived at their assigned positions, it was discovered that the 9th Infantry did not control those points, and were still in the hands of the Germans. Despite the setback, the attack was to be carried out. At 8:00 p.m., the Canadians were met with heavy resistance, with little progress being made. Casualties were heavy on the German side as the Company pushed forward, with a bombing section moving down the German trench.

 black-and-white copy of a textual document with torn hole-punches on the left.

War diary from the PPCLI describing the attack when Spall fired at incoming German soldiers, August 1918, page 18, (MIKAN 2005881)

At 6:00 a.m. on August 13, 1918, the Germans counter-attacked heavily from Parvillers and Damery, coming out of the woods in a tight formation and attacking across the open. This sudden and vigorous attack forced the Company to retreat and head for the old German front line. In the mayhem, two platoons were cut off from the Company.

It is likely that Spall participated in this attack, and was instrumental in releasing his platoon from their locked position. Isolated with his platoon from the rest of the Company, Spall mounted the parapet armed with a Lewis automatic machine gun and fired directly at the oncoming German soldiers. He returned to the trench to motion to his platoon to move into a nearby sap 75 yards away from the enemy. He climbed back atop the parapet once more and continued his assault. It was at this time he was shot and killed. His insurmountable bravery and self-sacrifice allowed his men to rejoin the others, and his resourcefulness with the Lewis gun resulted in heavy German casualties.

A beige document with lines separating boxes, a red check mark, and a large purple stamp reading “Vimy Memorial.”

Sergeant Robert Spall’s Commonwealth War Graves Register, Vol. 31830_B034454, Page 845, August 22, 1918.

His citation read:

…during an enemy counter-attack, his platoon was isolated. Thereupon Sjt. Spall took a Lewis gun and standing on the parapet fired upon the advancing enemy, inflicting very severe casualties. He then came down the trench directing the men into a sap seventy-five yards from the enemy. Picking up another Lewis gun, this gallant N.C.O. again climbed the parapet, and by his fire held up the enemy. It was while holding up the enemy at this point that he was killed.

Sjt. Spall deliberately gave his life in order to extricate his platoon from a most difficult situation, and it was owing to his bravery that the platoon was saved.

London Gazette, Supplement 30975, October 25, 1918

Spall’s body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. His name can also be found on the cenotaph in Barrie Military Heritage Park.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Sergeant Robert Spall.

Lieutenant Thomas Dinesen

By Ashley Dunk

In Library and Archives Canada’s Victoria Cross blog series, we profile Canada’s Victoria Cross recipients on the 100th anniversary of the day they performed heroically in battle, and were awarded the Victoria Cross. Today, we remember Lieutenant Thomas Dinesen and his bravery during the Battle of Amiens in France on August 12, 1918.

A black-and-white portrait photograph of a soldier.

Lieutenant Thomas Dinesen, undated. Source: Wikimedia

Born on August 9, 1892 to an affluent and aristocratic family in Rungsted, Denmark, Thomas Fasti Dinesen was a civil engineer when he tried on multiple occasions to enlist with armies from various countries. He was unsuccessful in joining the French Army, the British Army, and the American Army. On June 26, 1917, he successfully enlisted with the 2nd Reinforcing Company of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). Dinesen served in the 20th Reserve Battalion before his transfer to the 42nd Battalion Royal Highlanders, known as the Black Watch of Canada.

On the night of August 11 to early August 12, 1918, the 42nd Battalion was sent in as relief to the old British front line, Parvillers sector, France. The Allied advance had been held up at this point due to impenetrable barbed wire separating the old British and German front lines. The objective was to take Parvillers by a bombing attack and capture the well-defended German trench. Around 10 o’clock on the morning of August 12, men were sent over to the jumping-off point along the northern side of the Rouvroy-Fouquescourt road in pairs at varying intervals to go unnoticed by the enemy. Only after the attack was well underway did the Germans try to hinder the approaching Canadians with a barrage. By mid-afternoon, Canadian soldiers simultaneously entered the enemy trenches, and they were met with counter-attacks. The Canadians  inflicted heavy German casualties and captured several machine guns.

A black-and-white copy of a textual record with four paragraphs and a handwritten “2” at the top of the page.

War diary appendix from the 42nd Canadian Infantry Battalion detailing the offensive on August 11–12, 1918, p. 26 (e001110175).

It was during this Allied offensive known as the Battle of Amiens that Dinesen earned his Victoria Cross as a private. On the last day of the battle, he rushed forward and single-handedly through heavy German counter-attacks and put hostile machine guns out of action. Engaging in hand-to-hand combat with his bayonet and bombs, Dinesen killed 12 enemy soldiers. His vigorous efforts over 10 hours resulted in the successful capture of more than 1.5 kilometres of fiercely defended German trenches at Parvillers.

In recognition for his gallantry, the French government awarded Dinesen the Croix de Guerre. Later he was commissioned as an officer in November 1918, eventually rising to the rank of lieutenant.

A black-and-white photograph of six soldiers wearing helmets sitting in a large hole in the mud. Some are eating, while others are holding guns and facing away from the camera.

Canadians resting in a shell hole made by their own artillery, August 1918 (a002859).

He died in Leerbaek, Denmark on March 10, 1979. His Victoria Cross is on display in the Ashcroft Gallery of the Imperial War Museum.

After the war, Dinesen wrote and published a number of books in Danish, including a memoir about his experience trying to enlist, as well as the events that earned him the Victoria Cross titled, No Man’s Land: En Dansker Med Canadierne Ved Vestfronten. In 1930, it was translated into English under the title Merry Hell!: A Dane with the Canadians. A copy of the English translation can be consulted on-site at Library and Archives Canada.

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant Thomas Dinesen.


Ashley Dunk is a project assistant in the Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch of Library and Archives Canada.